Mars and a Colourful Lunar Fog Bow

Arching across the lower part of the image above is a rare lunar fog bow. Unlike a more commonly seen rainbow, which is created by sunlight reflected prismatically by falling rain, this fog bow was created by moonlight reflected by the small water drops that compose fog. Although most fog bows appear white, all of the colours of the rainbow were somehow visible here. The above image was taken from high atop Haleakala, a huge volcano in Hawaii, USA, by Wally Pacholka. 2 Feb 2010 APOD

Thursday, 23 September 2010

New Business

Anyone who has been to have a look at this blog may have noticed a lack of posts since June. That's not to say I have lost interest in my garden. I am setting up a new business which has taken over most of my free time.

So from now on I am going to be an occasional Guest Poster on the Nourishing Obscurity blog run by James Higham.

I will be posting as Rossa about food, setting up a new business in a recession and anything else that catches my fancy.

So take a wander over and say hello.

nourishing obscurity

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Rain, rain, rain

Well after the dry spell during May we now have a wet June. The month started off reasonably well but the last few days have been overcast and wet. No major downpours just the drizzle we tend to get over here.

Mind you at least I don't need to do any watering and with 2 new water barrels I can reduce the amount of tap water used. Definitely a good thing when you are metered.

Greenhouse has arrived and is waiting patiently to be constructed tomorrow. My Dad is coming over with various tools though he is under strict instructions from his wife not to over do it as they go on holiday for 2 weeks on Saturday. So after a nice lunch (his wages) we'll see what we can put together.

In the meantime I've managed to get some fruiting plants out as today was a good Fire/Fruit day. French beans, peas and a couple of yellow courgettes (Zucchini) in the square foot plot at the front. Potted up a couple more courgettes and a couple more tomatoes ready to go in the greenhouse when it's ready.

Sowed a few more peas, a dwarf bush variety called Kelvedon Wonder (first batch already flowered and pods are growing) and a climbing sugar snap that I plan to dual plant with my tomatoes. I've used 6' canes with the tomatoes so the sugar snaps with have something to climb.

And just to cheer everyone up here are a couple of photos of an Iris a neighbour gave me last year. This year it has produced 2 triple blooms and on the close up you can just see some tiny raindrops from a brief shower yesterday on the petal at the top of the picture.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

What a difference a month makes!

Well it's almost a month since my last post because short of taking a photo of every inch of growth there hasn't been much to say.

The weather has been much warmer at the end of May though still dry so the hosepipe has been out a couple of times. My pear tree had leaf curl which is usually lack of water or aphids. No signs of bugs so it got a few good soakings and seems to have perked up a bit.

I've ordered a greenhouse today from eBay which should be here in the next few days. When we moved in there was a shed on a concrete hard standing which we didn't see the point of as it only housed a few tools. We don't have a lawn so didn't need a lawnmower or anything big so the tools went into the back of the garage and the shed went to a friend's garden. So we have a solid base to stand the new construction on. It will be a 2 person job to put it together....Dad !!

It has polycarbonate glazing instead of glass which is supposed to be better at filtering some of the harmful sun's rays and with 2 windows I should be able to keep things cool on a hotter day. Best thing of all is that we can grow things through the winter. We are quite sheltered here in the lee of a hill and it will have a hedge on one side and a fence on another. I'm planning on some winter potatoes, broad beans, brassicas and some salad leaves. It will also mean I can have somewhere to put my seedlings rather than on our windowsills.

Latest photos are here. Potato forest in the back garden with a couple of courgettes at the back against the fence. Growing those in bags for the first time. Empty 60 litre compost bags filled with Alpaca poo and a thick layer of compost. Courgettes can be quite greedy plants so I hope they like the conditions and grow well.

The square foot garden at the front is coming on well with broad beans, peas, beetroot, carrots, radishes and spinach all thriving. Got sweetcorn still in medium pots which will get planted into their squares next week in a block and 5 in pots will go into the greenhouse to see what happens under glass.

Some of my tomatoes are in their final pots behind the square foot bed. Again I will move some into the greenhouse to see if we get a better result.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

New shoots now showing

Not much has been happening for the last few weeks after sowing on the Roots day. I waited in anticipation for the new shoots that signal what has germinated and what may grow this year.

As the weather has now warmed up it has produced the first signs of growth though we have had some air frosts so I have only sown a small quantity directly outside with the rest safely inside, in pots on the windowsills.

