The ridiculous but practical hat

In my last post I said I’d never expected to use the Factor 50 again this year, and I was surprised once again today by the need to bring out what I’d call my ‘ridiculous but practical Cuba hat’:


Humble author may look foolish but is protected from the sun

It’s been an absolutely roasting weekend, so I made a deal with myself whereby I’d get as much done as possible before late afternoon, to justify an evening in my pyjamas, eating sorbet. Life goals.

Headed along to the Roots and Shoots garden in the morning to buy extra onions (space having been created on the allotment by the fact that something ate half my cauliflowers) and saw some nice flowers on the way:


An idea for Allotment 2018 maybe. On to the current allotment, and as always it’s a bit of a mixed bag, or not so much bag as ‘weedy field’. Artichokes and strawberry patch are both doing really well:

It’ll be the last year of the strawberry patch being there, as it’s about time I moved it to improve the yield. On the advice of Wise Allotment Friend Chris, I’ve started growing strawberries from the runners in a container, ready for the next patch (I haven’t worked out where it’ll be because allotment planning is an activity for the winter when there’s nothing else to do).

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I’m not really sure what’s going on with the asparagus – I mean, it seems to still be alive, which is a good start, but I’m still not optimistic because it’s the wrong soil type, see ‘the constant failure of my carrots’ for more details). Meanwhile the rocket patch has really taken off (hahahaha I might have mild heatstroke), and is home to the odd bit of stray borage that I’m leaving because borage is basically my favourite thing to grow and I forgot to plant any extra this year.


Also on the advice of Wise Allotment Friend Chris, I pruned the fruit trees recently and am HOPING that I’ve done it properly because I’d somehow feel more guilty for being responsible for the death of a tree than I would for accidentally pulling up a pea seedling. So far so good though – might have the first cherries this year.

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I’m also fairly optimistic about the tummelberries, which might also produce fruit for the first time this year. Not sure if I’ve actually eaten a tummelberry before but I have an extremely geekish fascination with hybrid berries, what do you mean, all my interests are extremely niche. I’ve also happy enough with the sprouts and cauliflowers that HAVEN’T been eaten (their survival being down to polytunnels) and of course, the peas haven’t let me down once over the three years of this allotment being mine.


Not pictured: the author, in a small and muddy heap

So as always it’s been busy, with the feeling that I’m kind of keeping on top of it but ‘only just’. I’m planning a couple of other slightly mad but not totally mad allotment projects, on which more later.

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And finally, I know I’d said before I was trying to cut down on the amount of plants on the terrace because, y’know, I need to have hobbies other than growing plants in order to be a well-rounded and adjusted individual, but I’ve got a few things on the terrace I’m happy with at the moment (and it gets so warm that it’d almost be a pity to not use it). I’ve got tomatoes, some happy grow-bag strawberries, various types of mint (I thought the ginger mint had had it, but it’s come back to life. Obviously I’m keeping the different types quite far apart so I don’t end up with mint that doesn’t just taste of mint). And the rescue aubergine, I couldn’t just leave it in Wilkos. I guess if I’m going to have psychological quirks, they might as well centre around having a need to rescue sad-looking plants.


Back to the garden

While I was in Switzerland, I got an email from the council, asking me to take over the allotment the next day. The worst possible time to email me in the last couple of months! Obviously I couldn’t take it over then, due to being in a different country. We’re hoping to arrange a date next week. Getting an allotment is becoming a bit of an ongoing saga.

But nevermind, I also put my balcony garden back together. I was a bit vague about what programme was being filmed, but since it’s finished now, I can reveal that it was ITV’s Vera. They wanted working class 1940s grime, and naturally, my house was the first place they looked. The production team didn’t move ALL the plants – there were a few still on the balcony, so it’s possible that my butterbush squash will taste fame. Ideally, this will encourage it to produce something edible.

IMG_20140830_174714I haven’t bought any new plants in well over a week, which I think shows either a) admirable restraint or b) the fact that at this particular point in the growing season, there’s simply not much available to buy. I have bought seeds, though.


They were from, and I’d originally only planned on getting peas (on which, more later), but they were so reasonably priced that I thought I’d also get some snapdragons, sweet peas and poppies that look a bit like the Danish flag. The instructions on the packets are in Lithuanian, Latvian, Russian and Estonian, but I think I can work out when to plan everything (plus, as a ‘linguist’, I only see this as a bonus).

The peas were bought for the purposes of fulfilling my Great Pea Scheme, which basically involves growing some peas as soon as I can. I’ve picked a variety (Douce Provence) that can be planted in October, for harvest by May. My reasoning is that if sweet peas grew really well in the troughs, then so should these peas:


(also pictured: my jumper plant, purchased from one Sarah Lund of Copenhagen, I believe)

I’m thinking of supporting the pea plants, once they’re grown, on my washing line. This will mean I won’t have a functional washing line, but who needs dry clothes anyway?

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My raspberry, blackberry and loganberry plants all seem to be doing well, which is what I’d hope for at this time of year. My tomatoes, however, are worrying me. They look very tall and impressive (and in the case of the upside down planter pictured on the right, they serve as evidence that a slightly obsessive woman lives within), but the tomatoes, with a couple of exceptions, remain very much green. I’ve done some research and I don’t think there’s any way of forcing them to ripen. I’ll just have to wait and see.

My strawberries in the hanging planters are all still thriving, but the ones I have in a kind of tower block are doing quite the opposite, and several of the plants have died. I’ve tried planting mustard in the uppermost block, because I’ve read that this will draw aphids away from the strawberry plants, if indeed aphids are the problem here. I’m planning to plant some strawberry seeds in October anyway, to replace the ones I lost.

