Category Archives: gardening

Eleven-peas-in-a-pod

Pea wars and tech woes

I’ve been missing from the virtual world this week. I’ve been fighting a battle – well, two, actually. Though, the second one required me to call up the cavalry.

Did you see my beautiful fresh garden peas on my Wordless Wednesday post last week? This is the image here if you missed it.

First Champion of England Pea Pod 2016

I’ve been carefully watching the pea pods gradually plumping up and this was my ‘test pod’, to check if my tall garden peas had fully grown and were ready to pick. A pod-full of bright green, sweet, juicy peas – just right and just ripe for picking. There were quite a few pods at this stage now, so I was looking forward to my first Champion of England tall pea harvest.

The next morning, I went off to pick my peas. But OH NO! Horror! My beautifully ripe pods of peas had already been picked! Well, not as much ‘picked’ as pecked!

Damaged pea pod - pecked by birds
One of the damaged pea pods – pecked open by birds

This was the sorry sight that met my eyes on my tall pea frame. Lots of ripe peas ripped away. Some of the pea plants were mangled too – evidently visited by a stampede of starving birds.

My battle with the pea-eating birds has been ongoing this week, attack and counter-attack … them against me – me against them. Though I must say they have been very sneaky … or, from their point of view, very careful and clever! I’ve still never actually caught them in the act of pea-munching … but I do now have a reliable witness who has seen them both picking the peas and then picnicking happily on the shed roof 😉

I was initially inclined to blame the local population of jackdaws, as I’ve previously encountered them pea pinching. But then I began to think the amount of damage there’d been to the pea plants, this must be the work of heavier birds. I then believed the wood pigeons must be responsible. However, the witness for the prosecution was quite certain – definitely the jackdaws, and very persistent they have been too!

Tall peas covered in netting and fleece
The first line of defence – garden netting and fleece on the pea plants

The first of my counter-offensives saw me covering the whole of the tall pea frame and the growing pea plants with a combination of garden netting and fleece (in the pouring rain, of course!). Did this work? No, not good enough!

Next, I added willow hoops to hold the netting away from the pea plants. Still not good enough! I then added unstable hazel twigs on the outside of the willow hoops and the netting. Promising at first, but still not completely effective.

Now, hopefully, I have added the final layer of defence – chicken wire! With each additional layer of defence, it’s certainly becoming more difficult to pick the peas … not only for the jackdaws, but also for me!

Protecting pea plants
Three layers of defence – protecting peas from the birds

My other battle this week has been against a machine … my desktop computer to be precise. At the end of last week, I’d carefully prepared to upgrade my computer’s operating system. Early in the morning that Saturday, I hit the upgrade button.

For the first two hours everything went smoothly. I was completely in control. Then, boxes began to appear. The boxes said things like, “failed” and “cannot complete the upgrade”. Before I’d managed to digest the first message, succeeding ones appeared much too quickly. UGH!

There was nothing else for it, I’d have to call in my tech team. “Are you busy, dears? I’m afraid something’s gone wrong,” I called up the stairs.

My children came to the rescue. My carefully planned upgrade was now in tatters. I don’t consider myself entirely useless with computer software but my two teenage sons are invaluable when things do go wrong. Rather like my ‘pea wars’ against the jackdaws, we devised a battle plan against the computer.

Gradually, over the course of the week, I am glad to report that not only have I managed to repel the maurauding jackdaws, but we have also managed to win out against the computer’s persistent attempts to thwart us 😉

Hopefully, peace and tranquility have now been restored so I can get back to my blogging … 😀

J Peggy Taylor

Home-grown-potatoes

Home-grown Potatoes

One of the special moments in the gardening year is digging down into the earth to harvest your very first batch of first early potatoes of the season.

In the shops, these early potatoes are known as ‘New Potatoes’ … but there is nothing like the the taste of delicious earthy tubers you have lovingly raised yourself.

‘First Early’ potatoes are simply the type that are normally planted earliest in the year and are therefore ready to harvest first. The ‘First Early’ potatoes I chose to plant this year are the Pentland Javelin variety.

Back in the cold days of January, I took delivery of my Pentland Javelin ‘seed’ potatoes and set them up on cardboard egg boxes to ‘chit’. ‘Chitting’ potatoes means leaving them in a light, frost-free place to start sprouting little shoots from the potato ‘eyes’.

