Thursday, 20 June 2013

Piskie has moved - again

Not house and garden this time - not yet anyway!

I've taken my musings over to my wordpress site, that way I don't have too many passwords and logins and systems to remember.

It doesn't get any easy remembering all those things. Some people blame age, I think red wine has something to do with it too.

They so are 

The bread crumb trail

Do pop over and say hello

Actually, whilst I'm sat here talking to myself, I'm wondering why I'm moving over to WP - this 'Blogger' is really quite good.

Which do you prefer - Wordpress or Blogger?

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Beds, Pots and Patios

I have a friend who is often heard to say about her garden ‘if it was finished I’d keep on top of it’. Gardening is like housework or painting the Forth Bridge – although I believe they have actually stopped (finished?) painting that now.
Removal men sob when they see my gardens
Being a transient-married-to-military gardener, I have worked my way through seven gardens and a balcony of pots in the last nineteen years.

The balcony of pots was a traumatic time for me – we had just been posted to Hampshire from Peterhead in Scotland … to a maisonette!  Oh how I sulked.  And to add extra sulk to my sulking we were put in the upstairs maisonette (no garden!) whilst those below us taunted me with the sound of their lawn mowers and of digging.

Across the busy A325, a road which cut through the married quarters patch, were the houses – with no one on top or below them and each with their own garden and small driveway.  I would have to face those houses every time I stood at the kitchen sink to wash dishes – so cruel, why couldn’t I have a garden.

The trainee under-gardener decided he would have to apply to move us over to the houses-with-gardens side of the A325 for the good of his health and hearing.  He is nothing if not wise!

Knowing this could take ‘for-ever’ even if at all – I set about putting pots on the balcony.  Oh what fun we had lugging bags of compost up the two flights of stairs, a task which would continue for six-months.
Tiny garden but bigger than a concrete balcony!

Notice arrived to say that we could move across to a house with a garden.

Oh so happy was I, even though that garden was the tiniest garden we have had in our nineteen years.  But hey, it was so much larger than a pot on a balcony.

Our first garden, after we married (in 1993) and moved into quarters was at RAF St Athan, South Glamorgan.  The garden was a delightful little 60s style square of lawn with thin strips of bedding edging it.

Being a plants-woman, I wanted to rip up the small lawn and fill it with tiny twisting paths and flowing planting.

The under-gardener went very pale and took a deep breath and said in a very calm controlled manner that has become his adopted style with all things gardening ‘you will only have to rip out everything and put it back to lawn when we are posted.’

What!  Why?  Surely someone, the next occupants, would welcome a ready-made garden.  Not so.  I now know, after all these years of transient gardening that I am a rare breed.

Posting to Scotland came within three years of me living with that sweet little lawn in RAF St Athan.

RAF Turnhouse, Edinburgh was the next stop, albeit a very brief 6-month tour as the unit was being closed down.  No sooner had we unpacked the kettle and I had made plans for some gardening therapy when we were re-packed and on our way to RAF Buchan, Peterhead.

‘There are no trees on camp there, they tried planting some many years back but they kept blowing over’ he says.  I had trouble imagining an RAF base without trees, but he was right – no trees!

Bleak is the word that could be used to describe the area, but I found it beautiful in a way that was so opposite from my beloved Cornwall that I left on marriage.

Our Peterhead quarter was stunning, two bathrooms and three toilets between two people!

The huge garden was lawn from edge-to-edge with not so much as a tiny border.  The environment was very different to what I was used to so I needed to investigate what to grow – during which time my gardening consisted of nothing more taxing than grass cutting, albeit a three-hour session each time.

Having decided on how I was going to garden in that harsh environment – posting notification arrived … to Hampshire … to the ‘Balcony’ … so you can understand my sulking.
From a three-hour lawn cutting garden to a balcony - how cruel!
Unusually, we stayed at RAF Oakhanger, Hampshire for almost seven years – then it was on to RAF Northolt where the first patio-build began.
Benson garden on arrival

‘You want me to do what?’ he said in even more horror than when I asked him, back in 1993, if I could rip out the lawn.  ‘Yes, I want a patio area built please, I will help.’

The patio area was built then – yes – posting notice arrived and off we skipped to RAF Benson, Oxfordshire.

Oh no, no patio!  

I could see him pale and his legs bend slightly, in his mind he was already carrying the sand and slabs (I helped!) through to the back garden.  

The patio area was built, beds were dug and this time a greenhouse was concreted (RAF bases are notoriously windy!) into the ground.

Benson garden looking more loved
‘We’re posted to RAF Henlow in a couple of months’ he said.  ‘What about my greenhouse?’ I said.  ‘I shall have to dig it out and make good’ he said calm as you like.

My non-gardening friends watch him in amazement, knowing that he too is not a gardener.

