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

Dealing with Blackfly and Rosemary Beetles

The Courgettes are thriving but they’ve come under attack from blackfly, and the Rosemary has a beetle infestation.

The sun has absolutely been blazing over the last couple of weeks, so this has meant a lot of running around with watering cans desperately trying to save the plants that are waiting to be planted out; the plants that can’t be planted out because the ground is like concrete; and the plants that are planted out and roasted.

Blackfly on the Courgette plants

Today, whilst on my watering can round (i need a hosepipe, don’t i?), I spotted some familiar friends have arrived to celebrate what looks like a bumper crop from my Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ plants.

courgette flower buds with blackfly
The Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ flower buds are covered in Blackfly.

On the flower buds were the little black things, with the occasional ant running around. Yes, it’s the blackfly!

I’ve already had these visiting my Tomato ‘Minibel’ plants, but they’ve now migrated to the four courgette plants in my raised bed (the other two are a few metres away, but have a companion plant by luck).

Blackfly on Tomato 'Minibel' plants
Spot the Blackfly on the Tomato ‘Minibel’. Their sap sucking holiday will come to an end.

I’ve not suffered with slugs and snails in this raised bed, and I’m wondering whether this is because i put some copper tape around most of it, or whether it’s because the wood of the bed is pretty rough. Either way, this doesn’t stop blackfly, but it would mean it’s a good place to plant the protective Marigold French ‘Orange’ plants – cheap and cheery – and something the blackfly don’t like. This seems to have helped the tomatoes, otherwise, i’ll be getting the soapy mister out again to spray them with.

The beetles: live at the Rosemary

Whilst watering my patio, where several plants sit waiting to be potted up, I then noticed some elaborately black and gold-y looking beetles in the replacement Rosemary plant that I had to buy when the big old one didn’t survive the house move ;(.

rosemary plant with rosemary beetles infesting it
My new Rosemary plant is being invaded by these pearlescent Rosemary Beetles. Pretty, but they’ll seriously damage it.

It needed a good soak, but curious of what these beetles were, I googled them and discovered that they are specifically Rosemary Beetles (or Chrysolina americana) and have only been known in the UK since the 1990s. The RHS knew all about them, and also have a survey (which i’ve just filled in).
Despite their name, apparently they’re also not restricted to rosemary, and may well spread to Lavender, Sage, and other aromatic plants. I really don’t need that, as I have plenty of those plants, and last weekend was establishing a herb garden area (i’ll show this off soon).

Whilst they spoke of insecticides, I’ve opted at this point for a thorough shake and flick method, and a meet and greet with my shoe, which is still very successful with the slugs and snails. It feels like such a shame to kill them, as they’re quite pretty, but this new rosemary plant is suffering before it’s even been planted out.

Anyway, elsewhere in the garden there are lots of things growing, and I’ll be sharing a few of these – including the first harvest photos, in my next post.

Happy gardening, and if you have to go out in the sun, make sure you wear suncream and/or a hat out there!

Thanks for reading – Andrew.

 

The Courgettes are coming!

I’m beginning to drool as the Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ plants are beginning to flower and form baby courgettes, but the garden pests are queuing up.

Great news! The Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ plants are busy flowering and they’re beginning to show signs of growing actual courgettes. All plants are doing well, after desperately needing to be planted out and getting into a tangled mess on my windowsills.

This was one of the courgettes in the raised bed on Monday.

Courgette 'Black Beauty' forming courgettes
I can’t wait for these plants to start yielding courgettes.

..and by Wednesday (today), after some sunshine and rain, it’s up to this:

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

It’s still only about 3cm long, but hopefully this will soon become the first of the courgettes for me to harvest. The first thing to take from my garden and eat. I’m really looking forward to it.

Courgettes have male and female flowers. It’s somewhat of a delicacy to eat these flowers – stuffed or deep fried amongst other ways. However, I like to let them get on with their job, and make me lots of courgettes. Today i bought what is hopefully my final courgettes for the kitchen.

Note the ant on the second courgette plant photo. One of the other courgette plants (straight in the ground, rather than the raised bed) has ands on it, and when I looked closer, I saw that there is also some blackfly. Apparently ants like to feed on blackfly, and will often ‘protect’ the blackfly from other predators like ladybirds in a bid to guarantee their own food source. A quick wash with the watering can removes all, but they’ll come back soon enough to suck the sap of the plant and therefore put it under stress.

I don’t want this, so i’ve looked for a deterrent, and I’ve found two companion plants – Marigolds and Chives. So, on my way home, I popped into my local Tesco to discover their bedding plants in various stages of being killed off – drowned vs baked vs snapped vs shoved in a trolley with too many shelves. I plucked out 12 abused Marigold French (Orange) plants reduced down to a total of £2. I tried growing Marigolds from seed before, but the germination was poor, and they’re so cheap to buy.

Marigold French Orange plants from Tesco.
These abused Tesco Marigold ‘French’ (Orange) plants will soon bounce back.

