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

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.