01Pentland Javelins chitting in greenhouse
My Pentland Javelin seed potatoes chitting in the greenhouse

Here in the northern UK, we would often expect to be planting out our first early potatoes during March. But with our cold Spring, this wasn’t possible this year. My Pentland Javelins sat patiently in the greenhouse until 11th April before I felt the Winter had sufficiently turned to Spring to risk planting out my first earlies.

Planting potatoes on comfrey leaf beds
Planting potatoes on beds of fresh comfrey leaves

Each seed potato is set into its own little planting hole on a bed of fresh green Comfrey leaves. For me, this is another indicator that it’s time to plant my early potatoes – when the Comfrey has grown enough leaves to make the potato planting hole beds. I add Comfrey leaves because Comfrey is a wonderful natural plant food that feeds my growing potato tubers as the Comfrey leaves break down in the soil. I’d also added a good helping of garden compost to the planting row, as potatoes really benefit from a nutrient-rich soil.

The seed potato tubers are then covered over with a generous amount of soil – and then, you just sit back and wait …

Potato bed - bracken mulch
Bracken mulch to protect the potato bed from snow

But then … oh no! Two weeks after I’d planted my early potatoes, the Winter returned with a final icy blast! I had to dash off and collect bracken to cover over my already-planted potato bed. The bracken mulch provided its protection beautifully – though, I did leave it in place for a few weeks … just to be on the safe side!

Early growth of potato plants
Early growth of potato plants

Gradually, the green shoots of the potato ‘tops’ began to push up through the soil. By mid-May all of the potato plants were showing some green leaves.

Happing or earthing up potato plants
Happing (or earthing) up my potato plants

We had some heavy rain leading into the Bank Holiday Weekend at the end of May and this ample watering produced something of a growth spurt in my potato plants. This meant my task for Bank Holiday Monday was ‘happing up’ the potato plants – otherwise known as ‘earthing up’ – which involves drawing up the soil around the potato plants, leaving a small tuft of green leaves sticking out at the top.

Well-grown potato plants - tall as a garden fork
Well-grown potato plants – tall as the garden fork

The potato plants then grew, and grew and grew … the potato tops were like trees! The potato tops became a regular topic of conversation on the garden. By the end of June they had grown as tall as the garden fork!

Checking if First Early potatoes are ready to harvest
The very first tuber – are the potatoes ready yet?

Now it was time for the Big Question – the exciting part. The tops were well grown. The flowers were beginning to show. But were my early potatoes ready to harvest? All the signs were there, though I still wasn’t quite sure if the potatoes had been growing long enough.

Full of anticipation, I dug up my first Pentland Javelin potato plant. There was my first potato!

Harvesting Pentland Javelins - not quite ready
Harvesting Pentland Javelins – tubers are still a bit too small

When I dug in further, I could see there were a promising number of tubers growing, but, as I’d suspected, they were still a bit too small. I would need to be patient and wait a little longer.

Harvesting my first Pentland Javelin potatoes of 2016
Harvesting my first Pentland Javelin potatoes of 2016

Two weeks into July was the Big Day – my first potato harvest in my new garden space. I selected two plants with open flowers and dug in with great expectations. I wasn’t disappointed this time. Each plant produced a selection of decent sized tubers.

First kilo of Pentland Javelin potatoes 2016
On the scales – my first kilo of Pentland Javelin potatoes 2016

When I returned home with my first cargo of newly harvested potatoes, I weighed them. There was about a kilo of potatoes from the 2 plants.

As I’m sure you know, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’ … and I can tell you, my Pentland Javelin first earlies did not disappoint. They are very tasty, with that genuine ‘earthy’ flavour of home-grown potatoes. Now I’m looking up more potato recipes … 🙂

J Peggy Taylor

Planting up my herb garden

Planting up my Herb Garden

Cooking herbs are essential, aren’t they? How could people possibly manage without bunches of fresh parsley? Or pinches of thyme and marjoram? Or sprigs of mint? Imagine having no handfuls of fresh sage leaves just there when you need them!

Well, perhaps I exaggerate slightly 😉 But I find herbs really are quite easy to grow. Even if you don’t have a garden or outdoor space, your herbs will grow happily in pots on a reasonably sunny window ledge. Before I had my allotment garden, I grew my herbs in pots on my kitchen window ledge or in my yard. Now, I’m growing herbs on the window ledge AND on the allotment. Let me show you what’s where.

