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 first of the 2012 seeds are now sown

The first seeds have been sown in 2012 – a mixture of Aubergines, Peppers, Salvia and Sweet Peas.

I’ve just sown my first seeds of the year!

Six pots containing newly sown seeds.
The first seeds have been sown.

Yesterday I popped over to the wonderful Twenty Pence Garden Centre where I picked up a new propagator and a small bag of compost. I managed to somehow resist even touching seed packets – knowing that I’d already done my buying for 2012 and that there were also plenty of seeds in the secret santa gifts and my farewell present from CBM.

As last year’s Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’ plants just didn’t seem to be far enough ahead, and following the suggestion from fellow blogger Barry at The Gourmand’s Progress, I decided that I would sow the seeds in January to give them a head start.

I took the opportunity to see what other plants in my seed collection were recommended to be planted in January and it turned out there were a few… so after some rummaging for pots, I ended up with a propagator full of sown seeds ready to start life.

The seed packets
The four types of seeds that have been sown.

Having seen the bees swarm around the one Salvia Nemerosa Ostfrieslan plant I picked up by chance last summer, I decided to hunt down this vivid blue flower for myself. So I’ve planted a small number of Salvia ‘Farinacea Victoria’ in a bid to replicate this for myself.

Despite being decimated by greenfly last year, I’ve sown some more Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ in a bid to get them that bit ahead of marauding pests. These were determined to survive (and they did) but the pests damaged their young leaves and buds, stunting them in their bid to scale the canes.

I’ve also sown a couple of Pepper (Sweet) Frigitello – apparently they are ‘vigorous plants with small, sweet tasting, thin walled conical, green fruits which turn red’. These will be joining the Aubergines in the wicker basket.

So there we go, 2012 has properly begun, and the propagator is now sitting on a windowsill waiting for the signs of lush green growth to push through the compost.

Have you sown anything yet? What are you going to try growing this year? – as ever, let me know in the comments below!

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.

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.

Strawberry picking and some new arrivals

The garden is continuing to provide as the first strawberries are picked; the second courgette is picked; and new plants arrive.

Darting in and out of rain showers, I managed a couple of tasks in the garden this afternoon. The second Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ has now been picked – smaller this time, and weighing in at 275g. There’s plenty of flowers and some more little courgettes forming, but it’ll be at least a week until there’s another one to pick.

Strawberry 'Fragaria x ananassa Elsanta'
Behold! A ripe Strawberry ‘Fragaria x ananassa Elsanta’

Having spotted a Blackbird staring at a red strawberry on Friday morning, I had a good look at the strawberry situation today and found that there wasn’t one but three that were ready for picking. There’s many more forming too, but those are still a healthy green. These are from the two Strawberry ‘Fragaria x ananassa Elsanta’ plants that I picked up a few weeks ago. I’ve picked the three ripe fruits and had them with a little (about a teaspoon!) of set yoghurt – they were wonderfully sweet. Last year’s variety didn’t really fruit in these pots and spent most of the time just dying. A few runners made it to the ground, so there’s about 5 second-generation plants surviving, whilst the originals died off.

This afternoon after gym, I went back to Twenty Pence Garden Centre over in Wilburton, where I’d seen the wicker planters a few weeks back. It was here that these had entered my consciousness and had set me wondering whether I could plant my four Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’ plants in them, seeing that the garden itself is pretty full. I’ve ended up with one that’s apparently for ‘Beans, Peas and other rigourous plants’ so whilst it is taller, I really bought it for the width and depth of it. I’ll be planting this up tomorrow, once I’ve sourced some more compost.

Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant' alongside the Hydrangea
Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ alongside the Hydrangea

Whilst there, I also found yet more blue flowers in the form of Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ (Catmint) which I was attracted to more by the buzzing sound first rather than the colour. As i picked it up, the bees were following me in protest of me taking their food. I’ve now planted this towards the sunnier end of the garden. I moved the Tarragon French ‘Artemisia Dracunculus’ because it really hasn’t looked very happy and the vigorous growth of the courgette was beginning to intrude.

I spotted a slightly desperate-to-escape pot of Nasturtium ‘Peach Melba’ and so picked that up too. I figured that I could put some of these into the wicker basket pot with the aubergines. I’m aware that Nasturtium can also ward off some garden pests and that the young leaves are good in salads too. They’ve got a chance.

I also had time to pop over to Huntingdon Garden and Leisure, where I picked up a tray of Marigold ‘French Double Mixed’. These plants look sturdy enough to withstand those home-moving little pests, and I will be planting these in the gaps that I’ve made through pruning the Campanula ‘Persicifolia’ back.

A week of firsts

The garden has really progressed this week with a few ‘firsts’ too – the Courgettes are forming, the Aubergines are budding up, and next year’s Foxgloves have germinated.

This week has been one of ‘firsts’ for my garden and this growing season.