At the left of the photo in my square foot plot, I have 8 crimson flowered broad beans with canes for support. They were sown indoors in March and have grown to about 8" tall. Alongside them I have sown some dwarf french beans, both purple and a green variety. I much prefer them to runner beans. I have some others indoors in case I lose any to frost and have also sown some dwarf borlotti beans which look so pretty with their dappled pinky brown colour.

To the right at the back of the plot are some radishes showing. They are sown between the rows of Paris Baron carrots, a round carrot that has yet to show signs of life. The radishes are a long white one called Icicle and the usual round red variety. There is a second lot in one of the small troughs in front of the bed next to some shallots and garlic.

I've also sown some purple carrots just for fun, some beetroot and some spinach which has come up on the far right but as it's in shadow it isn't visible in this shot.

Before sowing any of these I had put down a thick layer of the Alpaca poo and topped with a layer of compost. So once the root systems have established there should be a good source of nutrients to encourage healthy growth. This Alpaca manure is known to produce good "greenery" so we'll see if we get a jungle this year then.

At the very back of the picture, up against the front of my house for a bit of protection, I have got 3 more green troughs. Salad leaves in the left one, wild rocket in the middle one and then a Valmaine cut and come again lettuce. This last one is related to the Romaine lettuce and produces crisp sweet leaves. Great for a Caesar Salad.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Good Roots Day

Having got the Easter weekend out of the way it was time to be prepared for my first Moon Planting Day. Thursday 8 or Friday 9 April were down as the best time to plant out the first of my potatoes. They had been chitting quite happily for several weeks so were ready to go.

First off I had to lift a couple of Fuschias left over from last year. Not sure if they have survived the cold winter so I've put them into pots for now and will plant out into new positions in the garden if they show signs of life in the next couple of weeks. Fortunately my Dad is a big grower of Fuschias having about 25 in pots on his window sills ready to go out once any chance of frost has gone by. Which is just as well as we had an air frost last night.

Anyway back to the Roots Day. Having lifted the Fuschias, I dug 4 trenches, put in the seed potatoes and sprinkled in some Growing Success organic potato fertiliser. Covered over with the soil dug out of the trenches and then added a THICK blanket of Alpaca Poo on top as a nice "Duvet" to keep off any frost.  

Had a good tidy up of the pots I had used last year, tipping out the old compost on top of the Alpaca Poo so the potatoes are now under about 8 inches of soil, poo, compost and a topping of slug pellets. Next batch due to go in later this month.

Tidied up the front bed as well ready to mark out into squares and will be sowing some beetroot and carrot seeds directly into their allocated squares later this week. It's another Roots Day 17th or 18th. Too soon for the 2nd batch of potatoes but can do other Roots like the shallots and radishes as well.

My ex boyfriend came over on Saturday to help with a couple of heavy lifting chores as my shoulder injury still hampers what I can do. No power in the muscle to lift anything too heavy for the time being. We also did a seed swop so I've got a couple of other tomato varieties to try and a couple of yellow courgettes (Zucchinis), one round the other the usual long variety.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Spring Forwards

Clocks went forward last weekend for British Summer Time. As we head into the Easter weekend the winter has had a last gasp with a chill wind and snow on the Moors.

Indoors we have our first daffodils picked from our garden to remind us that Spring is really here. 

Next good Moon day for Roots is the 8th April so I'm hoping to plant out the first of the potatoes. I could have done them last Tuesday but with the weather turning cold I wanted to avoid any potential frost. They are happy chitting so no problem waiting a bit longer.

Which also means that everything else will slip back by a week or two. No hard and fast rules, I'll keep an eye on the longer range forecast and sow seeds or pot on seedlings as and when I can.

Happy April Fools Day!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Sprouting Seeds

It's amazing how each year when the first few signs of life appear from the seeds you've sown, you still get a thrill that something will grow, hopefully survive whatever Mother Nature throws at them and in the end may be able to pick some nice fresh veggies for supper.

The Broccoli and Calabrese are romping away with some of the herbs and grasses starting to show their heads above the potting compost.

And the sweetcorn have all come through too. No sign of the broad beans as yet but last year they took quite a long time so I'll just need to be more patient.

I've also got my second set of seed potatoes set for chitting. They had already started in the paper bags even though they were in a cold porch. Won't be surprised if they catch up with the first batch. I'm hoping to plant the first set out at the end of the month, the next good Moon day for Roots being the 30th March. However, the forecast is for possible snow next week which may delay that idea. Just have to wait and see.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Fire under the Moon

Yesterday was a Fire day so it was time to sow the fruiting plants or those that produce seeds in pods like peas and beans.

