29 July 2008

Please don't take a picture

It's been a bad day for the poor tomatoes and peppers. The soil is still waterlogged after Saturday's ridiculous quantity of rain and these plants are suffering from a serious deficiency of oxygen to their roots. I noticed one plant looking a bit droopy yesterday, but today they all look like they're going to die. Not even the tomato hornworms would fancy them now.

I've pulled the water-conserving mulch (which seemed like such a good idea back in June) away from the stems to try and get more air to the roots and to assist in the drying-out process, but apart from that I don't think there's much I can do. The forecast for the rest of the rest of the week is for hot sunny days, so the soil might have a chance of drying out. Has anyone had tomato plants recover from this kind of situation, or should I start looking up green tomato recipes now?

27 July 2008

Destructive, determined and disgusting

This is the larval form of the Five Spotted Hawkmoth (Manduca quinquemaculata), known as the Tomato Hornworm due to its habit of eating tomato leaves and fruit.
Tomato hornmworm
They're quite hard to spot as their camouflage is so excellent. Once spotted they are equally hard to remove. They have a quite revolting texture - if you can imagine trying to pick up a wriggly green jelly baby which is clinging grimly on to the tomato plant you might come close to the way it feels to try and pick off one of these caterpillars. They grow pretty big, too - here's the caterpillar with my hand for comparison. This one is pretty much fully grown. There were two feasting on the tomato plants this morning.

Tomato hornworm and hand
Sorry about those pictures. Here's a completely unrelated one of the cattails (Typha latifolia) up at the pond to take the taste away.

Cattails at the pond

Nor any drop to drink.

Here are the figures for rainfall over the last twelve months from our weather station. This July has been unusual in its wetness, particularly compared to June. Yesterday we recorded two inches (50mm) of rain: more than we had in the whole of the previous month. There were two huge thunderstorms and the power was out for four hours. As we need electricity to pump it, we had no water inside the house, despite every cistern and tank being full (something that would have seemed incredible this time last year).

The vegetable garden looked like it did back in early May:

And the poor little pak choi seedlings I transplanted on Friday were completely submerged:

But the frogs seemed to be enjoying the weather; they were all over the place.

25 July 2008

Gardener's tan

Does anyone else have the distinctive gardener's tan that I'm sporting this summer? I'm pretty good at putting sunscreen on my limbs and my face (Setting a Good Example for the Children), but never think to put it on my lower back, which is under clothing. However, as I'm bending over the vegetable garden to weed it, my tops usually ride up a bit, leaving my lower back exposed to the full force of the sun. I've not noticed it burn at all, but the gradual build-up of this exposure over the summer has left me with a very brown stripe over just that part of my back (I will spare you a photograph of the same - this is not THAT sort of blog). So I think I need to start wearing men's t-shirts (or maybe a kaftan*) - or begin a campaign for women's tops to be of a sensible, gardener-friendly length.

Vegetables harvested while looking like Margot Leadbetter*Mike did accuse me of looking like Margot Leadbetter today (I was wafting around harvesting the vegetables in a smart dress for once), so maybe that's the style I should cultivate.

24 July 2008

Red and green should never be seen

Well I think that's only true if you're sailing at night and there's a danger of being rammed by a ship that's coming straight at you. In the garden it's a good colour combination.

Ladybird on bean leaf

The first (and only) fruit from the 'Meteor' sour cherry tree that we planted in the spring. Tart, but tasty.

'Meteor' cherry

This is scarlet kale: looking more green than scarlet right now, but due to get redder as it gets colder.

Scarlet kale

The pathetic little Ping Tung eggplants that I featured back in June have bucked up a bit and are looking quite statuesque now, though no sign of any flowers yet.

Young eggplant/aubergine

The Hungarian hot wax chillies haven't turned red yet, but I love the way they're standing to attention.

Hungarian hot wax chillies

Runner bean flowers:
Runner bean flowers

22 July 2008

Blue Lettuce

Blue Lettuce flowerThe delicate looks of this flower are misleading, as it can thrive in inhospitable spots: the first one I noticed was growing in a crack in a city street. My extensive internet research this afternoon has suggested the name Blue Lettuce (Lactuca tatarica). There's a subspecies called Lactuca tatarica pulchella (which sounds even more like an exotic dancer than the first one), but I'm not sure what the differences between the two are.

It was only when I came to upload the photo that I realised how beautiful the disc florets in the centre of the flower head are: like mini ionic columns.

Disk florets on Blue Lettuce flower

20 July 2008

Raindrops on ...

