Staging our own sunflower Olympics

I’ve managed to get my little boy, who’s now three, into gardening. He’s got his own little gloves. He’s got his own watering can and tools. He’s even got his own raised bed. And this bed has hosted one of his favourite gardening activities so far: a sunflower-growing competition. We were following in a long…

Harvesting and drying garlic

Remember the rust-affected garlic in my parents’ veg plot? Well, the rust got worst and we decided that the plants weren’t likely to grow much more. So the other week I harvested it all. Despite the rust, there were some pretty good bulbs there, although one or two had been affected by white rot. Where the…

Planting out leeks

Last week I planted out my parents’ leeks into their veg patch. They sow their leeks in a seed tray then plant them out individually later, when there’s space. There were loads more leek seedlings than they’d need, so I just chose the healthiest, strongest looking ones – about 80 in total. Then I marked…

Homemade blackcurrant ice cream

We’ve been blessed with a bumper blackcurrant crop this year, so today my wife and my little boy made blackcurrant ice cream – following a recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Cookbook. First they cooked up the fruit with a little sugar and lemon juice to make a blackcurrant coulis. Then they dissolved sugar in water…

What are your favourite garden sounds?

This year I made a resolution to try and spend more time enjoying the garden, rather than always trying to get some of the many jobs done. I don’t do it as often as I’d like but one such restful moment got me thinking about the sounds that typify the garden and the time I…

Second cropping to get more from the veg garden

As I harvest crops like early potatoes and garlic, my mind is turning to what can go into the space next – while there’s still time for it to grow this season. Alongside intercropping, second cropping is a great way to make sure you get as much as possible from whatever space you have. Doing…

Letting the front lawn go wild

In the busy summer months I like to concentrate on fruit and veg growing. I find jobs like mowing the lawn a bit of a pain. So this year I’ve really enjoyed letting the front lawn go wild. One end in particular worked really well, with some oxeye daisies I sowed a few years back…

Thinning apples to get bigger fruits

Sometimes, less is more. Thinning (removing some of the) young fruit from trees helps ensure you get big, healthy, evenly ripe fruit. Yes, you get fewer fruits but they should be better. And it helps preserve the tree’s resources too. Apples, pears, plums, peaches and nectarines all benefit from thinning. For apples, it’s best to…

When to harvest potatoes

I dug up the first of my first early potatoes (Red Duke of York) this week and I’m pretty pleased with the harvest. This is from one plant: I’ve certainly had worse, although I’ve also had better. First early potatoes are usually ready some time in June or July, second earlies in July or August, and…

Why I won’t be spraying the plum moths

Remember the plum moth trap I hung up? Well, when I checked inside it for the first time, it was already too late. It was clear that scores of moths had come, their eggs had hatched and the caterpillars were already burrowing into the fruit.   This meant that it was too late to spray the…

Why I’m ignoring raspberry rust

Earlier in the week I was fretting about leek rust on garlic plants. Today I’m ignoring raspberry rust. Why? Well, the little orange spots that appeared on the raspberries during the recent hot weather are pustules caused by the fungus Phragmidium rubi-idaei. The pustules certainly look worrying. And later in the summer the lower leaves of the plants can…

What to do about leek rust on garlic

The warm wet weather has brought telltale orange spots to the garlic plants in my parents’ veg patch. These can mean only one thing: rust. Leek rust, a disease caused by the the fungus Puccinia porri, affects garlic and chives too. And it loves the warm wet weather we’ve had recently. There’s nothing much you can do about…

Making liquid comfrey feed

I’ve had some comfrey plants (the non-invasive Bocking 14 variety) for a while and I resolved that this year I’d make my own liquid comfrey feed. This is ideal for veg like the tomatoes and peppers I’ve got in the greenhouse because it’s rich in potassium (for fruit production) and also contains potash and nitrogen, plus vitamin B12. There are…

Seven ways to stop slugs and snails from munching fruit and veg

This year, as ever it seems, slugs and snails have been helping themselves at my salad bar. Among other things, they’ve tucked into courgettes. They’ve munched lettuces. And they’ve devastated coriander. Can anything stop them? Here’s my top seven ways of tackling the slug and snail threat: Sow in modules in the greenhouse. I do this with as…

Where are the ugly bits of your garden?

As much as I’d love my garden to be all beautiful and productive, there are always some bits that simply aren’t. In fact, there are some bits that are downright ugly. Here’s one – the area to the right of the driveway: The strange soil cliff has been left after I removed the ugly wall from in…

Extending the strawberry season

Today I picked the first strawberry of the season, or rather my little helper did. Until now I’ve just grown the early variety ‘Honeoye’ (because I love its taste) outside in raised beds – except for a little experiment with a couple of greenhouse strawberry plants last year. This means that all our strawberries come…

Vertical veg: perennial layers make small spaces more productive

The idea of growing in layers is at the heart of permaculture systems such as forest gardening. I enjoy growing traditional, sun-loving annual veg that wouldn’t get on too well beneath the canopy of a forest garden, but I think the approach does provide some inspiration for more traditional gardeners like me. I know that…

Growing carrots in containers to thwart carrot fly

If carrot fly get at your carrots, their larvae can munch through your crop. So how do you stop them? Erecting a 2ft tall barrier of horticultural fleece is often quoted as a solution (female carrot flies stick close to the ground). But I tend to go for two options: Grow carrots in my parents’ veg patch,…

Hanging a plum moth trap

Every summer I have terrible problems with my plums. No, this isn’t some kind of Carry On film double entendre, I’m referring to my annual battle with the plum moth. Plum moth caterpillars burrow into the ripening fruit (they also like damsons and gages) in June and July. And, as the RHS advice on plum moths…

Cheap containers for growing fruit and veg

I like to plant as much as possible in the soil because I find it easier than watering lots of containers. But sometimes, pots are better. Unless you’ve got acidic soil, blueberries will need pots. And I prefer using containers in the greenhouse because I can move them around and it’s easier to manage pests and diseases….

How to look after your knees in the garden

If you spend a lot of time kneeling to work in the garden (or kneeling to do any other sort of job) then it’s important to look after your knees. Housemaid’s knee, or prepatellar bursitis to give it its proper name, is more common in people who kneel a lot. That’s why trades like plumbers or…