Sow what

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It’s that time of year when I start PANICKING because there is so much to do, so many things to grow, and a limited amount of windowsill space (no greenhouse) to put everything on.

So today I went through my seeds and tried very hard to scale down the amount of things I’m going to grow (yeah, right) and sort them into the order they need sowing. I have to be organised or I just end up drinking and crying.

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Digger Jr labelling up the seed packet bundles.

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Digger Jr Jr making a list of what’s in the propagator.

Anyway, my children are old enough to help this year, which is good because they chose a couple of packets of seeds each last time we were at the garden centre- bribery is essential when shopping with children.

Digger Jr went for delphiniums (Pacific Giant mixed) and sweet peas (Promise and Heritage mixed). I’ve never grown delphiniums from seed but the instructions were the type that make you read it several times and then just go ‘fuck it’ and chuck some in a seed tray to see what happens. So that’s what we did. The sweet peas have gone in the propagator for now but will need moving somewhere cooler once they’ve started sprouting. I’ve grown them from seed before so I know what to do; replace them with plug plants later on in the season. Nah, just kidding. I just need to put a bit more effort into them this year.

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‘Can I grow these, mummy?’ I dunno, maybe? Let’s see what happens.

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This is what they are meant to look like. Last year they looked a lot more crap.

Digger Jr Jr went for sunflowers, which are well easy to grow but irresistible to slugs so make sure you surround them with eggshells and coffee grounds and land mines. You can sow them direct but I prefer to let them get a bit bigger before I leave them to the mercies of the slimy monsters, so they’ve gone in pots and will go outside when they’re a few inches tall.

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The seeds are good for the birds. Screw you, birds, I’m having them on my salad.

And I got cracking with my tomatoes. This year I’ve gone for San Marzano and Sweet Millions. I’m hoping the San Marzanos will make me enough sauce to last until the end of the year and the Sweet Millions will go in salads and with summery pasta. Yum.

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Mouth. Watering. Already.

 

Mother’s Day

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The sky is 50 Shades of Grey anyway.

Despite media stereotypes of mums, for Mother’s Day I really didn’t want that CD of Westlife’s greatest hits played on the panpipes, or a day at a spa (unless it is this spa), or anything to do with 50 Shades of Grey (total wrongness that anyone should buy this for their mother). When asked what I really wanted for Mother’s Day, I replied that more than anything I wanted to get the fruit cage at the allotment started. So despite the crappy weather, off we went.

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Mr The Digger strong like bull.

While Mr The Digger cracked on with the fruit cage and insisted he didn’t need any help, I decided to try digging over one of the not-very-raised beds. Having experienced the hell that is heavy clay soil in our back garden, I was not really looking forward to the digging part. I expected it would take an hour to dig over but I managed to do the whole bed in about 15 minutes. Yay!

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I had been dreading this moment a bit. (Children shown for scale. They are pretty small)

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Weed-infested waste ground begone!

I put in the onion sets that I had bought, forgetting that I’d already got some onion seeds. Mind you, the onions I grew from seed last year were crap so maybe I’ll have better luck with these.

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Actual stuff planted at my actual allotment.

Meanwhile, Mr The Digger had made good progress with the fruit cage. Our design spec was ‘must keep birds off the fruit and hopefully stay up for about 4 years’. Apart from that we weren’t really bothered. It might not be Pinterest-worthy but it’ll do the job.

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There’s nothing like family teamwork. And this is nothing like family teamwork. They weren’t even shouting encouragement.

Digger Jr did a picture of a fox to scare away birds but we are planning to get the mesh up very soon.

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Birds are terrified of this.

 

 

 


  

 

 

Chit happens

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Chitting crikey, that’s a lot of potatoes.

Yeah yeah, I know you guys all did yours weeks ago, but last week I was throwing up and the week before that I was at Disneyland. So we only just got around to it today.

Having had a pretty good crop last year, I went for Rocket again for my first earlies. I was told not to bother with maincrops at our slug-ridden allotments, but as it’s my first year I thought I’d give it a punt. If it all goes wrong and I can blame my newbie status. I’m planning to grow at least the mains in a potato tower so maybe that will put off the slugs a bit. I went for King Edwards- foolproof, right?

The Littlest Digger proved very helpful in putting the seed potatoes in the tins, and Digger Jr wrote some labels. Get them involved so that they don’t moan about being dragged up to the allotment umpteen times a week!

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The Littlest Digger sorting her way through the King Edwards.

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Digger Jr writing the labels so we don’t get them all mixed up.

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Nice work, Digger Jr.

Retail therapy part 2

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A box of roses for Christmas.

Part one saw me impulse buy (under the evil influence of my mother and some large ‘SALE’ signs) some plants that I hadn’t really planned on getting. Shopping trip number two was more planned; I wanted some roses. I came into a little bit of inheritance after my beloved Grannie died in the Spring. She was a keen gardener and I thought what better way to remember her than to have a bit of a splurge. I had been looking online for  roses so I went to the Wyevale (are they taking over the world?) near my mum’s house that stocks Harkness roses. And they had a sale so I got some other stuff too. And my daughters wanted to choose a rose each. So the trolley was filled pretty fast and my money was well spent.

