Wednesday, 30 July 2014

First Cut Comfrey


Comfrey is a new crop on my allotment for 2014, though I won't be eating any of it. Since I started to install raised beds on the plot last year, I now need to make lots more compost to keep them topped up. That's where the comfrey comes in as it acts as a great accelerator when added to the raw ingredients in a compost bin.

As you can see from the photo, my new comfrey bed is handily placed next to the compost bins in the middle of my plot. This is the variety Bocking14, the kind which isn't so much of a garden thug, unlike the comfrey I see growing right next to the River Avon in town, which is giving the invasive Himalayan balsam there a run for its money.

I'm growing it in a mini raised bed of its own made from some used car tyres I acquired ages ago. When I planted the comfrey out last year, I was a bit worried the couch grass nearby would invade the bed. The tyres plus an extra thick lining of cardboard and newspaper were my attempt to prevent this from happening whilst the plants were establishing themselves. It appears to have worked so far *crosses fingers*

I'm expecting the deep roots of the plants will soon break through the bed's lining to start bringing up the minerals and other nutrients from below. Once they start doing that - and the plants get a bit more established and bigger - I'll start making a comfrey feed for my plants as well as feeding my compost bin.

Home made comfrey feed is notoriously smelly. However, James in his famous compost chat at Yeo Valley Organic Garden showed me a different 'dry' method which doesn't pong. Emma Cooper also showed how to do this in her plan for Groundbreaking Food Gardens. Luckily for anyone reading this who wants to follow suit, she also blogged about it :)

Just like the salad leaves I'm growing, comfrey is a great 'cut and come again' addition to my plot.

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Portland Fling - Preliminary Snippets

The all important group photo - in the International Rose Test Garden.
I'm a bit hard to spot because I don't have the rest of my avatar with me ;)

3 days, 80 bloggers, 90 degree heat, 15 gardens, 3 nurseries and hundreds of photographs. How do I begin to summarise the Fling? Like Victoria I tended to my own garden first, which helped to sooth the jetlag fug in my brain and let the sights, sounds and scents of my trip settle down more comfortably.

Portland is known as "The City of Roses", so a large test garden is appropriate -
the scent hits you smack in the face before you've entered the garden!

"What can you learn by coming to the Fling?", was the question I was asked most often at Portland. The implication being that by coming from England - the cradle of all that is good about gardening - I should find all I need right here.

Old Germantown Gardens - the only example we saw of the English style, which was
primped to perfection. The ant-like bloggers in the photo, give you an idea of its scale

My response is "Loads!" -  there is so much which can be learned from an intensive immersion in a different country simply by going, observing and talking to like minded people and experts. It helps that the hard-working Portland Fling committee provided us with a smorgasbord of the very best the city has to offer.

With my public planting hat on, it was interesting to see how the lush
wrap-around planting at McMenamins Kennedy School helped to soften
the building and give it new life as a lodging, dining and meeting space

I won't be reviewing every garden and nursery visited, but instead I'll draw out the main lessons I've learned over the coming weeks using examples drawn from all of them. It will form my very own mini design course which I hope will be of interest to you too.

English garden visits may be fueled by tea and cake, but in Portland
freshly baked cookies, iced water or juice and local wines are just the job!
All our hosts were most generous with their time and hospitality, thank you.

Not everything deserves a post to itself, so today contains a few snippets by way of a warm up. Where I've linked to a garden (apart from the rose test garden), this will take you that garden's entry on the Garden Bloggers Fling blog, where the Portland committee have introduced each garden and nursery, then provided a Linky for all the Fling attendees to link to their thoughts and observations.

There's also a miscellaneous, "kitchen sink" section, for blog posts like this one :)

Friday, 25 July 2014

Salad Days: The Food Programme

Screen grab taken from the Food Programme page on the BBC website

Whilst I was away, Radio 4's Food Programme broadcast a very interesting programme on Salad Leaves. The appropriately named Dan Saladino revealed that:

  • The UK's demand for salad leaves is worth £600 million annually and demand is rising steadily for leaf production throughout the year
  • Many of the salad leaves we buy are imported from Spain, particularly during the winter months
  • Chlorine is still used extensively by some firms as part of the bagged salad process as spring water supplies aren't sufficient for what's needed
  • A new indoor growing facility in Essex is the size of 10 football pitches. This is set to grow to 20 football pitches to meet increasing UK demand and to compete against imported leaves
  • Soil cleansing is practised at the Essex facility to reduce pests and diseases (but also eliminates the beneficials) and fertilisers are added to the soil before each crop cycle
  • Rose bay willow herb is edible and is being considered for inclusion in salads - a great way to b(eat) your weeds ;)
  • There's a major salad producer right here in Wiltshire (as well as me!)

It's well worth a listen (NB link is to a MP3 download) - the programme should be available for at least another year.

The programme's website page is packed with interesting information, including some new varieties to try and tasty recipes. There's also a link to Dave Bez's blog Salad Pride - Dave has produced a different salad for his lunch every day for four years. His blog is worth a good, long look, especially if you're stuck for ideas for your next salad.

The programme confirms why I started The 52 Week Salad Challenge over two and a half years ago - it's far better (and cheaper) to grow our own! 

If you're looking to start, you don't need a lot of space - a couple of pots or a windowbox will do. It's a bit hot to start growing lettuces right now (germination is suppressed when daytime soil temperatures go above 75 degrees Fahrenheit*), but you can start by sowing some mizuna, various mustards, rocket, pak choi and kale instead.

* = however, if you have a cooler, shadier spot then it should be OK to go right ahead :)
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