Showing posts from 2012

Salad Days: A Winter's Airing

As a first time winter salad grower, I'm learning not only is good protection needed, a good airing of everything from time to time is also a wise move. I'd spotted a touch of mould on the compost under the coldframes, so I decided to give everything a good airing last Friday to prevent further problems. It was a lovely dry, mild day amongst all the rainy ones we've had recently and it perked my salad up no end.

As you can see, the potted lettuce 'Amaze' is coming along rather well under its cloche on the patio. A picking from a couple of these, plus some mustard, mizuna, fennel, chervil and pea shoots gave us a fine Christmas salad. Indoor sowings start in earnest in the New Year to supplement my under cover crops.

NB I'm continuing with the 52 Week Salad Challenge into next year. Whilst I've managed to grow and blog something 'salady' for every week in 2012, it wasn't until March that I managed to grow a complete serving of salad for NAH and …

Postcard from Christmas

Seasons Greetings to all Veg Plotting readers. Thank you for your kindness, comments and friendship during 2012. Warmest wishes to you and yours and here's to a cracking 2013!

Veg Plotting will return briefly for Salad Days next Friday (28th), then there'll be a further break until the New Year.

A Salad By Any Other Name

It's been great to have so many Salad Challenge and #saladchat participants from across the globe this year :)

Therefore, I've had this post on my 'To Do' list for a while as I've found sometimes we don't speak the same language. For example, I've been contributing to Niki's next book and quite often had to look up Canadian/USA names to make sure she understood which crops I was talking about.

So here's a handy guide to the naming of salad leaves. You may have something to add, so do pitch in with your comments below.

Common Name used in UKLatin NameAKA and NotesAlfalfaMedicago sativaLucerne, Purple medickAmaranthAmaranthus sp.Calaloo, Chinese spinachBeetrootBeta vulgaris
Carrot Dauca carota
Chard & Perpetual spinachBeta vulgaris var. ciclaChard: Swiss Chard, Silverbeet; Perpetual spinach: spinach beetChicoryCichorium indybusTypes include: Sugar loaf; Witloof or Belgian; Radicchio (red varieties)Chinese broccoliBrassica oleracea var. algoglabraChin…

Wordless Wednesday: What Am I?


Orchids Flower on the Streets of London

I love this! It's a shame I don't live in London because I'd be down there like a shot. If you've seen my photography blog Sign of the Times, you'll know already that I'm a huge fan of graffiti art :)

I don't think I've seen much of it featuring flowers, so perhaps it's not surprising this is part of an exhibition designed to raise awareness of orchids as well as bringing some seasonal cheer. If you head down to Great Eastern Street in Shoreditch on Friday (21st December 2012), they're giving away orchids too :)

The exhibition continues until December 23rd and there's also the chance to win a luxury trip to Amsterdam (where NAH and I honeymooned, so that's a big thumbs up from me) which includes a visit to a Dutch orchid grower. Sounds fab.

The artwork was created by the London based graffiti collective Graffiti Kings who were the official graffiti artists for the 2012 Olympics. The street orchid exhibition forms part of an on-going awa…

From a Goody Bag to The Guardian

It's funny how things turn out. If you'd said to me last year my first article for The Guardian would be about compost and tools I'd have laughed. I'd racked my brains for a couple of years and pitched all kinds of unusual ideas (to me anyway) to the editor, which were rejected, used for the blog instead, or kindly suggested as suitable for another publication.

A couple of these finally did get to the development stage last year, but then to my surprise the editor suggested I should revamp my Trendwatch 2012:Honey I... blog post instead. This was based on the catalogue I'd found in the 2011 GMG Awards goody bag and was very different to the kinds of ideas I'd been pitching, as well as having a rather strange source of inspiration. Note to self: I must get better at spotting these kinds of opportunities.

Having written the piece once, how do you write it afresh for a different audience? I'm a Guardian reader, but I wrote for 'me' in the original blo…

GBBD: Buds of Hope

This week's winter chills have served to lay much in my garden low over the past few days. However, this morning's milder weather and bright sunshine tempted me outside to see what's what. It's heartening to see many of the drooping plants (including the fennel I showed you yesterday) are bouncing back and turning their leaves towards the sun for whatever warmth they can glean from its wintry rays.

