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 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.