Saturday, 27 August 2011

Meadow (27 AUG 2011)

Seeds sown in Spring 2011

In June I wrote about the annual & perennial seedlings, which I planned to fill my flower beds with this summer, that were decimated by slugs & snails using my plastic greenhouse as a sauna and salad bar. I managed to save a few which I planted in pots outside and covered with netting.

Having realised that I had made a big error by trapping moisture in the greenhouse, I developed a belt & braces strategy to ensure that I would fill my flower beds somehow :

(plan b) I sowed more annual seeds (even though it was too late).

(plan c) I planted all of the mixed foxglove seedlings that germinated (the slugs did not touch these), instead of just saving the ten biggest as I did last year. However, I didn't anticipate that self-sown seeds from my favourite foxglove which flowered this year would start germinating too, which leaves me with a dilemma.

(plan d) I spread the prolific self-seeded marigolds around the garden, and they are now giving the previously dominant houttanyia and the weeds a run for their money.

                    (plan b)                                               (plan c)                                             (plan d)

My second batch of annual seedlings must have been the most spoilt seedlings ever raised. They started life in a packet of mixed cottage garden annual seeds supposed to be outdoor-sown in May; the flowers were pictured but nameless. I didn't want to risk sowing all of them outdoors so I started off by letting some germinate in the kitchen, pricked them out so that there were at most two occupants in each pod of the seed trays, then moved them to the plastic greenhouse (well ventilated this time) so the seedlings could catch some sunshine. Then gradually as they matured, I prepared patches of soil around the garden as nurseries to which I transferred the plantlets, knowing full well that I would need to re-plant them again with wider distances in between. This was to make watering easier and more concentrated (the soil was parched at that time), because I don't water my perennials or shrubs, and to ensure that I wouldn't mistake them for weeds. In addition, I placed a conspicuous stone next to each seedling to mark them out. Unfortunately, there are several conspicuous (and less noteworthy) stones lying on and embedded in my flower beds so this hasn't really helped with identification.


In fact I didn't need to water the plantlets as expected. The soil is now saturated, due to the incessant rain recently, to the extent that I can pull out dandelions with tap roots intact just with my finger and thumb. Re-planting the plantlets further apart should be a safe operation, as there is no fear of them drying out in the current climate.

Below are a few of the original plantlets, which were saved in a hurry from the slug & snail attack (without labels), and a few from the second batch of mixed cottage garden annuals. I can identify campanula, evening primrose, love-in-a-mist and aster from the original batch but only nasturtium from the second. I have to say that, even though my garden hasn't been full of blooms this summer, I have quite enjoyed watching the seedlings growing into plantlets, not knowing what flowers they will produce. They have passed their vulnerable stage now and are making their way to the finish-line, only autumn frosts will stop them now.




So I was tramping over the sodden lawn, which I haven't been able to mow so frequently and inspecting the flower-less beds when I realised that my garden is in bloom after all, I just wasn't looking in the right place ...

My "Meadow"
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Friday, 19 August 2011

Apple (19 AUG 2011)

When I wrote a post in February about my apple seedlings, I was prepared to write a sequel to chart their progress, but I didn't think that it would be this soon ...

 A few weeks ago I was at my mother's. As per my usual routine, I headed straight to the back-room, lifted the net curtain and peeped out at the garden. I was faced with an horrific scene. The apple tree that I remembered from my childhood had disappeared. I haven't been able to write about it until now.

 In the background, you can see the rose and strawberry patch that my friend and I planted as children and amongst it the slowly, rotting apples prematurely shaken from the family tree as it met its miserable fate ...


All that's left to focus my grief (or guilt) on is this stump.

Mother was apparently confused at my reaction. It was inevitable, the tree was broken after being struck by lightning, the trunk had been hollowed out by some sort of parasite, a branch had already cracked off last year under the weight of the fruit and it was likely that we would lose another this year, overhanging the neighbour's fence. I could tell that this explanation had been rehearsed ...  and by the way, did I realise that the bottom compartments of the freezer were filled chock-a-block with home-grown apples and blackberries from a year and two ago. Wasn't I relieved that I wouldn't have to clean up the mouldy apples this autumn? ... after all she couldn't do it any more ....

Then yesterday I read about Linnie's picturesque pear tree, it's main branch growing thicker than the trunk causing it to split, allowed to survive against all odds. Now I feel even worse.

It's true that I did complain about the mouldy apples, but I didn't mean it. Never again shall I draw up their cidery odour while trying to balance them, rolling about on a fork, on my way to the garden waste, tentative to pierce them for what might ooze or burst out.

It's true that I had inherited the job to bake apple crumbles (including the less plentiful blackberries on special occasions), but I hadn't delivered for quite a while. I just expected that our maggot-riddled apples would always be around. I haven't even baked since the tree was put down, yet it's a comforting thought that there are still bags of sliced apples stashed away in the freezer, the only happy memories of our lost family member except ...

I wrote about the three apple seedlings when they had just germinated, an attempt to recreate the favourite feature in my mother's garden in my own.
I wrote about how I wasn't sure whether to keep them alive after I discovered it was almost improbable that they would produce the same fruit as their parent; the chances of it being a species tree and self-fertilising were slim.
It was Edith Hope's comment about giving the gift of life which made me feel stupid for dismissing them as worthless just because they might not grow into replicas of the family tree.

So here they are alive and well with adult apple leaves and woody stems. Needless to say, they are so much more precious now than they were in February.

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Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Cherry Tomatoes (10 AUG 2011)

I'm running out of plants to blog about in the middle of summer when I should be spoilt for choice, which doesn't bode well. I didn't intend to write a post about tomatoes. After all, everyone grows tomatoes don't they?  ... but while I'm waiting for my annuals to bloom ...

This story started last year when Mrs. F kindly gave me two tomato plants amongst others. They were an Italian variety : fat, squat & creased. I planted them in a grow-bag containing peat, not being aware of peat-free and the whys and wherefores at that time.  I wanted to make the most of the opportunity to taste tomatoes which had been ripened till they were warmed through by the sun and filled with sweetness.

Italian tomatoes grown last year

When the day came to pick the dark red fruit, I anticipated their flavour from the scent of the vine before their actual taste registered. Unfortunately, the reality was that the flesh was somewhat woolly, the juice was not as flavourful as I had hoped and the skin was tough to chew. Were they sweet? - can't remember. So much for my plan to slice and lay them alternately with mozzarella and avocado in a tricolore salad, dressed simply with olive oil and vinegar. Interest in the few remaining fruit on the dying vines waned. I promised to try harder next time, noting that fertiliser would be required to produce more fruit and earlier harvesting before their texture deteriorated.

This year I opted to grow cherry tomatoes instead, selecting a packet of Gardener's Delight seeds as the photo boasted an abundance of fruit. I raised several seedlings just in case, however the slugs and snails avoided these, feasting on my annuals instead. Initially, I potted them in peat-free compost, being better informed this time, along with seedlings of plum cherry tomatoes from my neighbour, but sensing the pots were holding them back somehow, half of them were removed to a flower bed where they are definitely thriving much better.
tomato flowers
cherry tomatoes grown in a flower bed

At the first sign of little fruits, remembering last year's notes, I was tempted to start dosing the tomato plants with the liquid fertiliser that you can buy in red plastic bottles, which my mother administers to any plant in her garden that she cares about. In her opinion, by the time tomato plants have finished flowering, the compost is spent and needs to be supplemented. This is true judging by the poor performance of my potted plants; the low acidity of the peat-free compost could also be a root cause. I can see why tomatoes are grown hydroponically commercially.

Finally, I decided not to go down this route because even though I give my mother full credit for my gardening gene, my motivations are quite different. My desire to observe the balance of my garden over-rides the need to be self-sufficient in tomatoes this summer; I want to understand how these plants take and give back to the garden without interference from external factors. Whilst making observations, I've snacked on a couple of ripe fruit and they are delicious.

unripe Gardener's Delight cherry tomatoes
unripe plum cherry tomatoes

Gardener's Delight grown in a pot

While searching the internet to find out how tomatoes are grown and ripened commercially, I discovered that they were the first food crop to be genetically modified, to enable them to ripen for longer without degrading. This reminded me of something I read once about iceberg lettuce causing belly ache for some people because it was specially bred to have increased shelf-life, which consequently means it takes a longer time to digest, during which it ferments in the gut. Food crops are also genetically modified to make them more disease resistant but this could prompt the evolution of stronger viruses or super-weeds.

I don't know enough about genetic modification to have an opinion for or against it; my concern is that quick fixes, however well researched, don't allow time for re-balance between the modifed plant, other living things and the environment. I guess the opposing argument is that our over-populated planet is already off-balance ...  My cherry tomato plants have certainly given me some food for thought.

Tomatoes can be grown hydroponically, without compost or soil :

When a tomato reaches its mature green stage, ethylene gas is released naturally. Immature, green tomatoes are ripened commercially by artificially exposing them to ethylene gas :

According to this post, the perfect vine-ripened tomato is a myth. The advice given here is to pick tomatoes when they are on the verge of turning red (the mature green stage) and leave them to ripen indoors :

Genetic modification can be used to encourage plants to cooperate with human beings, in the short term. Long term effects are yet to be seen :

The first genetically modifed food crop was the Flavr Savr tomato. The gene which causes tomatoes to soften as they ripen was extracted, reversed and reintroduced. The modified gene stuck to the original gene, counteracting its effects, with these end results : allowing tomatoes to be ripened on the vine for longer, decreasing damage during transportation and increasing shelf-life.

©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for
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