Our current garden at RAF Henlow had no patio on arrival, it now has a patio – I do hope all the occupants that follow me are pleased with all the beds, borders and patios I have left in my trail.

Photos © Suzie Warren 2012

Monday, 1 October 2012

What are you doing in October?

Last Saturday was a beautiful sunny day; the skies were bright blue and criss-crossed with fluffy white vapour trails from all the aircraft activity.

Me? I was stuck in the office installing a new computer and experiencing all the pain and panic that goes along with that – it went (almost) without hitch! Sunday I shall be in the garden for the whole day I told myself, as if in reward.

Sunday – rain, wind, rain!

I’m having a bit of a re-vamp in the garden borders, so I set to stripping out old material from the borders but the rain and wind defeated me. The under-gardener looked worried, he knew what was coming!  “I (for I read we) need to go to the garden centre for more compost and plants” I said in a soft tone to him. I promises him coffee and cake.

October is a lovely garden month, with autumnal colour making a first appearance on the leaves.

Remember a couple of weeks ago I mentioned planted spuds for Christmas? Blimey, they are up and at it already! I made two plantings of three spuds in each bag a couple of weeks apart, which should give me a succession. Should!

If you have planted some ‘new’ spuds for Christmas do remember that any frost will kill the haulms and that will be game over – so ensure you get them into a greenhouse or shelter somewhere when Jack turns up. I will be putting mine into an unheated greenhouse and laying horticultural fleece over them if frost is forecast.

Still time to get crops in

Now is a perfect time for getting garlic in the ground. Garlic benefits so much from frost, this is what helps with the separation of the cloves.

Sow seed of broad beans and peas towards the end of October for an early crop next spring.
Spring cabbages will be ready for planting out, ensure you net these otherwise the pigeons will be at the table before you get to eat any!

Bulbs – still time to get your spring bulbs in. One January I found a bag of daffodils lying in the back of the shed, which hadn’t made it into the ground the previous autumn – I planted them anyway, I like a challenge … the flowers were stunning. So don’t ever become a slave to the gardening calendar!

Sweet peas – there is still time to make a sowing for over-wintering, giving you a head start on flowers early next spring.

If you had sown parsnips early in the year try to leave them in the ground till after the frosts, they will be all the more sweet for this.
Passiflora 'Lady Margaret' - lovely colour

Colour in my garden

Passiflora ‘Lady Margaret’ is looking good. This variety has a beautiful rich colour and it is supposed to have a lovely perfume but mine must have been last in the queue for that!

Inherited roses - beautiful

The delightful orange and yellow roses I inherited have put on a fabulous second showing. I bury banana skins into the soil around the base of these, clearly they like bananas.

Beautiful autumn colour and blue skies

Somewhere along the way in the life of this military quarter there has been a gardener living here – because in addition to the glorious roses, this Rhus is well established and is fabulous.

Whoever you are gardener-of-military-quarter I thank you for these treasures.

Photos © Suzie Warren 2012

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Soul Of Infinite Life

…otherwise known as SOIL.

I recommend a pot of strong coffee before reading this piece. Maybe some cake would help too.

Soil. It isn’t pretty, it isn’t sexy, it isn’t exciting – or is it?

The good stuff
There are sandy soils and clay soils, chalk, silts and peats and then there are the loams, which are a mix of clay, sand and silt. Gotta love the loams!

Without soil we would be in a pickle and yet it is often the very last thing to be given a thought when gardening. I wrote about green manure two weeks ago because apart from it helping insects it provides valuable nutrients for the soil in preparation for the growing of veg and flowers.

So, in the absence of a friendly horsey person and a shovel and sack – get the green manure in, in fact do both. On different areas of course – there is such a thing as over-feeding!

Get your soil to the best you can and you are almost certainly guaranteed good crops whether your interest is in growing fruit and veg or ornamental. They all need the same good basis to get their roots into.

I see September as the start of the growing year; I see soil as the start of the growing.

'Dead' soil
The two opposites of the soil spectrum are clay and sandy – clay being heavy, dense and easily binds together – the other, sandy, being light, gritty and doesn’t bind.

Clay is heavy in nutrients but due to its dense, binding nature these nutrients are not readily available to plants – whereas sandy soil struggles to hold on to nutrients as the water quickly drains through, flushing them away.

How’s the coffee and cake going?

Oddly, for both soil opposites, clay and sandy, the same process is needed.  Organic matter – yes, back to the muck and manure again. Organic matter will open up the clay particles making the nutrients available to plants and it will bind the sandy particles together to hold onto the water and therefore more nutrients.

So saying soil is boring would be like saying air, sun and water are boring.

A while back a pal of mine came to a garden centre with me to help me carry three very large bags of compost to the car – when we got to the till to pay he said ‘you’re paying how much for dirt!’  He isn’t a gardener.