I came home and planted some of them out near the courgettes, but also near the Tomato Minibel plants, which have begun attracting blackfly too.

 

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!

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 Minibels ring in their first crop of Tomatoes

The first Tomato ‘Minibel’ fruits have been picked – ending a 4 month waiting period, blighted by heavy winds and roasting sunshine.

I’ve just picked the first three tomatoes from the Tomato ‘Minibel’ plants that i sowed back in April.

Three Tomato Minibel fruits.
The first three Tomato ‘Minibel’ fruits.

These six plants have essentially been roasted and flattened repeatedly by both sunshine and wind over the last 4+ months, and are now pretty much horizontal, but despite this there are many green tomatoes awaiting the remnants of sunshine.

The Tomatoes were potted on in May, and again in June into their final pots.

Two Tomato 'Minibel' seedlings
Two of the Tomato ‘Minibel’ seedlings

I just managed to pick three (there’s a fourth almost ready) specimens off of one of the plants, whilst moving them into a sunnier part of the garden. Hopefully the wind will stay away for a few more weeks.

Tomato 'Minibel' and Courgette 'Black Beauty'
The Tomato ‘Minibel’ and Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ seeds were sown back in April.

Tubers, Sowing, and Potting On

There might be lots of new lush green growth outside, but there’s still plenty of seeds and plants to sow and pot on indoors.

Whilst the sun has finally found its shine, the wind has found its gust, the garden has been growing green and lush, but there’s plenty more seeds to sow.

The annual winds are currently flattening the garden (bye bye Tulip ‘Negrita’ flowers!). Fortunately some rain has been falling too – mostly at night (thankfully), which is much needed by these tender  new plants as they reach skywards.

TUBERS

I’ve planted the three Begonia ‘Prima Donna Pink’ tubers that I bought a few days ago. These aren’t like bulbs – you don’t bury them and cover them over – as they’ll simply rot. Instead you kind of push them into the surface, so that they sit flush with the soil. This gives their buds maximum light, and overall a lower chance of rotting.

A Begonia 'Prima Donna Pink' tuber
A Begonia ‘Prima Donna Pink’ tuber

sowing

But I’ve realised that I’m a bit behind in sowing some seeds, so I’ve just had a big catch-up session with pots and a bag of multipurpose compost.

I’ve just sown:

  • French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ – this is at least the 3rd year i’ve planted these.
  • Sweet Pea ‘Floral Tribute Mixed’ – my first year with this variety.
  • Aubrieta ‘Cheeky Mix’ – these won’t be ready for flowering until 2014.
  • Nasturtium ‘Jewel Mix’ – my cheerful hoverfly magnet, and sadly the preferred snack of every Cabbage White caterpillar in the county.
Caterpillar strike
Last year’s cheery Nasturtium ‘Jewel Mix’ were completely stripped within about 36 hours.

Potting On…

I’ve also potted up some of the Tomato ‘Minibel’ plants, as they’re now getting big enough to handle. I love the smell that they give off when you’re handling the leaves.

Two Tomato 'Minibel' seedlings
Two Tomato ‘Minibel’ seedlings

These might get potted on again, into their final pots – or they might end up in a grow bag (or the wicker basket) – i’m not sure yet.

The tulips begin to bloom and the propagator is full of new life

Last year’s Tulip bulbs are now coming into flower, and the seedlings are thriving in the propagator.

I came home in the sunshine earlier this week to a crimson welcome, and the green shoots of new life in the propagator.

The Tulip ‘Negrita’ bulbs that I planted last year have overwintered and spent the last few weeks throwing lush, waxy-looking, green leaves and stems skywards. Now I have been rewarded with their beautiful blooms.

Tulip 'Negrita'
Tulip ‘Negrita’ on flower.

There were about 10 bulbs and they seem to all be present and happy..

Tulip 'Negrita'
Tip-toe through the tulips (nepeta and a nettle) with me.

However, I also stumbled across a terrible thing, and it comes as somewhat of an absent-mindedness confession, of which I’m not really happy with myself about – it looks like i might have forgotten to plant ANY of the beautiful cream and green lacy Tulip ‘Madonna’ bulbs. I found bag of them on my bench. There was a bit of a hole in the bag – so i *might* have planted a few, but there’s no sign of them yet.

As for the bulbs in the bag – they looked quite dried up, but i’ve planted them out anyway and now they have two chances. They’ll be massively behind for this year though – which makes me annoyed with myself.

Ending on a happier note…

The seeds that I sowed at the beginning of the month are doing pretty well. Both Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ seeds are now sturdy seedlings, there are 5 Tomato ‘Minibel’ seedlings, and 1.1 of the Sweet Pea ‘Candy Cane’ seeds have germinated.

IMAG1142
The Tomato ‘Minibel’ seedlings are doing well in the propagator.

Add to this, the Parsley ‘Laura’ (a delicious flat-leaf variety that’s great with mushrooms,  scrambled egg, or as a salad leaf) is thriving.

With the sunshine out, it finally feels like summer is lurking just off the horizon somewhere.