Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Ladybird on borage

Nuff said.

Faulty flowers

Basil is a pain (ok, herb not flower but it is surely all about the title)

What a nightmare to grow.

Has anyone else been successful with the stuff without getting totally frustrated? I want to use all sorts of profanities but this is family website (no, really it's meant to be, you just have a filthy mind)

I've tried seeds - both from a major player in the seed packet market and free from that behemoth of horticultural publishing, Gardener's world. (As an aside, what a cracking word 'behemoth' is. Say it out loud in your deepest possible voice. Don't you feel ten times stronger?!)

Look. The paltry leaves that appear in the foreground would be shunned by even Tesco value pasta.

The basil bush  in the background hides the fact that many of the leaves have holes in them too. They were hidden in the grow house, but still managed to get themselves savaged in places. Having said that, they are probably the most successful of all my attempts, grown in a large pot and kept in the heat.

And at least they have been hardy enough to keep some of their leaves intact. I tried a cheats option of buying ready grown basil from a reputable garden centre. Won't be doing that again:

I didn't even get to eat a leaf.
Last year I had the same problem. I get the feeling these little darlings are a little delicate for our spring climate. More of a summer plant that needs constant care and attention until the last shiver of cold has departed from the night.

However, rather than indulge this herbaceous form of man flu, I'm following a little tip from my garden bible - Mark Diacono's River Cottage veg book  - and using it as a sacrificial plant. Apparently, if you plant basil next to tomatoes it draws all the aphids. Ha ha ha (boom boom!) As an evil Mr Brush might say.

Tomatoes by the canes, basil to the right actually looking better in the photo than real life. Must be airbrushed

Basil, I've just about had enough of you.

Monday, 30 May 2011

A case of bad wind

I've been out in the relentless drizzle for two hours now and at times like this I wish it was my day job. Gardening in the rain is hugely satisfying, as you get gradually soaked but don't care because the air feels fresh, the garden shines and if you're the type who talks to plants I imagine you can almost feel the euphoria as they indulge in their equivalent of a wet t-shirt competition.

So if you're reading this curled up in a blanket waiting for the British summer before you clear the debris from the soil you should know by now that it came and went over Easter so haul your backside out there.

However, wind is a different beast altogether. It's no fun gardening in even the lightest breeze. It stresses out the plants, scatters petals, leaves and baby produce all over the place and messes up your hair.

The petals and leaves cover your finely-tilled growing space, but it's the destruction of the young that is most distressing.  I gathered up what would have made some fine apples and pears, but after a few days lying distraught on the ground are now shrivelled and decaying:

Destroyed by vindictive gusts, that pass through with little thought for the carnage left behind, the brutality of the elements claim their victims. Not that I'm bitter...

Humble pie

I was in the garden of a coffee shop the other day when this little character popped up:

One thing that spending time in the garden has opened my ears to is birdsong. I can now distinguish the shrill tweets of a great tit from the sweet melody of a blackbird and ear battering screech of the crows and seagulls. Yes, I'm still at war with the crows (my first post)

And before you know it you're walking along country lanes actively concentrating on the snippets of song all around you (if you find yourself doing this with a pair of binoculars and anorak, you've gone too far, should turn around, go home stand in front of the mirror and take a good look at yourself).

The same happens with plants. A walk outdoors suddenly opens up sights you normally ignored. Those swathes of green, peppered with pinks, whites and purples along roadsides and pathways. Grand trees that you take for granted, harbouring the pigeons that soil your freshly washed car. And somehow manage to land it on the door handle.

You could find yourself having one of those moments where you are in awe of nature, of the variety and ability of nature to remind you just how vast yet subtle a creature it can be, and reduce you to your individual status.

And then you watch Gordon Ramsey in Vietnam, where anything that moves gets eaten, take one look and the blackbird and say "I don't suppose you have 23 mates who'd like to come for dinner, I cook a mean pie?"

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Just for show?

