Meanwhile – Back on Home Ground

Meanwhile – Back on Home Ground

Everything is growing skywards – the weather may bear little resemblance to summer, but the plants are loving it and (as I wrote before) rebuilding the vegetable plot seems to have dramatically reduced the slug and snail population in that part of the garden. Actually, for some unfathomable reason, there generally seem to be fewer in the garden, despite the predictions, and those I have seen have focused on munching the cornflowers to extinction while leaving most other plants untouched.The courgettes and squash growing in the straw bales are very happy – because they are growing in a medium that has remained slightly warm, the cooler wet weather has not affected them.
courgettes growing in straw bales
Next to the straw bales are the beds that I refilled using hugelkultur principles – log base, followed by brushwood, then bark chippings and finally compost and soil. The peas, broad beans, runner beans and sweet peas planted there have all grown at a quite astonishing rate. The broad beans are the best I have ever grown – I started them in pots and planted them out in March and they are now taller than I am and cropping prolifically.broad beans almost ready fast growing broad beans
In the greenhouse the tomatoes are flowering their socks of and starting to set the first fruit, while their outdoor blight resistant relatives are rapidly approaching the top of the support posts and I will need to put something taller in.tomatoes floweringtomatoes in greenhouse
I’ve never had much luck growing strawberries in the ground or in grow bags so this year I invested in some wrought iron troughs which I have attached to the sturdy handrail (they are heavy) round one of the beds. Slugs, snails and woodlice can get nowhere near them and netting keeps the birds off – resulting in strawberries for breakfast every day.ripe strawberries ready for picking
strawberries in troughs

Compare & Contrast

Regular followers will know that I am a fan of Nicotiana mutabilis, but they are not the easiest plants to germinate. I’ve only managed to raise three plants this year, along with another three that made it through the mild winter. As back up, I ordered some plugs of Nicotiana ‘Whisper Mixed’ with flowers that go through similar colour changes from deep rose pink to palest shell pink.  Now both are in flower I’m able to compare. My verdict? If you can’t grow mutabilis ‘Whisper Mixed’ is a good alternative, but it doesn’t have the same delicacy or  abundance of flowers. The flowers of mutabilis are rounded with six lobes, while ‘Whisper’ is star-shaped with five lobes. Actually, having both in the garden works well, so maybe that’s the answer.Nicotiana mutabilismutabilis ‘Whisper Mixed’

Straw Bale Gardening

Straw Bale Gardening

Rebuilding the vegetable garden happened to coincide with the arrival of a book about straw bale gardens, so when I found myself with a bed lacking in sufficient soil it seemed an ideal opportunity to experiment with the technique. The plan is to get a crop off the bales and come next autumn they will have decomposed down and the bed will be filled with lovely friable ex-straw bale. In my innocence I thought that you simply put them in place, gave them a bit of a water, let them start the process of composting and hey presto they could be planted. Turns out they need ‘curing’ over 2 weeks, so don’t plan to go away during this time as daily action is required.

raised beds

straw bale gardening
I bought the straw bales from a local feed merchant in early April and put them in place but then covered them with a tarpaulin as I didn’t want them to start composting before it was warm enough to plant them.straw bales tarpaulin over bales

At the beginning of May I started the ‘curing’ by soaking the bales on one day and ‘feeding’ them with fish, blood and bonemeal on the second day, repeating this process for 10 days, after which I gave a final feed of a high potash organic fertiliser.soaking the bales wetting the straw

By this time it was beginning to heat up, peaking as you can see at a rather impressive 143deg F. I kept it covered with cardboard until the temperature had started to drop and when it got to 80deg. I planted my courgettes and squashes. I will update you on how it goes – so far the plants look very happy and don’t appear to be cooking!temperature showing 143 fahrenheitcourgettes planted

A Mutable Beauty

Nicotiana mutabilis is such a lovely plant that I go to considerable lengths to have it in the garden. Its flowers start dark pink, fade to a paler shade and then white, with the tall, airy plant carrying all three colours at once.  I overwintered one successfully in the greenhouse and planted it out a few weeks ago, sowed seeds less successfully (only three seedlings from this sowing and none from an earlier one), but to my delight I’ve found that the leggy plants I left in the borders have come through the mild winter and are sending out new stems from ground level.  I’m going to have a go at sowing another batch because I think they may germinate better in dry heat, but in the meantime I’m enjoying the early show from the greenhouse plant. 

Nicotiana mutabilis

Overwintered in the greenhouse

overwintered Nicotiana mutabilis

Overwintered in the garden thanks to a lack of frosts

Nicotiana mutabilis seedling in greenhouse

Spring sown seedling