There aren't any blooms to show you, but at least there are plenty of buds of hope like the pictured Helleborus 'Winter Moonbeam'. Whilst its partner plant has nearly 20 fat buds on display, I've chosen this picture because I like the contrast of the fresh green leaf. We may be only a week away from winter's darkest night, but it's comforting to know that nature is planning to bounce back whenever it gets the chance.

Elsewhere in the garden, the cyclamen are also sporting fresh new buds and it looks like once again the snowdrops may be out before Chr…

Of Winter Frosts and Snizzle

We've had our first real breath of winter here in VP Gardens this week. A few days of air frost and cold surfaces have combined to outline everything in a magical dusting of hoar frost. Many plants can withstand the odd ground frost or three, but just like us a thorough air frost can chill plants right down to the bones.

Even a dustbin bag full of tinfoil* can look quite interesting when its varied folds have a hoar frost outline. But seeing it's Friday, what of the salad? I hear you ask...

The beets I showed you a couple of weeks ago are standing up well so far, even though I've left them without any protection. It'll be interesting to see if their leaves toughen up as part of the plant's self preservation.

My fennel's wilted leaves are showing a textbook example of physiological drought. I've rescued them and tucked them up in a coldframe now. I think the leaves will bounce back OK from their experience, but whether the small, iced up bulbs will also be…

Wordless Wednesday: December Daffodils


Postcard From Cornwall

We've just got back from a week's break in Cornwall. I love the deserted beaches you find when visiting out of season. This is the view from Tate St Ives last Tuesday just before the wind blew us indoors in search of something warming :)

Travellers' Salad: Out on the Streets

When I started the 52 Week Salad Challenge in January, I had no idea I'd find some salad in public bedding schemes this year. I took the above picture a couple of weeks ago whilst out shopping in Calne. The chard looked even more dramatic a few days earlier with the sun slanting through the red stems. Of course the leaves on display here would be a little tough for a salad, but at least the thought's there.

Bristol has also gone into edible bedding schemes in a big way this year. In the summer I saw lots of lettuces and mangetout peas on display in Castle Park. It seems they've continued this idea into winter. Luckily Nigel Dunnett was on hand to comment on and photograph the results recently:

Just seen this edible bedding scheme on College Green, Bristol - leeks, parsley, sage, kale, cabbage - Brilliant!…
— Nigel Dunnett (@NigelDunnett) November 16, 2012

It looks like the influence of Incredible Edible Todmorden on our public planting is spread…

Still Chuffed

Apologies to those of you who've seen this on Facebook or Twitter already, but I have a few things to say which need to be said within Veg Plotting itself.

Firstly, a huge thanks to all of you who've contributed to this blog in some way this year - as a guest poster, by leaving a comment or contributing to #saladchat or Salad Days. This award is because of you :)

Secondly, a number of you took the trouble to get in touch by email after the awards last year re the judging. Like you, I was extremely disappointed not to have been shortlisted. However, it gave me a chance to look again at the way in which I'd submitted Veg Plotting's nomination. Whilst what I'd said was OK, I hadn't really told the judges enough about why Veg Plotting was special (to me anyway!) and different to any other blog out there. I set out to change that this year.

With a change of event organiser for 2012, the opportunity's been taken to do things slightly differently this time and al…

GBMD: Birches

I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more, But dipped its top and set me down again. That would be good both going and coming back. One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
Extract from Birches by Robert Frost (1874-1963). The full poem can be read here.

Birch trees are one of the most commonly seen trees in the UK and it's no different here at VP Gardens. As well as the one on view from our bedroom window, our neighbours have 2 in their garden and we have another out the front. They add stature to our winter view both here and elsewhere on our estate.