Old Thyme plant - New Thyme plants
Old Thyme – New Thyme

My old pot of Thyme was well-used but had grown woody and the leaves are now very small. This Spring I sowed some new Thyme. When I returned to blogging after a long break, I talked about “Making more Thyme“. The thyme has now begun growing on a little and I’ve potted it up into a terracotta pot on my kitchen window ledge. Thyme doesn’t like wet soil, so I find a clay pot is best for growing it.

Pot Marjoram - new plant
Pot Marjoram – new plant

I was aiming to grow Pot Marjoram directly in the herb garden but when the snails ate my seedlings, I resorted to sowing more seed indoors in a seed tray. As with the thyme, the marjoram is growing on a little now and I’ve potted it up into a terracotta pot on the window ledge.

I’ve not harvested leaves from my new thyme or marjoram yet. I’m letting them grow on a little more first. Both my thyme and marjoram plants have benefitted from pinching out – that is removing the growing tips to encourage side growth. If you’re new to gardening or would like to learn more about the process of pinching out, you might like to take a look at the helpful Green Thumb Tip on pinching out by fellow blogger, and experienced gardener, Woodland Gnome, over on her Forest Garden blog.

Titan parsley plants going to seed
Titan parsley plants going to seed

Parsley is a herb I use regularly, so I grow lots of it. Here in my herb garden you can see last year’s parsley plants. This is a flat leaved variety of parsley – “Titan” (from D T Brown). I’ve found it a very sweet, tasty parsley with the deep green leaves produced on short stalks.

I over-wintered some of these plants in pots in the greenhouse so that they still grew and I could harvest from them during the Winter months. Some of the parsley plants just stayed in the ground in a sheltered part of the garden through the Winter and, although they grew more slowly, they were fine. I’ve left my parsley plants to grow their flower heads now and then they’ll hopefully produce seed.

Giant Italian Parsley - in the greenhouse
Giant Italian Parsley – in the greenhouse

This Spring, I’ve chosen a different type of parsley – “Italian Giant” parsley, from the Organic Catalogue. It took the plants a while to get going (though, as with many plants this year, I suspect it did not care for our cold Spring), but now these Italian Giants are beginning to live up to their name.

My Italian Giants are looking rather large for their small pots in the greenhouse so I must get them potted on again soon. I have just begun harvesting leaves from these plants. The large flat bright green leaves are produced on long stalks. I think perhaps this variety doesn’t have quite the full parsley flavour of the “Titan” variety and seems a little drier and less juicy, but it’s still tasty enough.

The Mint cutting in my backyard is growing on into a plant in its own right now
The Mint cutting in my backyard grew on into a plant in its own right

The spearmint plant that I’d nurtured from a cutting a couple of years ago had grown to a nice clump in a pot in my yard. I had hoped to add the mint plant to my new herb garden this Spring, but sadly somehow it didn’t survive the Winter and I lost it altogether.

Large bucket of new herbs
Large bucket of new herbs

To replace my lost mint, I asked a neighbour (who I knew had a large patch of mint in his garden) if he could take a couple of mint cuttings for me. He readily agreed … and the following day presented me with this beautiful large bucketful of herbs – far more than the plant cuttings I was expecting! I could see there was a large clump of spearmint, complete with roots. I could not resist taking a few leaves for a lovely, refreshing cup of mint tea … mmmmm … wonderful.

In the bucket with the mint, there was also a large clump of sage, flowering freely with its gorgeous bee-friendly purple flowers. Sage flowers are so bee-friendly, there were bees visiting these flowers as I was collecting the bucket of herbs from my neighbour, bees visiting while the bucket of herbs stood in my yard and more bees visiting when I took the herbs down to my allotment garden! If you want bees, plant sage!

New sage plants in the herb garden
New sage plants in the herb garden

When I investigated my bucket of new herbs more closely, I found there were two full sage plants, complete with roots. I’ve now planted up these sage plants in the centre of my herb garden, next to my own original sage plants. And the bees are still visiting my sage flowers!

My new Spearmint in a large pot
My new Spearmint in a large pot

I planted my new clump of spearmint into a very large pot and it is currently still standing on the herb garden, though I will be moving it elsewhere in the garden at some point. You have to be careful with mint, as normally it is a very strong grower and can easily do a bit of a take-over in your garden if you aren’t careful. I will choose a permanent spot for my mint when I’ve thought carefully about where will be best. Mint needs rich, moist soil which is quite the opposite of some of the other herbs I like to grow.

