Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Cutting your carbon emissions

This blog's mission is to 'make organic gardening easier'. So I'd like to introduce you to my elegant eco-warrior Pashley tricycle. Made in Britain.

We don't have a car, so acquiring this stylish piece of kit cut my journey to the city allotment down by thirty minutes. Since I aim to visit the plot twice a week at least, that means I've saved myself at least two hours travelling time each week already.

We have a great local bike shop, and although there's too much traffic in our city, there is also a European funded towpath cycleway along the canal. As far as maintenance goes, the bike shop know me now. Very helpful. I walk in the door - they smile, point and say 'TRICYCLE' - so I don't even need to explain - an annual service costs around forty pounds. I'm not a bike geek so I don't know the technical term - but they put that green gunge in my tyres for me four months ago to stop the punctures and so far it has held up really well and I haven't had any at all. That's pretty good going when you consider the odd sharp bits you sometimes find on our allotment site paths.
Cost? £550 - it was on special offer, reduced by £100. I've seen them second hand too, though. Not cheap, but compared to the purchase and running costs of a car it measures up well. Keep the receipt safely. You might need it. Get it insured, and ask the police if they will post-code it for you. This gives you a certain amount of protection, as does a sign on the back saying 'this vehicle is post-coded' - basically means that if anyone decided to steal it, they would have a problem selling it on. Check with the police about this. They sometimes have public post coding sessions in shopping precincts and will engrave postcodes on the underside of your 'vehicle'.

As far as balance issues are concerned, it took me a little while to get used to riding it, it really is different from a bicycle. You have to lean the right way, but you'd soon get used to it. It does get heavy when it's fully loaded up (I can put half my potato harvest in the back), but if you get tired, just find a quiet spot and stay put and rest your legs for a minute. I've seen more expensive models with a motor that kicks in when you go up a hill. Might be useful. There's a sociable element to it too - people smile when they see it.

So, yes, carbon emissions. There are all sorts of controversies about these. I'm not vegetarian (yet). We eat a little, organic, locally sourced meat. I make it go a long way. Some people think that adopting a vegetarian diet is the best way of cutting down. For more thoughts on this check out my latest Helium article.

Here's another picture of my lovely trike - I'm just about to head off to the lottie.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Broad Beans (scary)

I'll come clean. Broad beans frighten me. Needed to share that with the group.

'Not really very fond of them'. I've been telling other plot holders cheerily. Deep down I knew the truth.

Started sowing them in Autumn 2006 - the first year I had my plot. Fired up by the likes of Jamie Oliver - I don't know what you think but I feel his kitchen gardening books give the impression that if you 'kinda' throw them in the soil, (casually like) you'll turn round in a few weeks and end up with a lovely entree to share with your mates.

It didn't work. First time round, the mice ate them. Tried sowing at home in my little greenhouses. Put them in empty loo rolls (fairly traded and non-chlorine bleached of course). This didn't do the business either. Found out later if your soil is really heavy (like mine was before I lightened it up with fifty bags of rabbit manure - yes, there's another story...) then an Autumn sowing can be difficult.

Not to be put off I tried again the following Spring. Loo rolls were fine, but I left the seedlings in them for too long and planted them out too early. My Cherry Plum wind breaks weren't big enough to shelter them. They got buffeted about too much and finally a sudden late frost finished them off. Talk about embarrassing. Every one says broad beans are so easy.

Third time round (last year) inspired by those posh heritage seed pictures on 'Daughter of the Soil's blog I planted crimson flowered ones.

With the excuse that there was so much 'structural' work still to do on the plot (I mean taking away bagfuls of broken glass, crisp bags...) I hardly looked at the growing plants, never checked them, didn't pinch the tops out at the right time. So when chocolate spot (a fungal disease) and blackfly moved in and clouded my purple lovelies I just sighed and left them to it. I realised too late. I was simply in denial.

So I'll look in the mirror and say: 'TODAY IS A NEW DAY'.
I'm sowing Aqualdulce Claudia.
Every two weeks in succession.
Under glass.
Feel the fear and do it anyway.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

'We are ready to lead once more'

I hope this is true, Mr. President.

Hope you're talking about PEACEFUL leadership. Hope you get the support you need to put flesh on the bones of the promises you're making.

As you said, millions of people are ALREADY suffering from the knock-on effects of climate change, over-consumption of resources (and over-use of pesticides). People are going without food and fresh water.

As the glitzy, inaugural gowns are put back in the cupboard - spare a thought for organic gardeners and farmers - putting their boots on again for another year of food production in their communities. Right across the planet. The work that they do is work done for their CHILDREN and their CHILDREN'S children.

This is MY contribution. I've come a long way in the past four years. Took on some land and converted it organically from derelict. I knew some things already, the rest I taught myself.

