Globe artichoke cuttings

I took two cuttings from my 3 year old globe artichoke plant this week. Small plantlets emerge from the soil around the base of the parent plant. These should be cut off as close to the main stem as possible, ideally taking some root with it. These two were a bit sorry for themselves for a couple of days. I cut off most of the large leaves as the small plant would be under some distress for a while. They perked up and are looking fairly happy now.

The main globe artichoke plant is about 5 foot high now. There are some artichokes showing that are the size of a tennis ball. I have terrible problems with blackfly on globe artichokes. Most years they are quite inedible as the black critters just infest right the way through each heart. I am thinking of wrapping each of the heads in a package of fleece right now. Does anyone have any suggestions? I love eating them, but they really get infested.

Straw berries

Apparently this April has been the warmest on record. Over 3 degrees higher than usual, and the warmest Spring since records began. Certainly the last few weeks have ususally been up in the 70's. I do have some strawberries in a growbag in the greenhouse that I was forcing for an earlier crop. The outdoor strawberries however, have been just as advanced and there seems to have been no difference indoor or out.

In order to stop the trusses of fruit from laying on the soil, I have laid straw round each plant so that the swelling fruit can rest on a dry surface. Hence they are called straw berries. It is only when the fruit is starting to swell that you can water and feed the plants with a high potash feed for a few weeks to help them on their way.

Tomato - ring culture

It is at this time of year that any space in greenhouses or pots is at a premium. Many veggies have been carefully raised from seed and potted on. The trouble with tender plants is that you have to make a judgement as to whether you think there is going to be a late frost or not. Hmmm! I have taken a gamble, although I still have others in the greenhouse.

I started my aubergines, chilli and tomato in the greenhouse in a propagator in January. These veggies are the ones that can really benefit from a longer growing season. Consequently most of my tomato plants in flowerpots are over a foot tall and already setting several trusses of fruit. I took the plunge yesterday and planted some of them outdoors as they were getting pot bound and lanky. You will notice in the above piccy that I have used what appears to be a flowerpot inside a growbag. This is called a 'ring culture'. Plants have two separate root systems, the long tap roots which go straight down deep are responsible for fetching and seeking water. It does not really matter if they go down into sand, or anything as long as they find water. The second set of roots are near the surface and they are responsible for finding nutrients. So these flowerpots have their bottoms cut out, I water the bottom part and feed the top part.

Varieties I am growing this year are: Tigerella, Marmande, Marglobe, Gardener's Delight, Ildi and Jubilee.

My Magic Broccoli

It is truly magic! About 3 weeks ago I decided that I had had the very best from my wonderful broccoli, and I completely stripped the plants of every single purple floret. I badly needed the space to plant my Spring veggies.

3 days later it was like I had never been there. All the plants were completely loaded with fresh new florets, and with help, we stripped the plant bare of what would surely be the last of this wonderful, wonderful gourmet treat.

2 days later, it's groundhog day.... and so on. I must pick about a pound of purple sprouting broccoli about every 2nd or 3rd day. Steamed broccoli, broccoli quiche, chilled stilton and broccoli soup, more steamed broccoli. Ladies and Gentlemen I am as regular as clockwork thank you very much. I really do need the space to plant my parsnips but it keeps coming. What a wonderful dilemma. Note to self.. all the months of hard work last year batting off caterpillars, butterflies, slugs, snails and puppydogs tails... it was all worth it.

Golden Jubilee tomato

Here is a packet of tomato seeds sent to me last week for my Birthday. I looked them up on google, they appear to be an American variety and claim to have higher levels of Vitamin C and A than other varieties. Although it is a bit late to be planting seeds, I put a few in a heated propagator in the greenhouse in the hope that they will catch up with the others and I will find out for myself.
Today I sowed 10 varieties of climbing beans for my 'Bean hedge'. I have tried to choose beans of different colours, shapes, and cropping times. The ones I have chosen are:
Lima bean - from the USA
Purple hyacinth bean - from the USA (extremely poisonous but pretty!)
Blauhilde - purple French bean
Eden - Italian green flat bean
Goldfield - yellow flat bean
Desiree - white flowered runner bean
Sunset - salmon flowered runner bean
Lady Di - red flowered runner bean
Enorma - my old favourite runner bean
Blue Lake - reliable green French bean

New improved compost heap!

Now you can see before and after pictures! These are wooden pallets on which German motorcycles were imported into the UK. I am going to fix some chicken wire round the sides so there is not too much spillage - so light the blue touchpaper and go. Incidentally, a few years' ago we came across a 'compost thermometer' in a garden centre in the USA. This is a fantastic gadget, as you can see how hot your compost is getting in the centre! I have never seen one since. Has anyone ever heard of one, or better still where I can get one from?

Winter lettuce

The best of my Winter lettuces by far was 'Valdor'. Only a few weeks ago it was 6 inches deep in snow, and now I have some lovely butterhead lettuce which have really started to 'heart up' - by this I mean that juvenile lettuce are just outer leaves, and as it approaches maturity the middle starts to expand and form a heart. The others were 'Winter density' and my Norwegian 'American Brown'. The latter two did much better as late Summer Autumn lettuce.

Today my thermometer read 74 degrees, I took the opportunity to plant a couple of rows of carrots. I planted some 'resistafly' - apparently resistant to the dreaded carrot root fly , and some 'Early Nantes'. I was extremely disappointed in the number of seeds in both packets - shame on you my old friend Thompson and Morgan ! In each packet there was only enough for about a 8 foot row. I filled the row with 'Adelaide' which holds the RHS award of garden merit or AGM.