I grew a crimson flowered broad bean last year which is an old English variety, so old that it hasn't been named like modern types. For the first time I saved some beans to use this year. I cracked open the blackened dried pods and had a total haul of 20 seeds. Sown 10 of them to start with and will watch in anticipation to see if any will germinate.

6 of the squares in the front bed are for sweetcorn. According to the guide to square foot planting one square will take one corn plant. However, it is also recommended to grow corn in blocks rather than rows to improve the chances of pollination. So I'm going to put an extra plant in the middle between a block of 4 in a X pattern. One at each corner of the X and one in the centre. Which means I need 8 plants for the 6 squares, now sown!

Time for tomatoes as well so I've sown 3 varieties. Marmande is a French beefsteak variety with distinctive ridges. Not easy to grow as they need to be watered from the top and the bottom due to a more complex root system. They are also my father's favourite tomato which he used to grow in the 70s. Maybe this year I can surprise him with a Marmande tomato or two.

The others are a yellow variety called Blondkopfchen which produces a plum shaped fruit. The other is called Sweet Pea Currant which is quite amazing. It produces hundreds of tiny currant sized fruit in bunches like grapes. As it has a trailing habit I'm going to try it out in a couple of hanging baskets and see what happens.

I want to grow a bush pea and dwarf french beans but they will have to wait until the next Fire sowing time in April as my windowsill is filling up now having got 45 pots on it.

Just to round up the Fire day we had a visit from a couple of guys from Red Watch, at the local fire brigade. They came round to do a free fire safety survey. Fitted an extra smoke alarm for us, free of charge, and advised us on keeping doors to the kitchen and my office shut at night, which is difficult with 3 boy cats who like their own space and also access to food, water and the litter tray. 

They also checked the exits from the house in the event of a fire. We can only exit through the doors downstairs as we don't have casements that open. Only the small narrow casements at the top of each window. And I got a polite telling off for blocking the exit to the front door with my bag of potting compost that's in the porch!!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

First Sowings

Now that the weather is getting back to near normal temperatures for an English Spring, I've finally given in and sown a few seeds. Seed compost is viable as a growing medium for up to 6 weeks so by end of April it should be warm enough to plant the seedlings outside.

Sunday was a good day for sowing flowering plants as the Moon was in the constellation of Aquarius which is an Air sign. I sowed 3 pots of broccoli Spike and 3 pots of green sprouting Calabrese, also a member of the broccoli family. We love purple sprouting broccoli but it is essentially a winter veg and if sown now wouldn't be ready until March next year. Not waiting that long! So the varieties I've sown now are annuals and we should be able to crop late July into August. I'll do the PSB next month.

Monday was a good day for leafy veg with the Moon moving into the constellation of Cancer in the afternoon. It's a bit early for salad leaves as I want to sow the seeds direct into some troughs so on this occasion I've sown some herbs, an Orange Thyme, Mint, Garlic Chives and a variety of Parsley called Hamburg where you can use the roots as well as the leaves.

I also want to grow some ornamental grasses this year to fill some of the gaps between the flowering plants already in the garden. I have bought a mixed pack of 6 varieties, 3 of which need to be started off indoors. And here is where my Moon planting system may be a bit suspect for these sorts of plants. My first thought was "grass is a green leafy plant" and sowing on a leafy day would be good. Then when I checked the packet of course it reminded me that grasses also flower, otherwise where would they get grass seed from, so maybe they should have been sown on Sunday.

Oh well, it is a case of trial and error and as I have said before there are so many variables in gardening that it is not an exact science being much more of an art.

As you can see in the picture I'm using cheap white plastic "vending machine" type cups. I used a skewer to put a couple of drainage holes in the bottom and stand them in trays made up of 15 modules to keep them stable and stop the cats from knocking them over.

Cut up some address labels so that I can mark each one with the variety and day sown otherwise I'll lose track of what they are and how long they've been in their seedling pots. Then put them on a tray to catch any drops from over enthusiastic watering and onto the front windowsill which faces South so they should get a decent amount of light.

And off we go!

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Alpaca Poo!

This weekend I went with a friend who has an allotment to pick up some free farmyard muck. As we drove through the gate we got a very pleasant surprise. Alpacas!

The lady owner has a herd of over 40 and I fell in love on sight. Absolutely lovely animals. Very gentle and placid unlike their cousins the camel or llama. Huge bambi like eyes so a definite aahhh moment. I even got a kiss from a gorgeous dark auburn girl called Autumn Glory. As I'm a redhead myself we matched and I could have easily kidnapped her and brought her home with me. Still I can visit whenever I want so if there is a fan club I want to join now!