But we need to make it all easier. We need more (and better) training courses and more support for those who teach organic food production in schools and colleges. We need the best information about time-saving techniques that will work for people with a range of abilities. We need to support organisations like Garden Organic and Kitchen Gardener's International - they're doing the right research and finding fresh new ways to help people to grow their own successfully.

Best of luck.
(This message was sent to the White House Press Office today)
Photo: Winter flowering Heather: Erica carnea 'Challenger' in the window box at the front of my house.

Monday, 19 January 2009

The Peach Tree Challenge

Sometimes we do apparently foolish things don't we?

My daughter was just about a year old (remember the hot summer of 2006?) We were in town, she was really thirsty and I was searching for a snack she could easily eat whilst sitting in her push chair. We passed our organic supermarket and I bought two fresh, organic PEACHES for her to eat on the way home. I will never EVER forget the look of delight on her face as she scoffed them. She was so proud to hold the huge fruit in her tiny hands herself and the juice ran down her face, quenching her thirst in the sun.

It was at that moment I made a momentous decision. I was going to BUY, PLANT and GROW peaches for her, and I was going to TRY to do it ORGANICALLY. Planted our peach tree (in the autumn of that year - 2006). Didn't know what I was letting myself in for. Didn't really understand why organic peaches are such a challenge to grow well in this country. You live and learn!

I knew about the fungal disease PEACH LEAF CURL , so I settled on the peach variety AVALON PRIDE - (which is said to have some resistance) thinking it would solve the problem. It didn't. The first picture shows the flowers on the tree in early Spring of 2007. Shortly after they appeared the tree came down with what I thought was Peach Leaf Curl. Leaves started dropping off - and so I sprayed with Bordeaux Mixture at the appropriate times. (Not really recommended as an organic remedy anymore but so far it has sorted that problem).

The tree was now in good heart. But in the early Spring of 2008 I still had the frosts to deal with. The flower buds appear early in the year - if there is a ground or air frost they can be completely destroyed and turn black. That's exactly what happened in 2008.

Why didn't you use FROST PROTECTION you might ask? Well, if I had a back garden, or of the tree were growing against a wall, it might be an easy matter to watch the forecast and pop the fleece or frost bag on and off whenever there was a danger of a freeze. However, my lovely allotment is some distance away, and it's just not possible to be dashing down there in the dark every evening to do the biz. I tried building various structures too (this one is made out of the fleece which comes with a mini-greenhouse)...
...but the winds on our allotment got the better of me, and they never stayed on long enough to do any good.

The good news is, as the tree gets bigger it may be MORE resistant to frost. The persistently cold weather we have been having this year may also help. I haven't been too bothered that the tree didn't fruit in the first two years, as I know it needs to build up strength to do so. But I'm going for the burn this over to you, my (loyal) readers:

Who else has tried growing an AVALON PRIDE or other FREE STANDING peach tree in this challenging British climate of ours and how did you fare? You can send comments via the comments box on this page. Do tell!

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Overwintering vegetables

Don't suppose any of you will be braving it out to the garden today. Absolutely freezing here. Stuck my nose out as far as our tiny courtyard though, and found some nice surprises.

The vegetables in this post started life in late OCTOBER 2008 in my three, small plastic greenhouses. True, they've all been neglected over Christmas. But they're holding their own, so this post shows what CAN be done to get a head start on Spring. After all, it's only January.

First up we have broccoli - grown in a blue plastic builders bucket. Used a knitting needle to make holes in the bottom for drainage. Broccoli is my little girl's favourite food (honestly!) and though there isn't a vast amount, there'll be some for a few nutritious snacks for her.

Then there's a new variety of lettuce: WINTER GEM. Specially bred to withstand winter in a cold greenhouse I'm happy to see it looks fresh, crisp and healthy. Won't be too long before that's salad material.

Last but not least there's GIANT WINTER SPINACH(below). A few weeks ago I thought I'd lost these to the heavy frosts but here they are, bouncing back. Soon the leaves will be big enough to add to a creamy, comforting pasta dish with home grown garlic.

Monday, 12 January 2009

My January seed order

I've decided that less is more as far as buying seeds is concerned. Sifted through the ones I had left from last year - today's careful order avoids wastage and fills in the gaps. After 'chitting' the seed potatoes I'll plant them directly in mid Spring and the rest of the seeds I'll use to raise plug plants destined for those NINE raised beds I mentioned in my last post. So here it is:

1 x seed potatoes LADY CHRISTL 3 kg
2 x potato GOLDEN WONDER 1.5kg
1 x CARROT Chanteney
1 x PARSNIP Cobham Improved Marrow
1 x LETTUCE Little Gem
1 x CUCUMBER Long White Paris
1 x LEEK Monstruso de Carentan
1 x MELON Sweetheart F1
1 x Rocket Wild

£25.22 with a ten per cent 'Garden Organic' membership discount delivered to my door from the ORGANIC GARDENING CATALOGUE: (postage free for orders over £25)

Three of the vegetables in my order I've grown before. LADY CHRISTL potatoes were delicious, early and a really good yield. Leeks grow well on my heavy clay soil and I like large ones so MONSTRUSO DE CARENTAN fits the job description nicely. LITTLE GEM LETTUCES are sweet and delightful at lunch or any other time!