In January it'll be the birch trees which will probably yield the most sightings for the RSPB Garden Birdwatch at the end of the month :)

The Wonderful World of Tweeted Salads

Tweeted salads have been a welcome surprise from issuing the 52 Week Salad Challenge this year. I've been favoriting them madly so I could bring you a selection of the most recent ones. Many of the tweets also have pictures showing off the final results, so Twitter has been a great source of ideas :)
lambs lettuce Pulsar from Rick Zwaan is superb at the moment, looks lovely with Red Frills mustard and peeled chicory hearts
— Charles Dowding (@charlesdowding) November 22, 2012
Raw kale salad with crispy Cajun tofu, avocado, chilli & sunflower seeds.
— Monica Shaw (@monicashaw) November 19, 2012
Today's salad: green lentils, sundried toms, sorrel, Egyptian walking onion, olive oil, white wine vinegar, parsley, salad burnet #saladchat
— Jane Perrone (@janeperrone) November 16, 2012
Pomegranate & persimmon salad with barley, chickpeas, avocado, basil & mint.#vegan#lunch would make an eq
— Monica Shaw (@monic…

Wordless Wednesday: Brilliant For...


Book Review: Three For Perennials

My 'step sitting' to consider what to replace the sentinel conifers with, includes looking at a number of books for inspiration. A nice offer from Timber Press to make a selection from their catalogue means I now have three extra volumes on the subject of perennials. It's these I'm reviewing here today :)

I visited Bressingham Gardens - and bumped into Adrian Bloom :) - whilst on holiday in Norfolk a few years ago. I have a number of Bressigham introductions (Crocosmia 'Lucifer' and Heuchera 'Bressingham Hybrids' to name but two) in my garden. The garden itself is home to two of our most well-known plant design innovations from the past 50 years - island beds and the currently deeply unfashionable conifers (often combined with heathers).

When I was at Bressingham it was clear grasses were being interwoven much more strongly into the mix to provide longer seasons of interest in the garden. Also large drifts of these plus lots of free standing perennial…

Salad Days: Eat to the Beet

I've been surprised how well my beetroot 'Bull's Blood' has kept on growing throughout November despite its lack of protection. We've sampled a few leaves already and as you can see there are a few more ready for picking.

It's got me wondering whether a windowsill crop can be grown over the winter, just like I successfully managed with pea shoots at the start of the year. I did grow some beet for microgreens back then too, but baby leaves would be much better and more substantial. In theory the lack of light over the next few months should make that a 'no', but they're already growing better than expected this month...

...Alys Fowler did an online Q and A session for The Guardian last week , so I posed my question there (scroll down and you'll see I'm there as 'Veep'). Her response was:

You could start them off indoors, harden off and plant out but don't expect to eat anything before March at the earliest. If you hanker after a p…

Wordless Wednesday: Yellow


Ash Dieback Resources

Further to my post lamenting the potential loss of the ash trees at the side of my garden, here's a recap of  the useful links I've found, so we can all do our bit to provide identification of potential outbreaks ASAP.
Ash tag apps to help with dieback identification and location. Their website says it's better to look out for lesions as this time of the year. NB DEFRA's recent action plan recommendations includes 'citizen science' as an important factor in helping to identify outbreaks and to trace Chalara's spread across the UKForestry Commission information re ChalaraPictorial identification guide (pdf for download)Identification video And here's some hope for the future - a recent study in Sweden suggests some trees have resistance to infection.

A Christmas Gift Selection

Windowsill chilli growing kit
A pocket money gift idea
Suitable for medium-hot spicy food lovers or those with little GYO space
Contains everything needed - just add water
The container and lid form the growing pot and drip tray, though you might want to add a nicer pot for a more stylish gift
A new idea from Hen and Hammock
Made in Shropshire from oak
Ideal for gardeners who do a lot of potting on, or marking out rows for sowing e.g salad leaves
The back of  the dribber can be used for tamping down compost

Plant families card game
A fun game derived from Happy Families
Also teaches the binomial naming system devised by Linnaeus
A total of 36 plants from 9 different plant families are illustrated
The beautiful drawings are also suitable for framing
I found these when visiting Chelsea Physic Garden last year and couldn't resist!