I'm going to go slightly off piste with this post and just offer an opinion on that celebration of gardening that is the Chelsea flower show.

Gardening stirs every emotion possible from slug rage to intangible new seedling joy. If the recent BBC coverage is to be believed, then gardening elicits nothing but positivity, awe, enlightenment, passion and pride.

From what I've seen and heard people put an immense amount of work and pin a lot of personal hope on their Chelsea gardens. And a lot of people go with genuine excitement, or miss out with proper disappointment.

Yet watching some of the coverage the whole thing fills me with a slightly uncomfortable feeling that I just can't express, but I'll try.

Part of it feels like the horizon - in sight, real, but so far away that reaching it can only ever be in the imagination. I accept it's there, and there are people on the horizon sailing happily and luxuriously, but it's just not for me.

The other part is borne of experience. One of the gardens this year was a concept between an architect and a garden designer to create a vertical food garden on London Bridge to supply Borough Market with local food.  It was explained as a wholesome, world saving concept embedded with decency and a desire to produce for the common and greater good.

I lived behind the market for 2 years. The foodie worshiping of it, which has gone from a market of quality raw ingredients to a cash cow for premium artisan products and ready grilled lunches more quickly than you can say Jamie's Italian, also smacks of people not willing to question what they're being sold at what price. Not using their eyes or taste buds. Although I hear Jamie's Italian is rather good...and maybe this concept would arrest the runaway gravy train? Or maybe rocket would hit £5 a barrel, er I mean packet.

Yet, it was the virtuous warbling that got me the most. I actually met the architect years ago, directly across the table at a tense meeting involving a large proposed development. In these libelous times where a tweet could land you on a precarious branch or two, I shall keep my experience of that meeting personal. That the tv screen remains in one piece is simply my bad aim.

What fascinates me most about gardening is the mess, the tension, the mistakes, the failures, the battles, the reality.

I sense I'm probably wrong about Chelsea and that the place is a buzz of ideas and inspiration that fuel people for the year ahead. But right now, I'd rather ditch the glitz and glamour of the show, forget the characters parading themselves for the cameras and judges and stick to the integrity fighting the failures just to get magic out of a seed, some soil, a slosh of water and a burst of sun. Now who's being virtuous..?!

It's a shame about May


It can put the fear into some and send others into adrenalin-fuelled excitement. And if you went to boarding school, probably both.

I have stepped out into the garden with increasing despair this month, aching for a free day to tend to every aspect of the garden which I spent all of March and April building up.

Yet as the long easter celebrations faded in the memory I could see I was losing a grip on things. The sun shone, plants grew and snails appeared. And as the winds picked up and I allowed myself to be blown this way and that by non-gardening commitments. With every weekend booked up, I relied on my Monday-Friday. But weeknights I would come home tired and hungry hoping that all I needed was fuel before I could emerge into the garden to make the most of the lighter evenings.

Sadly I burnt out most days. And the impact on the garden is, to me, more than just disappointment. I feel I've failed my veg.

Rotting beetroot leaves, strangled by red onion
For all my excitement over the raspberries and emerging peas, I had better own up to the disaster that are my dwarf beans, embarrassment that have been my beetroot, and just overall tangle of peas that could have been far better tended to:

Peas - meant to grow up the cane have attached themselves to peas in a pot, surrounded by patio weeds
The remaining dwarf beans, little growth and leaves devoured by who knows what. Debris all around too.

All this in the week of that holy grail of gardening - the Chelsea flower show. I have particular views on west London's horticultural orgy that I'm in two minds about sharing. Maybe for a later post. But right now, the gulf between a gold medalist's manicured perfection and my weather beaten, hand bitten cuticles couldn't be greater.

Quite frankly, it all comes down to discipline. No matter how tired you are, or what the weather is, to achieve greatness with your marrow, melons or gooseberries you need to stick to pampering them daily.

