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!

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Not Simon’s cat*

If you are considering buying a cat you may wish to look away.

It started at 0215hrs, oh how I hoped for it to only last for a couple of minutes, it often does now but it didn’t in the early days – it would go on for a long time back then.

I felt my finger being licked, I groan  ‘oh please stop and go to sleep’ but no it carried on, after what was considered too long with no response from me my darling cat, Cass, started to chew my fingers, I tried to hide them under the duvet, she started to nudge the duvet off me – I pulled it tight around my neck.

She upped the anti, as I was lying on my back she moved to killer position of sitting on my chest so as to breath tuna fumes over me – I like tuna – she put her paw out to touch my nose, ‘awwww’ I hear you saying ‘how sweet’, it could be seen that way up until the point that she slides the claws into my nose, but only ever so gently you understand.

I swear at her, she doesn’t like that.  She goes to lie on the bottom of the bed ‘oh bliss’ thinks I ‘it is over’.  It is never over until the fat cat says so!!

She moves to the floor and starts opening drawers (yes she does have thumbs!) and I hear my socks getting pulled out, she knows I hate cat hairs on my socks – and when she starts to open the bras and pants drawer I have to admit defeat, it is so horrid having cat hairs in your bra and pants.

I get up – noticing the time is now 0345hrs – she is nothing if not persistent.

I pinball my way down the landing, stairs and kitchen to her feeding station, one has to assume all this needing my attention would be because she is starving to death and is trying to save herself – but no oh no no no – there is still food in her bowl.  In fact, she gets to it before I do and starts munching.  I smile sweetly at her and start pinballing back up the stairs to bed – oh bliss, please let sleep come back to me quickly.

Before I make it to the bedroom I hear the cat flap – yaaaay she has gone out!  Nope, oh no no no, she clacks it, she bangs it, she clacks some more, I return to ‘attention-giving position’ by her side and check that the cat flap is in working order.  The cat flap is, indeed, in working order.

I smile sweetly at her again and just for a brief moment I consider opening the door and attempting a Jonny Wilkinsonesq drop goal – I, of course, don’t but I do find myself wondering what my pal, Mitch, (he really doesn’t like cats, I knooow, can you imagine not liking cat!) would do in my situation.

Off to bed I go and she really does go out this time.  Sleep will come now for sure – what’s that sweet sound I hear, oh my it's the birds singing!

Move to later into the day, after several cups of coffee to awaken me and guide me through the day – I go into the sitting room and there she is – Cass – sleeping soundly.  Oh how sweet she looks, don’t you agree.

So, what should I do – smile sweetly (again!) and leave the bedroom quietly or…….

*if you haven't seen Simon's cat YouTube it

Thursday, 19 April 2012

There be green there be

Whilst I was de-turfing the plot all I wanted to see was soil thereby ending the pain of turf-stripping – now I am thrilled to see green appearing amongst the freshly exposed soil.
Soon be summer :D


Just take a look at this tiny little baby
no it’s not a weed, it’s a parsnip


So wonderful to see crops actually growing now


More weeds – oh no they’re not! 
They be carrots they be 

Those stones weren't there last time!

And now for a totally nuts cat – Cass on ice!
She jumps, she lands
She turns
She sits  - on ice!
Barking I tell you

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Plot 13 - full house

So, with opening day just four weeks ago - the first sod having been cut in anger, although we weren't overly angry, more ecstatic, we are now in a situation of having a full house plus two on the waiting list!  Who said Service personal were not gardeners eh!

I remember on one of our coffee meetings, the Boss and I saying 'imagine if we have no takers and that it was just you and I digging plots' - it was our worst fear, but it was always ever groundless- thankfully!

View from my Shed
There is much in the way of canes and netting and soil-warming stuff, it is a plot in waiting!

Back at  home, a blaze of red to cheer us from the tulips and the Phoinia 'Red Robin' ...lovely

The Under-Gardener having a brief rest


Monday, 9 April 2012

The waiting game!

So here I sit, all veg beds having been cleared of turf - waiting for the ground to warm up, waiting for the rain to stop (I can't believe I'm saying that!), waiting for seeds to sprout, waiting waiting waiting.....

Whilst I wait here's a recap to remind myself that the busy times are so very very close.

Pea shoots just showing through

In just a few short weeks we are picking and munching on them - a very pleasant intro for things to come

and in four weekends from this..... this

......scary pose or what!!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Ready for action

My 15m x 5m piece of heaven is de-turfed and ready to see some action – hurrah! 

The end of the plot is where you can see the cabbage netting behind me and yep, there be cabbages under that thar tunnel.

Planted out so far are Jerusalem Artichokes, one bed of Swift first earlies, a lovely big chunk of rhubarb given to me by one of the caravan holders who has been watching on with interest as to what we are up to.  He is ex-RAF, lotties were not an option in his day he says.  Thankfully ‘they’ are now seeing sense!


