Category Archives: gardening

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 πŸ˜€ (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 πŸ™‚ )

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 πŸ˜€

J Peggy Taylor

Untangling pot-bound tomato roots

“Green Thumb” Tip: Release those pot-bound roots!

Have you met Woodland Gnome? I am a great fan of her Forest Garden blog where she shares her gardening experiences along with photos of her wonderful plants. Woodland Gnome recently suggested the idea of “Green Thumb” Tips, for fellow gardeners to share their helpful hints with others – be they beginners or experienced gardeners. She said,

“Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.”

Woodland Gnome, Forest Garden

“What a good idea!” I thought.

The next day, I happened to be potting up some rather pot-bound tomato plants. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but other garden tasks had been keeping me occupied … such as dealing with rabbit problems! (If you’ve not seen my bean-plant-nibbling bunny story, you can find it here.)

I was potting up my tomatoes out of their original upcycled yogurt pots where I’d sown them and into large buckets of growbag compost. The tomato plants will then remain in their large buckets in the greenhouse to flower and hopefully produce tasty fruit as the Summer progresses.

Dealing with pot-bound tomato plant roots
Pot-bound tomato plant roots on the right. Loosened tomato plant roots on the left.

When I turned out the first tomato plant from its upcycled pot, I could see how the roots had begun to grow round and round the base of the pot. I often find this happens with houseplants or other plants that have been grown in solid-sided containers. The plant would then need re-potting into a larger container.

I thought I’d share my “Green Thumb” tip on potting up plants when they’ve become pot-bound.

As you’d imagine, having its roots running round in a tightly packed circle is not a natural or healthy condition for a plant. Roots are designed to spread out as they grow, to find nutrients and water for the plant.

My “Green Thumb” tip for re-potting a plant that has become pot-bound is this:

Teasing out pot-bound roots
Carefully tease out the pot-bound roots from their tight circle

I always very gently tease out the roots that have formed a pot-shaped circle on the base of the root ball. We don’t want to damage any of the roots, if at all possible, so it’s best to take time and go slowly with this task.

Potting on tomato plant
Now with loosened roots, the tomato plant is ready to re-pot

You can see on this tomato plant that the circle-bound roots ended up being several inches long. Now that these end roots are free rather than being bound to each other, they will be much more effective in supplying the plant with water and nutrients.

I then just pot up the plant in the normal way into a larger container – in my case, the plant was going into one of my large tomato plant buckets (they’re upcycled flower buckets from my local supermarket – I’m a great fan of upcycling!).

Potted-up tomato plants in the greenhouse
My potted-up tomato plants, now back in the greenhouse

Now that’s my greenhouse full of tomato plants … and there are still a few spare! I’ll just have to find a space in the garden for them … somewhere … πŸ™‚

You can click here to visit Woodland Gnome’s Forest Garden blog for more “Green Thumb” Tips.

J Peggy Taylor

Cherokee Trail of Tears climbing beans - young plants

Bunny’s been eating my Cherokee beans!

I was delighted to see my Cherokee ‘Trail of Tears’ climbing beans were germinating well along my tall bean frame and teepee as I took my daily trips around the allotment garden earlier this week.

Tall bean frame and teepee
Tall bean frame and teepee

Four plants one day turned into six plants the next and then I counted eighteen the next day. However, the next day after that, I was rather alarmed to find several plants had ‘disappeared’ overnight!

Bean stalks left after rabbit has eaten the leaves
Who’s been eating my bean plants?

All that remained of these five plants were little stumps of stalk sticking up out of the soil. I learned later that our newest ‘furry friend’ had been spotted in the garden that day. My neighbour has had this allotment garden for forty years. All kinds of animals have visited: badgers, foxes, squirrels, moles, cats … but never a rabbit … until this week! My bean plants had become rabbit food! I pulled out the stumps and sowed new seeds in their place.

Protecting young bean plants with cloches
Protecting young bean plants with cloches

I also took the precaution of covering up all the newly germinated bean plants with bottle cloches … just in case.

Newly germinating bean plant
Newly germinating bean plant

Now, whenever I spot a newly germinating bean plant I will be ready armed with another bottle cloche!

Covering germinating bean plant with a bottle cloche
Adding a bottle cloche to protect the germinating bean plant

Gotcha! … the bean plant that is, not the rabbit! Bean, you’ve been cloched!

Rabbit-proofing germinating bean plant with bottle cloche
Baby bean plant in its bottle cloche

My bottle cloches are doing the trick, especially as it seems this rabbit only has a taste for the newest Cherokee bean seedlings. Fortunately, the slightly larger plants have not been nibbled (or not yet at least!)