I reckon that if you work out what tasks to do over the weeks ahead, manage the small everyday tasks and clear your diary for at least one decent stint a week, you can probably stay in control. As with training for a marathon, small runs all week and a big run at the weekend will sort you out, so too gardening. Both come with rewards. Both can be done in ridiculous outfits.

Finally, today I have a few hours to spare. Unfortunately, it's because we lost our qualifying race at a regatta this morning and I've returned home tail between my legs without a trophy again. But where better to reset, deal with the windy conditions admirably and reeeelax (that sentence dedicated to Fraser who thinks I'll run out of rowing terms to use on this blog very soon).

Friday, 27 May 2011

Stunted growth

Otherwise known as


Left - compost rocket;  right - garden soil rocket

My experience of rocket in the brash outdoors is that it just keeps on growing up, and fast.

The windowsill lot however are now month in and seriously guys, you're looking a bit stumpy. You also all seem to be leaning towards the window, desperate to join your brothers in the salad patch.

Now you wouldn't give your child a cigarette. You may give them a small glass of red at dinner aged 4 because that's what the French do, And now the residents of north London do because they read in the paper that the French do. But you wouldn't give them a cigarette and not only because it stunts your growth. There are other things that do that, like starving them of light and the great outdoors, it seems. At least that's what my experiment (not tested on animals) suggests.

I'm disappointed. I want the rocket to look the part. Getting all the sun reflected through the window, the least they could have done is got a tan.

At least, I was disappointed until I tasted them a minute ago (a rather odd breakfast I admit). You're not going to get a more fiery punch from a weedy looking thing than I just did I can tell you! I actually had to take it out it was so peppery. Impressive, but I consider it revenge for rocket abuse.

So, if you do leave your child to grow up in the cupboard under the stairs, be prepared when you open the door for them to come out and kick you hard in the wotsits. And let that be a lesson to you.

Tonight I shall be adorning dinner plate with this lot. My experiment suggests you can grow rocket on a windowsill and although not the best in show, it certainly delivers on taste. If you've been joining in with the rocket challenge, write to me and let me know if you've had the same results?

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Bring back the cane

Strawberries are a bit like Queen. Everyone likes them, even your mum (especially your mum), always great at a party, but just not edgy enough. They were once, but not in your lifetime (apologies to anyone I've just alienated)

Raspberries however have bite, attitude and... lets just say a fruit that only needs to make a ripple in an ice cream and still have it named after them deserves respect.

And without a doubt I'm more attached to my raspberries than anything else I'm growing. The two things that have become obvious to me that I didn't really pay much attention to last year are:

1. Raspberries are bushy (technical term)
2. They need at least a year before you get some proper fruit.

A predator on my raspberry leaf?

I've heard rumours from 2 to 5 years before bumper harvests can appear. My suggestion is, as always, just stick 'em in the ground or in a big container and see what you get. Whoever lives in this flat after me will be damn lucky if I leave in the next year, but if I hadn't stuck canes in last year I wouldn't have killed my grumpy morning mood instantly with fresh raspberries in my porridge. And I'm no fun grumpy.

So, head over to get potting and see what you can do...

Crazy stem from this year's fresh raspberry growth

Readers chives

Well, broad beans actually. But the title made me chuckle so much this morning I had to use it, even though you really really shouldn't laugh at your own jokes.

Thank you to Hanzy for sending me a pic of her broad beans, which have outstripped mine to maturity.

Bonus points for the arty bowl and bean arrangements. Brownie points to her husband for actually shelling them. Shelling was something I didn't appreciate needed doing with broad beans until last year. Like runners, I'd never eaten them. It was the first thing I ever grew, and after picking them and photographing for posterity I was itching to try them.

But not till staring at them for ages. In the back of my mind I could hear my voice shouting "you have to shell them", whilst I was just staring at them thinking, hmmm they look a bit tough.

What with their funny light green jackets and all.

So I boiled them (surely the most unimaginative way of cooking, but I'm a boy with limited cooking imagination) and drained them and then to my horror/surprise I found I quite liked the challenge of seeing how many scalding hot beans I could shell as quickly as possible to eat them before they go cold. There was definitely pain involved.