Bosch Keo cordless multisaw
Ideal gift for the gadget minded gardener
Uses a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery
Comes with a saw blade suitable for cutt…

Seasonal Recipe: Raspberry Vinegar

I picked the last of this year's 'Autumn Bliss' raspberries at the weekend and instead of scoffing them as usual, I decided to try making some raspberry vinegar. I eventually plumped for Nigel Slater's recipe via The Guardian. His version uses much less sugar than the others I found and is strained, so it has no pips :)

I substituted cider vinegar for the recipe's white wine vinegar and I steeped the raspberries for 5 days instead of the minimum two. The recipe also calls for a stainless steel saucepan for the cooking stage because the acid from the vinegar will react with aluminium ones. I don't have one, but I found the ceramic pan from my slow cooker was a good substitute.

I only had 250g of raspberries instead of the 450g given in the recipe, so I've adjusted the rest of the ingredients accordingly.


250g  raspberries (good ones - I found I had to sort through mine to pick out the best)250 ml white wine vinegar (cider vinegar for me - NB the v…

GBBD: Seasonal Cyclamen

I'm really enjoying these warm, pinky red Cyclamen outside the back door this month. I have a couple of pots of them at eye level, so I can't miss them when I step outside into the garden and they're about the only flower on top form. Whilst there's still quite a bit of colour elsewhere, most of it's in terminal decline. I don't mind really as all is at it should be and whilst I have the Cyclamen to greet me, all is well.

I tried to photograph some of the Cyclamen hederifolium which are naturalising themselves under the birch tree in the front garden. I planted 3 a few years ago and they're slowly spreading themselves outwards. However, sugar pink flowers and gloomy undergrowth does not make for good photography and despite lying on my tummy on damp leaves to take their picture, the resultant photo revealed some overexposed pinprick blobs :(

When they've stopped flowering, I'll push their seed heads down into the damp earth to help them spread furt…

Wordless Wednesday: OOTS at Bradford on Avon Station


Getting to Grips With Biochar

I've been trialling various biochar products since the spring, courtesy of Carbon Gold and now it's time to make some sense of the results.

The trials I set up were:
Seed germination rates with rocket seed - biochar seed compost vs John Innes seed compost. Plants were raised  indoors and each tray given the same amount of water (via a spray mister)Seed germination rates and salad leaf productivity using the seed mats I showed you in March (plus an update picture here) - biochar vs New Horizon peat free compost. Plants were raised outdoors and no supplementary watering was required owing to the weather!Salad leaf productivity in my new growing area - biochar vs New Horizon peat free compost and no supplementary watering was neededTomatoes grown in pots - biochar vs New Horizon peat free compostAllotment cucumber and courgette growing - biochar vs home-made compost in allotment soil and no supplementary watering needed Owing to the poor summer the tomato trial had to be abandone…

Review: Let There Be Light

What do the cold, dark nights need now we're heading towards the shortest day? Somewhere warm to curl up, a good book and hot chocolate are high on my list, as well as the reassuring flicker of candlelight.

But what if - like us - you have curious pets (or children) hell bent on exploring everything happening in their world? We've had a couple of near misses with toppling candles and flying fur, which means we've put ours away for the foreseeable future :(

So I recently opted to try out a set of remote control candles courtesy of ParamountZone via Fuel My Blog.

My first surprise was they're actually made of wax, hollowed out and with a small light about the size of a small candle flame in the bottom. They come with a small remote control to switch them on/off plus options to swap between steady and flickering flames; a dimmer switch (2 settings - dim and dimmer); plus a 4 or 8 hour timer.

My second surprise was the candles don't come with the batteries they requir…

Salads: My Constant Reference Library

During the 52 Week Salad Challenge I've built up a small reference library which I've found very useful for both my salad growing and writing my salad related posts. Some I had already and others I've been pleased to buy in order to plug gaps. Here's a brief summary to whet your appetite:
A Taste of the Unexpected - Marc Diacono - good sections on microgreens and daylilies Food for Free - Richard Mabey - a foraging classic which has stood the test of time Homegrown Revolution - James Wong - has lots of ideas for unusual salad ingredients and how to grow them. Suttons have a seed and plant range tie-inSalad Leaves for All Seasons - Charles Dowding - the book mentioned spontaneously as a good ‘un by most salad challengers . See also my interview with him. The Edible Balcony - Alex Mitchell - not just for balconies (or salad), but any small space. With plenty of ideas, information and DIY projects The Organic Salad Garden - Joy Larkcom - an absolute classic. A comprehens…

OOTS: Plastic and Trees

A couple of months ago NAH and I spent a pleasant Sunday afternoon in Gloucester. We like the colourful canal barges plus the industrial heritage and old buildings found along the wharves. I've already featured the planted walkways by the moored barges as part of my occasional Unusual Front Gardens strand.

