Growing food successfully at home
Anyone who grows some of their own food will know that success is a moveable feast!
Two years ago my attempt at growing tomatoes outdoors was a failure. The garden is very windy and the ground just didn’t get warm enough for the plants to develop, so in 2015 tomatoes were indoors, link to the feature.
However growing indoors allows access to juicy morsels to unwanted creatures without the usual predators to control them. Always wanting to use natural deterrents I keep a pyrethrum based spray handy. However disaster struck when I inadvertently used the wrong spray.
What happened? I noticed a couple of little flies in the conservatory, the kind that lay eggs in the soil and the grubs eat the roots and the plants die. So I rushed around looking for the pyrethrum can, found it and sprayed assiduously all the plants and seedlings. To my absolute horror I realised I had used a weedkiller spray instead. I rushed around again, found the water spray and desperately watered.
To no avail, within 24 hours little brown spots had appeared on some of the leaves and over the next week everything was on the way out. There was nothing for it but to start again.
I contacted Delfland Nurseries who raise organic vegetable plugs and they sent me basil, chilli, sweet peppers and squash replacements. I resowed tagetes, nigella and limnanthes to serve as companion plants. If you are keen to find out about using plants as decoys to insects like black fly and attract pollinators like bumblebees and overfills, have a look the guide provided on the Thompson & Morgan website, from which you will see basil is a good companion plant for tomatoes, as are chives and mint.
We grow a lot of companion plants every year and will do the same this year – nasturtiums, a great space filler and colourful companion plants germinate without any help from us from last year’s seed!
Half the plugs Delfland grow are organic own vegetable plugs and each month you can choose a ‘selection pack’ of brassicas, salads, glasshouse or herbs and more. Here’s a link to the ordering options.
For those of you who find the planning of seed sowing and remembering to keep to the schedule a hassle, will find these plugs so useful when you have run out of space for early sowings or when you don’t want a whole packetful of plants from seed raising.
Delfland now have bedding and other plants for sale as well as ready-made hanging baskets and pots planted in various colour schemes – now that appeals to us!
This has to be one of the best websites we have found for gardeners who enjoy growing their own vegetables. Delfland provide really good quality plants and great service. Do have a look!
Val Reynolds, Editor
Grow Your Own Climbing Strawberries, Indoors or Out
Climbing strawberries with a fruiting period from June to September, now there’s a thing!
In 2008 we wrote an article about the Thompson & Morgan strawberry Mount Everest. It grew well for us and our readers. We had six plants to grow and hoped for great things, especially to make jam.
This year we will be trying Strawberry Skyline with climbing stems and dangling fruit from every runner! The perfect option for anyone short on space, the climbing habit also brings other added benefits – you can get to the fruit before the slugs do, there’s no need for straw to keep the ripening fruits off the soil, and no back-breaking bending to pick your crop. Plant in the soil under trellis or pea netting, or grow on the patio with the T&M Towerpot® climber system for easy access to the fruits. We will be using the Towerpot this year in the conservatory and in the greenhouse as a comparison.
Our 2014 strawberry growing was not a huge success. Here in Cumbria we have a shorter growing season than further south. So in 2015 we decided to grow our strawberries in the glazed entry hall to offset the lower temperatures outside.
For Flamenco another T&M everbearing strawberry, we used strawberry bags. They grew well, had a wonderful harvest which the mice and slugs relished so they were moved into a glazed link between the stables and the coach house*. They did well there.
We tried Eternal Love a variety from Lubera that went on and on fruiting right up to the first frosts. We have kept a dozen runners to grow on, the fruit tasted really good. This year we are trying another Lubera variety, Fraisibelle. All kinds of soils and conditions seem to suit it from light to heavy soil, partial shade to full sun.
As always we travel optimistically and have visions of rows of strawberry jam in the larder! We managed some what we called freezer jam. Much simpler than conventional jam making, although it produces a soft rather than a very firm set. There are easy instructions on the Certo recipes webpage. The ‘jam’ is so tasty and delicious on ice cream, cereal, and in cakes. We always make sure there is always some Certo in the cupboard year round. So this year it’ll be delicious freezer strawberry jam again and maybe even ice cream made from unsprayed homegrown fruit!
*Why not come and visit us? We have converted our 1700’s old stone built coach house into a self contained warm and cosy cottage for holiday lets, short and long, any time of year. Here is a link – we grow many different companion plants and insect attractive flowers to maximise our fruit and veg in the kitchen garden. Do come! We love talking gardening!
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor
British Tomato Week 2015 is now!
The delicious red fruit used to be one of Britain’s most beloved. But are you one of those who think tomatoes don’t taste quite as good as they used to? This may be because three quarters of the tomatoes bought in this country are now imported.
British Tomato Week has been set up to raise awareness of flavoursome British tomatoes, and help spread the word that when it comes to choosing the best, buying fresh, home-grown British tomatoes is a great place to start.
To celebrate British Tomato Week Lancaster London Hotel are offering a Tomato Week themed Afternoon Tea priced at £30 per person, which will include savoury delights made with the freshest British tomatoes, including Tomato bread, Tomato scones and Tomato sorbet. Looks yummy!
Island Grill restaurant on Hyde Park has created a special three course set menu, priced at £12.50 for two dishes or £15.50 for three courses.
However, like me, you might have some tomato plants on the windowsill or in a greenhouse. Many gardeners manage to grow them outside but up here in Cumbria the wind and lower temperatures mean indoors is the only option. I did try some outside last year but the plants were pretty much an unproductive experiment.
So this year I purchased two Ailsa Craig plants. Noted for the exceptional flavour of its fruit, which ripens early in the season this well known gardener’s favourite produces medium sized tomatoes with a uniform size and shape and an excellent deep colour.
Another popular tomato popular with gardeners and which has an RHS AGM*, Alicante, was available from a local nursery and I have placed both varieties in a glazed entry hall.
They are growing apace, in fact one Ailsa Craig has grown half an inch in 24 hours I noted this morning! I only know that because I marked the support strings yesterday just to see what rate of growth might be in the sunny and warm hall. I didn’t expect such a surge!
I have another three pots of a tomato Crimson Crush, a new entrant on the tomato market from Suttons in the conservatory that only has sun from about noon and I’ll be interested to see if there is any difference in growth rate. They are going into grow bags.
I know of course I may well be awash with tomatoes and there is a limit to how much time I want to spend bottling and making tomato puree, so much of the crop will go straight in the freezer in bags. To remove the skin easily I just dunk them in hot water, the skins slide off moreorless immediately.
If you are growing tomatoes let us know the variety and their progress … we will probably try different varieties next year.
Val Reynolds, Editor
*Award of Garden Merit
Latest Great Finds – Gardening Shoes and Gloves
It’s this time of year that seems to stimulate the need to replace worn out gardening stuff and this month I decided to look into replacing my somewhat worn, but much loved, gardening gloves. They have given sterling service, comfortable, not clammy, light, easily washed clean in the machine.
I wanted a similar lightweight feel and sensitivity and came across this stylist design from Ethel Gloves. They have all the plus features characteristics of my old gloves – two way stretch moisture wicking fabric made from bamboo – plus the added advantages of the wrist cover and a tab to hang them by, genuine goat skin leather palm and reinforced leather fingertips.
I’m rather smitten, in fact they seem almost too good for using the garden but I expect I’ll make the effort!
My gardening slip ons have reached the point of no return with the sole worn thin and the heel at a dangerous angle … Have to say these have taken at least 12 years to reach this state of wear. So I was pleased to come across a range of garden shoes made by a husband and wife team. Titled Backdoor Shoes there is a choice of design and sizes.
I chose the bluebell design and have been happily trotting around in all weathers. Waterproof, washable with removable, washable insoles. Designed for both men and women they are lightweight and very comfortable. Chris Evans was given a pair with the grass design by his wife for Christmas and he loves them.
