Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Cauliflower rant.

Im back from holidays in Mexico - Its been a couple of weeks - Time for a post.

In about a month’s time, I'm hoping for a return on my investment of time and efforts with the over wintered cauliflower experiment. They are looking very healthy now but with these vegetables being particularly fussy and the odds stacked against you in many respects, you can only do what you can do and wait several months before you find out if you did it well or you ended up with a sweaty sponge of minuscule proportions.

Growing the humble Cauliflower it’s kind of like going to war as a Spartan. Death or Glory. Actually is nothing like that at all as Cauliflowers can't throw spears and don’t look menacing enough to be considered a warrior race. But in essence - You either fail miserably or glory in your marvellous achievements’.

Mine have been in the ground since August last year. I started them from seed in June. I have watched patiently, weeded regularly and protected the bed with a "ring of Steel" to fend off early sabotage attempts by feathered brassica jihadists.

Throughout the winter I watched over the caulis wondering "what’s the point of this over wintering ball hocks". They just sat there without much sign of growth, which then ground to a complete halt whilst being battered by cold harsh frosts, snow and no sun light.

One gave up the ghost and popped its clogs two days before Christmas. It was like loosing a family member. Its death cannot be explained. It looked in good health a week before hand, I found it keeled over looking rather slimy so I pulled it out and buried it in the bean trench so at least some good will come of it - for the beans at least. Not that I'm in the habit of burying family members in my bean trench so it wasn't really like a family member really at all, more like a pet goldfish or something I wouldn't think twice about lobbing in the bean trench if it died.

Then as the frosts rescinded, the surviving brood have had treats of blood and bone meal, well rotted manure and rain water from my butt (water). I have even given them a dose of diluted seaweed concentrate which is like a natural anabolic steroid for hungry plants.

Now the weather is warming and some serious growth has begun again, a new wave of lesser attacks have begun.

I have kept the white fly at bay with soapy water spray to clog up the little bastards breathing ducts. Snails and slugs found in the bed have been skewered onto a length of garden twine and their shrivelled remains hung up to ward off theirs friend and family.

Any outer yellowing leaves and the little suckers that sometimes grow at the base have been removed.

There doesn’t seem to be any advice in any of the publicised growing guides that I own so I have consulted Soilmans thread as he also loves the good fight that is the cultivation of Cauliflowers.

Hoeing this little bed is off limits, it's regularly hand weeded to ensure that all the available nutrients are available to my crop, and does not become a feast for the weeds which have gotten into full swing too now.

You can’t compare foreign imported shop bought mass produced long term vegegatbles that'll only cost you seventy pence from the non organic section of a billion pound a week supermarket. Home grown cauliflower is not easy, it can be a pain in the proverbials to avoid the pigeon attacks, adverse weather conditions, slugs and snails and if you don’t get their fussy little requirements’ just right, or forget to pick them on just the right day you still end up with a stinky - yellow - tennis ball sized - loose headed - crap end product.

Get it right on the other hand and you have bragging rights over your fellow farmers and gain respect from the old guard over the plots as you strap your gigantic beast like vegetables to the roof rack of your car and parade it around town playing bagpipe music from your cd player with all your windows down and a pair of ray bans on with one hand waving at the admiring onlookers.

Mine by contrast to Tesco’s perfectly formed jolly foreigners are 100% British and 100% organic.
There will be zero food miles in carting them home (Apart from the victory parade). Even if they taste like a cocktail of horse shit and seaweed and look like they have fallen out of the back end of a bison's bum they are going to get eaten.

So unlike the 65% of vegetables grown that never even reach your dinner plate there will have been a point to their existence.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

If at first you don't suck-seed.

A month ago I was wondering if the growing season would ever begin, now it seems to be getting ahead of me. Greenhouse is cooking on Gas now after the disaster a few weeks back.

First of the 64 sweet corns and 80 borlotti beans poked their heads up from the root trainers yesterday.

27 of the 32 Courgette seeds have germinated. These are from self saved seed from last season’s bumper courgette gluts. A few of them were left to get to monster proportions. The seed was saved for this years planting. They are really nice with a cold one toasted in the oven too with the smallest amount of oil and salt.

8 Market more Cuke's and 12 Dwarf beans have smashed through the soil in their recycled coffee cup pots

50 - OMG - 50 Pepper plants have germinated. It looks like a near on 100% germination rate. I'm going to have to find the time to prick these out and pot then into a root trainer before Sunday.

96 Blue Lake Climbing French beans planted last night.

80 Musselburgh Leeks have been pricked out into three large pots filled with quality compost which will be taken up the plot because space or lack of it is becoming a real issue

A friend has offered the use of his greenhouse in exchange for some of the extras. I tend over plant expecting only fifty percent germination rates but at this rate there’s going to be plenty of happy potholders’ come the seedling swap up the plot in early May.