I’ve decided to redesign one of my borders that was full of veg this summer and is now empty. I’m going for a pale pink, dark purple, and lime green colour palette with roses as the headliner. So I chose these pale pink roses with a strong perfume, and the rest of the border will be stuff like Salvia, Aquilegias and Alchemilla mollis so quite cottagey and very pretty (I hope!).

The girls are being given their own little patch of garden next year and I have very bravely told them they can choose whatever they like. So they’ve started by choosing a rose each and I have to say, they have quite good taste. Digger Jr chose a lovely gold/apricot rose and Digger Jr Jr opted for this peach/apricot blend rose. I await the choosing of stripy petunias to complement their roses in the spring. I want to encourage a love of gardening, not just because I want them to stop moaning when I make them go to nurseries, but also because I think it’s a useful skill to have. But I do worry what exactly a 4 and 6 year old will choose to grow. More is more when you’re that age.

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The Ligularia doesn’t look like much at the moment, I guess that’s why it was only £2. It isn’t dead, honest.

Anyway, I also got the Echinops bannaticus Blue Globe to go in my blue/orange/yellow borders in the front garden, and the Ligularia will go in my new bog garden. So there is room for everything, especially now that I have the lottie and won’t have to cram my back garden full of veg.

Crazy caterpillar lady

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Olaf the Hawk Moth caterpillar

Bad news and good news; sadly, Little Brownie did have a parasite and fell off his little caterpillar perch. RIP Little Brownie. But we were very excited to discover that Speedy the Ermine Moth caterpillar has made a weird, creepy-looking cocoon and we eagerly anticipate her emergence as a fully-grown moth, or possibly a Dr Who monster that will kill us in our sleep.

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The world’s creepiest-looking cocoon

We also made a new addition to our caterpillar family today in the form of Olaf (yes, my children are Frozen fans), who we know is some kind of Hawk Moth but we’re not sure which. We chose a few different leaves to offer him and he turned his nose up at everything except privet so maybe he’s a Privet Hawk Moth. I don’t know, I’m not an entomologist and they all look pretty much the same to me. He’s not very big yet so maybe he’ll look a bit different on his next instar.

You might be wondering why a gardener is hoarding caterpillars. I’ve been wondering the same thing myself. I think it’s partly because my children love creepy crawlies, as do I. But from a gardening point of view, caterpillars are not all bad (apart from cabbage whites, which are pure evil in caterpillar form); butterflies are great pollinators and really brighten the garden. So it’s definitely worth learning to ID a few of the more common caterpillars and finding out what they eat, then you can give a space to them without ruining your hard work.

I’ve turned my unwitting children into caterpillar mass murderers

 

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Little Brownie

My daughters are 3 and 5 years old, so they love nothing more than poking about in the undergrowth looking for creepy crawlies. One of the best things about having children is that you have an excuse to join in with this sort of thing. This week we’ve found loads of caterpillars, and not just the usual ‘get the $&@% off my brassicas’ sort.

Find number one was a little brown fella that was on one of my onions. He is a Bright-Line Brown-Eye moth caterpillar (Lacanobia oleracea. I think it must have been say-what-you-see day when his common name was dished out). I’ve been told that the dark spot at the back might be a parasite so we’ll see if Little Brownie makes it to adulthood or explodes in a scene reminiscent of the movie Alien.

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Speedy

Find number two was spotted by me while I was cutting off some chard leaves to make pesto. She is fairly massive and freaky-looking so of course we captured her to gawk at her fuzzy face. At least we know what she eats and going by the size of her, she surely must be close to pupating (is that a word? It is now). I think she might be a Buff Ermine Moth (Spilosoma lutea) caterpillar, being the inevitable result of this:

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Two moths getting busy

Another great thing about having children is that you can get them to do most jobs around the garden as long as you make it into a game (works best on under 7s). So the girls spent a good 15 minutes playing ‘who can put the most caterpillars in the garden waste bin’.

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Sneaky ninja masters of disguise caterpillars

OK, OK, it’s not nice. But it’s organic. The girls did a great job of clearing the Large (Pieris brassicae) and Small White (Pieris rapae) caterpillars off my Christmas dinner and into the bin, which is known to them as the ‘snail party bin’. Yes, I lie to my children that the snails are going to a big party to make them collect them up and put them in the bin. It’s not that bad. I’m pretty sure they don’t actually believe it.

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Easier to spot but good at hiding, and much hungrier

Anyone who’s ever grown brassicas will know how destructive cabbage white caterpillars can be. If you don’t have any small children and there are none nearby that you can borrow (check with their parents first), then there are other ways to deal with caterpillars organically.

You can manually remove eggs and caterpillars from plants. This is only practical if you have just a few plants though.

You can net plants to prevent butterflies from landing on them. This is pretty effective and doesn’t cost loads.

You can plant nasturtiums as a sacrificial crop. You can either plant it next to your brassicas and then remove leaves with caterpillars or eggs on, or you can plant it somewhere else and let the caterpillars live their lives in peace, far away from your beloved caulis.

I do have a caterpillar patch in my garden, I don’t mind a few garden ‘pests’. Could be worse.

If any of my IDs are wrong, please let me know. I’m not an entomologist. I had to look that up just to make sure I was spelling it right.