I suppose it had to happen eventually, but those nice salad leaves I referred to in an earlier post have finally decided to bolt; they’re developing stems and the leaves are going from translucent and tender to opaque and bitter. But considering that I’ve had a steady supply of tender, tasty leaves for about 50 lunches over the last three months, I can’t really complain. I estimate I must have saved about £50 compared with what I would have paid if I’d bought bags of salad from the shops – not bad for a 39p packet of seeds! I still have some rocket out in the front garden, plus spring onions, baby chard, chives, sorrel and (just coming up and protected from snails by an old net curtain) mizuna.
|OK, here’s a question for all you expert gardeners out there: from the picture, what is up with my runner beans? As you can see, the leaves are discoloured and patchy-looking. I’m assuming it’s some sort of mineral deficiency (nitrogen? phosphorus?) but would appreciate a bit of advice. If it’s relevant, the bean variety is good old Scarlet Emperor.
On a completely unrelated note, I am plagued with blackfly at the moment. They started by attacking the small comfrey patch in the back garden, and are now spreading to my tomatoes. Looks as though I’ll be out with the spray gun full of soapy water tomorrow morning.
The good news: I have two respectable-looking courgettes! Yay! Go me!
I did some baked cod for dinner tonight, which involved wrapping a couple of large cod fillets in foil with a couple of knobs of butter and some tiny basil leaves (the basil is grown indoors on our windowsill). Normally I’d add a squeeze of lemon juice but we didn’t have any lemon, so I washed a few fresh sorrel leaves and used those instead. It was fab – better than lemon actually, because it wasn’t so acidic but it still managed to give a citrus-like tang to the fish.
I baked the fish for 20 minutes at gas mark 7 which was perhaps a few minutes too long – you will probably find that 15 minutes is enough.
One of my successes this year has been the sorrel I’ve grown in an old polystyrene fish box given to me by a neighbour. I half filled it with home-made compost, and planted some sorrel seeds (bought on eBay) in early May, with a second sowing in June; that’s why most of the plants on the right are smaller! The leaves of sorrel (Latin name Rumex acetosa) have a lemony flavour, which apparently is down to the fact that they contain oxalic acid. You don’t want to eat too much sorrel in one go, partly because of the aforementioned oxalic acid which is toxic in large quantities, and partly because of the tart flavour. But if you mix it with rocket, oak leaf lettuce, spring onion etc., then it does away with the need for lemon juice or vinegar in your salad dressing. In fact, if you cut a fresh clove of garlic in half and rub it on the inside of a serving dish (squeezing all the while to get as much garlic juice out as possible), bung your salad leaves in and drizzle with good quality olive oil, then you’ve got a really simple yet tasty salad. Yesterday for lunch I did just that, and added some cold roast beef and Yorkshire pudding!
Growing runner beans looks easy, but it has its pitfalls. After harvesting a nice handful of runner beans last week, they seem to have hit a bit of a brick wall – not least because a lot of the flowers have disappeared! (See pic below.) Either this is due to the high winds we’ve been having in the last few days, or some insect/slug entity has decided to put my runner bean flowers on its personal menu. I’m told by Someone Who Knows that my beans will undergo a second flowering and that I should therefore get a nice crop in September, with any luck. Hope so, because runner beans are my favourite vegetable apart from courgettes and asparagus and I would hate to think that I built my bean wigwam in vain LOL.
Well, after three good courgettes, we’re back to the tiny ones with blossom end rot. Maybe that’s the way of things with courgettes – you get a few good ones, then about twice as many rubbish ones, then a few good ones again… I am going to pound up some chalk in their water and see if that makes a difference (the chalk being a source of calcium, which is one of the possible reasons I found for the blossom end rot – see earlier post). Anyway, this post isn’t really about my tiny limp courgettes, it’s about a major success story, pictured below. I bought a 39p packet of mixed leaf lettuce seeds from my local Aldi supermarket back in March, planted them in April and from May onwards, I was harvesting cut and come again salad leaves. I still am in fact, in the middle of July – and they show no sign of slowing down or bolting. (Apart from one of the leaf varieties, which is a sort of spicy mustard type thing. They bolt like anything once the temperature goes up a notch.) I will be planting another lot of mixed leaf lettuce in early August, and am going to have another go at growing mizuna then as well, which was spectacularly unsuccessful the first time I tried it due to the fact that the local snail population treated it as their friendly neighbourhood restaurant.
