Goodbye Aubergine

Always acknowledge when it is time to give up. And give up.

I’ve always wanted to grow Aubergines (US readers: that’s an ‘egg plant’), but I just can’t get them to a harvestable level.

I’ve been trying to grow Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’ since 2011, pretty much every year but only got close that year, and again in 2017 (when I switched to Aubergine ‘Early Long Purple 2), but they just don’t give me any fruit bigger than a radish on a cold day.

Aubergine and Nasturtium plants in a wicker basket.
Aubergines in a wicker basket did well in 2011.

The plants are always healthy and their silvery green leaves are quite elegant, but years into trying, I’m going to stop.

Even 2017’s raised bed saw them grow well, but in the end they seemed to run out of steam. It’s not that I’m not sowing them early enough – I’m following the packet. I just don’t have a greenhouse, and have no plans to.

It’s important to know when to stop and move on.

What about the Tomatoes?

In 2017, after gales, baking sunshine, and waves of blackfly, I did get a bumper crop of Tomato ‘Minibel’ but I threw most of them away as they were turning faster than I could eat them.

The potted-on Tomato 'Minibel' seedlings.
Too many Tomatoes.

I only eat them in salads, and whilst their small red plump fruits were delicious and fresh, I just wasn’t able to keep up (not least because of the Courgette glutz).

I’ve decided that I probably won’t bother growing them in 2018, or if I do, it’ll just be a couple of plants.

Instead, I’ll try out some new produce instead – Turnips and Broad Bean are top of my ‘must grow, must eat’ list for the new year.

The Minibel Tomatoes begin to ring in the harvest but the Squash comes under attack

The Minibel Tomatoes begin to crop, but the Squash and Courgettes are under attack from white mildew that threatens to kill them.

My Tomato ‘Minibel’ plants are beginning to regularly provide me with some juicy red cherry tomatoes, a little over 4 months after I sowed them.

They’ve been a tough grow as usual, because they are desperate to fall over 10 times a day, particularly when there’s no breeze, and they’re always fried. I go through this each year, but this year seems to be the first one where I’ve got quite a few tomatoes on the plant.

These were the first batch of red 'Minibel' tomatoes of 2017.
These were the first batch of red ‘Minibel’ tomatoes of 2017.

I’ve already enjoyed eating my first batch of red tomatoes, but there’s plenty of green ones yet to ripen.  When I look back to 2013 at my previous house, it wasn’t until the middle of September that this variety would finally yield a crop. However, that was a shadier garden, and these are in the south-facing garden for most of the day, being roasted by the sunshine.

The tomatoes have overcome blackfly, which I only gave one treatment of the old washing-up liquid wash too.

Blackfly on Tomato 'Minibel' plants
Spot the Blackfly marching up and down the Tomato ‘Minibel’ plant. Their sap sucking holiday came to an end.

I eat a lot of salads, so it’s been great to get to now pick tomatoes, that go alongside my home grown lettuce leaves. I’ve learnt that the slugs in my garden don’t seem to like red leaf lettuce, or a crinkly variety that were both in the old ‘sow by 2012’ Erin seed kit that I almost threw away, but gave a chance and grew a forest.

A red leaf lettuce planted out.
The slugs don’t seem to like these red-leafed lettuces that I planted in my new veg garden back in May 2017. I’ll grow some more.

So, now that a few of these plants have bolted, and it feels like the plants are getting a bit old, I’m aiming at sowing some more of these this week so that I can extend my season.

Victor: Mildew

Sadly, on the other side of the garden, the Squash ‘Spaghetti Stripetti’ plant is under attack, and as it is now covering about 15 feet radius, it’s looking a bit sad. The outer edges are still roaring across my lawn, with wide open flowers, and more little squashes forming (i’m up to about 10 now, from one plant). The culprit this time is the frosty white powery layer called Mildew.

Mildew coats each leaf and blots out the sunshine, therefore slowing down the plants ability to photosynthesise, and therefore it dies. I’ve seen this before, when it killed off some of my courgettes at my old house, but this time it really has taken hold, and fast.

When the Squash and the Courgettes began to rapidly grow, I did realise that they were too close together, but as they were so desperate to go outside (having been waiting for my house move), I decided to let them go out whilst I followed up with creating the rest of the garden around them.

The downside to this close planting is that the compact space in which their leaves have grown, means that the cool breeze has not been able to get amongst the leaves and dry them – resulting in this damp environment where this mildew mold (it’s a fungi) can thrive.

Mildew on Squash and Courgette plant leaves.
The white powdery Mildew has taken hold of my Squash and Courgette plants. Left, it’ll starve the plant of sunshine and kill it.

I’ve bought some spray (coincidentally the one recommended by the RHS), and I’ve sprayed most of the infected leaves, and the nearby Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ plants, and hope that the plant stays alive long enough to finish ripening its many squashes. I’ve also previously given it a spray with watered down milk – I read online somewhere that this introduces a protein that kills the mildew… but I don’t think my skimmed milk is really going to help much.

My garden looks a bit like a winter wonderland… but hopefully it’ll live long enough to reward me with my first ever crop of squashes.

Any ideas to deal with the mildew is gladly received, but in the meantime, thanks for reading, and happy gardening.

Andrew

The first harvest of 2017 – lettuce, strawberries, and raspberries

The first harvest of 2017, and my new garden, has happened!

About a week ago I was really pleased to finally stop having to regularly buy bags of salad leaves. Usually these are over-priced, crushed into the displays that they soon decompose, and are a wet limp mess by the time you go to serve them up.

Instead, each morning I’ve been out in the morning sunshine picking fresh leaves from the salad leaves that grew from those ‘sow by June 2012’ seeds that I sowed en mass back in early April.

Salad leaf seedlings in a tray
The old Erin Eco Salad seed starter kit has germinated – 5 years beyond the recommend sowing date.

It seems that they all germinated, and so whilst they were desperate to be planted out, it wasn’t until the start of May that I was able to actually plant them in soil at my new house once i’d broken the lawn.

handful of mixed salad leaves
The mixed Salad Leaves have been lush and delicious, and I’ve enjoyed picking them in the morning sunshine before work.

These fresh green and bronze-red leaves have been delicious, and I was kind of proud that I’d managed to grow and harvest these. I’m not usually successful with salad leaves. My failed Rocket sowing put me on a downer, so I’m glad that these worked. Even if i’ve had to be vicious with the slugs and snails.

Joining these on Wednesday were my first Strawberry ‘Cambridge Favourite’ and Strawberry ‘Elsanta’ strawberries, which were nicely red although greatly varied in size.

first strawberry and raspberry harvest of 2017
Strawberry ‘Cambridge Favourite’ (left), Strawberry ‘Elsanta’ (top right), Raspberries (bottom right). Might even be a mouthful?

I also managed to pick three small Raspberries from the plants that I picked up at my local Wilko store. The Elsanta variety have always worked well for me in my previous garden, giving me a small but steady crop in the summer. Well… aside from my bare root strawberry disaster earlier this year 😦

Strawberry plants in a patio planter
Some of my older Strawberry plants are happily growing in some refreshed compost in my patio planters.

It’s unlikely that the Blueberry ‘Vaccinium Corymbosum Patriot’ plants will give me anything this year as they’ve been busy growing branches and leaves, and the few berries and flowers they did have were soon removed by the two days of flattening wind that trashed most things in the garden.

Do you have a particular variety of strawberry or raspberry that works well in your garden? Let me know in the comments below.

Anyway, there’s plenty more growing – including more veg, but i’ll tell you about that in my next post.

As ever, thank you for reading, and happy gardening.

Andrew

Failed: Bare Root Strawberry plants

An experiment concludes with bare-root strawberries continuing to live up to their name.

Two months ago I decided to take a gamble and buy a pack of three bare root strawberries from my local Wilko store. I’d seen them in there a few times, then I’d seen ‘just how easy’ it was to get great plants from them courtesy of lots of youtube videos. Why wouldn’t I give them a go?

The bare-root Strawberry Elsanta plants potted up and ready for sunshine.
BEFORE: The bare-root Strawberry Elsanta plants potted up and ready for sunshine.

I did. And after waiting for two months, nothing has happened.

My three pots are still bare roots, and bare tops. In fact, they haven’t changed at all. Each had fresh multipurpose compost (in which the normal plants thrive), each has been watered, and yet there is no life in these three bits of straw-esque dead plants. Perhaps I purchased a bad bag – old dried stock beyond redemption?

dead bare-root strawberry plants
AFTER: Spot the difference. The bare-root Strawberry plants failed.

My other older strawberry plants are happy – throwing out green foliage, and I’ve also added some Strawberry Florence, Strawberry Alice, and Strawberry Cambridge Favourite plants to my stock. I shall have strawberries this year.

Strawberry plants in a patio planter
Some of my older Strawberry plants are happily growing in some refreshed compost in my patio planters.

However, I’m sad they failed, as I do love strawberries and I would have been interested to see this method work, but at only £2, the failure doesn’t sting too much.

I’d be interested to hear whether you’ve had any success growing bare root strawberries. Let me know in the comments below.

Squeezing a Squash into the propagator

I sow my first ever Squash ‘Spaghetti Stripetti’ seed, and there’s something odd in my Aubergine ‘Early Long Purple 2’ seed pots.

I’ve been enjoying using my spiralizer over the last few months, but so far i’ve only ever used it on courgettes (my one failed attempt on a carrot doesn’t count – too hard) to turn them into a far healthier option to spaghetti. I love making a stir fry, and so this option fits into my healthier lower-carb lifestyle.

However, I’ve been curious of trying a Squash, and so on Friday I caved whilst shopping for some more pots at Twentypence Garden Centre, and I ended up buying a pack of Squash ‘Spaghetti Stripetti’ seeds (let’s not talk about the toasted tea cake smothered in butter and a big pot of tea, okay?).

These can be sown now until mid-May indoors, or outdoors in late May.. so having picked up a mini propagator too, I had no excuse.

Filling a small pot with multi-purpose compost and adding just one seed (a second one might get sown yet), I sowed the seed on it’s edge – which is something the packet directed me to do. I’ve heard many other gardeners say this too for Squash and Courgette etc, in a bid to reduce the chances of these large flat seeds rotting.

To be honest, I’m already thinking ahead to being about to try something like another spaghetti alternative, or even something like this Au Gratin recipe. In a few months, all going well, it should look something like this:

I then gave it a little watering, and it’s now in my mini propagator alongside the three Aubergine ‘Early Long Purple 2’ seedlings.

One of those aubergine seedlings looks different though, and is curiously right in the corner of the pot. Has the seed not germinated, and a seed of something else made its home by chance? I guess we’ll find out in a few weeks.

Aubergine and Squash seedlings
The Aubergine ‘Early Long Purple 2’ seedlings, with the freshly sown Squash ‘Spaghetti Stripetti’ pot, and the what-are-you? seeding.

So, as I squeeze this pot into my propagator, I hope you are having a very happy long Spring weekend.

Happy gardening!

Andrew

Potting on the Minibel Tomatoes

The Tomato ‘Minibel’ seedlings are ready to be potted on to their individual pots, and head towards their next growing stage.

The Tomato Minibel seeds that I sowed back on 20th March have done well, with all six of these old seeds germinating (i first sowed this pack of seeds in 2013!), and now standing to about 2 inches tall. They’re all in the same pot, so it’s time to pot them on into their next stage and into their own pots, so that they can independently get growing.

Tomato 'Minibel' seedlings
The Tomato ‘Minibel’ seedlings at 10 days old.
Tomato 'Minibel' seedlings need potting on
The Tomato ‘Minibel’ seedlings now need potting on.

Firstly, I gave them a really good soak in water, in a bid to make it easier to prick them out from their seedling compost. Whilst letting that soak in, I rummaged outside for 6 identical 3 inch pots, knocked off the snails, and then filled each pot with some multipurpose compost.

I poked a hole in the middle of each pot of compost with my finger, and then carefully teased each plant out of the now soaked compost, by holding a leaf and gently prising them out from beneath with my makeshift pencil-dibber.

I planted each seedling a bit deeper than they’d been before which is absolutely fine with tomatoes, as they’re a vine, and will just throw out more roots from the buried stem – resulting in a much sturdier plant.  I firmed them in and gave them another good soak and returned the 6 pots to my windowsill.

The potted-on Tomato 'Minibel' seedlings.
The potted-on Tomato ‘Minibel’ seedlings.

This should see them through the next few weeks where I hope they’ll now mature nicely, and eventually be ready for their next (and probably final) planting on stage – either large pots or into the ground of my new garden (I’ve not decided yet), where I can then give them tomato feed, plenty of water, and hopefully lots of sunshine.

This variety have done well for me in previous years, giving me some juicy little cherry tomatoes, that I like to cut in half and throw into salads.

Are you growing tomatoes this year? Which varieties? How far along are yours?

Right, time to go back outside and make the most of this sunshine. As ever, happy gardening!

Trying Bare Root Strawberry Plants

Giving bare-root Strawberry Elsanta plants a try.