... well I don't have any roses yet (and that would be far too clichéed), so will have to celebrate the rain we've had today with some other plants.

French marigold:Raindrops on French marigold

Asparagus ferns:Raindrops on asparagus ferns

Broccoli leaf:Raindrops on cabbage leaf

Corn silks (this is a bi-coloured variety - I didn't realise that the silks would be bi-coloured too!):
Raindrops on corn tassels

I thought the broccoli leaf was my favourite, but the corn silks look so completely wanton (especially after having read the posts by the Matron and Amy earlier today), that I think I've changed my mind.

18 July 2008

This week's mistakes

I discovered on Wednesday that the Riesentraube tomatoes I'd been thinking were a bush-type plant, were not, and that I should have been taking out the side shoots all this time. So I spent a good hour this afternoon thinning them back to their main stems - discovering a chilli plant and an eggplant that had been taken over by them in the meantime. The tomato plants look a lot better now - they were getting terribly congested before and I was worried that they'd be susceptible to blight.

The two Parisian Pickling plants still seemed to be only sporting immature cucumbers. Then I noticed that they had somehow produced fruit underneath the layer of mulch. So instead of the mini gherkins/cornichons I was expecting I had three monster cucumbers (the zucchini (Striata d'Italia) on the left are five inches long):

I'll be watching them much more closely from now on. Anyone got a good recipe for using up overgrown gherkins?

17 July 2008

Meteorological meanings

Weather forecast for Friday 18 July 2008I'm confused about the long-term weather forecast from the Weather Network. I understand that we might be seeing storms on Friday and on Saturday. But what struck me as odd was the distinction between a thunderstorm and a thunder-shower (and the necessity for a hyphen in one but not the other). It seems that the former is used for a more severe storm, although the US National Weather Service explains (slightly disdainfully, I think) that technically there is no difference and that:

In fact, in order to avoid confusion, we in the National Weather Service do not use the term "thundershower". If a shower is strong enough to produce lightning, even just one single bolt, it's called a thunderstorm.

The difference between a risk and a chance of seeing one or the other is more puzzling. You might think that a 60% probability of precipitation (P.O.P.) compared to 40% might explain the difference in terminology, but apparently not, as today's forecast talks about chance at both percentages:

Forecast for Thursday 17 July 2008
So I think it must come down to a difference in perceived levels of danger - thunderstorms being something inherently risky, while thundershowers are less so? Maybe I'm spending far too much time worrying about this...

Red wiggly livestock

Warning: this entry features tales of mass-murder by neglect and ravenous rodents and scenes of decomposition.

Posts by fellow bloggers Gayla and Rach have inspired me to get around to re-stocking the wormery that I bought in England four or five years ago. This gadget has had a rather chequered history. My first batch of worms tried their hardest to escape and had to be collected regularly from the floor of the garage and returned to their new home. They must have had forebodings of the dreadful calamity that befell them a few months later, when the tap on the base of the wormery got blocked and the worms, which had all fallen through to the lower section, drowned in their own nutritious 'worm tea'.

I kept the wormery outside for the second batch and it worked better - I covered the bottom of the lowest layer with some carpet to stop the worms falling through into the base and covered the tap to stop it from getting blocked again. All went well and the worms did their thing, producing lovely vermicompost and worm tea for the garden. So, with my vermicultural credentials established, I ordered more worms to go into my garden compost bin. That worked well too, until one day I noticed that all the worms had gone. Then I started to find rat-droppings near the compost bin and realised that we had a new resident. I'll never forget the piercing squeal that the rat gave when we evicted it (Mike thought it was me screaming at the sight of the rat. I still haven't quite forgiven him for thinking that.). Chicken wire underneath the compost bin stopped the rat coming back.

I couldn't bring the surviving worms with me when we moved to Canada, as customs officials are a bit fussy about soil crossing international boundaries. I had to thoroughly disinfect the wormery (and all my garden tools) so that there was no trace of English earth on anything. I stank of Jeyes Fluid for a week after that! Since we got to Canada the wormery has been sitting empty in the garage, so it was about time that I did something about it.

The Can-O-Worms wormery comes with three layers for the worms to live in. You start off using just two: in the bottom layer goes bedding material for the worms. This time I've put a lining of fly-screen netting over the bottom of this layer to stop the worms falling into the base, which is where the moisture collects. On top of the netting is partially-composted kitchen waste from the rotating composter that's out in the garden (which we've finally got the hang of - it needs a lot more water than a regular compost bin).