The rest of the seeds are a bit of an adventure.

I chose GOLDEN WONDER as a main crop potato as I'm hoping the dry, tasty flouriness is good for the homemade shepherd's pies I stuff the freezer with.

COBHAM IMPROVED MARROW parsnips have a built in canker resistance - so I'll let you know if that solves last year's problem.

Early CHANTENEY carrots are short, extremely tasty and because they grow quickly (or so I've heard) are more resistant to carrot fly and more suitable for growing in pots too.

I'm trying out the perennial WILD ROCKET, to see what it tastes like and if it will save me some work as I don't need to re-sow it every two weeks.

I've never grown LONG WHITE PARIS cucumber or SWEETHEART melons before. Now that I have some cloches for outside, I'm hoping this particular experiment will succeed as the cucumbers are just the right size for lunchboxes and melons are such a treat.

The picture shows my plot in April 2008 with some snap-together raised beds. The shed is a former railway workers hut, I think - painted orange for some italian ambience...the couch-grass-path needs a hair cut again...

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

What are you planning to plant this year?

Looking forward to warmer days but not the hard work of Spring? What are you planning to plant this year? My answer is:

Here's why: The game plan over the past two years, was to cover as much of my plot as possible with PERENNIAL PLANTINGS. These don't need a lot of tending and I don't need to re-sow them each season.
They're surrounded by a MULCH which cuts down on watering and weeding. I use cocoa shells for the more unusual fruit and veg, and plain old newspapers and wood chip on top for the rest.

Two years ago an ASPARAGUS BED and a PEACH TREE (Avalon Pride) went in. The Asparagus is doing really well - not convinced about the Peach Tree (this is a long story - I'll tell you why I think it is high maintenance in another post).

TWO COMFREY BEDS were established on the edges of the plot. (In case you didn't know organic gardeners use these for fertilising and to speed up the composting process).

BLACKBERRIES, RASPBERRIES, 1 REDCURRANT AND 3 BLACKCURRANTS took up residence in 2007. Followed by A PEAR TREE (Bon Cretien - 2007), ten CHERRY PLUM BUSHES (these provide a windbreak as well as fruit) and RHUBARB (Victoria) in 2008.

In between these plants and near the paths I've made room for some flowers. Last year I allowed my POACHED EGG PLANTS to self-seed, and they're still going strong despite the frost. (see the picture at the top of the page). As well being pretty ground cover these plants encourage hoverfly which prey on aphids and other 'nasties'. I let a few NASTURTIUMS self-seed too, and then there's a couple of lavender and sage plants which will hold up well for at least another season. There's also a little bit of CHAMOMILE which the bees love.

Since the two forty year old apple trees I inherited from a previous owner are still fruiting well, that leaves me with around TWELVE largish raised beds I need to fill each season. Three of these are now home to AUTUMN SOWN ONIONS and GARLIC so that's NINE raised veg beds left I have to plan and play with...

I've got my RAISING-PLUG-PLANTS-IN-SUCCESSION-IN-MINI-GREENHOUSES-SYSTEM set up: (look back at my November post: Developing a Growing System that works for you) - just need to order some seeds now and when that weather turns I'll hit the ground running...

Monday, 5 January 2009

Gardening Resolutions

Having just managed to mortally offend a good friend online, I've come to the probably long overdue conclusion I'm not much good at relationships...

Hope my New Year's Gardening resolutions will fare better. Here are some of them:
  • To keep learning (and keep making mistakes)
  • To write some mind-blowingly-fantastic and useful gardening blog posts this year(I've already got lots lined up)
  • Not to throw any lettuces on the compost heap because I've sown too many
  • To enjoy myself
Will post again soon.

Friday, 2 January 2009

War and Peace

Two jobs. Taking time out to plan our family's food future. Listening to the world news.

Not many houses come with a pantry these days, Here's a picture of our simple storage space. Just a few shelves in the corner of a cool room.

I'm nearly ready for Spring now...need to find that box with my anti-war campaign kit in it too. It's that time again.

We stashed last year's harvest in those pretty potato baskets. Garlic, onions, apples. Storing your produce properly can help save time and money.

If the bombs aren't dropping on you.

More than 300 dead. See you on the streets at the protests this weekend? FOLLOW THE LINK: