The Parsnips, Carrots, Turnips… and Cats

The root vegetables are growing happily in the raised beds, whilst I devise a method to divert cat bums elsewhere.

This year I’m growing three types of vegetables that I’ve never grown before – parsnips, carrots, and turnips.

Parsnip ‘F1 Gladiator’

I love a roast parsnip, and so after realising that I was buying several of these, I thought that I would try growing them myself.

parsnip seedlings and a row of turnips
The Parsnips were transplanted out, whilst the Turnips were direct-sown.

I sowed the parsnip seed back in February, so I’d hope to start being able to pull them in about September.

Rather than sowing direct, as per the packet, I sowed mine in a small tray – only about a dozen seeds – and then transplanted them out in early April. These were the first plants out the door and into the ground, so I’m hoping that they’ll grow into something worthwhile.

Parsnip and Turnip plants in a raised bed
The Parsnip and Turnips have grown well in the raised bed.

The plants are looking healthy at least, and apparently they are ‘full of hybrid vigour’.

Carrot ‘Flyaway F1 Hybrid’ and ‘Sweet Imperator Mix F1’

I honestly don’t remember ever growing carrots before – not even as a child. They’re pretty much a vegetable 101, but it took me many years of childhood to begin to appreciate them.

These days I can’t get enough of them – not so much raw (yet) but I love them steamed, boiled, and roasted, and I’ve been using lots of them to create Carrot and Lentil Soup. They’re packed full of Vitamin A, and so I thought that I would try to stop buying them, and grow them instead.

I sowed two small rows (one of each) in my raised bed.

The Carrot ‘Sweet Imperator Mix F1’ was first – these could be sown in April, and they should produce those ‘vintage’ kinds that you see in the likes of Waitrose and M&S adverts – purple, red, orange, yellow etc, and the Carrot ‘Flyaway F1 Hybrid’ variety are just the standard modern orange colour, but have been developed to be carrot fly resistant (apparently). We’ll see – but I sowed them next to the others in a hope that they mask those too.

Turnip ‘Snowball’ and ‘Armand’

I’ve never knowingly eaten a turnip, but that hasn’t stopped me wanting to try them for myself. I now have two rows of turnips in my raised bed – the first, Turnip ‘Armand’ was sown weeks ago on XXXX and these are now showing lush green tops.

The Turnip ‘Snowball’ variety were sown this morning, so should follow up in a few weeks with their lush greenery.

If you have any interesting recipe ideas for turnips, then please leave them in the comments, but even the Snowball packet suggests that I ‘try glazed turnips – boil the roots then caramelize in sugar’, which sounds a little bit calorific and luxurious. I was thinking of soups, salads, and roasts?

Within 3 months I should have some ready to harvest.

Sowing into the raised bed

The raised bed is certainly making growing these easier, as the root vegetables need the depth. I have some pretty heavy clay soil in most of the back garden, so this will help the veg to head downwards, and should help me to get them back out again without a pickaxe.

I’m not very good at sowing thinly, and can’t quite reach across safely without risk of falling in.

I found that I had to construct some simple removable wire frames over the top, as RubyCat and her feline foes see every single raised bed as a convenient toilet.

anti-cat frame on raised bed to protect from cats
One of the anti-cat frames on the raised bed stops it being a full-time toilet.

Her fat bum has despatched broad beans, raspberry plants, and squash plants in the past, so by cutting some hard wire mesh that I picked up for £1 from poundland, and then using little plastic cable ties to secure the long edges to two wooden beams across the raised bed, means that I can guard them with a simple solution.

I’ve also fashioned a moveable board to block the edge, so that nothing gets under them, and more importantly, the cat excavations don’t creep into the veg rows.

Black cat Ruby with her tongue out
RubyCat will have to find somewhere else to dig for victory.

This allows the veg to grow happily without cat or bird interruption, and eventually I will be able to move them when the plants are big enough.

How have you managed to deter cats from permanently digging up your raised beds? I’d love to hear your ideas.

It’s a roasting bank holiday Monday, and so I’m not doing any gardening in the sunshine. I hope you’ve had a happy gardening weekend. Thanks for reading!

Andrew

Sowing Courgette, Squash, and Nasturtium seeds

With Spring in full force, it’s time to get the courgette and squash seeds sown.

The weather has been much more spring-like these last few days, with a few days of sunshine, and nature is bounding ahead with lush green foliage. I’m even potentially going to need to cut my lawn again.

Apparently there’s a ‘heat wave’ (by UK standards) next week. Although it’s chilly today, I headed to the shed with some more seeds, to get a few more sown.

Sowing Squash

First up was my Squash ‘Spaghetti Stripetti’ – I grew this for the first time last year, and whilst it completely invaded my garden – grabbing every plant, twig, and blade of grass in the garden as it spread 20 feet, it gave me about a dozen big yellow squashes to eat. In fact, I’ve still got two in storage, and they seem fine.

The largest Squash 'Spaghetti Stripetti' a few weeks ago.
The first Squash ‘Spaghetti Stripetti’ early July 2017.

My initial sowing last year saw me grow two, but after one being snapped by wind within hours of putting it out, and a second one being re-sown, it was really only the one surviving original plant that I needed – and it took over.

This year, I’ve sown just one seed on its edge (apparently helping to avoid it rotting off when being watered from above) in some multipurpose compost. I expect this to germinate in just a couple of days.

Sowing Courgettes

This is joined by 3 Courgette ‘Zucchini F1 Hybrid’ seeds. This is the first time I have grown this variety, as I’d always stuck to growing the ‘Black Beauty’ type, but let’s see how this one gets on.

a courgette and flower growing
Some sunshine and rain are all it needs to swell the fruit and open that Courgette flower.

Last year, I sowed 6 plants, and had a total glut of 45 courgettes weighing in at more than 15.5kg.

Whilst I’d like some courgettes, I don’t think i’ve eaten a single one since the end of last year!

Sowing Nasturtiums

I like nasturtiums, but have had trouble growing them in the past. Their bright yellows, oranges, and red flowers, with their greeny-blue waxy leaves attract a lot of useful insects into the garden – namely the hoverflies – which can then help address any aphid issues.

Sadly, they also attract the Cabbage White Butterfly, and their caterpillars can demolish a soft and tender nasturtium plant in a few hours.

A caterpillar eating a Nasturtium leaf
Caterpillars soon much their way through Nasturtiums.

I’ve found an older packet of Nasturtium ‘Whirlybird Mix’ seeds, so I’ve planted a dozen of these, hoping that at least a few will make it up out of the compost and eventually into the garden where they can climb and flower, bringing in those important hoverflies, without getting gobbled up too quickly by caterpillars.

Thanks again for reading, and I hope that you’ve had a happy weekend of gardening.

Andrew.

The Sunflowers begin to open and nature pays a visit

Finally, summer has arrived with the opening of the cheery sunflowers, and nature decides to pay me a visit!

It’s been a long time coming, but some of the sunflowers have begun to open.

I sowed the first wave of Sunflower Helianthus Annus ‘Autumn Time‘ back in March, and these sunflowers went up a bit, then round, then down, then horizontal, and they looked rubbish, as if unable to tell where the sky was.

I then sowed a second batch of them at the end of May, and then a few weeks ago I planted them out into one of my newly created borders in my back garden. Some frantic slug ‘meet and greet’ sessions ensued but they’ve reached for the skies, throwing big lush green leaves out, and now the flowers are uncurling.

These sunflowers aren’t the variety that you’ll ever win a height competition with, they’re about 3 foot tall, and rather than the traditional large-headed yellow flower, they’re smaller and a bit more reddy-brown (hence the ‘Autumn Time’ name). Even so, I’m really pleased to see them, as are the bees.

a red Sunflower Helianthus Annus 'Autumn Time'
a red Sunflower Helianthus Annus ‘Autumn Time’
Sunflower Helianthus Annus 'Autumn Time' with a bee.
Sunflower Helianthus Annus ‘Autumn Time’ with a bee.

Over the last weeks, my garden has become home to what seems to be about 35 Sparrows. Blackbirds have fought over my garden, there’s usually a few Blue Tits on the peanut feeder. Nature sure is visiting this once blank plantless (aside from grass) garden, and late one night some neighbourhood cats were in my garden making weird sounds. They woke me, as it was hot and my windows were open, and when I looked out, I could see that the cats were clearly upset about something (not each other). I could hear movement near the shed, so I dressed and headed out with a torch, only to be met by a hedgehog. I don’t know what the time was, but I’m pretty sure I said ‘Oh…. Hello Mr Hodgepodge‘ out loud in the garden at about 2am. It snuffled and waddled off hedgehodging.. or whatever they do. I’m pleased to find it in my garden, as there’s still SO many slugs.

Amongst the many bird feeder battles between the fat little sparrows, the bird seed has inevitably been getting spilt across my garden. Sometimes there’s a few big black Crows that swoop across the garden, and make the birds scatter, and so this perhaps accounts for my discovery of finding two self-sown Sunflowers in the garden. By coincidence, they’re in the same bed as the others, but right at the front. I’m wondering what kind these will be, as both look like strong plants. It’ll be a while before the flowers arrive, but I’m just enjoying having them there.

Speaking of things I didn’t plant, the fence at the bottom of my garden is my responsibility. It’s a tall wire fence, and it adjoins the bottom of the garden of an empty property behind (where there’s a fantastic pear tree fyi). This fence not only has my sheds close against it, but it is also laden with brambles, and of course, I’ve been watching these lethal spires shoot up since moving in, and watching them flower, and now they are literally dripping with fruit.

I picked these blackberries from the bottom of my garden
I picked these blackberries from the bottom of my garden, ate them, didn’t enjoy them. Meh.

I don’t really like Blackberries, but i showed willing and picked a bowlful. Had them with porridge and kind of regretted it. Definitely need to turn them into a cake or crumble.

Anyway, that’s it for now, there’s loads more things going on in the garden – really keeping me busy, but I’ll share more real soon.

As ever, thanks for reading, and happy gardening!

Andrew

 

The Chysanthemums and Sweet Peas brighten the garden

Further flowers are beginning to open in the garden – this time in the shade, as well on one of the reluctant climbers.

The Chrysanthemum and the Sweet Peas have now joined in the colourful fanfare, adding crimson, purple and white to the palette. 

White Chrysanthemum flower
The mystery Chrysanthemum is happily flowering in the shade.

With this continuing heat and sunshine here in Cambridgeshire, England, the garden is seeing more and more flowers opening. Over the last few days I have watched the Chrysanthemum with its dark glossy leaves, send up its straight stems that have now burst into its annual show of white daisy-like flowers. This plant was another one that was already in the garden – it’s variety remains a mystery for now (any ideas – leave a comment below!). It seems to thrive in the shady part of the garden (it’s just a few feet away from the Fern). It’s white flowers, which seem to attract hoverflies, delivers a welcome contrast to the greenery that dominates the corner.

Elsewhere in the garden, the Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ flowers have begun to open with their pungent crimson and purple flowers.

Sweet Pea 'Cupani'
The Sweet Peas are blooming, they just forgot to climb.

Fortunately the Sweet Peas have eluded the aphids this year (which were probably blown and washed away a couple of weeks ago), leaving them with strong stems and early flowers. However, they haven’t exactly utilised the wigwams yet, despite some gentle woollen encouragement.

They have been joined by the French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ which similarly have started flowering and again haven’t climbed very high.

The snails and aphids celebrate in the summer rain

The summer showers welcome some hungry pests into the garden, just as the Rose and the French Beans are about to put on a show.

There’s just been a short rain shower – enough to stop me being outside in it – but as soon as it stopped I was out there to meet the unwelcome visitors that are enjoying my green finger skills.

The French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ that I planted out only a few days ago, have seen two of the plants stripped completely of buds, shoots and leaves. These snails move fast. But today I moved quicker, and with the rain on a momentary pause, I went out and immediately pulled 8 small snails off of the beans. It seems that they’re using other plants to get them up and onto the bean leaves… and then they work their way up or down, decimating the plant until it’s a just lanky stem resembling a continuous chain of arms and elbows. I don’t know if they’ll re-grow, but i’ve got seed.

The Rose
This Rose was already in the garden when I moved here.

Not far away, is the Rose (of an unknown variety). It was already in the garden and clearly hadn’t been in place for many years. Still, it has flowered without fail – sometimes reaching two seasons of flowers in a year. This year though, after pruning it hard, it is full of lush growth and green leaves, and lots of buds.

Today, it is also full of lush green aphids.

Aphids on a rose bush
The Aphids have moved in. I just hope they don’t spot the Sweet Peas nearby.

Having witnessed them obliterate last year’s sweet peas, I was gutted. There’s not enough Ladybirds around yet to feast that lot, and the Hoverflies aren’t about due to the rubbish weather… so it’s down to some manual techniques to usher them away – a piece of tissue and some careful squeezing (not to damage the rose buds), or maybe some diluted washing-up liquid. Aphids breathe through their skin – so if you clog that with an oily washing-up liquid mix, they suffocate and die. Gruesome but fortunately true.

Again, not far away are this year’s Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ – they’re looking stunted at the moment, and not much different from when I planted them out weeks ago. I know that the aphids will show them no mercy, so I will need to deal with these aphids sooner rather than later.

For now though, it’s the snails that are top of my hit list.

The Sweet Peas feel a pinch of success

The Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ seedlings are growing so well that it’s time to pinch out the buds to help the seedlings become strong and more resistant to pests.

If your sweet peas are anything like mine, they are growing very happily on the windowsill at the moment. In fact, a bit too well. It’s time to be brutal with them.

I sowed my Unwins Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ seeds in my propagator back in January, and by now they would be climbing several feet up anything they could find if given the chance. But I’ve been doing them a favour – i’ve been nipping the buds out.

This might seem a bit destructive but by doing so, you’re not only going to avoid having sweet peas up your curtains, but you’re also going to encourage the remaining plant to bulk up – grow sturdy and strong – which is what your plants will need if they face the real risk of a flock of marauding aphids like mine did last year.

To do this, wait for about 4 tiers of leaves, and then pinch out the stem growth after the second set of lower leaves. This will mean that growth will be encouraged from low down on the plant – helping it to grow stronger – stem-wise and root wise. A stronger stem means it’s a stronger plant, and better roots means that the plant will be able to better at finding nutrients in the soil.

A Sweet Pea 'Cupani' flower
Last year’s Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ produced few flowers after battling with aphids.

It’s almost time for sweet peas to go start going outside – but as we’ve had some pretty hard frosts here in the last few days – i’ve held them back. It’s best to do a gradual acclimatisation, so i’ll be putting them out during the day, and bringing them back in at night for the next week or so just so that the shock doesn’t kill them before planting them out.

Fortunately, I have already seen some Ladybirds (Ladybugs) in the garden, and hopefully the Nasturtiums that I planted last week will bring the Hoverflies back – both of which will enjoy munching on aphids.

For more about Sweet Pea varieties and how to grow them, check out the National Sweet Pea Society.

The Aubergines Awake

The Aubergines finally wake up; Next year’s colour is ready to plant out; and spiders wrap the garden in their webs.

I’m feeling a tiny bit paternal today having just discovered that one my the seven Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’ plants has finally started producing a berry (apparently they aren’t botanically classed as ‘fruit’).

aubergine-plants-awake
The Aubergines begin to emerge…

Having sown seven seeds back in March, all of which germinated and then giving three plants to my mother (who has grown hers on in a greenhouse), and tended to the remaining four in a large basket in my garden, this will be the very first ‘berry’ from all six plants (one plant collapsed and died a month or so ago).

The clock is now ticking though, with night time temperatures sometimes coming in at about 8C degrees and all these foggy mornings, it won’t be long until the cold snap comes and kills the plants off.

Will this aubergine be worth harvesting?

Elsewhere in the garden, I bought some Wallflower ‘Ruby Gem’ the other weekend from Twenty Pence Garden Centre, so these need planting out, as do the 50 or so Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’  which I have carefully tended to from seed. The Foxgloves will love the shade, and in turn the bees will love them. Both of these will bring colour to the garden next year.

Spider!
One of many garden spiders (Araneus diadematus, apparently)

About 15 beautiful spiders have been covering the garden in very large and strong cobwebs. There’s few birds in my garden, so these beautiful arachnids (Araneus Didadematus) spend their day sitting in the middle of their webs. I’m struggling to catch a good photograph of them though – their colourings are amazing and the photo above just doesn’t do them justice.

Everywhere I step I seem to be just a few inches away from a spider web or a spider – sometimes at face height.

Moving up a gear

The garden has really grown on in the last couple of weeks – Antirrhinums are flowering, the Sweet Peas are recovering, and some mystery seedlings have turned up….

The garden has really progressed in the last couple of weeks since I last blogged.

antirrhinum-chuckles-on-flower
The Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ plants are beginning to bloom.

The Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ (above) are now sturdy plants with the beginnings of a colourful range of flowers – their leaves a lush green.

All of the plants have really grown on, I’m now two courgettes in, with two more that will probably be ready for harvesting this weekend. It hasn’t rained for a few days, so i’ve resumed giving both plants more of the Doff Liquid Tomato Feed, as well as giving some to the Hydrangea to help boost it a little in this drier (although not warm) weather.

The Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ plants are beginning to recover from the army of aphids, with new green growth without a sign of those pesky bugs. I even spotted a ladybird clambering about.

A Sweet Pea 'Cupani' flower
Last year’s Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ produced few flowers after battling with aphids.

The Nasturtium ‘Peach Melba’ plants have settled into the basket and the garden and this has helped to attract the hoverflies. These hoverflies in turn like to feast on aphids – so this may partly account for the sweet pea’s recovery.

Some mystery seedlings appeared in the garden a few weeks back in a small space beneath the Forsythia. I had a good idea as to what they were and how they got there and now that they have grown to almost 1ft tall, I’m sure.

Sunflower seedlings
The Sunflower seedlings

During the winter and spring I hung some bird feed fat balls from the Forsythia branches – a favourite with the Blue Tits. The balls contained lots of seeds. These plants are clearly Sunflowers and given where they’ve grown – they have clearly fallen from the ball and germinated. There’s also some grass too. It’s unlikely that they’ll come to much height or flower-wise, but they are welcome to stay in the border – adding some greenery and height amongst the plants.

Planting out the Aubergines

The Aubergines finally find their home and are joined by the rescued Nasturtiums.

I planted out my four Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’ plants into a wicker basket at the weekend.

The basket, bought from the excellent Twenty Pence Garden Centre, is a few feet high and contains a durable liner bag into which I have put a mixture of composts and some soil, with a few drainage rocks in the bottom. I’m not sure how well this is going go, or how long the wicker basket, or more to the point, the liner bag, will last. However, I’m willing to give it a go and see how it gets on.

Aubergine and Nasturtium plants in a wicker basket.
The Aubergine and Nasturtium plants in the wicker basket.

The Aubergines were very keen to move on to their next pot, so this is ideal for them. I’ve been feeding them regularly, and so they’re flowering and in need of being planted out. Hopefully they’ll forget their windowsill days quickly and become established in their new home.

Amongst them, I’ve planted some Nasturtium ‘Peach Melba’ in a bid to add some colour, and have something spill out over the sides of the pot. These Nasturtiums were ones that i bought as a ‘rescue’ purchase. They’re a bit leggy, but I read that they can attract hoverflies. Hoverflies in turn feast on those pesky aphids which pretty much obliterated my Sweet Peas in an afternoon. There’s also my neighbour’s old dilapidated trellis that divides our gardens, and which is next to the basket, so the Nasturtiums might want to climb this too. I may even try some of the leaves in salads.

This part of the garden gets sunshine from the East, and it stays in the garden for quite a while. Plants such as my Fern and the Digitalis ‘Primrose Carousel’ do well nearby, and I allow the yellow Corydalis ‘Pseudofumaria Lutea’ to grow up through the join between the paving here in a bid to add some colour for a few weeks in July.

However, the glorious sunshine has turned to chillier days with grey skies and rain showers. Hopefully the sunshine will return to help ripen those veg.

The Rocket ‘Skyrocket’ that I planted on 6th July had begun germinating by the evening of the following day and they are now standing about 3cm tall. Hopefully these will crop for longer than the previous lot.