Flippin’ pigeons!

I’ve planted a vegetable bed full of Kale; Cavelo Nero and Redbor. Not only a delicious multi functional vegetable, that we’ll be cropping until next March/April, but, also a stunner in the kitchen garden.

Sadly it’s not very stunning at the moment. Pigeons have been helping themselves to their young succulent leaves!

Kale eaten by pigeonsMy kale, savaged by pigeons!

I remember Monty Don speaking of similar issues in an episode of Gardeners World a few years ago. His solution was to dangle a potato on a piece of string from a hazel rod. The potato is even wings with collected feathers. According to Monty, this menacing imitation of a bird of prey will scare any self respecting pigeon away. I failed on two counts, firstly, I couldn’t find any feathers, so had to improvise with rosemary. Secondly, our VERY naughty Spinone puppy ate the potato!

The first pigeon defence systemPlan A – Pigeon defence system

So onto plan B. Bunting! I’ve heard all the wise cracks from my husband and children, but, so far so good!

Pigeon defence systemPlan B – Pigeon defence system!

The most effective cabbage white caterpillar trap!

Last year I spent much of the summer picking cabbage white caterpillars off my brassicas. They were particularly fond of my Cavolo Nero. Try as hard as I might, I’d always miss a group of tiny caterpillar babies or eggs, in no time they would turn into great big brassica stripping pests. I even managed impressive rants to my boys about the origins of Eric Carle’s ‘Hungry Caterpillar’ book, which not only teaches young children their numbers and days of the week but also the valuable parable that a caterpillar can eat an extraordinary amount of your precious vegetables before it happily takes off as beautiful butterfly!

On top of all that my tummy turns at the smell and texture of the caterpillars, particularly the aroma of slightly squashed caterpillars! I couldn’t face another year of collecting them from my Kale.

Apart from the slug pellets I used earlier in the year (which I still feel guilty about, but it really was that or no dahlias and vegetables this year!) I garden with the organic theory in mind (enrich your soil; you’ll have strong plants that will be able to fight off attacks of pests and disease without the need for chemicals). But I am a realist even the richest soil is not going to give brassicas the strength to fight off a cabbage white caterpillar attack. Lateral thinking was required, what is the greatest delicacy to a cabbage white? Answer Nasturtiums. I decided to plant Nasturtiums in amongst my vegetables with the hope that the cabbage white caterpillars would gorge on them and not my brassicas. It is important to select a compact bush forming variety (I chose ‘Tom Thumb Mixed’) and not a trailing variety which puts on vigorous growth and would dominate a vegetable bed very quickly.

A Nasturtium Trap!One of my Nasturtium traps!

Nasturtiums in the vegetable patchNasturtiums in amongst my Kale

I am very pleased to say that so far it’s worked, my brassicas are pest free and my nasturtiums are being munched, they also seem to be attracting the black fly, saving my vegetable crops from that scourge.

Cabbage White caterpillars on nasturtiumsCabbage white catterpillars gorging themselves on the Nasturtiums

Black fly on my nasturtium trapBlack fly enjoying the sacrificial Nasturtiums too!

To be honest I’ve never really been a fan of Nasturtiums, their flowers are a little gaudy and their umbrellas like leaves dull.  I do think the addition of nasturtium flowers takes the look of a salad to another level, but I’m afraid the taste turns my tummy as much as the smell and texture of the horrid caterpillars that love them so much. To use the Nasturtiums as a caterpillar distraction and feed has an appealing sense of justice to me!



Treat Chilli’s as perennials for an amazing harvest

I’ve successfully grown Chilli’s for many years. They’re a useful and easy crop to grow, not minding a bit of rough treatment; in fact they seem to thrive on neglectful watering!  Once ripe I pop the Chilli’s in the freezer and use them as needed throughout the year. To be honest we always grow far too many for our own consumption, so many get passed on to a friend who’s a complete chilli fiend.Chilli 'Ring of Fire'

Chilli’s are the first packet of seeds I reach for come the start of the seed sowing season in February, they seem to need a longer growing season. I keep them in the greenhouse or conservatory and by July their first fruit begins to appear and start to ripen.

I have always treated Chilli’s as annual plants, but last year I read that Chilli plants thrive in their second year if treated as a perennial.  So I thought I’d give it a go; overwintering them in my frost free conservatory. Their leaves all dropped off and the plants took on a convincingly dead appearance. The sparse watering and frost free position during winter seemed to work, come spring leaves started to shoot and flowers quickly set, resulting in a fabulous chilli crop so far this year. It will be interesting to see how they perform in their third year.

Chilli Ring of Fire Year 2Chilli ‘Ring of Fire’ in its second year

In comparison the Chilli’s I sowed this year are fruiting, but yet to turn red. The quantity of fruit is also significantly less. It should be noted that they did have a tough start in life as I forgot to pot them  on and it was only when I popped them in a larger pot a month ago that the plants developed and tripled in size! I suspect this would make my little experiment scientifically invalid, however most decisions in my life are dictated by my faithful ‘gut instinct’  so I would highly recommend changing your chilli growing technique from annual to perennial!

hilli Ring of Fire sown this yearChilli ‘Ring of Fire’ in its first year

Todays Chilli harvestTodays Chilli harvest




Powdery Mildew

I’ve discovered Mildew on my cucumbers in the green house. The cucumber fruit should be fine, but if the Mildew is left to spread it will reduce the vigour of the plant. So action is needed.

MildewThe white marks of Powdery Mildew on my Cucumber leaves

Mildew on cucumber leafMildew spots on this cucumber leaf

Powdery Mildew is a fungal disease that will frequently strike Cucumbers, Courgettes and Squashes. It often occurs during dry periods when the plant is feeling a little stressed by lack of water and is more susceptible to the air borne Mildew spores. When trying to combat Mildew your first action must be to carefully remove the affected leaves and burn them, this will hopefully reduce the spread of spores. Next give the plants a good water and keep them well watered for the rest of the summer. My mildew infected cucumbers are in the greenhouse with a watering system that comes on for a few minutes each morning. I don’t think this has been sufficient, so I’m going to start watering twice a day to help prevent re-infection. My final plan to rid us of Mildew is an untested treatment I recently heard about; spraying with bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). I am going to dilute 1 tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda to 1 gallon (4.5 litres) of water and spray the affected plants. I’ll report back on the effectiveness of this potion.

Cucumber Burpless Tasty GreenMy first developing Cucumber (Burpless Tasty Green) which seems unaffected by the Mildew


Courgettes planted

I eagerly await the year’s first courgettes, my impatience to start cropping always leads me to plant out too early, stalling the crop. This year I’ve held back waiting until the end of the month. During May I’ve potted on the young courgette plants twice, preventing them from becoming pot bound. I last did this a week ago and was amazed to see the root development in this time. There are other advantages to planting courgettes out late, whilst clearing the raised bed ready for planting I discovered over 50 slugs (they were all divided in two!), waiting a few extra weeks the plants stems develop and thicken giving a little extra slug protection.

Courgettes from under glassCourgettes finally ready to go out

The prepared raised bedThe prepared raised bed

Courgette roots that have developed within a weekA weeks worth of roots!

I’ve installed a watering system with a spur to each thirsty courgette plant. I have also made a bowl like ring of earth around each plant to keep the water directly on the plants roots.

Planted courgettesPlanted courgettes with watering system installed

Hopefully this year’s extra care and attention will reward us with early bumper crops.

What to do if your garlic flowers.

It’s the time of year when the Allium family starts to flower, my Chives and Allium Purple Sensation are blooming and there are flower buds on my autumn sown Garlic. It’s important to snip the Garlic flower buds off. You want all the plants energy focused on producing lovely large bulbs of Garlic, it’s a waste to let this energy be diverted into flower production.

Don’t throw the Garlic flower stems away, known as ‘Garlic Scapes’ they’re absolutely delicious. Discard the flower bud and the end of the stem if it’s woody, in the same way you would with Asparagus. It can be cooked like Asparagus, chopped up and used as a herb or as part of a stir fry. They’re delicious, slightly sweet and nutty.