Last year was my first and I was chuffed to bits that so many people kindly donated their extras to me. Along with paying silly money from garden centres for plug plants. It was the only way I was able to make the plot productive I hope to be able to reciprocate those gifts this year and help out some of the recent joiners who are frantically digging over their newly acquired starter plots.

Have you seen how expensive the veg is in the commercial garden centres this year? £1.99 buys you four spindly broad beans or six peas at home base - Incredible when for the same price, you could have bought a pint of broad bean seed from the Suffolk potato fair in February, that’s around a hundred and fifty seeds. The crop you get from four plants would probably cost you the same to buy the beans in a supermarket in the first place. They are taking the royal piss if you ask me.

I may ask the grounds man Bob if I can rent the road that was marked between me and my neighbour.

Like a lot of intentions on the plot, the road never got going, as the width was miscalculated. It’s too narrow to use without driving over my raised beds "Which has happened several times - grrrr". Not this year though, railway Steve gave me a length of steel track which is going to be buried into the corner that gets the worst of it.

Let’s see if they like driving into that instead. I will paint a bright colour so it’s clearly visible though.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Normandy Weekend

We travelled to Normandy, France last weekend to see my wife’s family. The house we stayed in is her uncles, and I love it. It’s a Norman Farm house with several Hectares of land. The house itself dates back four hundred years with huge French oak beams and just oozes old charm. It has a brick fireplace and a bread oven to its side which makes you feel so comfortable in the chilly evenings. Outside the kids were fascinated with Jean-Marc’s three horses, cows, Chickens and rabbits. I was equally impressed with his Cave filled with wine and Calvados.

The best thing about France in my opinion though is not their fantastic wine or cheese. It's their roads. If you love driving then you would appreciate the French motorways which are not crowded. People don't drive in the middle lane creating road rage and the fast lane is just a pleasure to open up and give your motor a good workout. You are allowed to drive at 80 mph which means 90 mph and they have huge signs telling you that there will be a speed camera before you approach it. The only problem is that you pay for the pleasure with regular tolls, I'm not sure, but I don’t think you pay road tax if you are a resident in France so it would equal itself out as you pay when you use the infrastructure. You may even save a few quid if you don’t use the motorways that often.

We went into town to a Carrefour supermarket on Saturday morning. I went to the gardening aisle and was a little disappointed with the selection of seed available. I had to get something though and opted for some Mange tout, Onions and triumph de Farcy French beans. One thing I did notice is that the packets contain double the quantity than you get for the same price in England. I didn't have the opportunity to go to a garden centre as we were committed to seeing the family.

We arrived home around five o’clock on Sunday, I popped over to the plot for a quick peek. It always amazes me that even in the space of three days you see a marked difference in your veg.

The Radishes are quite visible now and the foliage has grown enough to cover the small drills I made a few weeks back. All the little spring onions have grown to about four centimetres and the Nantes early carrots have pushed through nicely. Soilman was happy to see his carrots had germinated under a cloche. I didn't use one and they have still come through although they are not as big as his so I think they would have liked a bit more heat.

I was surprised too, to see that the first early potatoes in one of my larger raised beds have begun to poke through the soil. I thought I had planted them a bit deep and they would have taken another couple of weeks but the weather has been kind since mid March so that has probably helped them along the way.

The Cauliflowers I over wintered are doing well now. I don’t think it will be too long before they begin to form their heads.

I have figured out what I sowed in my mystery raised bed now. I drilled several rows in a moment of seed frenzy three weeks back and forgot to label them up. There’s a row of Lambs lettuce, four rows of spinach and a couple of rows of beetroot. All of it has germinated in some fashion and the first true leaves on the spinach are beginning to form.

Lastly I noticed that the broad beans have begun to set white flowers which hopefully means that my over wintered experiments have by in large been successful. A few fellow plot holders had grown various brassicas over winter and they have bolted as soon as the weather turned milder.

So off I went home to check out the progress on the greenhouse seedlings;

Kohlrabi - Developing second sets of true leaves - will be ready to plant out at the weekend hopefully.

Tomato's - Only five plants have survived after the disaster - Four of them are doing well, the seed wouldn't budge from the last one for weeks and it tiny.

French Beans - One has germinated - Only planted last week.

Salads - All have germinated - Will have to give some away as I over planted.

Leeks - Look Crap after being smashed up. Have sown some more.

Peppers - over thirty have germinated over the weekend.

Calabrese - again thirty have germinated over the weekend.

Cabbage spitfire - