Saturday, 18 January 2020

Gardening with ME: plans for the kitchen garden this coming season

I've been mulling over what to grow in my veg beds this coming season. I decided to focus on the following categories:

A) veg I love but cannot easily get hold of from our local supermarket,
B) veg I love but makes good sense to grow yourself, and
C) some veg I love and just want to grow my own.

This might seem like I'm not leaving much out, but I'm pretty much excluding most of the large Brassica family, as I find them just too much work. In particular, dealing with the depredations of the cabbage white moth, even when using protection such as agricultural mesh. I'm not bothering with Carrots as carrot fly can be quite a pest, again, even when using protection. Anything (except pumpkin/squash, see C below) that requires lots of heat, which you can never guarantee in and English summer, is being left out. So no aubergines, cucumbers or sweetcorn.

In category A fit veggies such as Kohl Rabi, Fennel bulbs, Peas, Tatsoi and Broad Beans. Whilst peas are common, fresh peas are not, and the same with Broad Beans. I adore Broad Beans, and sowed some this Autumn past, and because of the mild winter, they have already taken off.

Some Broad Beans picked last year

Kohl Rabi, is part of the Brassica family, but from previous experience I've learned that it didn't seem to be bothered by pests, in particularly, the cabbage white moth. I'm growing it because it tastes good (roasted in particular), and I mean, how can you not grow it. It's purple. It looks like an alien. It's purple!

Mmmmm, purple Kohl Rabi

Roasted Fennel bulbs are divine. They have a licorice flavour, and even my partner, who doesn't like licorice at all, adores roasted fennel bulbs. I'm going to try Tatsoi because I do love making stir fry and the only place I can buy it requires a car journey.

The main veg in category B is lettuce. Not only do I find a lot of lettuce from the supermarkets bland, more importantly, it's easy to grow, and mine won't be covered in plastic. Lettuce is also one of those veg where one packet of seeds can supply us in salads for months. I'll be growing a mix of salads, including 'Bronze Arrow', a excellent cultivar from the Heritage Seed Library. I'm going to try and grow enough to save some seeds from these.

I also find Climbing and Dwarf French beans easy to grow and fresh beans are so good. The bonus is, if I end up not picking them, I can let them go to seed and then use those in stews in winter.

A pumpkin grown a few years ago

Finally, the those I just love, category C, which include my beloved garlic, but also courgettes and pumpkin/winter squash. Yes, pumpkins need a good period of heat and decent autumn. So this year, I stopped myself from ordering some Queensland Blue seeds (a massive pumpkin), and instead I'm just going to try a couple of the smaller cultivars such as Blue Kuri.
Of course, there is a proviso on any plans, my health. You cannot plan for the daily, sometimes even hourly, fluctuations and impact of ME. But I can plan for best case scenario, with the understanding that all might fall apart if the ME symptoms get worse. And to be kind to myself about this, if this is the case.

I've purchased the seeds I didn't have, some from Real Seeds and Seed Co-op, plus this years Heritage Seed Library seed choices have arrived. Now it's just waiting for it to warm up enough to be worth making the first sowings.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Forest garden border: reviewing the first season

The L-shaped forest garden border along the south (left) and west (right) facing fences,
in July, prior to the new kitchen garden beds being created in front.

My forest garden border was first planted out in March this year, and I thought it would be useful to review it's first season. It's an awkward border to photograph on whole, so I tend to do it in sections, South (the left side) and West (the right side), which I'll use to refer to when discussing specific plants. A full plant list is at the bottom of this post.
The L-shaped forest garden border along the south (left) and west (right) facing fences,
with the just finished (in August) new kitchen garden beds in front.

I'm pretty pleased with the results from the first season. For a start, the blueberries already started producing, in particularly, Vaccinium corymbosum 'Hortblue Petite' on the South side. This was enough to add to several breakfast muselis.
First blueberry harvest

I had put up temporary netting to protect the fruits from the depredations of birds. However, this isn't an easy way to harvest, at least from an ME perspective, as it uses up more energy than you might expect trying to negotiate the netting and access the berries. So I need to make up a better long term netting set-up. I'm thinking of sewing my own netting cage together, I just need to work out the proportions, based on the size the blueberry bushes will eventually reach (about 1m square). A job for winter/spring.
Temporary netting around one of the young blueberry bushes

The Sorrel bulked up quickly and produced plenty of leaves throughout the season, which I have used in curries and other dishes. And the Rhubarb supplied a couple of kilos of fruit. We added manure around the crown at the end of the season, and will add more in Spring, to feed the hungry roots.

The comfrey has provided it's first harvest and I now have a bucket brewing (right) over winter that will give me comfrey tea, a homemade liquid fertiliser, to feed both edible and ornamental plants plants this coming season. Comfrey is rich in Nitrogen, which supports leafy growth, and Potassium, which promotes strong stem growth, flowering and fruiting of both edible and ornamental plants. I decided I didn't need two comfrey plants, so one has been dug up, and an apple tree has been planted in its place.

The apple trees were finally added at the end of November, after I chose and ordered three varieties at the October Apple Day that I attended. The trees that are all 4-5 years old, and there is a slight chance I might get fruit as early as next season. Fingers crossed.

