What’s eating our redcurrants? (a tale of two bushes)

We have two redcurrant bushes. (Well, actually we have three – there’s another one in our front garden, doing its best to disguise itself as an ornamental deciduous shrub.) OK then, we have two redcurrant bushes in our back garden. One of them is in an old dustbin and is doing OK (see bottom pic). I picked a couple of punnets’ worth from the dustbin currant on Sunday, and have put them in the freezer.

The other bush, which is in the raised bed by the back wall, isn’t faring so well. It’s being eaten up by a mysterious pest, which has destroyed the leaves and nobbled any fruit before they had a chance to develop. The back bed is also a haven for snails; possibly it’s these which are responsible for eating the fruit. I confess I have neglected this bed – I’ve let the brambles run riot and I haven’t pruned the redcurrants, because the whole subject of pruning fruit bushes scares me. I’m going to have to get over my pruning phobia if I want to get any fruit off this bush next year, and also monitor the bush more closely in the spring for signs of any larvae/insects.

From what I understand (http://www.gardenseeker.com/pruning/pruning-redcurrants.html), you need to prune in late winter/early spring and cut back the older growth to the ground, as well as cutting any wispy side shoots from the previous year’s new growth. So this post is a reminder to get my secateurs out in early March.

PS: the bonus cat is Magnus. We’re down to just him now, since Lottie the tabby died a month ago at the age of 22 🙁




Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by EmpressFelicity - June 30, 2016 at 9:36 am

Categories: crops, other pests, pruning   Tags:

Using a strawberry planter for Tumbling Tom tomatoes

As of last week I have been feasting off the strawberries in containers in our front garden – although sadly, the ****ing snails are feasting off them too. I make a point of doing a “snail check” every morning and evening, and any that I find get unceremoniously chucked into the shrubbery on the other side of our front path. I don’t use slug pellets (don’t want to cause harm to local bird/cat life), so the snail checks are the price I pay. But the strawberries are worth it. Amidst the strawberries is this fine terracotta strawberry planter, which I’ve planted with… Tumbling Tom tomatoes. My neighbour from three doors down gave me the planter – he doesn’t have time to garden right now so I’ve promised him some of the fruits of my labour. (In case you’re wondering, the two tomato plants growing out of the top of the planter are Gardener’s Delight.) All my tomatoes are doing OK a week after being potted up. None of them have flowered yet though – don’t think we’ll be eating any home grown tomatoes till August.


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by EmpressFelicity - June 20, 2016 at 6:42 pm

Categories: container type, crops   Tags: , ,

Hardening off tomatoes… on an old divan

Today was the first day I put my tomato plants out to harden them off. They’re just getting two hours today, to ease them in gently (last year they got a bad case of windburn from having been left outside from 8 am to 4 pm, in blazing sunshine). Given that there’s still nearly another week before dear old Thanet District Council collects our ghastly eyesore old bed, I thought I’d once more put the upturned divan to good use, by pressing it into service as a shelf for the tomatoes:


Handy tip: to speed things up each day when you put your toms out for hardening off, keep the pots in old washing up bowls or something similar that has reasonably high sides. The pots are secure when you lift the bowls and carry them outside, and won’t fall.

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by EmpressFelicity - May 26, 2016 at 12:13 pm

Categories: container type, crops   Tags: ,

Salad leaves – May 2016 edition

Owing to the late/cold spring, there hasn’t had much of a salad crop yet. Last week was the first time when I could actually make a lunch based on salad leaves. The roll call was as follows: rocket, chive flowers, Welsh onion, flat leaved parsley, pea shoots and mizuna. I added some ham and Roquefort, plus a dash of mayonnaise – it made a nice and civilised lunch!


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by EmpressFelicity - May 16, 2016 at 8:37 pm

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An unexpected use for an old divan: a potting table

I haven’t been spending as much time in the garden as I should, because I’ve been doing odd jobs around the house. One of these jobs was to get rid of our old bed and buy a new one. The new bed was self-assembly so that entailed a whole day of screwing leg A into frame B, and swearing copiously when it all went wrong and had to be dismantled. Mr Beans tried to help but he’s not a huge DIY fan either. However, we got there in the end.

So this weekend I had a lot of gardening jobs to catch up on, including potting up my tomato plants. This is where the old divan came in handy. At the time of writing it’s in two halves, both propped on their side in our front garden, waiting for Thanet District Council to take them and the mattress away. As luck would have it, the tops of the divan halves were *just* the right height for me to use them as a potting table. I could stand comfortably at my full height, without stooping over and doing my back in.

Other jobs done this weekend: planting more seeds – peas, spinach beet and spring onion. I don’t feel very optimistic about the spring onion because the first lot of spring onion I planted back in March hasn’t come up. Well, there are a few whiskery seedlings but not the full container of tiny plants you’d expect by now. I’m not sure if it’s down to the cold weather, or the fact that the seeds may be too old? If the second batch comes up OK, then weather must be the answer.

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by EmpressFelicity - at 8:24 pm

Categories: crops   Tags: , , ,

Planted tomato seeds today

The seed trays are sitting on our windowsill, covered with a piece of metal grille to stop the cats from kicking them about. This year I’ve planted Gardener’s Delight, Brandywine and Tumbling Tom.

