Tag Archives: gardening

Apples

Apple JG 1s

James Grieve apples

As mentioned in my last post, we have a small apple tree in the garden. It’s now the fourth summer after it was planted and, much to my surprise, it has produced an excellent crop. I’m surprised because the weather was pretty miserable when it was in flower and there was hardly a pollinator to be seen, but it seems at least one must have sneaked into the garden when I wasn’t looking.

It’s a triple tree, meaning that three different types have been grafted into the same stem – James Grieve, Cox’s Orange Pippin and Katy. In its first year, we had one apple – a James Grieve. In its second year, it produced a couple of Katy apples. Last year, we had about a dozen James Grieve. This year, the whole tree produced so many baby apples that I had to thin them out! This is exciting for me because it’s the first year that the Cox has bothered to produce and I’m looking forward to the results!

Today I decided to pick the James Grieve. Over the past 2-3 weeks, we’ve had a few fallers, both Cox and James Grieve,Β  most of them with worms inside. Everything worth saving on these has ended up either in the stew pot or in fruit crumble, along with several of the Cox that I picked early because I could see the worm holes. This morning, though, I found two perfectly good James Grieve apples on the lawn. Apparently, the tree got stressy after yesterday’s heat and decided to start throwing its apples about. So, since they bruise so easily and appeared to be ripe, I decided not to wait for a repeat performance. According to the internet, they aren’t supposed to be ready until September, but I don’t think my tree knows this. It did exactly the same last year.

Today’s pickings? Eighteen apples weighing a combined total of 6lb. Not bad for a little tree. Here it is:

Apple Tree 2s

Triple apple tree

The picture was taken in mid July. It’s mostly the James Grieve that you can see, though there are some Cox’s Orange Pippin behind. We have about twenty of those still left on the tree.

The Katy onlyΒ  has three apples. This is because it hasn’t grown very much and is the smallest part of the tree. However, all three apples are a good size.

And how do the James Grieve taste? Well, I’m happy with them just as they are, but the experts on the internet say they should be used for cooking when picked early and I think my husband would concur. It would seem that not all of us sit eating chunks of cooking apple when we are supposed to be putting them in the pot…

Mysterious goings on

The night before last, somebody came into the garden and dug up one of my carrots. Just one. Which they left next to the hole so that the garden gastropods could have a nice feast. I found it there yesterday afternoon.

So now I have a curious mystery to solve: Who did it? And why?

I mean, the vegetable garden is in full view of the street and I’ve often thought that anyone wandering past could quite easily help themselves to tomatoes (last year) or beans (this year) if they had a mind to. All they’d have to do is reach out their hand. Then there’s the little apple tree. They’d have to be slightly more adventurous to reach that, but it wouldn’t wholly surprise me if we woke up one morning and found that someone had taken it into their heads to pinch some apples or knock them all off the tree for the sheer hell of it. But they haven’t. Instead, I’ve had several people stop by and say how well everything is doing and what a good idea it is to have a vegetable patch in the front garden. (We don’t have a back garden). Or they tell me how pretty the vegetable patch looks with the flowers as well or how good grilled courgettes taste – have I tried them?

And now, to cap it all, I’ve had a carrot very carefully dug up for me!

Why?

It makes no sense. If, for example, it was a four-footed beastie, why didn’t they eat it? Are my carrots really that bad?

Interestingly, my next door neighbour has had the odd plant dug up in the night as well. Again, no damage. Just dug up and left. For no reason. (Or none that we can see).

It’s all very mysterious.

These aliens that supposedly carry out experiments, are they not very good at putting things back when they have finished with them?

Did my carrot not pass quality control?

Have they signed a secret agreement with the gastropods as part of their plan for world domination?

That must be it. I mean, I also have a scab on my knee. Not just a little scratch, but a proper scab, as if I’d grazed it somehow. It’s even a bit sore if I kneel on it. Yet I have absolutely no memory of how it got there.

It’s the aliens! It has to be the aliens! They must have been in a hurry when they brought me back…

Unless it was the garden gnomes, just trying to be helpful?

 

 

Seed time and harvest

According to the 18th Century hymn, seed time and harvest are among ‘all things bright and good.’ That looks to me like a pretty good description of June so far in this part of the world.

Early in the month I was still frantically sowing seeds because a significant proportion of the carrots, swedes, poppies and beans I’d sown earlier had never shown. This seems to be quite normal for climbing French beans – at least the ones I’ve got. But the carrots, swedes and poppies? A phrase from one of my Dad’s gardening books comes to mind: ‘Ants steal seeds…’ Certainly there are plenty of them scurrying around my vegetable patch, although I have yet to catch one in the act!

So, yes, seed time in June; with some gloriously sunny weather in which to do it, followed by plenty of rain to help the seedlings grow.

Then, this week, I have harvested my first vegetables for the year – a handful of beans and a courgette. This is nearly a month earlier than last year, despite the fact that the earliest seeds went in a month later (in the second half of April).

Here’s how things stand at the moment:

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The bean plants vary in height from 6″ to the top of the 8′ poles. The two courgette plants are putting in their usual bid to take over the world. There are a few carrots and swedes from the first sowing, but most of the later seedlings are still too small to see. The cornflowers are nearly in flower. The nasturtiums are growing nicely, but don’t look like they are going to flower any time soon.

Meanwhile, the herb garden is trying out life as a wilderness. The chives have tired of holding their heads up and are trying out the horizontal life instead (I know the feeling).The sage has nearly finished flowering (which saddens the bees immensely), but the oregano is about to start (which should help cheer them up).

We even have a few strawberries (on a plant that came up in the middle of the vegetable patch last spring and got planted amongst the herbs because I hate killing things and there was nowhere else to put it):

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So, wherever the UK, Europe and the rest of the world are headed following a certain referendum, all is bright and good in the garden πŸ™‚ And for that – the wonder and beauty in God’s world – I give thanks.

The sage awakes

Here it is:

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‘The sage awakes to light in the night of all creatures,’ says the Bhagavad Gita. I think it’s talking about a different kind of sage, but I like it all the same. ‘The sage awakes to light…’

I planted this over a year ago. It started as a tiny seed and had grown into a small bush by the end of the summer. Over the winter, it slept. And now this! (The photo was taken last week, when the sun was shining).

I had no idea it would do this. I mean, I knew that sage had flowers and I knew that the bees liked them, but I had never seen them. I just thought ‘some herbs would be nice’ and put in the seeds. What a wonderful surprise! I love it!

Very sun. Many purple. Well excite πŸ™‚

The bees love it too:

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Interestingly, despite the fact that both awake with the light, the words ‘sage’ and ‘sage’ have different roots. According to the Oxford dictionary of etymology:

  • Sage, as in the plant, comes from the French suage, which comes from the Latin salvia meaning ‘healing’.
  • Sage, as in the wise person, comes from the Latin sapere meaning wise.
  • Sagacious comes from the Latin sagire meaning discern acutely.

 

But perhaps this doesn’t matter, since it seems that sage awakes the brain anyway, which is going to make anyone more discerning. Maybe I should try it?

 

A new visitor

Whilst enjoying the late sunshine in the garden this afternoon, I noticed a visitor I’d not seen before:

Gatekeeper butterfly

Gatekeeper butterfly

Rather than just fluttering by, she stayed for quite some time. Her attention had been caught by my flowering oregano. I’ve not grown this before. Thyme, yes. Oregano, no. However, it is also proving to be a favourite with the bees:

Honey bee on oregano

Honey bee on oregano

I had anticipated a certain amount of interest from the bees. However, I hadn’t expected it to be quite such a favourite. Clearly, oregano nectar is something a bit special. Food of the gods – or so it would seem. So now I have a little corner of heaven in my garden πŸ™‚

All my own work

Life has been full this past couple of months, so it’s been a little while since I last blogged. During that time, the garden has burst into life. After a cool spring, the warm June sunshine was just what was needed. The tomato plants, which had turned blue whilst hardening off in May, suddenly woke up and decided life was worth living after all. The bean plants, which had been doing not a lot since April, made a sudden rush for the top of the bean poles looking for giants. And the courgette plants made their usual bid to take over the entire vegetable garden by the end of the summer. On the present showing, their success looks to be pretty much guaranteed.

This is how things looked last weekend:

Vegetable garden

Vegetable garden

And here are today’s pickings:

Vegetables

Vegetables

Since the second week of July, we have harvested 18 courgettes from three plants. I knew from previous experience that three plants were likely to produce far more than we would really want to eat. Last year, we managed quite happily with just the one plant. This year, I was aiming for two. However, despite the accident with the greenhouse, I ended up with three healthy young plants. So, not having the heart to destroy the spare one, I eventually planted it out with the others. I may yet live to regret this…

The bean plants have only just started producing. From what I remember, they are later than last year, but now have many more stems and flowers. (Something to do with the original growing tips being damaged by wind and/or aphids). The lettuce is one of four that I planted in the corner of my new herb garden. We’ve eaten one other and I have one remaining. The fourth was lost to slug attack. The nasty little blighters waited until I was on holiday at the end of June and then cut it off at ground level and left it to rot. The tomatoes have yet to ripen, but we are currently picking redcurrants and blueberries from plants that I’ve had for a few years in containers. The blueberries are easily my favourite of all the garden produce. They are so much nicer than the ones sold in supermarkets.

Those with sharp eyes will notice that I also have flowers in my vegetable garden. This is mostly because I had some alyssum seedlings left over that I didn’t know what to do with. Something tells me that my Dad would not have approved of this flight of fancy. He had a much more ordered approach to his gardening. However, I have since found out that it was A Good Idea. Like coriander (which I have in my herb garden), alyssum is favoured by hoverflies and lacewings, the larvae of which are very partial to aphids.

It seems Viola also thought flowers in the vegetable garden was a good idea, so she paid it a visit all on her own:

Viola

Viola

Needless to say, she has been allowed to stay, mostly because I like purple.

The vegetable garden was started by my daughter some years ago and has been maintained more recently by my husband (mostly). It’s always been kept small because his time is limited and we knew that the ME would severely limit how much I could contribute to its upkeep. This year, it is a little larger than it has been in previous years because the bean, tomato and cucumber plants were so squashed up together last year that it was impossible to get between them to pick anything without indulging in the kind of acrobatics that my body just won’t do. I also wanted space to create a small herb garden, partly for the benefit of the bees. With my energy levels increasing, I thought I could manage this. However, I still wasn’t thinking in terms of looking after all the vegetables myself.

Therefore, it’s been a huge source of joy to find that I have been able to cope with all the planting, watering and weeding myself. I’ve taken it very gently; restricting myself to an hour or so at a time and taking a small stool outside to sit on whilst planting and weeding. But I’ve done it. Slowly, but surely, I’ve produced a vegetable garden. Of course, I can’t really claim it as ‘all my own work’ since Duncan dug it all over before I started and I cannot provide either sun, rain or insects. Nonetheless, it feels good to be able to look at it and say, ‘I did that’. I sowed. I planted. I did what needed to be done to help the plants to grow and thrive.

It’s also been good just to be out there amongst the growing things. Being there breathes peace into my soul.

Meanwhile, in another part of the garden, the French marigolds that marked the beginning of this venture are also thriving. Despite my predictions to the contrary, the slugs and snails have not won:

French Marigold

French Marigold

This makes me happy; and not just because of my Dad, though he was the reason I planted them. It’s much more about survival against the odds; about hope; about becoming. In them I see a dream made real. And I find that hugely encouraging.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating (3)

Some of you may remember Ollie and Jack – the two baby snails that I adopted when I found them in the kitchen after bringing a cyclamen plant in from the patio? I gave them a box in which to make their home and they thrived on a diet of (mostly) lettuce before spending the winter hibernating in our shed. Well, I can now tell you that both survived the winter, though Jack refused to wake up until I doused him with some water. Perhaps snails are not so vastly different from humans after all?

At Christmas we found yet another baby snail – Oliver III – in the downstairs bathroom. Who knows how he got there? As he was just a teeny weeny snail, my daughter decided that he, too, should be kept in a box indoors, where he grew… and grew… and grew… until he was bigger than both Ollie and Jack. So it was three snails that I recently took out into the countryside to be released. I took them to the edge of a small coppice, well away from any gardens or roads, and watched them set out to explore their new surroundings:

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I love the alert look on their ‘faces’ when they are exploring!

After their release, with the vegetable patch in mind, I decided to have a good hunt round the garden to see how many more snails I could find. With the weather being so dry, I found over 40 aestivating behind a plank of wood that was propped horizontally against the front wall of the house. I found several others here and there when I was gardening and a few have unfortunately fallen foul of either beer traps or slug pellets. (I’ve tried to keep the latter to the absolute minimum).

On Saturday night, when it finally got round to raining, I went out just before midnight to see what else had come out of hiding. (I knew that there were more snails hibernating/aestivating under a concrete path, where I couldn’t get at them). Well, you wouldn’t believe what a hive of activity a wet garden is at midnight! There were worms – gazillions of them – having a wonderful time rain bathing. Then there were woodlice scurrying about doing whatever it is that woodlice find it necessary to do in the middle of the night. There were two largish yellow slugs sampling the beer in the vegetable patch… and there were 17 snails out and about looking for something to munch. One had already found the beans. Another had found the French marigolds. Thankfully neither had quite started their dinner yet.

All the snails I have found alive (getting on for 90 in total) have been relocated to a spot somewhat nearer to home than where I released the Olivers and Jack, though still a place where they will have a job to make it to anyone’s garden (unless they can swim). I admit that hunting them down in this way is a little time consuming, but it does seem to be an effective way of dealing with them in a small garden. It’s certainly cheaper than nematodes. It’s also less gruesome, more environmentally friendly and more thorough than using slug pellets. And it has enabled me to carry out a few experiments. Like this one:

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The conclusion? 2.5 cm of copper tape is not sufficient to deter a hungry snail. However, 5 cm appears to be much more effective. So this is definitely worth a try when it comes to planting out lettuces.

I’ve found very few slugs, except for the two on Saturday night and a few baby ones in the beer traps. Either it’s been too dry for them, or the birds have been doing a good job of polishing them off. We do have a fair few starlings in the garden over the autumn, winter and early spring and they definitely eat them because I’ve seen them do it. So maybe that’s it? Meanwhile, most of my plants are still intact, though I did lose two French marigolds in the first few days of planting out, both cut off at the base.

So what have I learnt from all this snail watching?

  • It is possible to hear the sound of a wild snail eating πŸ™‚
  • Even if they do nothing else quickly, Garden Snails (Helix aspersa) can certainly grow quickly! Oliver III grew close to adult size in just 3 months, though it would probably have taken him longer in the wild.
  • Garden Snails do eat weeds – dandelions being one example. They just prefer to eat lettuce and carrots (and who can blame them).
  • It takes a good sized lettuce leaf to make a few millimetres of snail shell.
  • Snails have a keen sense of smell.
  • Snails sit out cold and/or dry weather by sealing their shells and shutting down their metabolism – aestivating or hibernating until more favourable conditions return.
  • They like to do this in company.
  • Assuming the weather is warm enough, dousing a snail with water is a sure fire way to wake them up.
  • Baby snails are extremely fragile.
  • It’s okay to break a snail. Adult Garden Snails lay an average of 86 eggs at a sitting and (assuming conditions are favourable) do so 4 or 5 times a year. They don’t expect all their children to survive – and it’s probably best not to think too hard about how things would be if they did!
  • Worms can move faster than snails.
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Baby snail