|You know that summer’s finally here when the first tiny green tomatoes appear on your plants. (Well, actually down here in our corner of the UK we already knew that summer was here, due to the unrelenting sun beating down with a ferocity that’s more appropriate for Greece or Spain than Britain.) With twelve Gardener’s Delight plants and another ten Tumbling Tom hanging basket tomatoes this year, we should be OK for tomatoes this late summer/autumn, unless the blight gets them of course! Last year was my first attempt at growing tomatoes in containers, and it was a great success – mainly due I think to the ol’ home-made compost and regular feeding with comfrey fertiliser. Next year I’d like to be a bit more adventurous, and try growing heirloom varieties and yellow or black tomatoes. In case you were wondering, those purple flowers just visible at the bottom of the picture are oregano. With regular pinching of the leaves at the top of each stem, I’ve managed to get a nice bushy oregano plant this year. Oregano is a lovely herb to have in your garden if like me you enjoy making tomato-based sauces to go with pasta!|
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|I think I’ve cracked it! As this picture demonstrates, I hope. Actually there were two courgettes of this size, but the other one has already been eaten (it went into a tomato sauce to accompany some spinach and ricotta tortellini). Since taking this photo, I’ve picked the remaining one and as I write, my other half is cooking a chilli con carne containing… chopped courgette. So in answer to the “what causes blossom end rot in courgettes?” question I posed earlier, the two possible answers seem to be “cold weather” and/or “a too-damp environment”. Because as you can see, this courgette has had the chance to mature in wafts of nice fresh air as it dangles over the edge of the container, as opposed to being forced to grow up (as it were) in a more confined space.|
|Every garden should have a comfrey plant. Comfrey is a perennial that doesn’t need a lot of TLC, and bees absolutely love comfrey flowers. But the best thing about comfrey is the fact that it sucks up soil nutrients, which end up in the leaves. So when comfrey leaves are added to your compost heap, they make the compost all the richer. I chopped back our comfrey plant (see below) a few weeks ago because some high winds had flattened the stalks. I put some of the stalks/leaves in our compost bin, but there wasn’t room for the rest so I used a bin bag for the overflow, left it in a corner of our back garden and forgot about it.|
|Then a couple of days ago, I noticed a black, crude oil-like ooze coming from the bottom of the bag. But rather than bemoan the brown stain on the paving, I did a little happy dance! That “crude oil” was a fabulous fertiliser. The inside of the bag was a mass of tarry, half-decomposed stalks which had rotted down quite a bit, so I could now fit them into our compost bin. The inside of the bag was covered in goo, so all I did was fill a bucket with water and wash the bag out in the bucket. Ta-da! Comfrey tea. Not for human consumption I hasten to add, but diluted with about five more parts of water and used on our tomatoes and courgettes. (Like bees, tomatoes love comfrey.) You can also make comfrey tea by putting fresh comfrey leaves in a bucket, filling it with water and weighing the contents down with some large stones. After a few weeks, you’ll have a mixture that smells foul (think toilets), but which again, plants adore when diluted with ten parts water.
|I don’t think I’ve quite got the hang of courgettes just yet. Last year I grew a couple of them in the same large container, using shop-bought compost. I did harvest two decent sized fruit, but of the three or four other fruit that I noticed, all of them reached about 3 inches long and then started to shrivel away from the flower end. Rather like the ones in the picture, in fact – these are taken from one of the courgette plants I’m growing this year. However, I am managing a greater number of “viable” courgettes – four or five so far, off the one plant. Trouble is, I’m reluctant to just let them grow in case they too start rotting, so I pick them when they reach 4 inches long.|
After doing some research on various Internet forums etc., there seem to be several reasons why blossom end rot can occur:
1. Inadequate pollination
2. Water getting into the flower and rotting the fruit
3. Too cold
4. Lack of calcium.
Not sure if inadequate pollination is the right answer – surely my courgettes wouldn’t even reach a length of 2-3 inches if that were the case? I can definitely see the logic behind (2), but I’ve tried removing some flowers as an experiment and the courgettes in question STILL succumb. I’m wondering if flower removal is enough – perhaps the problem is caused by a damp atmosphere inside the container, which could certainly be the case because the plant is in a very deep bucket, which I’ve only filled half way. Perhaps the flowering stalks of a courgette plant need to have access to regular wafts of fresh air.
“Too cold” – well, that isn’t a problem any more. We’re right in the middle of a heatwave at the moment. And as for the lack of calcium: that could be an idea. I planted this particular courgette in pure compost with no garden soil at all, so maybe it just needs a bit of lime. Looks like a trip down to the beach to pick up a few bits of chalk then!