Garlic flower budsA Garlic flower bud

Garlic ScapesThe Garlic Scapes (flower bed stems) ready for cooking

Other Alliums in flower in the garden:

Chive flowersChives in flower

Allium Purple SensationAllium Purple Sensation

Bean poles

Putting out the bean poles is always a sign of the vegetable plot getting into full swing. I love the height, structure and character it gives the kitchen garden. I try to avoid the use of bamboo canes as they ‘re too stark for my liking, I prefer the thicker more solid country look of hazel or chestnut stakes. We’re lucky and coppice our own from cobnut trees, but they can be cheaply bought from good garden centres and people who coppice to make chestnut fencing. Last year I went for the rustic gothic arch look for the runner beans to clamber up, this year the legumes have moved to a smaller raised bed so I’ve made less ecclesiastical wigwams from the stakes.

I started a selection of Runner Beans, Mangetout, and Dwarf French Beans off inside, these have been planted out and I will now sow extra seed directly to the vegetable bed to help extend the cropping season. This is particularly important with climbing Mangetout which do tend to fizzle out after a few months.

Climbing bean bedThe climbing bean bed

Planted MangetoutThe Mangetout planted out

Planted Runner BeansRunner Beans planted out




Winter salad

A daily harvest of cut and come again salad leaves from the garden is one of the great pleasures of growing your own produce. Not only do you get beautiful fresh salad, there’s a fabulous range of flavours available from seed which you won’t get in the supermarket. It’s also really easy to grow and as you pick the leaves more shoot up giving you a constant supply. Until this winter, home grown salad was one of the joys of my garden from May to October; I turned to bags of salad from the shop in the cooler months. Last autumn I decided to experiment and see if I could grow year round salad.

Cut winter saladSome Rocket just cut from the garden

I sowed several rows outside in my raised vegetable beds and in the greenhouse directly on the earth. The salad seed sown outside was a complete disaster, I sowed in October, the seed packet did suggest September so maybe an earlier sowing or a cloche would have helped. In complete contrast the salad in the greenhouse has been a great success, providing me with daily lunches and sandwich fillers all winter. The crop quality is fabulous, far better than my summer Mizuna salad that has a tendency to suffer pin prick holes in its leaves due to flea beetle (must confess it gets a good wash and we eat it anyway!).

Rocket growing in the greenhouseRocket growing in the greenhouse

My winter salad selections were Rocket, an essential in our kitchen as a side salad or an added flavour boost to a lunchtime sandwich, and a spicy oriental salad leaf mix containing Pak Choi, Mizuna, Mustard Red Giant, Mustard Golden Streaks and Salad Rocket. This has been a really tasty mix, the baby leaves are packed with flavour, you can also use them in stir-fry’s. I will sow a few more rows in the greenhouse which will see me through to May, when I’ll start cropping salad from outside. It’s satisfying to know I’ll never need to buy supermarket salad again.

Oriental salad growingOriental salad mix growing in the greenhouse


We woke up this morning to our first frost. Frost in the grass

The drop in temperature has come as quite a shock, I’d got used to a balmy 15°c this autumn. I’m pleased the frost is here, the season change felt incomplete without the cold chill to signal the end of the growing season. Now it’s come there are jobs to be got on with. The dahlia foliage will be turning black, it’s now time to either dig up the tubers and store over winter or as I do prepare to leave in the soil over winter. I will cut back the foliage leaving 20cm of stem so I can see where the tubers are, then place a thick (at least 15cm) insulating mulch over each plant. You can use any mulch, but, if it’s a light mulch such as compost and likely to level out of time, I cover with fleece just to keep it in place. Come spring and the end of frosts distribute the mulch to a thinner layer and let the tubers sprout.

The warm weather led me into a false sense of security, I have neglected to pop cloches over my winter salad which is sown in the vegetable beds, a task for today. I will also have the fleece ready for my pea and broad bean shoots, if we have a long cold spell.

Even though it’s a Sunday, my children have no concept of a lie in, so we were up at first light, at 7am I was out pottering round the garden in a thick coat, pyjama’s and wellies. The frost takes the garden to another visual dimension. The delicate, intricate crystals give the garden a sharp stylish elegance. Below are a few pictures but sadly my photographic skills prevented me from capturing the early morning beauty.

The Veg patch in frost

The top vegetable bedsCavalo Nero in frostFrosted Cavalo NeroKale Redbor in the frostKale RedborSage in the frostFrosted SageSedum inthe frostSedumRose in the frost