Alpaca poo has been recommended by Gardener's World according to one website I've seen so it's going to feed my potato patch and other "greedy" plants. It's still in bags stacked against the back garden fence slowly rotting down though I believe it can be used as it is without "burning" the plants. We'll have to see how we get on.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Carrot Plugs and a Change of Mind

Like most people I'm conscious that economically Growing Your Own is not always the cheapest way to get veg from soil to plate. There's always something to say for economy of scale. 

With the recent newspaper stories about the companies selling carrot plug plants for over £1 a piece it highlights that there are some veg it is cheaper to buy in a supermarket than grow yourself. So I have had another look at my planting scheme and the costs for what I had planned and it has meant a change of mind.

Out go the onions, leeks and kale (that we don't like much anyway) and the potatoes are now going to be grown in the back garden plot rather than in bags in compost. 20 bags with 40 litres of compost in each works out at £45. That's £2.27 a bag without the costs of water, though I do have some rainwater butts, and potato fertiliser and occasional feed to get a decent crop.

I can also use the back plot after I have lifted the potatoes for my winter January King cabbage, cauliflowers and our all time favourite veg Purple Sprouting Broccoli.

My compost needs are now much reduced and I'm going to look for some free muck from a local farm. Potatoes and greedy plants like the Golden Hubbard Squash and Courgettes like a rich organic medium to grow in. More about that coming later.

The front plot has now also changed to accommodate some of the other veg I had planned to grow in the back plot.

Sorry the image isn't quite as good with the new colours. They represent the Moon elements as shown in my guidebook. Red for fruiting and seeding plants, Orange for root veg and Green for leafy veg.

First 6 plots on left are for corn, then 2 beans and 2 peas. All come under the Fire element. Beetroot and Carrots for the Earth element planting and Spinach for the Water element.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

In tune with the Moon 2010

Just received my copy of this book about Moon Planting and have read my way through the ideas behind this type of gardening.

Whew! It would be easy to get very confused with everything from the tides, constellations, zodiac signs, elements, aspects etc. Fortunately there is a comprehensive year planner on a month by month basis and a daily notes section that also gives indicators of what to do and when. 

It could all get very complicated which goes against one of my main tenets in life. Laziness equals Efficiency!! (thanks to you, Dad). That's not to say sitting around wishing things would happen more a case of finding out the most simple and straightforward way to do something without getting bogged down in the details. Certainly a lot less stress and leaving more time to enjoy the garden and relax. After all Mother Nature does this all on her own and does very well, thanks very much!

So that's the way I will follow this planner. No getting up at 2am because that may be the very best time to sow peas and beans. I'll look for the best time for me and the plants and see what happens.

Have to say the potatoes are coming along nicely. Already showing signs of life and starting to sprout shoots. It was a good Moon time for root veg and so it has proven to be so far. They are certainly coming along more quickly than last year.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Brilliant Idea

On the gardening forum yesterday, see link in garden blog list, one poster directed other users to a PDF file about square foot gardening. Most of the contents I was already aware of but the booklet included a Brilliant Idea.

sqft_step_by_step.pdf (application/pdf Object) 

A perennial war is waged in gardens across the land against slugs and snails. They can be a very destructive pest as I learned the first year here when I planted a dahlia which I didn't know was a favourite food for the slimy beasties. Within a short space of time the leaves gradually got eaten away til only the stalk was left. I lifted the tubers and kept over winter in case I wanted to try again, but sorry to say I decided against it. Round 1 to the slugs.

My Auntie Marilyn is a very keen gardener and friend of all creatures great and small. Even the pests must be treated as humanely as possible. She recommended I use the organic slug pellets sold by Growing Success. It is based on ferrous phosphate, a form of iron phosphate which is an organic compound, that will only kill slugs and snails. It includes a bait and once ingested kills the slug or snail and as it breaks down it becomes iron and phosphate which are nutrients for the soil. Round 2 to me.

Well even that may be a thing of the past as this is the Brilliant Idea I found yesterday.


Attach plastic guttering horizontally to the top edge of your raised bed, seen above laid out for square foot planting, and fill with water. Voila, a hopefully impenetrable barrier as long as it is kept full of water. Now all I have to do is work out size and best way to fit it. Daaaadddd !!!!! (My DIY guru)

I may lose a battle or two but this year maybe I'll win the war as well.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Companion Planting

If it wasn't enough to consider where the moon is when planting and the square foot layout there is also the question of companion planting. I had some basic ideas but then came across this list which has meant a re-assessment of my first grid for the vegetable bed at the front of the house.

