Saturday, 4 June 2016

First and last

We are enjoying the first of the mangetout and almost the last of the swiss chard. I thought the chard was finished earlier in the year but having chopped it right back to ground level a couple of plants sprang back into to life. They are now on their last legs and are going to seed so we really shall be finishing it off over the next few days.

We have just a handful of mangetout at the moment but a lot more are forming on the plants.The yellow ones are Golden Sweet from the Real Seed Catalogue and the green are Oregon Sugar Pod. I started both of them off indoors in seed pans. The Oregon was originally grown in window sill pots for early spring pea shoots but after a few cuttings I decided to see how they would fare outside. I did protect both varieties from the cold snaps we had by surrounding them with a sort of cold frame made from old metal window frames, bubble wrap and garden fleece. 

I spotted the Golden Sweet seeds in the Reading Food Growing Network's seed swap box along with the more common Oregon Sugar Pod. (I swapped some Indigo Beauty tomato seeds for them). That is one of the great things about community seed swaps; both the unusual and commonplace are often to be found side by side. The Golden Sweet is growing at about the same rate as the Oregon, but I understand it eventually reaches double the Oregon's height. One other noticeable feature of the Golden Sweet is the lovely purple-blue flowers. Easy to grow, tasty and pretty. Definitely worth a try. 

Friday, 3 June 2016

A very obvious Harlequin ladybird

This very obvious Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis conspicua) has appeared on my cherry plum tree. I have previously spotted the larvae and other colour forms in the garden but this is the first time I have seen "conspicua".

 A friend told me I should squash it because as well as eating aphids and scale insects they also feed on butterfly and moth eggs and other ladybird species. I have left it alone. Last year I checked most of the ladybirds I found in our garden and the majority appeared to be Harlequins. If I go on a killing spree I am likely to have an aphid infestation and, to be honest, I don't believe eliminating them will make the slightest difference in the overall population. More will move in from neighbouring gardens to fill the gap in mine.

Many of the Harlequin colour forms look very similar to our own native species. Here are some identification guides that can help differentiate between them:

Harlequin Ladybird Survey - Recognition and Distinction  has a useful PDF identification guide at
Ladybird descriptions_Info pack_NEW_v.5.pdf 

The Ladybird Survey has an identification sheet showing the most common UK ladybird species and another for the larvae of UK ladybirds.  

Ladybird Spotter has an interactive key to help identify ladybirds

A second updated edition (2013) of the Ladybirds Handbook is available through the publishers Pelagic Publishing and other booksellers.

Mapping the Garden - Zone 1

I have been intending to map our garden permaculture zones for about two years but have only now just started on the project. The idea is that the map will serve as a reminder of what was and is already in place, what grows well and what doesn't, and will also help me adjust the plantings. Although this is starting out as an ordinary blog posting I will make these maps individual blog pages so that I can easily update them and add more photos.

Rather than tackle the whole garden at once I thought that if I mapped the different areas separately I would be more likely to finish the project. For the first map I choose the area between the end of the kitchen/bathroom extension and the ancient garden shed because it is one of the smaller patches in the garden. When I started to map it in detail, though, I realised that the area may be small but there is a lot going on here.

The boundaries are a six foot wooden fence to the left, a 4ft 2in high brick wall on the right, an old home made garden shed that was erected in the 1940s and the end of the bathroom extension.The wall is used by many of the local cats as a walkway and they then drop down in front of the shed or into the neighbour's garden to continue their daily prowls. So we have a small zone 5 incursion at that point.

There is an earth/gravel path between the north side of the shed and the wooden fence that leads into the main part of the garden (zones 2-4). There are two raised beds in front of the shed on either side of the shed door, and concrete paths along the end and to the side of the bathroom/kitchen extension. When we moved into the property there was a thin layer of concrete in the middle that was badly cracked and broken in places. We replaced it with gravel and stepping stones some of which were made from the concrete we pulled up.

We have two water butts fed by rainwater coming off the rooves on the back of the house and the extension. We should really install a third to make the most of the run-off (we do have the space). The roof of the garden shed slopes in the direction of the raised beds and, ever since the guttering came off, rainwater runs directly onto the raised beds.

The main productive area is the right hand raised bed in front of the shed. This is how it looked for many years during the summer.

21st August 2013 - rosemary bush still flourishing
The runner beans do well here but to pick the beans on the plants nearest the garden wall I have to step on the bed, which is usually a no-no because it compacts the soil. I realised even before I started harvesting, though, that there is a permanent, narrow track just in front of the beans. This is created by the cats using it as as short cut through the garden, so I decided I might as well walk on this part of the bed as well!

The rosemary bush in the middle flourished for many years and provided us with a regular supply of the herb until it died at the beginning of 2015. Luckily I had taken cuttings the previous year so we now have several new plants in pots.

The other herbs in the ground are ramsons, chives, lemon balm and oregano. These are supplemented by hairy bittercress and nettles. The herbs in the pots vary as I move them around from one spot to another to test out the best environment for them.

28th March 2015

This is the same area in March 2015. The rosemary bush has been replaced with a pear tree (Concorde), which I had bought in autumn 2014 and kept it in a container while I considered where its final location should be. The demise of the rosemary made the decision for me.

At this time of year the available herbs are chives, ramsons and lemon balm as well as some hairy bittercress.

Comfrey was added to the upper right hand corner in late 2014 and is now well established.

During May and June, the herbs and the comfrey begin to take over and are pruned back. None of it goes to waste. The herbs, including the nettles, are dried for cooking or teas and the comfrey leaves are used to make fertiliser (see Comfrey juice decanted). The ramsons have usually died back by now and set seed.

15th June 2015 - herbs and nettles taking over
In October the beans are still going strong as are the herbs and nettles.

10th October 2015
This is how the patch looked on 29th May 2016

29th May 2016
The beans are beginning to climb and the pear tree is now established. The herbs and comfrey have already been cut back once and the golden oregano needs thinning out. The pots on the right and left contain mint but most of the one on the right has been eaten by something I have yet to find and identify. It has started to recover and grow back. The pot in the middle contains lovage.

Tea Bag Index results

In 2015 we took part in UK Tea Bag Index experiment and one of the pair of tea bags was planted in the middle of the right hand bed. The Tea Bag Index decomposition rate was found to be group ii and the C:N ratio of the soil was also in group ii, both slap bang in the middle for garden soils.