Those long ears must have heard that I am not best pleased, as Beany Bunny hasn’t dropped by again while I have been in the garden. Although, I do know it has been back because I found a piece of pea plant that I guess it must have dropped when making a rapid escape!

J Peggy Taylor

Backyard yarn bombing crochet project

Back Yard Yarn Bombing for the Bees

It’s International Yarn Bombing Day! When fellow crochet fan and blogger, Daniella at daniellajoe.com, announced the imminent arrival of a special day for yarn bombing, I had been thinking about making a climbing plant support for my nasturtiums in my new willow basket planter. Nasturtiums are very easy to grow and are very bee-friendly plants. As our poor bees need all the help they can get these days, I’ve grown quite a few nasturtiums this year, both in my back yard and on the allotment garden.

To celebrate International Yarn Bombing Day this weekend, I’ve been busy with my crochet hooks this week. Daniella’s post inspired me to create a crochet concoction for my back yard that would serve a double purpose – firstly as a climbing plant support, and secondly to add a little instant colour to the wall space reserved for the growing nasturtiums. I did some back yard yarn bombing last year too and some of it is still going strong.

Crochet mesh on hazel hoops - yarn art plant support
Crochet mesh on hazel hoops

Making plant supports for me generally involves some kind of sticks and string. I happened to have some very rustic-looking hazel hoops to hand that I’d made last Winter … just in case they might be useful. They were perfect for my plan.

When I say ‘plan’ … I had an idea in my head. Making it a reality involved some free-form crochet. Taking a No.5 crochet hook and some jade green double knitting yarn, I fastened the two hoops together so that they overlapped. I continued to work right around each of the main side sections to provide a foundation row onto which I could attach the crochet mesh. I then began crocheting a wide mesh across the two main areas within the hoops. I liked the way the hazel twigginess added to the overall effect.

Crochet free-form yarn art plant support
Adding the final section of crochet

Bright red and bright blue yarns make the centre section of the plant support really stand out. I just followed the shapes as they happened to be when the hazel hoops were overlapped. Whilst I’d crocheted a 6-chain mesh for the main side sections, I decided to use different crochet effects for the centre section. With the red double knitting yarn, still using a No.5 crochet hook, I worked a Solomon’s Knot-type stitch. For the smaller area of the centre section, I used a No.3 crochet hook with the slightly thinner blue yarn. I outlined the shape in blue chains first, catching them around the hazel hoops at intervals, then I added chains in a sun ray pattern.

Crochet free-form yarn art plant support
Crochet free-form yarn art plant support

Yes! This is just how I imagined it! Now all I need to do is fix my yarn bombing creation in place on the outside wall. I created a couple of lengths of crochet chain using the jade green yarn to bind the hazel hoops onto the structure I already have in place above my willow plant basket.

Yarn bombing and willow plant basket on wall
Yarn bombing the wall with my crochet yarn art plant support

I’m pleased to say, the fixing in place of the nasturtiums’ yarn art plant support went smoothly and just as I’d planned. I also added some new colourful crochet ties to the front of my large willow basket planter as they needed a little sprucing up too.

New crochet ties on willow basket planter
Sprucing up my large willow basket planter with new yarn bombing

My back yard is now even more colourfully yarn bombed! I hope the bees will like it, but what will the neighbours say! Well, I’m not sure what they’ll say about the yarn art plant support but I imagine they thought me pretty odd photographing my back yard in the rain, complete with camera, tripod and umbrella πŸ˜€

J Peggy Taylor

Backyard baskets for Summer blooms

The closing of the month of May and the opening of the month of June for me marks a season change, as my gardening brain moves on from Spring to Summer. Although the deep temperature dips we’ve experienced this past week did make me double-check the calendar! But sure enough, it is June so Summer has arrived – and that means it’s time to spruce up my backyard and plant up my Summer baskets.

Willow basket planter and willow garden screen
My original willow basket planter and one of the two willow screens

I’m keeping my crochet jute and willow garden screens going for another year so that I can continue to make use of the vertical space that enjoys the best of the sunshine in my rather shaded yard. The willow basket planter I have on my wall needed a bit of mending too and at the same time I decided to add a few more willow rods at each end to hold the weaving in place. In my photo you can probably spot the new green willow that I’ve added.

This year, I’ve decided not to go with the same air-pruning plant pots as I’ve used previously because I found my smaller pots dried out too fast when they’re planted up with the climbing plants that I needed them for. Instead, I’ve made a new hanging plant basket from hazel rods and woven willow.