Here is the revised grid which changes the position of the beans and peas as apparently the peas are better next to the beets than the beans. Also I've moved the Chard as it is also a Beet which is interesting as we eat the leaves so I've got it listed under a Water Plant i.e. leafy veg rather than an Earth plant which covers root veg. I knew there would be exceptions to the rules like the question of globe and Jeruselam artichokes.

My other 2 grids for the back garden are fine so no changes unless I come across something else. I think like all advice it can be a matter of trial and error for a relative newcomer to gardening. If I tried to accommodate everything I read I would end up just tying myself in knots. I shall follow the principles and let the details look after themselves.

As you can see I still have to find out how many kale plants I can grow in each square foot. The guide I have says:-

" Each 1 foot square can accommodate different numbers of plants. Each square breaks down into a smaller grid system for seed sowing. Think of the dots on dice and you have some idea of how the spacing works. In each 1 foot square, instead of having dots of 1, 2, 3, 4 etc you would have dots of 1, 4, 9 and 16. This dot system equates to 12", 6", 4" and 3" spacing for the vegetables." 

I'll need to check the back of the seed packet to get an idea of the spacing for the Kale.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Moon Calendar

The Moon Calendar I am using is very handy. However, I have already noticed a potential problem. I was going to sow some tomato seeds and broad beans yesterday as the Calendar said that the Moon was in Aires, a Fire sign, therefore a good time to sow fruiting or seed bearing plants.

I had visited a couple of astrological blogs in the morning and had seen that the Moon was in Taurus, not Aries and therefore while good for potatoes or other root veg may not be auspicious for the toms and broadies. I guess as the Moon is up at night then it may well have been in Aries overnight between Saturday and Sunday but would then be in Taurus the following day/night. Still learning about all this so the potatoes got done and I will leave the sowing of the others until the next Fire day/night.


Here are the first half of the 40 seed potatoes I got on Saturday. In their egg boxes to keep them upright and sat on a North facing windowsill that gets light but not direct. Should take about 2-3 weeks for the shoots to appear and they can be planted out when the shoots are about 2-3cm long. I've left the others in the paper bags in my porch which is nice and cool. They may start to sprout but more slowly in the colder temperature.

On the left of the photo are the Desiree a red skinned main crop potato and then the Charlottes, a second early salad/new potato. Then the Red Duke of York which is a first early and the Nicola another second early, though on one website it said main crop.

First Early potatoes take 10-14 weeks from planting to crop.
Second Early potatoes take 14-18 weeks.
Main Crop take 18-20 weeks.

All of the above is dependent on weather and soil conditions plus the all essential watering. The watering seems to be a subject of different opinions. I have read that every 2 weeks is enough and elsewhere that it needs to be at least once a week and if South facing more frequently, particularly if hot and dry. Trial and error for me here. As long as I don't let them dry out I should get something to show for it.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Snow snow snow

Lying in bed this morning thinking that I would have a go outside today and see if I could turn over a bit of the ground and maybe prune last year's raspberry canes. I've been holding off on the canes due to regular frosts. If frost gets into them, it could kill off the plants.

So much for the ideas, opened the curtains to a blanket of snow and more falling out of a leaden sky. Stopped about 11am but having just checked the forecast online it looks like there is more due this week. Winter is definitely not over. We had a lot of snow in February last year so looks like a repeat for 2010. This is the front bed and patio.

I'll just have to be satisfied with chitting half of my potatoes that I got yesterday and sowing the Marmande tomatoes and some broad beans. I use those white plastic vending machine type cups for my seeds. I have some trays leftover from buying bedding plants and I stand the white cups in them, otherwise the cats end up knocking them over.

Cats, yes I have three of the fur babies, currently climbing the walls (fortunately not literally) because they don't want to go out. Complete wussies. Then again I wouldn't go outside in bare feet so I guess I'll have to be more sympathetic. They're curled up on Mummy's bed instead....aahh!

Saturday, 20 February 2010


Went to the local Potato Day today run by the West Yorkshire Organic Society in Saltaire. Fortunately we went early, arriving 20 mins before it was due to open, as there was already a queue of about 20 people outside the doors.

With a hard frost overnight and fog this morning, it was still below freezing at 10am. Talk about a Rugby Scrum. We had a chat with a couple of other ladies in the queue and were warned it was like the first day of the sales. Every man, woman and child for themselves as it was on a first come first served basis.