Their website give more details.
Val Reynolds, Editor
Very Last Minute Christmas Gift List
Save time at Christmas – let your fingers hit the keyboard!
I really don’t have the time to wander round shops searching for suitable gifts at Christmas, and judging from the retailers, I’m just one of hundreds of thousands who think the web is a wonderful place to wander round instead.
So where to start?
We tend to keep all the Christmas catalogues that arrive in the post and use the ones we like best to choose our gifts. Here are the mail order catalogues we chose this year:
Lakeland, Wiggly Wigglers, Thompson & Morgan
What a range of goodies! You may need an evening or two to go through their website, but it’s well worth the time.
Christmas is a time for indulgence and our favourite edible gifts this year were Finlandia fruit jellies and the Glacé fruit tray – the thought of both make your mouth water! Makes a great change from after dinner mints.
Five minute origami will suit a five year old who loves making things. A nearly impossible jigsaw puzzle will infuriate a brother! A Christmas themed set of skittles will get the teams lined up, to win of course! And we can all dip into the tins of biscuits while we compete for supremacy! There is always a slice of delicious Country Fare Glacé fruit cake on hand.
Only one of the many items we ordered was out of stock and we were able choose another equally scrumptious alternative.
One big feature is the Lakeland no quibble return policy which works! And they make shopping so easy, you can phone and order, visit one of their many outlets, click and collect, send orders in the post, or order direct on line.
Why Thompson & Morgan?
Nothing marks the start of the gardening season like the first seed sowing of the year. You could give the gardener in your life all they’ll need for the earliest start in 2015. For the fastest seedlings in small batches you’ll want to treat them to the T&M Premium Seed Kit with its seven tray heated propagator. Both the flower and vegetable selections have something for pots, baskets and open soil. The kit includes plant labels and pencil. We use our seed propagator all the time now, wouldn’t be without it – it gives peace of mind – it is so reliable.
Alternatively you could always order some plug plants to be delivered in time for the best planting period. We have ordered gifts from T&M for several years now and love their indoor plants. This year we particularly like the Christmas Cactus, only £12.99.
What about a standard Bay Tree to give a classy look to your front door? Every outdoor plant we have ordered from T&M has done well, some are now more than 7 years old – for instance the lemon tree in a pot, now safely in the cool greenhouse.
Order before midday on 19th December for guaranteed delivery in time for Christmas.
Why Wiggly Wigglers?
Here we have a real success story, a farmer and his wife provide a real joy of a catalogue to browse through. Everything a bird feed enthusiast might want, bird nesting boxes, garden composers, composting worms – the worms do the work by the way! We have ordered a terracotta bird nesting box and some roosting pockets for some young children to put up in their garden.
This year we have ordered Goat Sock Gifts. To be on the safe side rather than buy the wrong size sock, why not, in view of the possible very cold weather ahead, buy some bed socks. Honestly they are really so good we each have two pairs to make sure we always have cosy feet every night. Can’t praise them enough. They come in one size which seems to suit everyone we know.
Great British Florist is part of the Wiggly Wigglers organisation and they offer the most beautiful bouquets and wreaths. To receive a monthly bouquet of seasonal British flowers you can subscribe to the monthly flower delivery. This would be an absolutely fantastic gift for someone who just loves fresh flowers that haven’t been flown halfway round the world. We really urge you to look at the website and get more information about their flower club, flower workshops, wedding packages including natural flower petal confetti. Do have a look on the Christmas page on their website – we’ve just ordered a Christmas posy for the Christmas Day table and a wreath for the front door – look for the one with brussel sprouts as part of the design! Last date for guaranteed delivery for Christmas is 22 December – don’t miss out, you won’t regret it!