The next time you're round at a friends for dinner and they serve you broad beans, you may have to question what's hidden in their wardrobe...

Anyway, it's still good to sow some broad beans at this time of year, so again tick the box below and I'll try and write up something in the Get Potting page

Thanks again to Hanzy, and if you all send me pics (Thehaplessgardener@gmail.com) I'll start my own Tony Hart style gallery (cue music)

Sunday, 22 May 2011

With friends like these

I have garden envy

I knew I would. I've been here before, to my friend's mum's house. Er, for parties. For my friend you understand.

Anyway, she has a veg patch to make you properly green. Broad beans as high as your chest, raspberry plants billowing out. As her partner said ' a labour of love,' making my ramshackle efforts worth considering premature gardening retirement. She even has a full size cage to protect the crops.

It's like building your first Ikea wardrobe then being shown your mate's dad's hand built walk in wardrobe. Complete with Saville row suits to put your moth-eaten M&S off-the-peg to shame.

Still, I could take comfort from the company of my good friends, who I've shared life's ups and downs with for 12 years now. Almost blood. The kind of people who would put a reassuring arm on your shoulder and say 'Tom, it's the taking part that counts. We read your blog, it's inspiring, we love it, we can tell you love gardening, keep it up.'

But of course, none of them have read it. In spite of all those Facebook links that they'd "skimmed". Vicki, Ben, Laura, Lil, I could smell the guilt on your breath. Special mention to Ben for reading a blog I linked on my blog by not my actual blog. He saw the word Mojito. Well, I'll soon find out if they've read it like they promised under duress of alcohol and guilt trips...

Thankfully, I've received some wonderful messages from those of you who are enjoying it and I just want to take this chance to say thank you, it's hugely appreciated! I hope you continue to enjoy it and I also hope to make things more interactive in the near future, but keep sending me your tales by posting comments or email pics to Thehaplessgardener@gmail.com!

And as always, it took one of those small moments of unexpected joy to convince me that all the time out there is worthwhile. A few days ago my raspberries had a touch of colour. This afternoon, bursting out from the depths of the undergrowth, the unmistakable deep lipstick red of my first raspberries. I ate one straight from the bush, and as all new gardeners do, savoured every piercingly tangy sweet drop of juice and tingle of texture. 

Last year, one was all I got. This year, a bounty is ripening before my eyes! So if you want to grow raspberries, click on the 'I want to grow' box at the end of this post and I'll see what scrap of experience i can put together in a forthcoming post.

Even better, competition time, to stop me just devouring them post suggestions on what to make with them (from puds to alcohol) and I'll pick one to try.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Cracking pear and Great tits

I'm sorry, it's Friday morning its been a long week and I'm in one of those moods.

I'm not sure of the sensitivities of my readership so if the number of viewers plummets I'll stop the innuendos and revert to a more sober form of reporting.

But seriously, my pear tree is looking very promising:

And the birds were going nuts for nuts this morning:

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Sometimes the garden speaks for itself

Wednesday morning was wet. That kind of positivity sapping, dull grey kind of wet. And on days like those the best thing you can do is just step outside in your dressing gown, socks and sandals and just take it all in. Do it before remembering what rain does to your pjs. And before you look down at your feet and realise just how unattractive socks in sandals are.

But who cares how you look. This time of year is when you get the unexpected thrill of the first fruits of your months of sowing and preparation.

The buzz never diminishes. On Wednesday a pea appeared from nowhere. As in, a pod on the pea plant, not some giant talking pea with legs. That would just be weird. 

I had the same surprise last year and it reminded me that for all the neglect of the last week or so, the garden is preparing to inspire me to ignore friends, ditch work, slack off rowing and possibly shun sleep for the next few months as we get to the business end of things.

But for now, it was enough to just stand back and admire:
Baby broad beans
Rain soaked curry leaves

Rasberries ripening

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


A boss once told me, in a wise old tone, "it's easy to do things if you're motivated, it's when you're not motivated that's the real test".