Not that bad really, more organised chaos. Just get in, find the variety you want, pay and get out of there. Played it a bit safe with Desiree and Charlottes which I've grown before, but also picked up some Red Duke of York and some Nicola. The Reds and Desiree are main crop red skinned potatoes that we like for baking, mashing and roasting. The Charlotte and Nicola are a yellow waxy potato we use as new potatoes or for salads. Great when quickly boiled, drained & dried off in the pan then lightly crush with a fork, some olive oil and Maldon Sea Salt flakes sprinkled over.

Freshly dug up potatoes cook more quickly than shop bought ones though the skins tend to split open on the waxy ones. Not complaining as the flavour is excellent.

Got 40 seed potatoes altogether which will now be "chitted" i.e. left to sprout in a cool dry light position for about 2-3 weeks. As for planting out, I'll need to check the Moon calendar. Other people choose Good Friday which this year is on 2 April while others say St Patrick's Day which is even earlier on March 17th. I'll have to check if either of these days coincide with a good Moon day and plant out then.

Growing in bags this year. Will be using empty compost bags, rolled down like stockings, filled with 20 litres of compost, then the seed potatoes with some organic potato fertiliser, then another 20 litres of compost. As long as the compost is moist they should be ok for a couple of weeks. They don't need watering every day, just mustn't let them dry out.

Hopefully we'll have the first crop of Charlottes in June. Can take 20 weeks but I guess that depends on how warm the growing medium is to start with. Mine aren't going in the open ground which will probably still be cold in March or even early April, particularly if there is any frost. As they are going into compost it should give them a warmer start so 18 weeks maybe all we need. I keep the bags of compost indoors before using them to keep the temperature up. Some people plant into bags or pots and keep in a shed, greenhouse or garage until there is some signs of growth then put them out. I may use the garage for that purpose as it should be a degree or two warmer than outside.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Torn a muscle

Well I could have done without this....

Caught my trouser leg on a nail sticking out of my raised bed and fell headlong onto the concrete patio flags...ouch! I was carrying a pot but nothing was broken. Put my hand out to break my fall which meant my shoulder took my full weight. That was a week ago and I still can't lift my arm out sideways.

Off to GP this afternoon in case more serious than I thought and I've torn the Deltoid muscle connected to the rotator cuff in the shoulder joint. 4-6 weeks for it to mend completely and all I got was some Ibuprofen gel to rub into it 3 times a day. Oh and take more paracetemol for the pain....hey ho! Have to keep using it, just not the way I want to, otherwise may get a frozen shoulder.

So will have to sweet talk my ex boyfriend into coming over from Manchester, 40 miles away, to dig over the ground for me.

Fortunately I don't give up easily and I can use my left arm equally to my right. Not ampidextrous (is that the right spelling?) Not sure about the digging bit. Still off to the Potato Day tomorrow, see what I can pick up and the Moon calendar says Sunday good for tomatoes and beans. Sowing Marmande tomatoes and some crimson flowered broad beans to start me off.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Veg Planting Grids

Done my first vegetable planting grids in Excel with colour coding so that I know which of the Elements is for which plants. I've also had to consider the idea of companion planting i.e. those things that grow happily or not alongside other plants.

The colour code I've used is:-

Earth -  Green
Fire - Orange
Water - Blue
Air - White
There are no Air plants in the grid as the flowering ones such as broccoli I'm growing in pots.

Companion planting means that peas and beans don't like to grow alongside alliums (onion) so I've put them next to the beetroot. Sweetcorn and Chard are neutral so can go alongside any other plant.

The other thing I need to look at is type of fertiliser for each square foot in the grid. Things like brassicas need lime and peas and beans need a low nitrogen environment. Also successional sowing and follow on crops so that hopefully I can continue to sow and get veg during the winter making the most of what I've got.

The numbers in each square are the number of plants that can be grown in each square foot. It is surprising how much more can be grown in squares rather than rows. There will be an extra corn plant in the middle of the 4 squares as that is a good arrangement for pollination. I have also put the corn at the western end of the plot as that should be the sunniest corner.