The apple trees I chose were the following: Newton Wonder - double cordon (west-facing border)

Lord Lambourne (left) and Egremont Russet (right) - both single cordons (south-facing border)

A damson has been added to another part of the kitchen garden area. So not in the forest garden per se, but very close by (like, a couple of metres), so I thought it was worth a mention. I suspect it will be 2 or more years before I get any fruit off this tree. And I have planted some crocuses and daffidols in the border, so I get some early season pretty and the bees will have some food.

Overall, I feel like I've harvested quite a lot for the first season of my forest garden border. I'm not expecting to make any further changes to the planting and layout, so now all the plants can settle in and get growing for this coming and future seasons. And maybe, just maybe, I'll get a couple of apples next autumn?!

 Overview of the south-facing border in December.

Overview of the west-facing border in December

If you are interested in seeing how I planned the forest garden border, see my post creating a mini forest garden border.

* * * * *
Plant List
I've updated the plant list for the whole border, to include the recent additions.

Canopy layer
Apple trees: Malus Newton Wonder, Malus Lord Lambourne, Malus Egremont Russet
Prunus domestica 'Golden Transparent' (greengage)

Just outside of the Forest Garden border are also:
Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Ballerina' and Prunus insititia 'Shropshire Damson'

Shrub layer
Azalea (variety unknown)
Cranberry (variety unknown)
Vaccinium corymbosum 'Bluecrop' (blueberry)
Vaccinium corymbosum 'Hortblue Petite' (blueberry)

Perennial layer - edible
Akebia quinata
Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum'
Origanum vulgare 'Aureum' (golden oregano)
Rhubarb (variety unknown)
Rumex acetosa (non-flowering sorrel)
Symphytum x uplandicum 'Bocking 14' (comfrey)

Perennial layer - ornamental
Knautia macedonica
Lychnis coronaria Atrosanguinea Group
Omphalodes cappadocica 'Cherry Ingram' (ornamental)

Ground cover (plants mixed all around the border)
Ajuga reptans 'atropurpurea'
Allium ursinum (wild garlic/ramsons)
Armeria pseudarmeria 'Ballerina Lilac'
Crocus Etruscus Zwanenburg
Crocus Orange Monarch
Crocus Sieberi Spring Beauty
Cyclamen hederifolium
Fragaria x ananassa 'Samba' (strawberry)
Galanthus 'Ophelia'
Narcissus Brackenhurst
Narcissus Minnow
Narcissus Mother Duck
Narcissus Rijnvelds Early Sensation
Phacelia tanacetifolia
Primula vulgaris
Pulmonaria 'Blue Ensign'
Viola odorata 'Queen Charlotte'

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Happy new year

Spectacular sunset from our front garden

As you can see, we experienced a pretty amazing sunset on the evening of 29th December. Going by the 'red sky at night' maxim, we were hoping for a good day the next day. We weren't disappointed, and I got the clearest ever photos of the Peak District near Sheffield, on 30th December.
 View from Stanage Edge looking towards the Hope Valley and Mam Tor

 Looking over the landscape of dry stone walls, enclosed farm land, and Burbage Ridge up to the left

 Looking back at Stanage Edge in the late afternoon sun

A peat moorland, near Ringinglow

Best wishes to you for 2020.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Autumn: Fagus sylvatica - common beech

 Fagus sylvatica hedge (right), and the north-facing hedge flower borders

When we first viewed our home, one of the things that quickly won me over was the beech hedge separating our garden from our neighbour's. Unlike a fence that blocks out light, a hedge allows light to filter through, even in the middle of winter. So it means that my hedge borders, which are north-facing, get a lot more light all year round, giving me a wider variety of plants I can grow in that space. Which is great, but in late autumn, it's all about the beech leaves for me.

And even on cold grey days, the colours still offer a warm glow like an open fire, and welcome colour.

And a beech hedge has the bonus of retaining it's gorgeous orange-brown autumn leaves right through until the next spring, only dropping them when the new green foliage comes through.

As is so often the case, common means beautiful.

* * * * *
This is the last in my Autumn series. Other posts in the series:
  Autumn: Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku'
  Autumn: Prunus mume 'Beni-chidori'
  Autumn: in the Peak District
  Autumn: Salvia 'Amistad'
  Autumn: Cornus 'Norman Hadden'

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Autumn: Cornus 'Norman Hadden'

My friend Kate, and I, took a stroll/roll* around Sheffield Botanical Gardens the other day. As always, there was something interesting to find in the gardens. This time, it was this 'shrub', Cornus 'Norman Hadden'.

As you can probably tell, it's a rather large shrub. In fact, it can grow to between 4-8 metres! And wow, see that fruit?!

Yes, this is the fruit, AND it's edible. Apparently the skin isn't so nice but the flesh inside is rather good. I didn't try one, because it wasn't until I got home and looked it up that I found it was indeed edible.

As you can see, it's a rather large 'shrub'. It's too big for my Forest Garden Border, but I have my eye on it for another corner of the garden.

But I think I'll have to go back to the gardens and sneakily pick one of the fruits and give it a try first ;)

Either way, what a fine tree, I mean, shrub.

*she strolled, I rolled on my mobility scooter

* * * * *
Other posts in the series:
  Autumn: Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku'
  Autumn: Prunus mume 'Beni-chidori'
  Autumn: in the Peak District
  Autumn: Salvia 'Amistad'
  Autumn: Fagus sylvatica