Despite the weather being roasting hot, resulting in a very limp garden and some emergency watering, and some pretty violent thunderstorms and torrential rain, the garden has been busy.

Courgette Flowers

The Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ have been growing rapidly over the weeks but this week they’ve really taken a big step forward. The two plants have thrown out some big new leaves and have the characteristic golden yellow flowers too.

I was talking to my colleague Laura at lunch and she told me that she’s growing courgettes too but that she’s only growing them for the flowers. I found this curious as I’m definitely growing them for the courgettes! Apparently the flowers are really sweet and even better when deep fried. I’m guessing that deep fried courgette flowers won’t count towards your 5-a-day routine.

Needless to say, Laura won’t be getting anywhere near my plants, as I want the courgettes themselves.

Yesterday I brushed aside the leaves of one of the plants to find that a small courgette is now forming (on top of a dandelion!). This is great news as I’ve been making sure that the two plants are well watered and I’ve been feeding them with some ‘Doff Portland Tomato Feed’ which comes with seaweed and magnesium.

The first courgette

I’ve also been feeding my four Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’ plants with the same feed and they are now budding up – so the pressure is on to resolve how i’m going to plant them out as they can’t stay on my windowsill forever. Will it be a wicker basket with liner, or pots?

The Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’, which I had planted on 19th June are now germinating in a propagator on my windowsill. These plants will be grown on and potted up so that they will be planted out for next year’s season. I’m really wishing that I had bought some more Foxgloves, rather than just the one. Still, there’s quite a few bees in my garden in these sunny evenings – buzzing round the plants (they love the Lavender). I’ve been trying very hard to catch a photo of the bees on the Lavender but I just can’t get anything other than a bee-less photo or a blurred mess.

Thank you!

Thank you for all the comments that I’ve had on here and also verbally from friends who have got into reading this blog so far. Some are surprised that I’m green fingered in this way, and others have become fascinated in the evolution of the garden.

You can join in on Twitter @TheGardenGang or continue posting your feedback here!

A Foxglove Fanfare

The Digitalis ‘Primrose Carousel’ or Foxglove as it’s better known, has now begun flowering… and Andrew wonders what to do with four Aubergine plants.

It’s been raining heavily but on and off for about 4 days now. In this time, the garden has been getting a really good soaking. The plants that I put out at the weekend are perhaps now beginning to get used to their new homes.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the Digitalis ‘Primrose Carousel’, better known as the Foxglove, as it has been steadily reaching upwards with it’s lush green spire, covered in cream/white buds. In those 4 days, I reckon that it has grown at least a foot (3ocm).

Today the first of the flowers opened – bringing a blast of colour to an otherwise shady part of the garden.

foxglove-fanfare-of-flowers
The first Foxglove flowers in the garden.

 

I bought the plant on impulse one day for £3 from Tesco in Ramsey, Cambridgeshire. I hadn’t gone there for plant shopping, but knowing how much bees seem to like Foxgloves, and how they grow well in shady spots, I thought it would be a good gamble. I wish i’d actually bought a few.

This time next year I should have loads, having sown some Thompson & Morgan Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids’ (Mixed) seeds. Hopefully I can nurture them to grow like this one has.

Jobs to do…

  1. I need to decide where my four Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’ plants are going to be planted. I’ve been casually looking at those vegetable bag/wicker boxes. Any one have any experience of using these? Do they retain moisture? Do they rot/fall to bits in one season?

It all starts on the windowsill

The 2011 growing season for the garden has started – on the windowsill

So 2011’s garden is well underway.

Tray of seedlings growing on a windowsill
Sweet Pea, Marigold, and Aubergine spring to life on the windowsill.

 

Back two rows are Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’, middle 4 rows are Marigold ‘Boy O’ Boy Orange (French)’ – these should discourage black/greenfly that feasted on the veg last year, and in the foreground are Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ – a bright, climbing and very fragrant variety which should help bring in the bees and other bugs. They’re about 5 inches tall now and need to start going outside a bit to harden them up a bit before going outside full-time.

Lots more to plant, or already underway including Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ (again for the bees), and Courgettes, Rocket, French Beans, Peas.

Perhaps this year the Strawberries will have established enough to provide fruit?

2011 Season

This year I am aiming at trying to encourage more bees and other insects into the garden. I seem to have no problem attracting woodlice, aphids and blackfly into the garden last year, so I aim to plant more bee friendly plants in a bid to help their plight. I’d also like to see more ladybirds in the garden too, particularly to help keep that aphid colony down.

The flowers:

  • Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’
  • Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’
  • Marigold ‘Boy O’ Boy Orange (French)’
The veg:
  • Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’
  • Courgette ‘Black Beauty’
  • Rocket ‘Skyrocket’
The fruit:
  • Strawberries
 The herbs:
  • Welsh Onion
  • Applemint
  • Rosemary
  • Mint
  • Thyme
  • Caraway
  • Chives
  • Sage