Category Archives: vegetables

Time to put the garden to bed

Odd expression that, but I think we get the idea.  Things are looking a bit ropey out there when I stand at the French windows, and they’re going to look much worse unless I sort things out.  It seems harder in the autumn though, it’s much less like fun dismantling the summer garden than getting it up to scratch in the spring, but in fact there’s so much to do and I know it’ll make a difference.

I always know it’s time when I have to clear the tomatoes out of the greenhouse.   There’s still one plant left which has some fruit which might just ripen but the rest are on the compost heap.

Once I’ve done that it’s the ideal opportunity to give the greenhouse a clean inside.  Brush down all the glass and then wash it with a mild disinfectant and clean the staging and shelving.   Try to choose a dry mild day so that any tender plants will be OK outside until everything’s dried out.

Then I can look at what I need to bring into the greenhouse to save for next year.   There are always loads of pelargoniums.   I love them and try to save as many as I can.  They’ll be happy in a dryish compost kept somewhere frost free.  I generally take off the flowers and prune them back to about 4” or so…I could have taken cuttings a little bit earlier but I didn’t…so I’ll try to hang onto the plants.  If it gets really cold in the greenhouse either it’ll need heating or they’ll have to come into the house.

There are plenty of other things I might like to keep.  This year I don’t have any very nice dahlias.  I lost some lovely ones by leaving them in the ground last year.   In a mild winter they’ll be fine outside but we’ve had some very cold ones so it’s safer to lift the tubers, dust off the soil and store them in dry compost till the spring when you can bring them back into growth again.

I will take cuttings of my salvia ‘hot lips’.  I love it and I have taken cuttings before to ensure I keep it year after year.   I’ve lost the parent plant more than once so I know I need to get some cuttings.  I’ll push them into a mixture of compost and sharp sand and cover them in a polythene bag and they’ll be in the greenhouse frost free till the spring.

As for the mixed  border, I tend to stand back and take a view.  There are things that need to be cut back and look a messy tangle of dead leaves, and they’d be better on the compost heap, but there are lots of other things looking great – the sedum and the grasses shine in the sun, lots of the cosmos  and the marigolds are still flowering like mad, as is the nasturtium that’s climbing over the fence.  So they can stay.  On the other hand the cerinthe is black, some of the early perennials like the campanula and yellow loostrife look sad and need cutting back.  But other perennials, which are over for the summer will stay to give some structure for the winter and for the bugs to feed from.  Things like the echinacea  and the eringyum.  So don’t be too ready to clear everything away too soon.

I almost always plant bulbs.  All kinds of bulbs…..it’s no too late for daffodils and you can plant tulips until December, and as well as them you can put in crocus, alliums, grape hyacinths…there really is such a choice, you only have to go into the garden centre or pick up a catalogue and the choice is vast.  They’re great though because you need to do so little, just dig a hole and drop them in and you’ll have a lovely display next spring.

Finally if I have home made compost that’s ready I like to mulch at this time of year.   Good well-rotted compost is the best and if you can put it down 3-4 inches deep so much the better.   That’s the bit that does feel as though I’m tucking up the flower beds for winter.   Let’s hope they sleep well and come back better than ever next year.

Next job – maybe in November – some autumn pruning!

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Mrs Postgate’s tomato chutney

Well I suspect that the weather is not going to ripen all my tomatoes….and that might well apply to lots of other people I think, so time to find Margaret Costa’s recipe book. Great book full of fab recipes and so if you can get hold of a copy I can recommend it.  My old one is so well thumbed its just about collapsing so its great that I was bought a fresh copy a couple of years ago.   When I got the new one I discovered that I wasn’t the only fan.   I was in great company, so much so that the blessed Dehlia has written the foreward.

Probably shouldn’t repeat her recipe here but I use it all the time when the season ends and I was asked for it so here goes:

2lbs/900g cooking apples

Half a pound/225g onions

1oz/25g garlic

1lb/450g sultanas

4lbs/1.8kg green tomatoes

2oz/50g bruised root ginger

2oz/55g crushed mustard seeds

half an oz/15g shredded chillies

2lb/900g demerera sugar

4oz/115g salt

l.5 pts/850 ml malt vinegar

Put the peeled and quartered apples through a mincer (or grate or use a foodprocessor) with the onions, garlic and sultanas.  Peel the tomatoes and chop roughly.  Tie the spices in a piece of muslin.

Put everything into a large heavy pan and cook gently for 3-4 hrs till soft, thick and well blended (stir frequently especially towards the end when chutney can burn).  There should be no ‘free liquid’ left but do remember that the mixture will thicken a lot when cool so don’t overcook.  Its ready when a spoon drawn through the mixgture cuts a clean channel with no vinegar left in it.

Remove the spices.  Pot in clean hot jars while still warm, cover with greaseproof paper and a plastic disc or a screw top.

So there you are. Enjoy.  Last year at about this time I made a whole load of stuff….chilli jam, crab apple jelly flavoured with all sorts of things like rosemary and ginger, and pots and pots of damson jam.  Stored them all and put them into Christmas hampers for friends with lots of other home made goodies I made nearer the time.

They went down really well – and probably the best of the lot was the home made advocaat…loved that myself!

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I think we’ve turned a corner…..

I’m sitting outside writing this….its been a long time coming but that’s what I had in mind when  I bought this little house with its derelict garden.   I can smell the roses from my garden bench and the air’s warm and the birds are singing.

Almost two years ago I sat out here just after I got the keys.   My plumber and I were eating sandwiches for lunch on the hard stony earth surrounded by the old bathroom fittings which were chucked out here and goodness only knows what else…carpet, radiators, bits of wood, you name it.  Not just that but the garden itself was indescribably awful.  Not a garden at all.  And he said to me what on earth made you move here (I had a perfectly nice garden at my house in Leeds) and I said just listen…. so we sat in silence.   There was practically no sound and sitting here now I can’t see another house.  I can see the tops of the chimneys at Ferrybridge Power Station over the greenery mind you but I can live with that!

When I look at the house pre French windows and pre decking I can’t believe it.  It looks so different.  And well done son….I knew it was a good idea for him to retrain as a joiner!

The view’s changed a bit as well, this is how it looks from the  bench now and last year I’d have been looking at this.

I think the biggest improvement though has to be the lawn.   I seeded it in April of this year and banned the hens from it.   They and the birds were having a fine time eating the seed.   And of course it was so dry.  So much for it being a perfect time to sow grass seed  the driest spring for how many years?   So goodness knows how much water went onto it.   Anyhow eventually it started to grow, and so we said goodbye to the grey earth and welcomed the green growth.  Such a difference.   Its not 100% weed free, but then considering what was here beforehand that’s OK.  Its less than 6 months old so a year of mowing and weeding and it’ll improve.

And the front of house is taking shape too.   I was desperate to get a front porch and some raised beds.   It looked so naked when I moved in.  Not a bit like the cottage that the locals called it.   When I told someone where I lived she said “Oh yes, the old potters cottages”  but this didn’t look a bit like a cottage and there was nowhere to plant a thing.   So I’d been looking here there and everywhere for something to change the look of the front door (which is actually the kitchen door….because the house is back to front, but let’s not go there!) when I came upon a reduced garden arch thingy.  Rang my son who said things like, “Is it tall enough?  Will it be wide enough?”and “OK get it”.

So I did.   Anyway without going into the huffing and puffing about it not being quite right after a good deal of adaptation it was eventually installed complete with raised beds on either side…..yet  to be filled I have to say, but it won’t be long.

There is still much to do.   My veg patch now extends way down behind the greenhouse, but it has further to go and it needs to have the little elder which overshadows it considerably reduced, if not removed.  Not made my mind up on that one yet.  Its producing a good yield as well this year for such a new project.   We’ve had onions, garlic, carrots, courgettes (well who hasn’t?), lettuce and other salad leaves, new potatoes and 2 types of beans and radishes.   Still to come are the maincrop potatoes, spring onions, chard, spinach, purple sprouting broccoli and pak choi.  And of course loads of tomatoes from the greenhouse as well as chillies and cucumbers.

I started on a fruit garden as well but that really hasn’t had the attention it deserves, but I have got some pears that look like they’ll be good to eat this season and I’ve had rhubarb and some strawberries.   The hens got to the last of them though and I think the gooseberries.  Well at least they disappeared.

Now that I’ve got this far I’m thinking about next year.   I’m sure gardeners are the most optimistic of creatures.   Always looking forward.

The focus has got to be on the fruit garden.   I might need a fruit cage to keep the birds off it, and not just the hens.   My garden birds are so well fed I seem to be constantly filling up the feeders but that doesn’t stop them for helping themselves to other things they fancy.

As well as that I’d like to clear a bit of land and turn it into a cutting garden.   English summer flowers are so lovely and although I suspect I shall always have to buy in flowers for my floristry work because I simply don’t have the space to grow commercially,  I’d love to be able to gather bunches from my own garden for the house.

Of course whilst I’ve been writing this I’ve had to move indoors.   Its been trying to rain and its got a bit chilly out there.  Oh English summers hey.  But with a bit of luck it might just brighten up into a lovely evening whilst I’m watering the hanging baskets.

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I say tomato…..

This last few days I’ve been spending time in the greenhouse with my tomatoes….sad I know, but I enjoy watching them grow and anticipating the first fruits.  Won’t be long now I hope!

A great deal is said about growing tomatoes – they take pride of place on the show bench at the autumn plant and produce shows and there are growers across the country who pride themselves on the biggest, the roundest and the most perfect specimens, but for me tomatoes are one of the easiest fruits/vegetables and also one of the most tolerant and rewarding to grow.

In Mediterranean countries tomatoes can grow like weeds they are so quick to germinate, and here with only a very little help you can have a great crop for not too much effort.

Like potatoes, which they are related to, tomatoes came to this country following the colonisation of South America. The Spanish distributed them widely throughout their colonies – everywhere from the Caribbean to the Philippines, and they rapidly became a common part of the global diet.

Remarkably there are around 7,500 varieties of tomato grown across the world, and so there is most definitely one for your garden or greenhouse!

They come in almost every colour, size and flavour available to grow from seed, so think about what you like and where you will grow them and go from there.

I always grow something easy and reliable and then something I’m not familiar with to add interest each year. This year I’ve got some Gardener’s Delight as my easy to grow type. They are cherry tomatoes and they grow almost too well. They need to be kept in check a bit though because they can become enormous.

My dad always grew Moneymaker. They are a reliable and well known variety and I have fond memories of them, but this year I’ve chosen a beefsteak tomato.  I love them and hopefully whether we get a great summer or not they’ll remind me of hot Mediterranean summers as they ripen.  I haven’t really been successful with beg beef tomatoes in the past though.   They become very heavy and so the plants need a lot of support and I’ve had blossom end rot as well so I’m going to be more careful if I can.

Every year there seems to be a glut of fruit at the end of the season and so if I have lots of plum tomatoes I’ll be able to make and freeze masses of tomato sauce. And, of course, there has to be chutney which I can make with whatever else I have in abundance.

Growing Tomatoes

So, back to growing. All varieties will respond to the same treatment to start them off and March is a good time to sow in a greenhouse or a light windowsill. Sprinkle the seed evenly over compost and put a layer of vermiculite over them or more compost in a fine layer. Then water and put a propagation lid over them, or a plastic bag, and let them germinate. As they come through take off the cover and keep them watered. Once they develop about 3 pairs of leaves they can be potted on into little individual pots. Plant them quite deeply and keep them in the greenhouse or indoors.

For outdoor varieties you can harden them off from mid to late May by taking them outside every day and bringing them indoors at night until they are ready to be planted outside. I generally do this for a week or so.

If the plants are to go into pots you need something big – at least 8-10 inches wide. Or they can go into growbags or direct into the ground if they are going into the veg patch. When you do plant them on again make sure you plant them deeply. Tomatoes keep growing roots around the base of the plant and will be more stable if they are planted well into the soil or compost.

Taller upright varieties will need support. Put a cane in each pot and tie the plants in as they develop. Some varieties will grow up to 4 or 5 ft high with no difficulty at all.

They need regular feeding and watering to make sure they develop well. Water every day, you can use up to half a watering can per plant, and feed with tomato food once a week or you could use my homemade nettle goo!  More of that another day I think.

If they’re in the greenhouse make sure you water and check the plants often because, especially in the summer, the heat can dry them out quickly.

If you’re growing a bush variety in pots and baskets they don’t need much aftercare. But the majority of tomato varieties will need pinching out and stopping.

As the plant grows the flowers appear in trusses which will develop into the fruit. In between the branches at this time the plant will try to produce extra side shoots and they need to be pinched out so that the plant can concentrate its efforts on developing the fruit and not producing lots and lots of leafy growth. Keep going back and doing this regularly because the plant is just programmed to keep producing these side shoots.

Then once the plant has about 7 trusses you should stop the plant by pinching out the top of the plant.

Depending on what you’ve chosen to grow you should be ready to harvest from August and well into the autumn.

Pests and diseases:

My biggest problem is always blight and I’m convinced it’s our wetter summers that are to blame. Blight is especially a problem for greenhouse grown tomatoes where the warm and damp can encourage its development, and once it gets going it will develop quickly. The first signs will be brown marks on the leaves, which will spread to the fruit. Make sure you get plenty of ventilation in the greenhouse and if you see anything at all that looks suspiciously like blight remove it as soon as you spot it. Get rid of the diseased plant material by burning or binning, but don’t keep in on your plot. Good housekeeping is your best weapon in the battle against blight and so at the end of the season clean the greenhouse as well as you can so that you get rid of as many spores as possible. If you do get blight a spell of dry weather may well mean that otherwise healthy plants will rally and carry on to develop good fruit for the rest of the season.

White fly and aphids can also be a pest. I prefer not to spray my plants and so I usually try companion planting. Buy a tray of tagetes (French marigolds) and grow them alongside. I grow basil and spring onions in the greenhouse beside the tomatoes as well. This way you’ll deter pests that attack tomatoes and get a crop of basil and spring onions into the bargain.

Onions or any allium will put off all aphids, slugs and snails, marigolds repel aphids and whitefly and the basil is supposed to improve the flavour of the tomatoes and it certainly goes well with them in a salad!

Having said all that I’d better get watering and feeding I guess.

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