Some of you know I have been involved in setting up an allotment project here on camp – it has been a long process getting the military might to hand over a small plot of land for those of us mad enough to want to grow our own.

After two years of pushing, we were given a small piece of what was once a football pitch/sports area and has been used as a dog-walking area for many years.

We set about stripping turf off our plots only to find the soil is all but dead. My first main season of growing has almost come to an end with the inevitable disappointing results of attempting to grow good quality crops in poor soil.

Much muck and green manure is going to be needed!

Are you thinking I’m obsessed with muck and manure by now?

Recognising your soil
Sandy – gritty, dries out very quickly, nutrients wash out quickly
Clay – heavy, lumpy and sticky when wet, rock-hard when dry, nutrients are locked in
Chalk – drains easily, mostly it will be stony
Silts – heavier than sandy, well-drained yet retains moisture
Peat – dark, warms up quickly, holds water and may need drainage
Loams – there is nothing bad to say about this chap, it is what all gardens would like to have

If you ever doubt the need to ensure you have your soil in the best possible condition it can be – take a look at these pictures of dwarf beans.
Beans grown in quality compost
The same beans, sown three weeks earlier than those in good compost!

One sowing was made at the allotment in the ‘dead’ soil, the other was sown at the home garden in top quality multi-purpose compost.  The allotment sown-beans were sown three weeks ahead of the home-grown beans!

My pal, Andy Smith, describes soil as … the blood vessel of plant life that exists on every patch of the Mother Earth. Soil contains millions of beasts in a teaspoon of spoil; some good guys, some not. The subject of soil is endless.....’ But then Andy, like me, is a gardener – we like soil – lots.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Green Manure

A pal asked me if green manure came from horses after they had munched down on a feast of all things green.

Nope, no horses’ smelly stuff required for this.

Green manure is the lazy (wo)man’s  way of ensuring you have top quality soil for the next growing season.

The next growing season?  Already?

Whilst it’s true that the main veg growing season for 2012 is coming to a close, as the days grow shorter and the nights longer, it doesn’t mean that we can rest on our shovels. Do we ever!
Now is the best time to get green winter manure sown
I am sowing as we speak and will leave all the lush green material in situ for as long as possible to gain maximum benefits to my soil.

Why bother to grow green manure – why not just cover the ground over with weed-suppressant membrane and be done with it?

One year I tried the weed-suppressant membrane approach of keeping the soil covered over winter, it does the job, there’s no doubting that, but there is something soulless about seeing all the black material covering the ground. What it doesn’t do is put anything back into the soil.

If you are a ‘tidy’ gardener you may struggle with the weed-like look of the green manure – if this is you, think of it as a challenge, a break out of your comfort zone.

Why do we sow green manures?  It’s a lot less messy than spreading horse poo over your plot that’s for sure and, of course; it will provide a different environment to poo.

All this talk of poo as given me child-hood memories and images of my Dad jumping out of the car whilst we were driving out for a picnic somewhere, he would fling open the boot and out would come a sack and a shovel – in went the horse poo!

This would happen on every trip – we always kept our fingers crossed that Dad would spot the ‘gold stuff' when we were  just a couple of yards from home, of which he never did, it was always on the out-bound journey!  Is it any wonder I prefer green manure!

So – what to sow?

Phacelia - Surely a flower worthy of any vase!
Out of this little list I really like the Crimson Clover and the Phacelia, both produce pretty flowers, which will keep the bees happy through the autumn sunshine that we will surely have.
I will continue to sow these through September and into November, filling in any bare patches that show up.

Crimson Clover – growing period (gp) is 3-18 months
Whilst this is not always winter-hardy it will do a wonderful job before it gets culled by heavy frosts. Enjoy the flowers but do ensure to cut down before they set seed, leaving it all on the soil surface until you are ready to start again.

Field Beans – gp overwintering
These are usually tough enough to get through most winters and can be left in the ground until spring when you would cut it down and dig into the soil before flowers set seeds. Having dug the green lushness in wait for 3 to 4 weeks before sowing/planting.  Cabbages will perform well in the recently-vacated field beans bed

Phacelia – gp 1-3 months, may overwinter in mild areas
This is probably my favourite, these scented lilac flowers are worthy of any flower bed.  The bees also have this top of their list.

Forage Rye – gp 3-6 months ... boring green (but useful) stuff

Mustard – gp 1-2 months ... mmm, hot dogs!

Sweet Clover – gp up to two years (excellent value!)
This is another green manure that both the bees and I enjoy, producing sweet smelling yellow flowers. As with all other flowering green manures ensure you cut the flowers down before they set seed – leaving all in situ until you are ready to dig the composting material into the veg bed.