I’ve also been having fun with zombie spring onions.


I’d read online that they just grow back if you put them in water, and was very sceptical of this, but no, it’s true – these have been growing extremely rapidly, and I’m having far more success with them that I ever did growing spring onions outside. I’m not sure what they’ll taste like, though.


My friend Gustav the bee

People keep saying really nice things about my garden, which I’m always flattered by. I sometimes hear people discussing it as they walk past, and they’re often saying admiring things. I don’t really design it to look beautiful at all – it’s more that I collect plants that I like (and sometimes plants that I’m ambivalent towards but are very cheap) and try and find space for them on the balcony. I’ve even had people (usually approx 50 years older than me) call across the street to me to say nice things about my hard work. I could never have really anticipated the ‘social’ aspect of gardening. My gran’s promised to show me her greenhouse, which runs on a hydroponic system, next time I visit. I made arakas for dinner today – pea stew with carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, onion and dill – and the dream is one day, to have entirely home-grown arakas. It’s good to aim high.

The Portable Garden

I’m in for a bit of a busy week. I’m going abroad, briefly, and then on home to the Midlands for a bit. It’s a lot to pack in to a couple of days. Before that, however, I’ve got to move quite a bit of my garden, for exciting reasons. A TV programme’s being filmed right outside my house, and the channel’s location manager has asked me if I’d be willing to have my plants moved just for a couple of days, because the look they are going for is gritty and grimy, not flowery and pretty. The production team will be moving a lot of the plants themselves, but there’s quite a few bits and bobs that I’d prefer to do – the cucumbers, melon and honeysuckle were all attached to the railings, for example, so I’d rather be the one to untangle them.

It’s resulted in my house looking a bit like a jungle.

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And outside feels a bit bare.


I don’t mind doing it though – in fairness, they offered to do everything themselves, but I thought it was a good time to have a bit of a clearout. I got rid entirely of the bolted radishes and the sweet peas. I felt a bit sad about the latter, even though part of them remains:


I saved some seeds too. But it’s good to have the space, especially as I have an ambitious project in mind for over the winter, which will require the troughs and the support that the washing line could provide (I admittedly lose out on space to hang my clothes out to dry, but I’m thinking that realistically, in winter in Northumberland, there aren’t going to be many suitable days anyway).

Anyway, I hope I’ve moved enough and I don’t get panicked calls from the production people while I’m at work. I have paranoid visions of them shouting at me for having too many plants. There are a lot, but hopefully they’re all relatively portable now, so it’ll just be a case of people carefully moving them off my balcony. I went and complicated things by buying a really tall, really beautiful plant from the Alnwick garden shop:


It’s a Black Knight larkspur, and nearly as tall as me. I’m worried the stalk will snap in the wind, but it seems pretty sturdy.

Finally, I harvested a few more cucumbers before I moved the cucumber plants indoors (an extremely delicate operation, which I hope they’ll survive). One of them’s curly, look!

I think curly cucumbers should be more widely accepted in society, to be fair. They’re twice as quick to cut.

Evening on the balcony garden

I’m currently scoffing the rest of my growbag potatoes. I didn’t do anything too fancy with them this time round, I just roasted them and am eating them with a Yorkshire pud and some veg. Still delicious though. It was worth investing in all that soil and spending all that time fretting that the potatoes would never grow.

I went to take a look at the allotment on Sunday and was a bit sad, because they hadn’t done as much with it as I’d expected in the two weeks I was away. The nettles had been trimmed but other than that, not much else had happened, and I was thinking I’d have to turn it down if it was offered to me like that, because I’m only one small person, and I can only dedicate a couple of hours an evening to an allotment during the week, oh woe, etc. But then I rationalised slightly and thought that in fact, they’re probably just running behind schedule, especially as they’ve not been in touch to actually offer it to me yet. I’ll take another look this weekend and try not to obsess too much. It’d be silly to turn it down at this point anyway, and even if it does turn out to be in a state, I can get assistance.

So, more rational, I’ve been spending some evenings on t’balcony. The sweet peas are smelling lovely:


They’re completely insane, though, bless them. When they were growing, I constructed some kind of random weak trellis out of sticks and bits for them, and then they were all like ‘Yes! We’ll grow on that, no problem!’ And they don’t ever seem to stop growing. Or have any roots. There’s no order to them. I like them.

The tomatoes in my vertical planter are doing pretty well:


The planter itself is something similar to this, actually designed for peppers, but works well enough for tomatoes. I’ve suspended it from the balcony railings using an old belt, which is also useful for easily repositioning the planter/taking it down to add more plants, etc. The only drawback is that it’s a right pain trying to get new plants through those holes in the planter without breaking the stalks, especially for younger plants. Maybe it’s just that I’m clumsy, but I’m lucky that tomato plants are pretty resilient. I sometimes hang the planter the other side of the railings so the plants get a bit more sun throughout the day, but I became paranoid that it’d fall down while I was on holiday, and the plants wouldn’t enjoy that.

My aubergine population is becoming, quite frankly, a bit threatening, and I might have to look into giving a few more of them away to long-suffering colleagues. At least they’d be young plants rather than seedlings (the aubergine plants, I mean, not my colleagues), so I feel more confident in not accidentally confusing them with other plants, and less bad if I give away something that later dies. I need to examine the link between gardening and guilt in greater detail.