Hard-core working (that you can see) has taken place in the form of runner bean canes, sweet pea wigwam and pea supports (not yet shown) – much thanks to the wonderful under-gardener for his support with this - being 6' he comes in handy.

Seeds sown in situ so far are parsnips, carrots, and salsify – just a couple of small rows of each as I want to string out the growing season as long as possible, I will sow another couple of small rows when the first ones are germinated.

The greenhouse is groaning under the weight of tomatoes (just gone out – yikes please no frost!), peas, courgettes, runner beans, sweet peas, broad beans.

What a weekend it’s been, first our anniversary, then my birthday, then we finish the hard-core work at the lottie – what more could a girl ask for!

Birthday bubbles

And birthday bubbles – lovely.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Gardening spans generations

Luke and Conor, our two youngest allotmenteers taking a break from their hard work for a PR shoot.  I’m looking forward to seeing these beds in a few months time.


Not only are they working on their plot, they are also helping a neighbour plot-holder remove all her turf as she is injured - so much energy!


......and the generation thing - the youngest who are both much taller than the oldest member.  Have you noticed how they make children so much taller these days!

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Turf war and hospital

Andy, OIC Lottie Plottie’s, plot has presented him with this monstrous slab of concrete, digging out is not an option!

Ian’s online research has shown that this is the part foundations of a hospital which was on the OS maps for 1938!!  WOW – who knew!  Apparently this hospital was still in existence in 1983, so it will be interesting to research further and see why it was demolished.

This does, of course, explain why our soil is so fantastic – all that bone meal from the mortuary.



Small but perfectly formed ‘wet’ garlic showing through - is there anything better than seeing new shoots - I think not


One would expect to find Blackadder hiding behind this lot!


One girl, one heck of a lot of turf!

Jack and his beanstalk

When one wants bean poles of eight foot height one needs a very large hubby – thank you tall hubby, I just knew your height would be useful


Much activity is to been seen in the background – it’s a truly wonderful sight.  Even after working the plot for three weeks I’m still in awe that we have actually pulled this off after two years of hard work from my Boss – OIC Andy Done – take a bow Andy – if it were up to me you would get a Knighthood!

Monday, 26 March 2012

Meanwhile back at the homestead

Some really inspiring colour, one very nutty cat and two birds asking for their Agent!


Euphorbia, always a good, strong space filler


These lovely primroses always make me think of Cornwall and then I get homesick


Yes, yes, I know I’m on your veg-protecting net but just how cute do I look eh!


Oookaaay, I’m just soo bored now

Don’t turn around, she’s got that picture-taking thing in her hand and I haven’t had a chance to speak to our Agent yet!

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The heart of the plot

….a shed – everyone should have a shed at some point in their lives.  I now have a shed, I am a shed-owner, I need to name it – suggestions most welcome please.

The shed, purchased from Argos at the huge price (!)  of £109, arrived at 0715hrs this morning.  Due to location of the plots the delivery driver has to be met at the Guard Room and escorted onto the site – I very kindly offered to stay home and make breakfast while Ian did the escort duty.


   Stock taking underway


One could be forgiven for thinking this shed-building chap preferred shed-building to gardening!


  A beer is called for methinks

Now to the serious business of gardening – turf-cutting is still underway and the planting is so far only consisted of Jerusalem Artichokes and new spuds, I’m hoping the JAs will provide a much needed wind-break.  Having cut the turf away, I used a bulb planter to make life easy for myself, I also used the planter to drop the spuds into their bed – so much easier than digging out trenches.


I can’t remember when I last enjoyed a Saturday so much – oh hang on, I can – it was 22 November 2003 when JW kicked the winning drop goal against Australia to win the World Cup

Sunday, 18 March 2012

A sod is removed

Lots of pretty red lines to work with – surely I can’t go wrong!


After our long two year lead-in to this project, the first sod is cut in ‘anger’, actually Ian (it is Sunday, so Snowdrop gets his Sunday name!) cut the first one – oddly for one who isn’t a ‘keen’ gardener that he wanted to cut the first bit.  Is this a boy thing methinks!


Warrener Felix is on hand to check all goes well!


The first patch is that of Jerusalem Artichokes, not least because they will provide a much needed wind-break – air bases are nothing if not in winding locations!


The trusty bulb-planted is, in my view, the very best way to plant things such as Jerusalem Artichokes and spuds….more on spuds to come….

Starting on the spud patch…I planted a sack of First Early (slightly lateish) Swift spuds

I balanced on the gate (don’t tell the Boss!) to take this shot of the patch…there is still much to do but, oh my, HAPPY DAYS!!


I am the first to get up on the patch and start digging – many more are on the way.  Then we have the lovely stuff of sorting the BBQ, wild-flower planting, insect hotels etc to sort.

If you are reading this would you please leave me a comment as I som etimesfeel as though I’m talking to myself