Willow and Hazel Plant Basket with Summer plants
The new willow and hazel plant basket

The new hanging plant basket is very similar to the original hazel and willow basket I successfully used last year for my Violas on my backyard wall. That’s last year’s Violas you can see on my Summer blog header at the top of the page. The new basket has a sturdy hazel frame. I made the frame a few months ago in early Spring as I used natural green wood hazel rods and I wanted to bend the rods into the basket shape whilst they were still very flexible. I then added the woven willow to form the full basket.

Green willow rods stored in a bucket of water
Sprouting green willow rods stored in a bucket of water

After harvesting them last December, I’d kept my willow rods green and flexible by storing them in a bucket of water in a sheltered part of the garden. The willow is now well-sprouted and rooted and I will probably plant a few of the cuttings out in a suitable spot. But most of the willow is reserved for basket-mending and making.

Which flowers have I chosen to go in the baskets? Building on my successful plantings from last Summer, I’m growing trailing, mixed colour Nasturtiums again. (You can see last year’s Nasturtiums in my header image on this post.) These flowers scrambled beautifully up the willow screens and they were extremely popular with the bees. As the Violas were also lovely last year (and admired by the neighbours πŸ™‚ ), I’ve decided to grow them again too.

Violas, Nasturtiums, Marigolds in Willow Planter
Violas, Nasturtiums, Marigolds in my new willow basket planter

My new flowers for this year are bi-coloured French Marigolds in orange and crimson and a deep purple-blue compact Verbena. I’ve planted up both baskets with Nasturtiums, Violas and French Marigolds so far and left some space to add the Verbenas very soon. I’m sure I’ll be posting again as the flowers grow and develop their full Summer blooms.

Now all we need is some Summer sunshine πŸ™‚

J Peggy Taylor

lashing together bean poles

A Tall Bean Frame Tale

Planning my new allotment garden space has been exciting. Last Autumn, as I pored over seed catalogues filled to the brim with tempting produce, I had some decision-making to do. Whilst the garden space available is quite extensive, I always manage to have more ideas than I have space (or time!), so choices had to be made.

I’m aiming to garden organically and I’m also planning on doing a bit of seed-saving. With this in mind, I sought out seed companies selling ‘old-fashioned’ open-pollinated varieties of vegetables.

A particularly useful online catalogue was ‘The Real Seed Catalogue’ as they only sell open-pollinated varieties. They also give lots of really helpful information about seed-saving. However, the best thing about The Real Seed Catalogue is their wonderful selection of heirloom and heritage vegetables that are not available in many (or any) other places.

‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ Climbing French Bean’

‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ Climbing French Bean’ caught my eye and my imagination. This was a ‘must have’, a real piece of history. I learned that in the 1830s after the US Federal Government introduced the Indian Removal Act, the Cherokee people took some of these beans with them when they were driven out of their Georgia homelands on the long forced march known as ‘The Trail of Tears’. This variety of bean has then been grown and passed on down through the generations. How fascinating … and amazing!

Cherokee Trail of Tears beans germinating
My first sowing of ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ climbing French beans – they’ve hatched!

“A very rare bean,” it says on the brown paper seed packet. The beans themselves are small and black and I am growing them as French beans – they are the tasty green, pencil-thick pods. But as well as eating them in their fresh green state, I will also grow them on to be fully ripe (hopefully!) and save some of the dried beans to sow next year as well as using them as dried beans for Winter soups. The Real Seed Catalogue describes this variety as “incredibly prolific”, so I am hopeful for a good crop. This is the plan!

However, to grow climbing beans, you need something for them to climb. I’d decided to build an old-fashioned tall bean frame from hazel poles. I built a similar tall frame for my very tall peas earlier this Spring – you’ll see it in one of the photos below.

I am anticipating the bean plants growing around 6-8 feet tall (that’s around 2-2.5 metres, if you’re metric πŸ˜‰ ). Then I needed to add a generous allowance, for tying the bean poles together at the top and for planting deep enough in the ground at the bottom, for the bean frame to be wind-proof on our rather exposed northern hillside. The hazel poles I’m using are around 12 feet (3.5 metres).

Building a bean frame with hazel rods
Setting up the upright poles of the A-frame for the bean frame

I selected two pairs of slightly heavier-duty poles to make my initial A-frame – they’re around 2.5 inches (6cm) in diameter at the butt end. I tied each pair of poles together at the top, measuring and marking each pole at the 8 feet point. The poles are lashed together with thick cotton string. I used a figure-of-eight lashing to hold the poles tightly together but also allowing a degree of flexibility for manoeuvering the A-frame into place.