I bought a small pack of three bare root Strawberry Elsanta plants at the weekend, from my local Wilko store for £2. I’d spotted them before, and looked at them curiously, but after watching a few videos on bare-root strawberry planting, and just how resilient they are, I thought i’d give them a go.

Bag of bare-root Strawberry Elsanta plants from Wilko.
Bag of bare-root Strawberry Elsanta plants from Wilko.

I already have Strawberry Elsanta plants in my garden pots, and they have consistently survived winters, thrown runners, and produced a crop of tasty sweet red berries. Buying more just makes sense, and after watching a number of YouTube videos on the topic, I thought i’d give some bare root ones a go.

CaliKim’s video below explains how to handle them, and she’s absolutely right when she says ‘they don’t look like much‘ – they really don’t. They look like dead dried-up terrifyingly large wolf spiders.

I unpacked my bag and rummaged around to find the brown, lifeless, dry clumps of rooty-straw things. In her example, you can clearly see which bit is roots and which bit is leaf, but mine were less obvious until i’d let them soak in the water (and essentially washed them).

Having put some multipurpose compost into three little pots, I added the plants, ensuring that the crowns of the strawberries were about half a cm above the compost line so that it would not rot off and would not dry out. I have stood them outside with the rest of the Elsanta plants, and hope they begin to wake.

The bare-root Strawberry Elsanta plants potted up and ready for sunshine.
The bare-root Strawberry Elsanta plants potted up and ready for sunshine.

They still don’t look like much, but at £2 for what could be more delicious strawberries from a variety that I enjoy, it’s worth the experiment. I’ll keep you posted on whether they spring to life. I’d love to hear if you have tried bare-root plants before, and what your success rate is. Let me know in the comments below.

As ever, happy gardening!

Andrew

Potting on the Courgettes, and welcoming the Tomatoes

It’s time for the Courgettes to be pricked out, and potted on, but not all of them are ready, and the Tomatoes are up!

The first of the potting-on in 2017 has begun with the Courgette Black Beauty seedlings. Their growth has been unequal, with the first plant emerging after just 48hrs.

I sowed 3 seeds in each of 2 small pots, and even though they’re using the same compost (John Innes Seed Sowing Compost), and were in the same propagator, and on the same windowsill, while I’ve needed to prick out and pot-on one of the pots where growth has balanced out fairly well, the other pot has one seedling a little behind, and another just breaking the compost. The 6th seedling remains a mystery for now.

Taking the pot with the three larger seedlings, I carefully tipped it in the palm of my hand, with the stems and leaves cradled through my fingers and out of my hand. These plants are lush green, rubbery, and very tender and so I don’t want to damage them, therefore as soon as the weight shifted, I counteracted it so that I didn’t end up tipping the pot of compost all over their underside. The plants are healthy, and I’ve now potted them up into their own pots with a multipurpose compost.

Courgette 'Black Beauty' seedlings
The 6 Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ seeds were sown on 13th March. They’re all at about 5 different stages. The 5th seed is just breaking through in the bottom right pot.

This will be the first of 2 or 3 pot-ons for these, before I can finally plant them out in my new garden.

The other pot remains as-is on my windowsill alongside them, waiting for the seedlings to catch up.

Meanwhile, my Tomato Minibel seeds have germinated within their single-pot dome propagator. This took 10 days, although one seedling was up within about 2 days. According to the packet, it’s now safe to remove the dome and let them enjoy normal temperatures.

Tomato Minibel seedlings
The Tomato ‘Minibel’ seedlings are up, but can stay there for about a couple more weeks.

These seedlings can remain in this pot for about a couple more weeks before I’ll need to pot them on into the safety of their own pots.

The 3 Little Propagators

The third propagator came into action this weekend, as British Summer Time arrived and I fill another windowsill with seedlings.

I’ve been on a seed sowing frenzy these last few weeks, and now I have 3 propagators full of seedlings and freshly sown pots, and a number of other pots, taking up space on 5 windowsills.

The first propagator saw an early leap from a Hollyhock ‘Majorette Mixed’, with Sunflower ‘Helianthus Annus Autumn Time’ and a Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ close behind. These have now migrated onto windowsills, and more seedlings have since emerged from their pots. They’ll soon need pricking out so that they can grow on in their own pots.

Hollyhock and Lupin seedlings in pots.
The Hollyhock and Lupin seedlings were soon up.