What with taxes to pay, fear of terrorism and the Apprentice it's hard for a boy these days to remember to tend to his onions.

I have an onion dilemma. My red onions, planted in February are looking healthy on top and are teasing me just above the soil. That streak of glistening red hints at treasures below. But is it too early to harvest. Is it all suggestion and disappointment? Like padded underwear.

Well, the instructions say wait till the leaves die down in late summer / early autumn.

Want it, can't have it.

Necessity has seen my garden take a back seat for a whole week. Guilt aside, my recent time away from the blog has not been in vain. I've heard tales of a lemon tree grown from seed, seen my grandad's old greenhouse been reborn by my sister in law, and even given my dad some Pak Choi that he would always buy from the chinese supermarket well before it was famous. You hear that eh, my dad's more hip than your dad (do kids say 'hip' these days?.

Talking of kids, yesterday my ex's five year old showed me with such pride the nasturtium and gourd she and her school had planted. I'm of course all for kids growing their own and learning about it far more quickly than I seem to but no, I don't know what gourd is either. It sounds Victorian. Possibly used for torture.

So I've just tried google images. And now I'm worried about that primary school as for each picture of a squash-like veg, there is also something the modern tribal gentleman should never be without...

Be careful what you plant...

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Seven days

Otherwise known as


Seven days in and the sprouting became seedling.

I planted them on Monday,  put them on the windowsill on tuesday, we were making - no hold on that's not right. Craig David you have a lot to answer for.

I actually didn't water them on Thursday or Friday or Saturday so I gave them some water on Sunday and they've done fine.

Three days on and they now look proper great

Windowsill rocket after 10 days

For those of you who read about the rocket challenge, contemplated it and then got distracted by Eastenders, it's not too late.

Before you know it you'll have that distinctive peppery taste at your finger tips. Rather than Craig David:

Monday, 9 May 2011

All the ducks...

Do you remember that Lemon Jelly song 'Nice weather for ducks'?

Can't stand it.

When was the last time you saw a duck frolicking in a downpour? That's right, never. Because you had run for shelter and weren't paying attention. Believe me, ducks are no happier in a deluge than in a pancake.

There was a collective outpouring of relief from gardeners this weekend as the rain came. Tweets, posts and blogs everywhere praising those little drops from the heavens. My guess is that they were mostly from people who never get round to watering properly and think that old grey beard up on that cloud has freed them from guilt.

However, if you have a growhouse you can't escape the guilt:

One of my many dry seedlings

Yet what I can't understand is that if perfect growing conditions are a delicate balance between nutrient, air and water in the soil, and if you have to watch just how little or much you water plant by plant, then surely a soaking from above is akin to building a house of matchsticks only for God to be holding a lighter?

Perhaps not. I was advised by a work colleague that rainwater doesn't penetrate the soil in the same way as normal watering, and that in summer a good soaking once a week is worthwhile. Putting aside that one type of water is better than another (?!) it seems that even if you forgot to water your garden all last year (you know who you are!), stick to once a week and you may get more than just rhubarb this year.

Grow herb, make Mojito

When someone you know has their take on the modern world voted the best blog in Bristol by one of the City's trendiest magazines then all you want to do is say...

I read it and was into it before you were. Damn you Clifton Life.

And then you want everyone else to know that you read it first before they did, damn them.

But Kate's accolade is thoroughly deserved for what is her path towards a more enlightened way of life. Curb your consumerism makes you think without playing the guilt trip on you. A route you take willingly rather than being whipped along by fear mongers or worthies.

And to prove it's not all about bigging up someone I know, she has posted something rather inspirational for the amateur gardener with a penchant for cocktails. Or olive oil:


Happy reading

(Garden) path to ruin

I am almost ashamed to post this next photo.

But I think it's time we all came clean. Unless you get paid to do it, are all consumed by it, or both there will be one or two little things that get in the way of stepping out into the garden.