I’d measured out the row and marked where the frame was going to stand. I had to amend the exact position of the frame as I had been so busy looking down at the soil, I found when I looked up, my bean frame would have stretched half-way into one of the plum trees! Whoops! So, a bit of jiggling and re-measuring was needed.

tools for building the bean frame
Essential tools for planting the bean poles deep enough in the ground: digging iron and lump hammer

Using a heavy digging iron and a lump hammer, I made holes 18 inches (45cm) deep, then pushed the legs of each of the A-frames into place and refirmed the soil around the poles. Climbing very carefully on the step ladders, I added the ridge pole and lashed this in place at each end, making sure the A-frames were (fairly!) perpendicular to the ground. When you’re working with green timber, sometimes it isn’t always exactly straight, so allowances have to be made. These poles were all cut in late Winter, ready for use this Spring.

Next, came the side poles. The bean frame is 2 feet (60cm) wide and 7 feet (2 metres) long. The side poles are placed at 1 foot (30cm) intervals along each side of the A-frame. The side poles are thinner than the A-frame poles, only about 1-1.5 inches (2.5-3cm) in diameter. I didn’t tie the pairs of side poles together initially; I started off by leaning them in their places along each side and resting them on the ridge pole. Then it was back to the digging iron and lump hammer, as I made more deep holes to plant the side poles into.

Building a hazel frame for climbing beans
Arranging the side poles along the bean frame with the main A-frame and ridge in place

Eventually, all of the side poles were planted in their holes. Then it was back to climbing carefully on the step ladders to tie the side poles in place onto the ridge pole. To finish, I added a cross-brace through from corner to corner and lashed this in place at about 3 feet (1 metre) from the ground.

lashing together bean poles
Lashing the cross piece in place on the bean frame for added strength

It certainly seems quite a strong structure and I know the tall pea frame has stood up well to some strong winds already, so I am hopeful for my tall bean frame too.

Hazel frame for climbing French beans
The finished tall bean frame with the tall pea frame visible beyond it

Now it’s time to plant the beans ….

J Peggy Taylor

Digging garden soil and a robin

Dig, weed, plant, grow

“Would you like to do a bit of the garden?” an elderly neighbour asked us one day last Summer. And so it was that we ended up taking on the wildly overgrown part of a large allotment garden.

Overgrown_garden
That’s our overgrown patch on the left

When I say, “taking on”, I mean that literally! It needed some serious taming! Slowly but surely, over the Autumn and Winter, a garden gradually emerged out of the wilderness. Another neighbour joked that we’d probably find lions and tigers in there. We didn’t, of course! But we did find toads and frogs sheltering in the damp jungle of densely packed thistles, nettles, bramble and willowherb.

We also found an old robin’s nest in an old blackcurrant bush. We found a small wall beside a lovely old red brick path and we found the remains of a Victorian greenhouse, complete with its own grapevine … with black grapes πŸ˜‰

Garden paths were gradually relieved of their bindweed carpets and the unkempt tresses of berry-laden brambles were relieved of their luscious harvest before being shorn back closer to the boundary fence. I am a keen forager of wild fruit, so this collection of captive bramble bushes will be tamed and treasured for future fruit-picking.

Digging over an allotment garden
Digging and weeding

Then the digging began. My husband heroically tackled the heaviest digging, battling bravely against giant bramble roots. I took on the forest of Himalayan Balsam, capturing as many of the spring-loaded seed heads as I could, before they launched their invasive cargoes of seeds back into the garden.

Sweet peas and a bracken mulch

Eventually, our sections of the garden were dug over and weeded, ready for Spring planting. Though, we ended up having rather more time than we’d anticipated as Spring was rather reluctant to arrive. I’d planted out my early potatoes during a mild spell in early April – which is quite a normal time for planting early potatoes. A fortnight later, I was hurrying out to collect bracken to use as a warming mulch to protect my poor potatoes from the snow!

Early potato plants growing on allotment garden
My early potato plants are starting to grow

Happily, I can say that my mulch did its job well and the potatoes are now growing merrily.

I have a little ‘garden friend’ who follows me slavishly whenever I have a spade in my hand. A robin! Eagle-eyed visitors may be able to spot him in my header image at the top of this post.

I do have more garden tales to share, but I’ll save them for another day …

J Peggy Taylor