The grids for the back garden are different in that I have to choose plants that can tolerate a bit of shade. The garden is on the North side of the house but does get sun mainly in the afternoon and early evenings. It is better this year as a neighbour has had a large conifer taken down so there will be more light. I've read an article by Monty Don, who used to be the main presenter on BBC's Gardener's World, that the afternoon sun is the most important time so hopefully the plants I've chosen will thrive. Only time will tell.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Freezing fog and snow on the way

Well I had intended to go outside and take some photos of my garden as it is at the moment, to start a record of how things develop through the year. Woke up to freezing fog, can't see the other side of the valley, a hard frost and forecast of heavy rain turning to snow later today and overnight.

I'm not a fan of the UK's Met Office with their dodgy predictions of BBQ summers and the warmer than average winter we were due to have just as the snow started in December. This is not a discussion about climate change, though it is good to have some idea of what may be coming our way. So I follow Joe Bastardi's weather blog. Though he works for Accuweather an American private forecasting service he does the European weather forecasts and his blog is also entertaining.

Today instead of photos I will have a go at putting my grid for the square foot planting into an Excel spreadsheet and see if I can upload it to this blog. I've already decided what I'd like to grow this year and there's a Open Potato Day on Saturday nearby so I'm going on an expedition to acquire some seed potatoes for this project.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Biodynamics - some fun and some serious stuff

While I agree with a lot of the principles of biodynamics as outlined on Wikipedia at this page

Biodynamic agriculture - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

some of it is clearly not something a modern gardener like me would get into. Such as this:-

502: Yarrow blossoms (Achillea millefolium) are stuffed into urinary bladders from Red Deer (Cervus elaphus), placed in the sun during summer, buried in earth during winter and retrieved in the spring.

This is one of the "compost preparations" devised by the father of biodynamics Rudolf Steiner though where I would get an urinary bladder from a Red Deer from I don't know. Certainly not in the local garden

Joking aside, clearly when this method for organic farming was being developed in the early 20th century there was a need to help farmers with the health and quality of their animals and the land. The overuse of chemicals, the results of which were not understood perhaps as much as nowadays, had undermined their productivity and their livelihoods. In turn it no doubt had an effect on the health of the farmer and his family.

Though chemicals are still in widespread use today and I know there are a lot of mouths to feed, so I'm not here to have a "beef" (if you'll excuse the pun) about the farming industry, there is still a growing trend and need to return to more natural ways often referred to as sustainability.

And that is what I would ideally like to do in my own small way. I have some organic ingredients such as a potato fertiliser and even organic slug pellets to assist in the production of my own food but I am a realist and sometimes that may not always be something I can keep too. Only time will tell how true that statement is.

Moon Planting

And now we come for the main reason for the re-launch of this blog.

I had a look at biodynamic growing last year but felt I was too inexperienced to do justice to it and also it was too late in the year, around late April, for me to have a full year to look at. Some things like chitting potatoes etc take place at the end of winter before the ground warms up enough to plant out so I really needed to start something like this around now.

Another name for biodynamics is Moon Planting and after Googling these words I came across this blog called In Tune with the Moon and an article called Under the Moon written by the blog's writer Carol Shaw that has just been published in "Grow It" magazine. The article explained the principles in an easy to read format for a relative newcomer to this art of gardening by using the Moon and other aspects of the sky.

Under the Moon – article in Grow It! « In Tune With The Moon

Basically, the article covers the "pull" of the Moon and its effects on plants. We all know about the tides so it seems plausible that the Moon would have an effect on all types of water including the sap in plants and of course ourselves.

For example, when the Moon is ascending the sap will rise making it a good time to harvest fruits such as raspberries when they are at their juiciest. Conversely, it is not a good time to prune a plant. And when the Moon is descending it is a good time to harvest the root vegetables and also a good time to prune or pick the aerial parts of a plant i.e. seed pods for drying the next year's seeds.

There is also a link to astrology which is another interest of mine. I was particularly interested to read about the effects on plants when the Moon is in each of the signs of the Zodiac that fall within one of the 4 elements. For those readers who don't know they are:-

Earth: Taurus/Virgo/Capricorn
Air: Gemini/Libra/Aquarius - yes Aquarius is an Air sign though represented by the Water Bearer
Fire: Aries/Leo/Sagittarius
Water: Cancer/Scorpio/Pisces

and each of the 4 elements is linked to types of plants as follows:-

Earth: Root vegetables that grow under the Earth such as carrots, beetroot, parsnips & potatoes.
Air: Flowering plants such as cauliflower, broccoli/calabrese and globe artichokes.
Fire: Fruits and Seeds such as tomatoes, beans, peas, pepper and aubergines
Water: Leafy plants including lettuces, spinach, cabbage, chard and kale.