Like beer. And the consequences of beer.

Not all of us can go the full Monty Don and calmly show off a perfectly made bed, next to a beautifully trimmed, um, box hedge.

So, the scene this weekend was a typically disturbing one in my back yard. Garden equipment strewn across the lawn, ornamental duck toppled, plastic pots littering the place, kneeling mat on the veg, empty beer bottle from Tuesday night, empty compost bag from Tuesday night, dug up potatoes from Tuesday...hold on - of course, my friends had to 'catch the train'.

Keeping a garden presentable is, for some I imagine, their very reason for gardening. What would the neighbours think otherwise? Others, like me, think it's all about getting stuck in and giving your lazy streak a bit of indulgence.

But I do believe, even if I can't claim to have learnt, that a tidy garden allows you the pleasure of giving all your energy to your veg. It allows you to keep on top of all the tiny tasks, like weeding, watering, killing slugs, weeding, watering, killing snails, weeding watering, clearing cat parcels, killing cats, er, earwigs I mean.

So, my garden tip for the day - put everything away before you lock the door. And if you have friends round, lock the door until they put everything away.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Gardening for good

My new gardening pal Kate, and her partner in crime Kat had a moment of madness last Thursday. After a long chat with a charity that builds schools in Africa they set themselves a challenge to find 250 people who would be willing to raise £100 each in one month. In return, each person would build a long term relationship with the school and be part of something quite special.

So I popped along on Thursday for a chat - incentivised by wine of course and yes, I'm now part of the 250 and following the excitement of tuesday's adventure with the salad butcherer and other friends, I'll be running a little intro into getting your hands dirty with gardening for anyone who's interested, with the aim of raising my £100 from those who come along.  If you're interested email me at Thehaplessgardener@gmail.com

But the problem with wine in the company of inspiring and enthusiastic people is that you then agree to saving the world. So I've joined the flamingo twins as they're affectionately known in scouring the country for anyone who is up for the same challenge - to raise £100 in June yourself. There's plenty of support and ideas if you go to Kat and Kate's superb little website that tells you tons more:


A far cry from my first broad bean, bring it on!

If you can't beat them

Right, this hapless gardener is now on Twitter...


Come follow, retweet and whatever else it is you kids get up to on it!

Wanton destruction 2

Would you trust this animal?

Last year, him and his kind thought it appropriate to add extra fertiliser to my soil. After a summertime battle, I stepped up my game and this year i added zoo fertiliser to my soil (affectionately known as zoo poo) which apparently they don't like, but fruit trees and most veg love. It has been so effective that I've only had one episode this year. For those of you embarking on a veg bed project in the vicinity of these untrustworthy moggys, they tend to target freshly raked beds. A bit of orange peel scattered around sometimes works. Or a lion.

So, happy that we'd found a mutual understanding, I've been busily gardening this spring.

Then, two nights ago I was woken with a jolt. The sound of cats squealing as if impaled on a rogue asparagas spear. A crash, and all manner of comotion. I just could not be arsed to get up and look out the window but my heart sank. Some damage had been done in the garden...

And it was the broad beans that took the brunt of it

Even now, a day later I can't bring myself to think of something amusing to say about it. I'm angry and gutted. I want to pick up the cats and hurl them as far over the wall as I can manage. But like snails, they'll find a way back. I may open negotiations with Bristol zoo for that lion...

Small cats. More dangerous than a friend with scissors in front of your salad leaves.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Wanton destruction 1

On Tuesday I had five very excitable friends over and likened their glee to kids in a sweet shop (see My seeds are for sharing).

Now even those without parental knowledge are aware what happens when one sweet too many (or should that be one sweet) passes the lips to trigger what can only be described as instant turbo fuel injection.

In the interest of sharing the harvesting pleasure I gifted the delicate task of picking salad leaves to one of my friends.

When said friend returned with a bunch of leaves, roots attached in hand I must admit i feared for my lettuce.