Lavender among the herbs
Lavender among the herbs

As well as my culinary herbs, I love lavender. I’ve grown pots of lavender in my yard for years. I love to brush my hands over the leaves and breathe in that beautiful perfume. Lavender is another herb flower that is very popular with bees. The lavender I grow is the old English lavender, “Vera”.

In addition to the lavender plants I keep in my backyard, I have planted out a couple of well-grown lavender cuttings into my herb garden, between the parsley and the sage. I take and cultivate cuttings from my lavender plants to create more plants. As well as receiving unexpected bundles of beautiful herbs from generous neighbours ( 😉 ), taking cuttings is a really useful way of producing new plants for free. I’ll have to show you that process another time.

Pot Marigolds in the herb garden
Pot Marigolds in the herb garden

For the very first time in my life, I am growing Pot Marigolds. I don’t how I’ve never grown them before, but this year I decided to rectify this oversight. I sowed the seeds directly into ‘pots’ in the herb garden. I grew them in bottomless pots so that I knew where I’d sown them! The Pot Marigold plants that the snails have kindly left for me seem to be growing on quite well now and I can even see the promise of flowers.

Soapwort seedlings
Happy, healthy Soapwort seedlings … and they continued to grow

The final herb in my herb garden at the moment is soapwort (Saponaria officinalis). I raised these soapwort plants in my yard a couple of years back (you can read my soapwort tale here). I decided the soapwort plants would benefit from the sunnier position of the herb garden, though, rather like the mint, I’ll need to be careful that the soapwort doesn’t take over, as it too can be a rather vigorous grower.

My soapwort - carefully pruned by the rabbit
My soapwort – carefully pruned by the rabbit

However, I must say, so far there isn’t much chance of the soapwort running amok, as my bob-tailed garden helper is keeping it rather well-pruned! Yes. Of all the herb plants in the herb garden, my visiting rabbit only seems interested in eating … soapwort! 🙂

Are you a herb gardener too? Do you grow your favourite herbs in your garden or in pots?

J Peggy Taylor

WordPress Photo Challenge: Looking Up … at my tall peas

My Champion of England tall peas reach the 8 foot bar
My Champion of England tall peas reach the 8 foot crossbar

Looking up in my allotment garden today, I found my Champion of England tall climbing peas had reached the 8 foot high crossbar on their giant pea frame 😀 (That’s almost 2.5 metres, if you’re metric!)

If you want to learn more about growing climbing peas or about saving this heritage variety of peas from extinction, you can find the rest of the story about my Champion of England tall climbing peas in my post, “A tall pea plant tale”.

For the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge this week, Nancy asked us to “Look up”.

J Peggy Taylor

Tall Pea Plants flowering

A tall pea plant tale

Picking fresh pea pods is one of the delights of Summer vegetable gardening here in the UK. My new allotment garden share means this year I can once again indulge in this delight.

I’ve grown peas in the past, but this time, I’m growing tall peas. Very tall peas they are actually – growing up to 10 feet tall! Now that is tall! (10 feet is about 3 metres if you’re metric 🙂 )

I chose my tall climbing peas from The Real Seed Catalogue. They’re a heritage seed variety called “Champion of England” and, like a lot of heritage seeds, they have a lovely little story behind them.

The Champion of England tall climbing pea is a traditional UK pea, dating back to the mid-19th century. In years gone by, all peas were tall peas, but with the advent of mechanised harvesting, shorter varieties became the norm as the harvesting machines were unable to harvest from taller plants. Once tall peas were no longer grown as commercial crops, apart from a few seeds in seedbanks, the Champion of England pea became unavailable … until one day in 2007.

In 2007, the people at Real Seeds received a letter from a Mr Robert Woodbridge in Lincolnshire. His grandmother had grown Champion of England tall climbing peas in her garden in Pickworth, Lincolnshire and saved their own family strain of these peas since the 1940s.

Mr Woodbridge’s grandfather had worked at a large country house during World War II, mending greenhouses, and his grandmother had originally been given some of the Champion of England peas by the head gardener there. Mr Woodbridge had kept his promise to his grandmother to keep growing and saving the Champion of England tall pea and had a batch of seeds that he offered to Real Seeds.