Gifts for ourselves – two witch hazel bushes, one yellow and one red. I remember a huge hedge of witch hazel plants with a most wonderful perfume in Edinburgh Botanical Gardens and have always wanted one since. We heard they were on the Lubera were selling them – Lubera has a most wonderful plant list.
Grown in Switzerland, all their plants are hardy, useful in Cumbria as we can’t cope with tender plants without a lot of care. Recently we now have a damson tree, two pointilla bushes – they provide a most unusual tasty fruit, six raspberry plants both gold and red, and strawberry plants. For more information go to their website – we will soon be writing more about their plants in a separate feature – We Love Lubera!
We always look for unusual decorations for this time of year and found a lovely tealight decoration on the Notcutts website. The Circle of Friends costs just £8.99 and looks wonderful on a windowsill.
Finally, something for us at Christmas when we’ve had enough food, games and alcohol, a jigsaw to push our brains in active mode! A jigsaw puzzle that will take a lot of time giving lots of fun: a copy of the Heye Jigsaw – 2,000 pieces, Napoleon’s Winter, designed by Jean-Jacques Loup. Here’s a link to browse through.
We already have copies of Loup’s Noah’s Ark – we loved it so much we did it twice, and the Spaghetti puzzle, both of which we had a great deal of fun and frustration but what a sense of achievement when we completed it with a touch of regret that we didn’t have it to work any more! We might just contemplate the 4,000 piece Crazy World Cup for next year, but then there is the House of Horror, and the Orchestra designs! Decisions, decisions! By the way we found a source of the Heye puzzles in East Yorkshire, http://www.jigsawpuzzlesdirect.co.uk 01287659036.
We are really looking forward to retreating into puzzle mode and forgetting the wintry weather outside. Can’t wait for Christmas Day now!
Right, that’s everything done … now for a swig of that damson gin we put away a month or more ago. It must be ready by now!
We wish you all a very Merry and Happy Christmas.
Val Reynolds and her team
Oh yes it is! The pantomime season is with us again!
In theatrical terms, nothing is more traditional in Britain than the pantomime. It owes a lot to Commedia dell’ Arte but you’ll not see anything remotely like it anywhere else in the world. The pantomime as we know it today has evolved over centuries starting with the mummers’ plays of the Middle Ages and is a traditional Christmas entertainment.
For adults, the beauty lies in knowing exactly what to expect: the pantomime dame, not really a drag queen but a man dressed in a frock; good and bad fairies; a principal boy played by a woman; an animal of sorts powered by actors in suffocating costume. Traditional participation, yelled at full throttle, such as ‘look behind you!’ or ‘oh no it isn’t!’ comes completely naturally, as does the enthusiasm to sing along (and frequently perform actions to) the inevitable song that has words displayed on the stage for all to follow. For children, it’s often the first experience of theatre and one that certainly doesn’t expect them to sit quietly and be seen but not heard. The delight of watching kids really enjoy themselves often rivals what’s happening on the stage.
Entertainment such as this is to be found the length and breadth of the land. But to experience the crème de la crème of the genre, all you need to do is to make your way to the Hackney Empire in central London. Built in 1901, originally as a music hall, it is the ideal venue, now restored to its former glory. And this year it welcomes back Clive Rowe, the pantomime dame to beat all pantomime dames, as Mother Goose. With a superb voice, cheeky demeanour and amazing empathy with an audience of all ages, he dazzles in one outrageous costume after another and is the lynchpin of all around him. Sharon D Clarke, whose powerful voice almost shakes the rafters of the old theatre appears as the good Princess Charity, and her evil sister Princess Vanity is played by Susie McKenna, who has devised pantomimes at this theatre for the many. A break with tradition has the young male lead played by the charming male Kat B and the stage is awash with characters from nursery rhymes and fairy tales.