I guess the other artichoke, the Jerusalem artichoke, is covered by the Earth element as it is a root under ground and no doubt there are other exceptions. It is not meant to be an exact science. I will only be using it as a guideline.

To keep up with where the Moon is in the Sky, what plants are affected and what tasks can be done or not I have also found a useful on-line weekly calendar.

Guide to planting by the moon - The Gardeners Calendar

So this is the start of my year as an Aquarian Water Bearer gardening Under the Moon on the Earth Wind (air) and Fire blog.

Square Foot Planting

What would we do without forums? As a newbie gardener I registered with a garden forum for help and advice which has been invaluable. This one is called the Grapevine and is a great community of experienced growers who take the time and trouble to answer the queries from the novices like me.

Grow Your Own - Growing, How To Grow Tomatoes Growing Fruit & Veg - Recipe Advice, Organic food Gardening, Chickens, Seeds for Sale

This year while thinking about what to grow I had to consider how to make the best use of the space that I have. A bit of browsing around on the forum brought me to a post about something called Square Foot Planting. An American called Mel Bartholomew has devised a system to grow a range of different crops in a 4' x 4' grid system so that you can utilise as much of the limited space as possible.

So this is the method I'm going to try this year so I'm busy working out what to plant and where in the grids. The front bed will have 20 x 1 square foot plots and the back bed will have a grid of 12 and a grid of 8 so I'll have a total of 40 plots to use in rotation and with successional planting.

GYO - Grow Your Own

I have limited space at home to grow vegetables. A small flower bed at the front of the house, only 10' x 2', with patio flags around it making a total area of 12' x 10' and this year a small patch at the back of the house approx. 4' x 7'. So a lot of the bigger things like potatoes and tomatoes will be grown in bags and pots.

Had the most success with potatoes, beans and peas last year. Charlotte, a salad/new potato and Pink Fir Apple also a salad potato. Was kindly given some crimson flowered broad bean seeds from a seed swap scheme which also did well. They are an old heritage variety which must be grown away from other varieties as it is prone to cross fertilisation. Very tasty beans, fabulous crimson flowers and managed to save some seed for this year.

The peas were a sugar snap, a climbing type that grows to 6' plus. Put up a ring of canes, planted them at the bottom and got a reasonable crop.

Failures were a purple climbing bean that I've tried 2 years in a row without much success and the tomatoes were blighted apart from the Sweet Pea Currant variety that produces loads of little fruits the size of a redcurrant. Looks like bunches of grapes on the trusses. I'm going to try a dwarf french bean and a bush pea this year and will try out the Sweet Pea tomato in a couple of hanging baskets as they have a potential trailing habit.

Last year I dug out some old conifers in a side border and planted some fruit trees. An apple, pear, cherry and greengage (related to a plum), well actually a French yellow one. No fruit last year but may get a small amount this season. The trees are called Supercolumns growing to a maximum of 8' and no more than 30-36" wide. So I could fit the 4 into a long narrow space. The pear is called Invincible because it flowers twice, so if there is a late frost it should still bear fruit. Will see what happens as the long range forecast is for frosts probably until late March, maybe even April. They all seem to be producing buds so fingers are crossed.

Also put in some soft fruit, tayberry, blackcurrant, redcurrant, gooseberry, blackberry and yellow raspberries as I had read that the birds leave those alone as they only "see" red berries. Had a few raspberries and tayberries but lost the gooseberry. I need to prune back the raspberry canes this month so that the growth can start in Spring as they are an Autumn variety called Fall Gold.

Strawberries are the perpetual Mara de Bois, a French woodland variety that grows to the size of an English strawberry. I bought these because the area is partially shaded and we did get some nice sized fruits last year.

So what to grow in 2010 and how and where are the questions my mind has been turning over and I have some ideas already...

and a new beginning

A New Moon is said to be a good time to start something new and Sunday's New Moon was in Aquarius, my own birth sign.

At this time of year my thoughts turn to the garden as it wakes from winter's slumber, shakes off the cold and starts to show signs of life as Spring appears on the horizon. For the past 3 years I have attempted to grow some vegetables, with minor success and a lot of frustration as I tackle the basics and try to learn from my mistakes.

However, all is not lost. I am again renewed and looking forward to what can be done this year. A new beginning, a fresh start.

An ending

This blog started out as a record of my efforts to learn about pottery using the Earth with Fire and Air to create ceramics.

Unfortunately due to my father's serious heart condition that project didn't get very far. The good news is he was given a pacemaker in December 09 and is much better now. So I have ended one project and I am starting a new one this week.