Then yesterday morning I stepped out to a heartbreaking scene:

Now, if you've not yet grown your own salad you may be wondering what all the cries of pain are about. To you this may seem like a few wilted and broken leaves among a healthy bed. To me Colonel Hathi and his pachyderm have just charged through.

You see, once you start growing something weird and quite frankly disturbing happens. Every leaf matters.

If you try and wash the leaves in a sieve and one makes a suicidal leap into the sink you become a Samaritan and thrust out a hand to catch it.

So the next time I ask someone to pick my salad, there will be instructions.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Breaking rocket news

The windowsill rocket has germinated.

Just four days.

Compared to most gardening that's an instant hit. Like a pop tune, going straight for the jugular. No hanging around. None of this prog rock 'it grows on you after 20 listens' nonsense.

I'm going to have to plant some more. Yeah baby, hit me one more time.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

My seeds are for sharing

Not only a chat up line for a sleazy gardener, but also a new found pleasure from gardening.

If a runner bean plant is the gift that keeps giving, then sharing out your seeds is positively philanthropic.

Tonight I roped five curious, enthusiastic, but apprehensive friends round to the garden of veg dreams to see if I could stir a bit of interest in the humble seed tray and its potential. The aim was simply to say you can learn tons by just trying it out, watching, experimenting and finding out the answers as you go along, whether from experts, books or the back of a seed packet.

There was plenty of nodding and the odd question as I did my best to share my very limited knowledge about soil type, veg groups, and what grows where, picked up from experience, books and the gardening course I did in Bath. A burst of excitement came as volunteers tested the soil's pH but that was just the warm up.

Suddenly eyes lit up as the seeds came out. A veritable feast of beans, roots, chillis, onions and all manner of half empty packets.

The only comparison I can think of is 5 kids walking into Willy Wonka's new sweet shop with the lids off all the jars and permission to pick and mix...

From then on, I didn't need to talk (although as usual I tried), these kids were having their own special sugar rush getting hands dirty in the compost and conjouring images of bumper harvests in their minds. 

We ate food inspired by the garden, sourced from, um, Sainsburys. And chicken. Although we did dig up some new potatoes. About 10 very little new potatoes. 6 weeks growth is clearly not enough and the remaining plants will be staying in the ground a bit longer.

The evening ended with 5 proud new veg parents.

Thanks to Jess, Eleri, Will, Karl and Laura for making the trek over (in Eleri's case, the seeds had their very own seat on the train across the border to Wales!). Proud parent indeed! 

I was so into it I didn't even take any photos, so you guys can be thankful your mug shots aren't on here. 

Time to share the gardening love

Slugging it out

There comes a point in every gardener's year where you have to take a deep breath, say a little prayer and suppress your protective instincts and release your seedlings into the wild.

Last year I had a squash plant. It was duly squished.

Last year's courgette, leaves and fruit partially munched - that turned out to be starters for the slugs
Slugs and I just don't want to share the same canvas. You could say last year I lost by knockout. This year I'm determined to go the whole 12 rounds. But this is no ordinary fight. No, we're going underground, fighting dirty.

What weapons are available to the slug fighter?

Pellets - standard in the extreme fighter's arsenal, but controversial to some.

By hand - as long as you're not squeamish

Barriers (soft) - egg shells, coffee grounds, sand. The delicate underbelly will be torn apart ha ha ha

Barriers (hard) - a cut plastic bottle. Ain't no slug getting past that

Nematodes - mini trojan horses that devour slugs from the inside. Apparently you can buy in packets, add to water and apply to the ground. Nasty, cunning and sweet revenge.

Beer traps - rubbish. Although i used Carlsberg. Bristol slugs, it seems, are discerning (or go for cider).

Slug rage is currently only suitably calmed with pellets. But this year I'm also trying copper (recommended to me by a copper - true story!) It gives a mild electric shock for any slug that dares. Suitably nasty.

Protection for my, er, cucumber

Lets get ready to rumble...