I picked two more asparagus shoots today - I ate them 'still squealing' mmmm

All about compost

The true heart of any serious veggie gardener has to be the compost heap. Compost is exciting! I love compost! Here is a photo of my old compost bin which I dismantled yesterday. In its place is a larger structure made from two wooden pallets on which German motorcycles had been imported into this country. The new bin is about 8ft x 4ft - photo to follow. The idea behind compost is that you improve the texture and structure of your soil by adding organic matter or humus (not the stuff made from tahini and chic peas - that is houmus!). Anything that has lived can go on the compost heap. Cotton, wool, cardboard, newspaper and fruit and veg waste. There are a few exceptions to the rule, citrus peel, coffee grounds, avocado or mango stones, and whole egg shells.
The idea with a compost heap is that you should aim to make a bolognaise sauce and not a lasagne! By this I mean that a compost heap should be completely turned, mixed to aerate it, and it should be moist but not soggy. There should be a mixture of fresh green and dry brown - this being nitrogen and carbon. The larger the compost heap the easier it is to heat up. The compost heats up and slowly rots down.
Anyway, enough of that. I picked my first asparagus yesterday! two fantastic spears which were tender and tasty. I am still picking PSB, and have some fantastic Winter lettuce 'Valdor' which has been completely hardy, being covered in snow only a few weeks ago. The spinach and Swiss chard 'bright lights' is also going great guns. I took a risk and planted out some Marmande tomatoes in a sheltered corner of the garden. I sowed my tommies in January in the greenhouse, they are nearly a foot tall now, and already have trusses of flowers. My outdoor first early potato Rocket is up already, and the ones in the greenhouse in a bag are even further on. It has been 70 degrees for the last week or so, even my beetroot seeds Perfect 3 and Detroit 2 are up after only 4 days in the ground. I thought I would try different varieties this year as my old favourite Boltardy has had mixed reviews in the light of the newer improved varieties. It's all happening down on the allotment, blink and you'll miss it!


I have been trying to get disciplined this year to remember my successional planting. By this I mean that if you plant a smaller number of seeds every 4 weeks or so, then they will not all ripen at the same time. My first broad bean 'express' is doing well now, and 4 weeks after I planted a row of 'green Windsor' which I have not tried before. Today I planted another row of the same, and also extended my row with a second planting of 'asparagus pea'.

I also planted some 'Tomatillo' seeds today. These are more commonly grown in the USA and Mexico, and they are a green vegetable which looks like a green tomato. They are very prolific, easy to grow and make a wonderful 'tomatillo salsa' when ripe.

Gooseberry saw fly

I am on the look-out once more for pesky pests in the garden. I notice that the slugs are once more raising their ugly heads. The ones that do the most damage are the little brown stripey slugs rather than the big black ones. A couple of years ago I bought a packet of 'nemaslug' - these are a natural control measure, nematode worms. You mix the packet of beige powder into a bucket of water and distribute all over your soil. Nematode worms are microscopic orgasms.. which live on the surface slime of slugs and kill them. Hooray!

Another pest which is sure to haunt me this year is gooseberry saw fly. Apparently they overwinter in the soil and then in the spring hatch their little larvae - caterpillars - who munch their way through your entire plant in the blink of an eye. Apparently I am supposed to keep an eye out for little holes in the leaves, then spend all my spare time searching for them by hand and squishing them! I am not against squishing per se.... but there must be more interesting ways to spend my spare time. Ho hum.... let the games begin!

Mini Leeks

I am so pleased with these 'mini leeks' which I planted last Summer. I think these were a giveaway from the wonderful Kitchen Garden magazine. They are totally maintenance free, I did not have to thin out. They have a wonderful flavour and are very tender, not tough at all. I will certainly grow them again this year. An excellent veggie to fill 'the hungry gap'.

Today is Easter Sunday, I picked another load of PSB and a handful of mini leeks, and had a roast Sunday lunch with a free range, organic chicken which I purchased from a chicken farm! Blog readers may remember that I have given up supermarkets for Lent. I really hate the way that major supermarkets are raping our lovely English countryside, and putting small farmers out of business for their own profits, and NOT for the customers' convenience. Can I implore blog readers to please read the labels on your supermarket veggies - do you really need to buy stuff which was grown in Kenya, Israel or the Gambia?

Make your own hormone rooting gel

Did you know you can save money and do your bit for the environment by making your own hormone rooting gel? All you have to do is pick a bunch of willow stems, put them in a glass or vase of water for about 24 hours.... that's it ! The active ingredient found in willow stems is rhizocaline, a substance which is the active ingredient in many proprietary ready-made hormone rooting powders and solutions. All you have to do is to dip your cuttings into this solution. I'm not sure how long you can keep it once made, but it is not difficult to make some more - and it's free!

Anyway, it's the start of the Easter bank holiday weekend. It is a long held garden tradition that potatoes are planted on Good Friday. I went out today in glorious sunshine and planted a row of Red Duke of York. Others already in the ground are Rocket and Epicure, and I have some early Rocket potatoes in a sack in the greenhouse which, just today are poking their first shoots above the surface. Today it was up to 70 degrees outside and looks set for the whole of the weekend. Yippeeee!

Salad Leaves

This is the time of year that allotment gardeners call 'the hungry gap'. The time between the end of the Winter veggies and before the beginning of the Spring sowings. My aim this year has been to have some veggies growing in my garden 365 days a year. At the moment I am picking my purple sprouting broccoli (PSB), swiss chard, mini leeks, vegetable spaghetti (see previous blog...), Winter lettuce, and these wonderful 'Mizuna' salad leaves which I planted in a small pot in the greenhouse about 4 weeks ago. This seems to be a wonderful way of growing salad leaves. Just a small amount at a time, always clean, fast growing and you can snip them off with scissors straight into your sandwich.