Defensive manoeuvres

This year I am attempting to grow red brussel sprouts.  Again.  Last year’s, (Marhsall’s Red Bull) turned out to be green, and were clearly wrongly labelled.  This year I tried again (Rubine from Unwins) and so far so good; they are red!


Young Rubine brussel sprout plant

I sowed them towards the end of March and pricked them out about a month ago.  Now they are ready to plant in the garden ……. but I know that this is fraught with dangers for these tasty young plants.  Voracious slugs lie in wait to graze them to the ground and cabbage white butterflies will be attracted to lay the eggs of their very hungry caterpillars on my precious plants!


Last year we tried quater inch mesh to keep butterflies off our brassicas, but this was not wholly successful as some of them managed to squeeze themselves through the holes.  The picture below on the left shows one lot of protection which was doubly unsuccessful as quite a lot of the leaf grew up to touch the leaves and was thus easily accessible to the butterflies.

But even the brussels in the picture on the right suffered from caterpillar damage as the butterflies simply squeezed through the holes.  Almost as if to spite me they then seemed to become trapped inside the netting.

This is our first attempt this year to keep butterflies off, and they certainly won’t creep through these holes.

However, although we are sure that this will keep the butterflies off we are also worried that it will keep the sun off, it really is quite shady inside the netting.


View from the inside of the netting.

So ….. we may need to go back to the drawing board.  However, we are hoping that the copper ring will be enough to keep the slugs at bay ….. If anyone has any advice for keeping butterflies off our cabbages I would love to hear from you.

Taking stock in the vegetable garden


This shows the relative positions of the plots to each other.  South is to the top and the beehives to the left.

I thought that the first day of a new month would be a good time to take stock and to reflect on the season so far.  There has been nowhere near the slug depredation that I had been expecting.  The main exception to this being lettuce seedlings, as direct sown lettuce have all failed.  However, this has been overcome by starting lettuces in pots, or by buying in young plants.

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For most of the lettuce plants grown in pots it is only the outer leaves which have been damaged by slugs; although occasionally whole plants have been taken.

At the moment I am pleased with the sweetcorn.  Despite being under the plum tree they are growing strongly and the cobs are visibly swelling.  However, many of the interplanted climbing beans in this plot were taken by slugs.

The broad beans are now over.  They performed well but I was pleased to pull up the untidy looking old plants, and reveal the underplanted crops.  On the left below are the broad beans before they were removed, on the right the redbore kale, now able to grow strongly in the light.

The experimental beds have so far yielded some relatively small but useable heads of garlic, one tiny cauliflower and lots of lettuce.  I have not been at all systematic about recording this, and my weighing scales are not sensitive enough to record differences in weight between, for example, different heads of garlic.  Consequently I can only make the vaguest of generalisations about the relative efficacy of the different soil treatments.  My impression is that there was no significant difference between growchar, seaweed meal, a combination of both and nothing.  However, all plots had plenty of organic matter added to the top few inches of soil;  I think this had a positive effect.  The swiss chard failed; perhaps because the paper pots that I used for them prevented them getting their roots into the soil.

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Pasnips seem to be doing well in all four test conditions; I am looking forward to seeing what is going on under the surface when I harvest them.

My experience with the climbing beans also suggests that good quality compost in the top few inches of soil has a positive effect; I believe that the better results with the crop that has not been double dug is because the compost was where the plants benefitted from it most.  However, so far the squash under the double dug beans is looking most healthy; perhaps because is is less shaded than the one under the more strongly grown beans?

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I am a little dissapointed with the brussel sprouts.  I ordered a variety called Red Bull from Marshalls.  So far the plants are stubbornly green, instead of the beautiful colour promised.  Nevertheless, the ones planted in C3 are growing well.  The ones in D4 are doing less well as they are under the apple tree and have significantly less light; they are on the left below; to make matters worse they do need weeding!

The summer broccoli, which is underplanted with lettuces, was bought on a whim from a local garden centre.  They are looking well, although I have not netted them and have to be constantly vigilant for butterfly eggs.

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I adore the colour of these broccoli leaves.

The flower seedlings have nearly all germinated after just a week.  The first (godetia) seedling appeared after just two days!

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Again, I belive that plenty of organic matter in the surface of the soil has helped to create the right conditions for germination.

The mangetout peas have yielded a very light crop.  However, I have also underplanted with beetroot so there is more to come from this plot.  I have also planted a few flowers to help attract pollinators and other beneficial insects.

This plot also has a few leeks, they were planted before the ones in B2 and are bigger.  B2 also has lettuce plants and oriental greens.  The oriental greens have been damaged by cabbage fleas beetle, but are still worth cropping.  The lettuces are looking good.

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All in all the season is progrssing nicely!  Next time I shall take an overview of the crops which are not growing in the vegetable plots.

Double Digging!

Early in the year I double dug one of the plots where I planned to grow runner beans.  The other one just had compost worked into the surface.  I wondered which would grow the best crop.

So far the results have been dramatic.  One batch of beans is looking lush and healthy.

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Lots of beans are forming already.

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The other is looking distinctly less healthy, and the poles are only sparsely covered.

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Of course, it is the one that I double dug which has performed so poorly.  Apparantly the compost is better added to the top few inches than burried deep in the soil!  This experiment is not conclusive;  I would need to carry it out several times in different conditions before I could be sure.  However, I wil think twice before I go to all of this bother in the future!  In the meantime I am looking forward to harvesting runner beans before too much longer.

Not so bad!

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I had been feeling a little disheartened with the garden.  I do not enjoy gardening so much when the weather is hot.  Besides, the weeds grow so fast at this time of year.  I felt cross that I had let the garden get out of hand and lost the momentum of earlier in the year.  Then Chris pointed out that actually we are eating a lot of food from the garden.  In fact, in the picture above all of the food except for the veggie sausages was grown by us!  There are tomatoes, potatoes, broadbeans, caulifower, garlic, mangetout peas and kale.  Most days we are eating lettuce as well which has done very well this year.

The last couple of evenings have been a bit cooler so I have been able to get out and do some weeding, and everything is looking a lot better.  I also realised that some crops that were looking tatty were ready for harvest and although looking past their best, were actually doing well.more july harvest 021

Here is some of the garlic just before I harvested it.  I had planted this variety in three different conditions.  When I dug up the first two batches there did not seem to be any difference.  The third batch however, did seem to be a bit bigger.

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The individual heads of garlic on the left seemed to be a little bigger than those on the right.  I bet you are wondering which addtion to the soil had this effect aren’t you?  Was it the growchar?  or the seaweed meal?  or maybe the plot which had a mixture of both?  No! It was the control plot which had no additives at all.  Maybe next year I will save my money and only add organic matter to the soil rather than any other additives!

This variety is Solent Wight, and although the bulbs are fairly small they are quite useable.  The Red Duke of York was a lot less successful however, and most of the bulbs rotted away.  Perhaps they would have done better in a less rainy year or if I had planted them where they were not overshadowed by other crops.  There are so many variables at play, it really is hard to tell which factors are the most significant.

Another Broadbean update!

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broadbeans June 9th 2016

Last time I wrote about the broadbeans was about 6 weeks ago; my, what a difference those 6 weeks have made.  The beans have grown, and flowered and some of the pods are very nearly ready to be harvested.


My father eats the young beans still in the pods, so I might try that, although I might have left it a bit late with these two ….. the thought of that furry pod linings puts me off a bit!

I have interplanted the broadbeans with brassicas.  One plot has been interplanted with Kale.

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redbor kale

The other plot has been interplanted with cabbage.

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savoy cabbage

My plan is that the butterflies will not notice them nestled amongst the broadbeans.  Moreover, the hungry brassicas will benefit from the nitrogen provided by the roots of the broadbeans and, while they are still young, the shade from their leaves.  We will see.

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view of the vegetable garden showing the squares with climbing beans and the squares with broadbeans

You may remember that the two plots of broadbeans have been treated differently as one was double dug, and the other had organic matter incorporated into the top.  So far there had been little noticeable difference between the two crops, although there was slightly more slug damage to begin with on the plot which had more organice matter on the surface.  In the picture above the plot that was double dug is furthest away.

Feeding the Bees!

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As well as growing vegetables in my garden we grow a lot of flowers.  Obviously we derive a lot of pleasure from the colour and beauty they bring to our lives.  However, we also try and choose plants which we know will add to the biodiversity; which will nurture the animals that also consider this piece of land their own.

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bee on phacelia

In particular we choose flowers that the bees will enjoy.  It is important that it is not only our own honey bees that benefit from the garden, but also bumble bees;  I particilarly love bumble bees.  The phacelia is a particular draw for the bees, sometimes it seems to be alive with them.

The californian poppies have been very successful this year and are eye searingly bright.  However, although they have not been as popular with the bees as the phacelia.

I have more phacelia ready to flower a little later in the season.  They are in my flower circle which we have made in the middle of our lawn and which we hope will be a magnet for all kinds of bees and a pleasure for the rest of the summer.

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flower circle

We sowed the seeds earlier this year, at the moment it is looking very green ……. but oh!  It is going to be stunning in a few weeks time!

In the meantime, we, and the bees, are benefitting from the plants that I sowed last autumn and are already in full bloom.


Broad Bean Update

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You may recollect that I have two beds of broad beans.  One (pictured in the foreground), had plenty of compost added to the top of the soil.  This was then worked in along with some spent potting compost and some seaweed meal.

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The second bed had the same amount of garden compost added but this time the plot was ‘double-dug’ and the compost buried a spits depth.  Just before planting out time the plot was treated exactly the same as the other one with the addition of spent compost and seaweed meal worked into the surface.  Both plots were also covered with black plastic for a couple of weeks before the broad beans were planted out in order to warm the soil a little.

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Here are the beds just before the polythene was added.

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And here they are covered in polythene.

Here are the plants when they were newly planted on 20th March.  So far both beds seem to be growing equally strongly.  However, I have noticed more slug damage on the bed where more garden compost was left on the surface of the soil.

Carrots and Toilet rolls!

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Just as I did with the parsnips I sowed some carrot seeds in toilet roll inners.  The only touble is that they do need planting out quite promptly as the roots soon appear at the bottom of the tube.

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So today I planted them out, three to a copper ring.  They look so small to be planted out.  However, so did the parsnips when they first went out and they are looking a lot more robust now.

I have even started to remove the copper rings from some of the young parsnip plants as I now need them for the carrots.  I hope that they are growing strongly enough now to be safe from slug attack although they are still rather small.

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In the above picture you can see young lettuce plants in the foreground with parsnips behind them .  There is also a diagnol line of freshly emerged radish seedlings, Swiss Chard seedlings in the top right hand corner and a carrot seedling in the bottom right corner.

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In the above picture you can also see the young garlic plants at the edge of each square metre.  The garlic is growing strongly now and is probably the only crop that I don’t fear being munched by hungry molluscs in the event of some warm wet weather weather in the near future!

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Here is a photograph of the same bed taken seven weeks ago on the 28th of February; what a transformation.  I wonder how it will look it seven weeks time.


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I’ve been thinking recently about my soil and about the slugs.  I am starting to think that the problem with my garden may not be so much about the slugs but about the soil.  the above picture is of some Sweet William plants which I planted out in the autumn.  Some have been eaten by slugs, but even those that haven’t have just sat there and put on very little growth.  If the soil was more crumbly and ‘friable’ I can’t help thinking that the roots would have been able to grow further and take more nutrients from the soil.  The larger healthier plants would have been less suceptible to slug attack.

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As you can see above when I first planted the Sweet Williams the soil was much more crumbly (although the young plant was still pretty nibbled).  Over the course of the winter though all of the tiny particles of clay have clumped together to make a dense, inpenetrable substrate with little space for air.

Ironically the benefits of adding a thick mulch to the soil seems to be outweighed by the hospitable home that it makes for slugs, allowing them to spend the day resting close to the unhappy plants that they spend their nights munching.

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In the foreground you can see the deep bed in which the Sweet Williams are planted.  They are to left.  Adjacent to this plot you can see one in which I have worked lots of compost into the top few inches of soil and top dressed it with coir.  I have planted my Red Duke garlic and sown mixed salads and greens.  I am hoping that this more friable surface will allow the seedlings to ‘get away’ before they are completely annihilated before the resident moluscs.  We shall see.


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Do you remember this big pile of soil in the middle of the lawn from when Chris was digging out the slabbed area in front of the compost heap?  Well, it has been transformed…

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Although not in the strictest sense part of the productive garden, since this bed is going to be filled with flowers to attract bees and other polinators I am including it here.  I have raked it to remove roots and stones and break up clods of soil. I added several bags of rotted manure, mainly to try and improve the texture of the soil. Chris then used a drag to create a gentle even mound.    the pattern on the surface is created by raking sand into the top layer to help me to divide the bed into even sections.  There are four thin paths to the Christmas tree stump in the centre which I plan to use as a support for sweet peas.  Yesterday I sowed each section with different mixtures of seeds which have been chosen for their desirability for bees.  I am hoping that the next few weeks will see an even bigger transformtion as the seeds germinate, grow into mature plants and eventually produce a riot of colour which will be buzzing with butterflies, bees and other insects.