The people at Real Seeds were, of course, delighted and called the peas “an amazing find”. They have then been able to gradually produce more of the Champion of England tall peas until they had enough to offer them through their online Real Seeds Catalogue.

Champion of England tall climbing peas - sowing peas direct
Early in May – sowing Champion of England peas directly into the soil

I began sowing my Champion of England peas on 3rd April, though with my earliest pea sowings, I don’t sow them straight into the ground. It would be too cold for them in April – especially this Spring, which was very chilly here in Northern England.

Instead, I put 12 dry peas in a jar and amply cover them with cold water. I leave the peas to soak for around 24-48 hours, then I drain out the soaking water and also give the soaked peas another rinse or two with fresh water.

The drained, but still wet, peas stay in their jar (covered loosely with the lid) on my kitchen counter until they sprout. I just rinse them with fresh cold water a couple of times a day.

After about 4-5 days the radicle (root) of the peas begins to grow. When most of the peas have grown a radicle, I then plant the sprouted peas into cardboard toilet roll tubes filled with multi-purpose compost. I find 12 tubes just fit nicely into an upcycled plastic carton saved from supermarket-bought mushrooms.

I repeated this whole process with another batch of 12 peas when the previous batch had been planted into their cardboard tubes and had produced small pea shoots (approximately 8-10 day intervals).

Champion of England tall climbing peas - planting out
Pea plants planted out complete with their cardboard tubes

My Champion of England peas had an excellent germination record using my sprouting method. When the pea shoots had grown to about 4-6 inches tall (10-15 cms), I planted them out in the allotment.

The first batch of 10 successful plants were planted out on 21st April. With the pea plants being in cardboard tubes, planting out is simply a case of digging a deep enough hole and planting in the whole thing, tube and all. I added a generous trowel-ful or two of my deliciously earthy-smelling home-made garden compost to the planting hole before putting in the pea plant, to give the plant a good feed as it grows.

Tall Pea Frame - adding the cross-pieces
Tall Pea Frame – adding the cross-pieces

While I was waiting for my peas to grow, I built a huge pea frame from hazel rods and netting and set it firmly in the ground. The upper cross piece that supports the netting is 8 feet (approximately 2.5 metres) above the ground.

Tall Pea Frame - the finished rustic hazel rod frame
Tall Pea Frame – the finished frame with its rustic hazel poles and pea netting

Although the Champion of England peas were reputed to grow to 10 feet, I must say I was a little skeptical as to whether they would manage this on our cold and windy northern hillside. (Our local climate is a bit different to the peas’ original home in Lincolnshire!) But, I thought I’d build the pea frame tall enough, just in case my tall pea plants did reach their maximum height.

Champion of England tall climbing peas about a foot tall
On 25th May the pea plants were about a foot tall

My Champion of England pea plants grew relatively slowly at first – probably due to the cool conditions we experienced through much of the Spring. However, as soon as the weather began to warm up a little bit and we saw a bit more of the sun, the transplanted pea plants began to shoot away.

At the end of May, after about a month in the ground, the plants were around a foot to 18 inches high (30-45cm).

Champion of England tall climbing peas
By the 9th June the pea plants reached the first cross bar – approximately 3 feet tall

By 18th June the tallest pea plant measured almost 5 feet high (1.5 metres).

Champion of England tall climbing peas - nearly 5 feet tall
Champion of England tall climbing peas – nearly 5 feet tall

Now, on 2nd July, the tallest plant has reached 7 feet high (2 metres).

Champion of England tall climbing peas - 7 feet tall
Champion of England tall climbing peas – 7 feet tall

Even more exciting than the fact that my peas plants were rapidly turning into tall peas, on the Summer Solstice (21st June) I spotted one of my tall pea plants had produced its first beautiful natural white flowers.

Champion of England tall climbing peas -first flowers
Champion of England tall climbing peas -first flowers

About a week later, a good few more flowers had appeared and then, even more exciting, I saw the first pea pod forming. Now, about a further week on, I can see the tiny peas beginning to show in a couple of the pods.

Champion of England tall climbing peas - first peas forming in pod
Champion of England tall climbing peas – first peas forming in pod

It’s just so exciting growing tall peas! I can hardly wait to taste these sweet, fresh garden peas … I just hope the jackdaws don’t get there first 😀

J Peggy Taylor