Winter Tares – gp overwintering ... another rather dull green thing – sorry WT, but you are!
During the dead winter months, green manures will improve soil fertility, protect the soil structure from heavy rains. It will provide a safe winter home for beetles and other predators that help to control pests.
Deep rooting green manures will aerate the soil, which the worms and your soil will thank you for.
So who said it was all over!
It’s never over in the world of gardening, unless you have a concrete standing and empty pots…imagine that!

Piskie, a.k.a. Virtual Assistant / Business Supporter Suzie Warren, can be found here

photo credit: TexasEagle via photo pin cc
photo credit: David~O via photo pin cc
photo credit: Anita363 via photo pin cc

Monday, 20 August 2012

Hands up if you are thinking of Christmas – nope, me neither. But I am thinking of home-grown new spuds for my Christmas dinner. There is still time …just, but you’ll need to get your skates on.

In the world of veg growing you have to be several steps ahead, rather like the fashion Industry has to think one or even two seasons ahead to get the next new colour out there.

Think of this project as ‘Stop Press’…. or ‘Hold the Front Page’.

Growing new spuds to harvest on Christmas morning is a real joy and you don’t even need a patch, large or small, to do so.

All you need is a spud-growing bag; you can buy these all pretty and packaged up from most garden centre outlets or online nowadays, a small footprint to stand it on and somewhere to nestle it into when (if!) the frosts come – be it a greenhouse or indoor space.

If we get a very mild winter (not unheard of) in the run up to Christmas you could even get away with running outside with some fleece, ideally horticultural, (rather than your Rugby Club fleecy top) to drape over the haulms. Keeping the spud bag in the shelter of the house away from harsh winds will help too.

The best spuds to use are what they call ‘early’ and ‘second early’. I usually save a few tubers from my spring plantings – although I didn’t save any this year so I will have to order from a good supplier online.

I am (now) pleased I didn’t keep any from my spring stock as my spuds got hit with blight and I’m pretty sure the seed potatoes were bad/infected because no one else got it on the allotment plot – although this isn’t a  guarantee, it is a good bet they were infected.

Potato Blight (Phytophthora infestans) is evil and can spread faster than kicking out at school-time. It will spread rapidly in wet and warm conditions, both of which we had this year. Had I been quicker off the mark (i.e. not away) I could have pulled the infected leaves to save the rest – such are the joys and challenges of growing your own. When it’s good, it’s very good….when it’s bad…I make a cup of tea.

Aim to have your Christmas seed potatoes bought and tucked up in their little bags before the end of (I did say it was a tight deadline!) August!

In addition to the posh bags you can buy from the garden centres, you can also use a large multipurpose compost sack, turned inside out so that the black is on the outside – ensure that you make some holes in the bottom before filling with the compost.
Easy steps:
  1. Roll down the sides of your chosen container, bag, sack
  2. Put a thin layer of gravel in the bottom
  3. Add compost to about 4 inches/10 cms deep
  4. Lay the tubers (three to a sack) on the compost, ensure that the ‘eyes’ are facing upwards
  5. Cover tubers with another thick layer of compost, anything from 4 to 8 inches/10 to 20 cms to ensure the baby spuds are well covered
  6. Water well, make a cup of tea
  7. When the first green shoots (haulms) appear, roll up the sides of your bag/sack/container a little and add more compost
  8. Repeat 5 and 6 until the bag is full
  9. Wait for Santa
As this is a tight deadline it will be a challenge to source the tubers – but at time of writing, Simply Seeds still have some in stock. They sell them in packs of 10 tubers which is enough for 3 potato bags/planters.
I have gone for the variety Dunluce as these are new to me. I shall report back to you around Boxing Day-ish on their worthiness of my time, space, money, care and love.

So that’s Christmas dinner on the way, I shall put the Brussels sprouts on to simmer slowly next month.
Still in time for sowing now:
  • Spring cabbage – harvest April/May
  • Chicory – harvest October
  • Endive – harvest January/February
  • Radish – harvest October/January
  • Spinach – harvest October
  • Turnip – harvest November/December
  • Lettuce – harvest October/April (that’s a big growing window, so choose lots of different varieties)
Piskie, a.k.a. Virtual Assistant / Business Supporter Suzie Warren, can be found here.

photo credit: Paul and Jill via photo pin cc
photo credit: jo-h via photo pin cc

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Can peas do front crawl?

I ask because mine are currently floating albeit not on their backs - yet!
This was the sight that greeting me at the lottie today, having first negotiated my way through the gate, which was sitting nicely in the middle of a moat. 

I did consider jumping in to save the peas but as there was no one else around to hear my drowning screams I thought 'you're on your own lads, I've always got Bird's Eye to call on'

2012_05_03 Blogspot

2012_05_03 Blogspot2
Jerusalem Artichokes doing a good rendition of Hawaii 5 O


The broad bean bed (middle) is not looking overly inviting for the beans that are due to go in tomorrow!

The upside is that spuds like water – silver cloud and all that!