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by EmpressFelicity - April 10, 2016 at 1:28 pm

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What I did with the fig tree last autumn

At the end of last October, I did a job I’d been meaning to do for a couple of years, but had never quite mustered up the courage for. The job in question was to prune our fig tree. It had been planted there by our landlords, who probably didn’t realise just how big this thing would eventually grow. Given that our garden is a tiny triangular courtyard with a few raised beds, a fig tree isn’t the first thing I would have thought of growing there. Nonetheless, the tree has flourished and every summer, provides us with a nice crop of gorgeous fruit (try a fig and goat’s cheese salad with olives, home grown tomatoes and rocket. Or chop the figs up and have them with porridge for breakfast).

I am a bit rubbish at pruning and I was worried that I’d end up killing the tree. As I write this, there are tiny leaf buds on the tree so my fears were unfounded. Going forward, the plan is now to prune the tree every year, according to the advice given by Bob Duncan in Fruit Trees and More:

In a temperate climate like Bob’s (and ours), there isn’t enough heat to ripen the main crop of figs (i.e. the crop that develops on any new shoot growth). Only the so-called breba crop, which starts to grow in spring on the previous year’s shoot growth, will actually ripen off properly. So every spring (late March/early April judging by when the video was posted), Bob prunes back any two year old branches, i.e. branches that produced figs the previous year. The one year old branches are left in place, because they’re the ones that will produce the figs this year. The advantage of this system is that your tree never grows any higher, because you’re always chopping back the two year old branches. So this year, our fig tree won’t have many fruit on it at all but as of next year, we shall start to reap the benefits in terms of crop and ease of harvest. Fingers crossed.

Anyway, the pictures below – taken a couple of weeks ago – show our pruned fig tree, with bonus helpful cat. The strange lump to the right of the compost bin is a pile of clothing, tea towels etc. which are quietly rotting down underneath their covering of nylon net curtain.



Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by EmpressFelicity - at 10:25 am

Categories: pruning   Tags: ,

Elephant garlic redux

My last attempt at planting elephant garlic was in 2011. It wasn’t totally successful – I got a crop out of it, but the bulbs I ended up with were the same size as normal garlic. Put it this way, there was nothing “elephant” about them. This time round, I’ve used bigger pots – ten inches in diameter rather than 6 or 7. Hopefully this will do the trick. I planted the bulbs last October, and as you can see, they’re doing pretty well:


Top tip: I grew mizuna from seed in the same pots as the garlic. So while the garlic was sprouting last autumn, I also had a crop of salad leaves.

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by EmpressFelicity - at 9:48 am

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Things you can compost: jeans edition

The picture below was taken last autumn and shows a couple of containers of mizuna. (Actually, it’s not just mizuna in those containers, but that’s for another post.) The bluish-grey mess on the right is something that started life as a pair of jeans. They spent some months in our Dalek compost bin and this is the result – all the cotton has rotted down, leaving strands of polyester and Lycra behind. It’s quite annoying having to fish out strands of synthetic fibre from our compost so I’ve now created a separate pile outside the compost bin, which is reserved for mixed fibre items like jeans, T-shirts, sheets etc. that are too nasty/stained/ripped to be given to a charity shop. Once the worms have had their fill, the synthetic residue is put out for the bin men!


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by EmpressFelicity - April 5, 2016 at 6:38 pm

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Turning the compost heap – spring is here

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here – well over two years in fact. I got discouraged by the fact that this blog doesn’t get a whole lot of traffic, but on the other hand, it’s actually quite useful to me personally as a reminder of which jobs to do when. So I’m dusting it off and starting again.

One of the first jobs of my gardening year is to turn the compost heap. In the past, this has happened as early as the end of February but in recent years spring has been slow in getting off the ground, so here we are in late March and I just got the compost heap done yesterday. It’s a job that involves donning some builder’s gloves, lifting our “Dalek” away, and putting the newer material at the top of the heap into buckets. Once you get further down (see below), everything starts to get all gungy and the worms are hard at work. Those feathery things you can see in the pic on the left are in fact, feathers. They’re from an old down-filled pillow that had got so dirty I decided to jettison it and buy a memory foam replacement. Feathers will rot down quite happily in a compost heap, as will wool and human hair. All three of these are made from protein so they are a source of nitrogen.

The picture on the right shows the same pile of partially rotted compost from a bit further away. It’s at the stage where there is one last layer to remove before you hit the really well-rotted stuff at the bottom. Once I’d reached this well-rotted stuff, I used a spade to transfer it to the hole to the left of the heap. There were several large buckets worth. I then covered the hole with a couple of black sacks weighed down with flower pots, bits of wood etc. This was for two reasons: (1) to help provide a nice warm environment for more composting to take place, and (2) to stop the local cats from using the compost as a toilet.

I put the Dalek back in its original place and refilled it with all the newer stuff that I’d put into buckets. Job done.



Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by EmpressFelicity - March 25, 2016 at 10:07 pm

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