Monday, 2 May 2011



Iron. Popeye. Dark. Tough

A symbol of strength if ever there was. Spinach is good for you ( I would say it's full of goodness but that word is tainted - just what is Dairylea goodness?)

Planting spinach is a statement of intent. It says to others, 'once I harvest this my body will be running on the green version of Castrol GTX - I'll be a well oiled work hard play harder go getter.'

But as we all know, behind brash claims lie uncomfortable truths. It's common knowledge that this most arrogant of veg claimed iron content tens times the actual. But this year spinach has been found well and truly wanting by a more modern green. A cultured and exotic specimen that still packs a culinary, nutrional and visual punch, but with a bit more sophistication and class.

May I introduce the new alpha veg:



Having planted a row of each on 19 March, alongside each other with equal light and water, it's clear who got all the nutrients when it came to it.

Foreground - Spinach
Background - Pak Choi
Spinach - all mouth

Rocket man

In an attempt to inspire friends to grow some stuff , I've created a separate page on which I'll try and show what I've done to get particular fruit and veg started (see the Get potting page).

The first one is rocket. The peppery, punchy daddy of salads is really easy to grow outdoors.

Outdoor rocket, flanked by Dill and Borage

However, I'm trying this one on the window sill with plain garden soil and then with compost to see if it is even easier.

I have no idea if this will work...(although it really should)

So as a mini May challenge, try the same and give me a shout if you are. Even better, post your window sill rocket pics on this posting in a few weeks

Sunday, 1 May 2011


Yesterday, in the heat of the morning sun I was ruing leaving my waterbottle on land as I was sat along with crew and cox waiting for the start of our regatta race. Water, it seems, is rather necessary. And not just to row on.

As we trudged back to base, boat on shoulder, bitter at being ROBBED BY CHEATING *@!? WHO CUT US UP AT THE START FORCING US TO STOP BUT AMAZINGLY DIDN'T GET DISQUALIFIED, I felt a pang of guilt. My veg is sitting there baking too without having had so much as a drop in the last 2 days.

Now, you and I just grab some water from the tap, or bottle. But for plants it gets technical.

What's the best way to water them efficiently? I'm reliably informed that you can buy a nozzle for your hose from Asda for £2 that has 7 different ways to spray water. Apparently, one can mist one's seedlings, cone one's flower beds and, ahem, “shower” one's raspberries

And how much water do they need? I've come across two schools of thought. One is to nurture them, feed them as much water as they ask for and you'll guarantee their survival.

Pah, says the other school. Pansys. Make them fight for their water, their roots will go deeper in search of it and they'll be all the stronger for it. It reminds me of a Johnny Cash song 'A boy named Sue' where the dad justifies his son's feminine term of address by saying he knew it would be character building.

And whichever school you want to rock up to, how do you know if you're achieving your aim? I mean, plants just don't talk (although I could be swayed on that one)

So every couple of days my 10 broad bean plants get a watering can's worth, as do the raspberries. The garlic, onions and peas (about 5 of each) share one. I think that's a fair balance. 

But lets say you've come over all protective and decide to do a decent amount of watering every day or so. Well, now you've got to contend with a far larger form of guilt. Climate change. Yes, by filling up the watering can, you're taking away more precious resource, using more energy to keep the nation's water system alive and goodness knows what else. That's for another day (although some would say, if I wait any longer there won't be another day).

My concern is that with the grow your own movement becoming ever popular, are we ready for the psychological fall out for when the garden centre runs out of water butts?

The Hapless Kitchen Gardener

My photo
I only feel hapless because some people make it look easy to grow 10 ft marrows or a banquet of greens whereas my courgettes got nabbed by killer slugs and I only got one raspberry. So tips and stories from people less hapless than I are more than welcome. As a disclaimer though, none of my comments should be taken as expert advice on which you can rely! © Unless stated otherwise, and with the exception of guest content where that guest retains copyright, all photos and posts are the copyright of Tom Carpen and may not be used without permission.