Partially-rotted compost in wormery

Then the half-pound of worms went in with the shredded paper and soil that they had arrived in. I only ordered them two days before: I still think it's a bit strange that you can send live worms through the post.

Worms in wormery
The next layer went on top, ready to be filled with green kitchen waste. As the worms finish up the food in the lower layer, they'll move up to feast on the gently rotting waste in this layer. As that gets filled, you can add the final layer and eventually use the compost in the bottom layer, which the worms will have left and which will be fully decomposed and wonderful for the garden.
Top layer on wormery

15 July 2008

Mullein mêlée

The flower stalks of the mulleins are starting to produce their yellow blooms. They are proving popular with the wildlife - two blue orchard mason bees were sharing this one with a dragonfly this morning.

Dragonfly and blue orchard mason bees on a mullein flower

13 July 2008

Greenhouse = divorce?

If you don't hear from me for a while, it may be because I'm consulting divorce lawyers. We have started work on building the greenhouse (in this context I use 'we' in the opposite sense to the Royal We: to mean mostly 'he'). It is a BIG greenhouse and I think will take a month or two for us to put together. Here are some of its constituent parts, looking rather like the aftermath of a dinosaur dig:

The instructions seem to assume that you've spent your entire life putting up structures like this, so it will be nothing short of a miracle if we can get this thing up and still be talking to each other by the end of it.

10 July 2008

Rhubarb explosion

The tyre garden for asparagus and rhubarb was a bit of an experiment born out of necessity. It seems to be working OK, though. Here was one of the brand-new rhubarb plants back on May 4th:

Rhubarb shoots

And here is how it looks at the moment:

Rhubarb thriving

I know you're not supposed to pick rhubarb in its first year, but, by gum, it's tempting!

07 July 2008

Giant toilet roll invasion

Water tanks on the drive
Three more big water tanks arrived today and had to be rolled up to the barn. Here are the children demonstrating the required dung-beetle technique:

Kids pushing water tank
And here is their father showing how not to do it:

06 July 2008

Potato pride

First ever potato harvestI wasn't at all sure whether we should be digging up the potato plants yet, but really wanted some potatoes for lunch. A couple of the Yukon Gold potatoes were suffering from early blight, so we targetted those and were pleased to find a fair few small potatoes. These were leftover supermarket potatoes, rather than seed potatoes - perhaps that's why they got blight? We also pulled up one of the Kennebec plants and got a better haul from that - in all we got 1lb 12oz (0.8 kg) of potatoes. So that's eight weeks from planting the chitted potatoes to our first harvest. Not bad, particularly since June was so dry.

05 July 2008

Florence fennel feast

For this black swallowtail caterpillar that is. It was munching on a frond of fennel when I first saw it, but by the time I returned with the camera it had moved down and appeared to be taking an afternoon nap in the shade of the stem. There were two caterpillars on this plant, but at this size the creature is nearly ready to pupate, so shouldn't cause too much more damage.

Yes, I'm guilty of dual standards - happily picking off the green cabbage white caterpillars and leaving these. I console myself with the thought that cabbage whites are non-native butterflies (they arrived in Quebec in 1860, according to my Garden Bugs of Ontario book), while swallowtails are. And I'm not the only one who feels this way - I see that Daphne has the same discriminatory tendencies!

03 July 2008

Digging up London

Everyone else had come to London to take pictures of palaces and beefeaters, while I was there taking photos of vegetables. I did feel just a little bit eccentric...

I walked from Victoria Station up to the British Library yesterday, fighting past the tourists milling around Buckingham Palace. Cities don't really agree with me, so I took a short detour into St James's Park, where I found the 'Dig for Victory' allotment garden. I had no idea it was there (I must have a homing instinct for vegetables or something). It is a collaboration between the The Royal Parks and the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms and was set up last year.
There are two allotments at the site, one from the 1940s and the other a modern allotment. The latter has some sweetcorn and a raised herb bed, but otherwise they look pretty similar. I had a chat with one of the Royal Parks employees: she told me that the school parties that come round are really enthusiastic about the idea of growing their own food, so that's an encouraging sign for the future. I did point out that the complete lack of weeds was perhaps not entirely truly representative of a modern allotment and she admitted to having a whole army of volunteers and Royal Parkies who keep things strictly perfect.
It was great to see veg growing in the middle of the city like this. There's a plan afoot to put 6,000 acres of London into food production for the 2012 Olympics. Wouldn't it be great if that came off?