We strolled into the nearby indoor shopping centre. How nice, I thought, they're using real trees for their public planting inside. That's not a flowering variety I've seen before.

So I went a little closer to have a good look...and what did I find?

Plastic flowers had been attached to the main branches of the trees. And the 'trees' themselves were really just lumps of wood placed in the planters.

Here you can see how it's been done. Trunks and larger branches have been placed in the planters with smaller branches of plastic flowers bolted onto them :(

It's a shame because only a few hundred yards away there's a commemorative plaque to celebrate…

Pondering the Blog

My blogaversary always finds me pondering the blog. As a result I've been tweaking away under the 'bonnet' - fixing broken links, tidying up the sidebars and correcting out of date content in the Pages.

I have quite a long list of that kind of thing left to do, which will get worked on gradually over the winter months. As you can see from the above picture I'm also pondering some larger, more obvious changes too. It's a while (2-3 years) since I had a major think about the blog's template and because I'm pondering some major changes, for once that merits trying things out on my test blog first.

That in itself was a salutary lesson because I exported Veg Plotting as of October 10th and then imported it into the test blog. Not everything arrived, so my To Do list now includes fixing my blog backup process. If you have a blog, you might like to have a go too and see how you get on. Having almost lost the Meet @ Malvern blog on one memorable occasion, I know ho…

Book Review: Two for Practicality

Whilst we can look up practically everything on the internet these days, sometimes you just can't beat a good book to find out what's needed. Today, I'm going to review two books I've received this year which come firmly under the practical heading.

First up is Jim Gardiner's Encyclopedia of Flowering Shrubs. If you're looking to add some shrubbery to your garden, or to simply decipher what you've inherited there, this is the book for you. There's over 1,500 shrubs described and clearly pictured, so it's one of the most comprehensive guides available. It's arranged in alphabetical latin name order with each shrub having a short description, a good photograph of it in flower, plus a guide to eventual height, ideal growing conditions and cultural notes. There's an indication if the shrub has been awarded the RHS AGM plus the USA's hardiness zone.

The short Table of Selected Shrubs by Key Design and Cultural Characteristics towards the end …

A Very Special Blogaversary

Veg Plotting reached the grand age of 5 yesterday. I usually mark the day itself, but instead I left the 52 Week Salad Challenge to trundle along in its usual Friday slot and went out to party.

For almost a year now I've been looking after Smiths News' Dispatches blog, which is all about the company's charity fundraising events. Yesterday also marked my 200th post for them and it has been an absolute pleasure to write and bask in their glow of raising over £100,000 for good causes.

They'd also decided November 2nd is a day of celebration by holding their 2012 Community Week Awards and I got invited along. It was great to meet so many people whose stories I'd blogged about. They were already familiar faces and were most welcoming once I'd explained I was the mysterious smithsnews from Dispatches.

Smiths News also supported Michael Jamieson this year in his quest to become an Olympian. He's the son of one of the members of staff, so it was a natural step for …

Seasonal Recipe: Last of the Summer Soup

I had quite a pile of salad leaves after the final clearance of the summer salads beds, so after I'd washed them and put the best ones in a bag in the fridge*, I still had quite a few lesser quality leaves left over. I also discovered a cucumber which had hidden itself in the coldframe and needed eating up quickly.

With Saturday's colder weather, the answer came in the form of soup. This is a very flexible recipe, adjust according to whatever you've cleared from your plot which needs eating up now.

Ingredients - serves 4-6
150g (approx) mixed, washed lettuce leaves or a large head of lettuce, washed and pulled apart300g cucumber, cubed4 leeks - the top green cylindrical part, about 4 inches in length for each one (I used the lower white part for our Sunday dinner veg)1 litre vegetable or chicken stock - whichever is preferred or available½ teaspoon lovage seed (or about 10 leaves if you're growing some)Salt and ground black pepper to tasteTo garnish (optional but recomm…