I loaded propagator 2 up a few days later, and that swiftly followed with more seedlings – the Sweet Sultan ‘Mixed’ seedlings in particular sprang up (and have now been removed), with a slower appearance from the Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’, but then this is older seed, so I’ll keep an eye on the progress and re-sow with newer seed if they fail to grow much. My original sowing of these seeds still inhabit my garden, so even if this fresh batch fails, I will still be taking them with me to my new garden, as they’ve self-sown into my garden pots. The Antirrhinums have been joined by Parsley Laura ‘Petroselinum Crispum’ – a flatleaf parsley I like to use in the kitchen, and Cosmos ‘Seashells Mixed’.

I realised that I had a couple of single-pot tall clear plastic domes, so I commandeered these into action – becoming micro propagators for Tomato ‘Minibel’ and Monarda Austromontata ‘Bee’s Favourite’ also commonly known as Bergamot. I’ve never grown Monarda, but apparently the bees love it and from the photo on the seed packet, they do look a bit like dead nettles with little delicate flowers. The seed was tiny, and I think it takes ages to grow.

Tomatos and Monarda inside propagator domes.
Tomatoes and Monarda inside propagator domes.

Meanwhile, on a cooler windowsill the Sweet Pea Royal Mix have nearly all broken the compost – there’s just three seeds left to appear. These haven’t needed a propagator, but like the rest, I’m making sure that they have enough light and water.

I’ve just filled up propagator 3. This time I’ve given in to previously hopeless attempts, and sown some Aubergine ‘Early Long Purple 2’ seeds after being re-inspired by GoTropical’s video on them and how he’d has had luck with them. I’ve only sown three, but I’m determined to get at least one fruit from them… ever, as they’re another great alternative to pasta for me.

Joining them in the propagator is Poppy ‘Coral Reef’ which is a pink oriental poppy, some Sage which I commonly use in cooking, and some fresh Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ seeds that I bought this weekend. I’ve had mixed luck with those in the past, but they’re very elegant, and historically they’re credited as the original Sweet Pea variety from 1699. These don’t really need the propagator, but I thought I’d pop them in, if only to encourage them along to the same stage as the other Sweet Pea plants on the windowsill.

Sweet Pea 'Cupani'
Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ – when they go right.

This is such an exciting time of year, and it looks like everything is go, despite it still being cold and misty some mornings.

How is your seed-sowing going? What are you growing this year? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy gardening,

Andrew

The Blueberry Rescue

When I switch into garden rescue mode in the middle of a discount store.

A few weeks ago, whilst browsing for some cleaning products in a discount store, I wandered past their obligatory Spring-time gardening section. They had bits of everything – string, gloves, tools, trellis, plastic flowers, watering cans etc, but also included real live plants.

Well. Real plants. Less of the living. More like ‘clinging on’.

The racks were stacked full of them in various states of dying in cardboard tubes, with the survivors desperately sprinting towards the shop lights from the back of the shelves. I guess this stock probably comes in quite quickly, and to be fair, I bet that it’s without any information for the staff on how to care for them or make them even more desirable to buy – they’re just opportunistic seasonal products on shelves for the customers to buy or for the shop to let die (just like the Christmas food, or the Easter Eggs). In pity for them, I rummaged through and discovered that it was predominantly roses and blueberries.

I eat a lot of blueberries (they’re great with some raspberries in a bowl of porridge), so I thought that I would try to grow some too. I picked up a couple of the healthiest Blueberry ‘Vaccinium Corymbosum Patriot’ plants.

A blueberry plant with buds of leaves
One of the Blueberry plants seems to have recovered in its new pot.

When I got home I discovered that Blueberries hate lime, and therefore need Ericaceous compost because they require that acidic soil – putting them in a pot of this compost avoids that problem all together. They also prefer rainwater rather than tap water, again related to pH levels.

Having sourced a small bag of Ericaceous compost, I’ve now potted them up and stood the pot in the garden. If one of these two plants doesn’t make it, I should find some more, as they’ll crop better if they can cross pollinate.

Whilst rummaging, I also took pity on a rose bush – Rosa Pink – and so I carried all three to the checkout and paid the meagre £3 for them. I potted the rose up as soon as I got home in a pot with some soil and compost.

Rosa Pink plant
The Rosa Pink is doing very well. Note to self: thick gloves.

It’s showing great signs of recovery with lush shoots – it still looks a bit rushed with the reddish stems, but hopefully it’ll sort itself out. Hopefully I might see this one flower in the summer.

It’s rained a lot, and it’s been quite mild, so maybe, in a year or two, I might get some to blueberries for my porridge.