The Hackney Empire, unlike so many venues, doesn’t play host to today’s pop and soap stars who perhaps draw audiences where they appear because of their celebrity. There’s enough talent amongst the Hackney community to sustain the show without big names. And that includes Princess Priscilla, the larger than life goose, who lays the golden eggs that tempt Mother Goose to a life of greed rather than good. Of course, in the end, good prevails, evil is defeated with those characters seeing fit to change their wicked ways, and everyone lives happily ever after with a wedding finale that allows almost all the large cast to don yet one more frock.
And as the six-piece band, who have performed all evening with such verve and enthusiasm that you might have been forgiven for thinking you were listening to a full size orchestra, play out the audience as they leave enchantment and meet up again with reality, the smile on everyone’s faces says it all. Popular theatre like this should never be mocked. It’s truly wonderful, and I can’t wait for next winter’s pantomime at the Hackney Empire!
Mother Goose is playing until 4 January 2015
Jeannette Nelson, Arts critic with special interest in theatre
Chuck out that Mop & Bucket … Steam is here to stay!
Hands up those of you who dislike having to mop floor/s? All that cleaning of the mop, or sponge mop is a pain isn’t it?
Well we think so and when we heard about the Vida Steam Mop we were instantly interested. To offload all that extra rinsing, squeezing and changing water had been but a dream!
With this steam mop all that is gone. All you have to do is add plain tap water to the reservoir, tie on a triangular micro fibre mop head, switch on and hey presto you can clean the floor with very little effort, get into the corners easily round chair legs and under tables.
Leave the floor to dry – much quicker than with the wet mop – put the mop head in the washing machine ready for the next time. It’s that easy!
The results on the floor? We have a stone floor, sealed, it holds dirt in the crevices which only a scrubbing brush would remove. The Vida mop coped very well indeed.
The micro fibre head was pretty dirty after our mop over – the floor has been wet mopped for the last 10 years. Washed later in a 60º programme (important to use liquid detergent) the head came out clean enough to see it could be used next time. Let it dry and hey, job done.
- Instructions very easy to follow – how important is that!
- Easy to use
- The water heated up quickly
- We did find the mop head difficult to tie on securely the first time we tried, and it did take a bit of effort to make it tight enough not to rub off. We would like a velcro or an elastic tie on. We would also have liked a second mop head as back up.
- Emptying the reservoir is a bit awkward.
- Another suggestion would be to have a clip to hold the plug to the lead when it’s stored away.
- The lavender coloured loop to help remove the mop head when it’s hot, mentioned in the instructions was not included.
Out of 10? 9, and if our suggestions are taken up, it would be 10!
So does the product checklist work for us?
- Hi powered chemical free cleaning – YES – this the biggest plus feature for us
- Extendable arm can be adjusted to suit your height – YES – excellent
- Ready to use in just 28 seconds -YES – it’s a breeze to assemble!
- We can’t verify 99% of household bacteria is killed, but with the water heated to 120ºC we can believe it
- Recommended – YES, highly, try taking it away and we’ll bite your hand off!
- At £44.99 we think it is well worth it. Available on line of course.
Helen Smith & Jean Jarvis
PS Correction! Keep the mop – we had a flood in the kitchen the other day and we needed to mop up the lake that appeared. So glad we hadn’t thrown the mop out!
Lightweight Gardening Tools
Making light of physical garden work
Our garden has long but not very wide borders. We decided to clear them of unwanted plants and make them deeper and add curves to add interest and decide on a more varied planting. One unwanted plant with very deep roots is Centaurea Montana and some of the beds need a second deeper dig to remove new growth.
The soil is easy to work and after I had a look at our garden tools I realised most of them are heavy, suited to my husband, not me. Also I managed to break the wooden handled spade I have used for years when digging up strawberry plants in a friend’s garden – her soil was quite compacted and harder to work than ours.
When I found it was as expensive to replace the handle as to buy a brand new fork, I had a look at the Fiskars Garden Light range on their website. My husband had recently bought the edging tool which I found light and easy to use and wanted to see what else was available.
Weighing only 1.4 kg each, I decided on the fork and spade. Each have lightweight, plastic coated aluminium shafts designed to reduce back strain and make garden work lighter. Just as attractive with regards to weight, the rake and patio broom just had to be added to the list!
I already had Fiskars secateurs and multi purpose scissors Cuts+More – a really useful item to have around the garden and indoors – see list of features below.
We did consider a garden shed to hold the tools and found some quite suitable ones on the web. In the end we decided another shed would be one too many and instead we utilised one end of the new woodstore. It gives easy access while protecting from the weather all our Fiskar tools. The pair of Fiskars scissors on the left hand side was bought about 1970 is still in use – simply love it!
I have to say I’m delighted with this tool storage, easy to access, shielded from the weather that cost virtually nothing. Now what more could be squeezed in! I’m thinking of a brand new hoe, maybe …
Val Reynolds, Editor
The Cuts+More is designed to cope with
Trimming, pruning, opening packages
A power notch to cut light rope
A wire cutter for cutting light wire without damaging the blades
A twine cutter to cut twine cleanly and quickly
A pointed awl tip for piercing holes in cardboard, plastic, matting
Titanium-coated, take-apart knife for cutting sheets of polythene, cardboard and sheeting – this is particularly useful
The cover includes an integrated ceramic sharpener and tape cutter
And a bottle opener for a well-earned drink in the shed at the end of the day!
Photography by Pintail Photo © PintailPhoto
Home grown Potato using Planter Bags
We have just harvested our potatoes from the planter bags we started in April. We left harvesting for a month once they were ready and decided to move them out when there was a risk of frost.
We had a reasonable crop – we love to eat our own grown veg and Desiree potatoes are popular with the family.
We did nothing other than use fresh compost from B&Q and kept them from drying out, so regular checking and watering was a must.
Our bags were 14 litre and gave us a lot of potatoes but nothing like the T&M crop – 80 tubers in one 8 litre bag!
Details of how it was achieved
The method, hit upon during technical trials at the Thompson & Morgan seed and plant specialist’s Ipswich HQ, opens up potato growing to everyone – even those without a garden. The small but durable bags will sit happily by the front door or on a deep window ledge.
More than 80 tubers were harvested from just one of these bags, nearly treble the number harvested from each tuber in the larger sacks. The results came from Thompson & Morgan’s new Potato Jazzy – an exclusive new generation first early bred for maximum yield and flavour, but the impressive results don’t stop there.
Amateur growers tested the method this summer, too, when T&M horticultural director, Paul Hansord, challenged his local gardening club to a grow-off: three tubers of Maris Peer and three 8 litre bags – biggest harvest wins. “As with our technical trials, the club results were hard to believe. If I hadn’t cut the top growth from the winning entry and emptied out the crop myself, I wouldn’t have believed it. It was like the tubers were trying to burst out of the bags.” said Paul.
Gwynneth Hogger took the winner’s cup for producing an astounding 17.5lb of quality potatoes – a trophy well deserved!
Getting the most from the 8 litre potato growing bags is easy:
• Mix Chempak® Potato fertiliser with your compost before planting
• Set one tuber per bag and do not compact the compost
• Fill the bag with compost in one go – no need to top up
• Water evenly and do not allow to dry out
• Try auto irrigation to prevent over or under watering
Beat your neighbours to the first potatoes of the season – Harvest 12wks after planting!
Try the 8 litre potato growing bags, beat Gwynneth’s 17.5lb harvest across three bags, and win £100 of T&M vouchers. Send a photo of you and your 2015 harvest to: email@example.com – winners will be notified in July next year. Good luck!
For the widest selection of tuber varieties and the 8 litre bags (20 for £9.99) visit www.thompson-morgan.com or call 0844 573 1818 for your free copy of the 2015 Kitchen Gardener’s Catalogue.
You can imagine at In Balance we are planning on doing the same and have put in our order right away for bags and Jazzy the potato variety and of course make sure we get the bag of the Chempak® potato fertiliser!
Val Reynolds, Editor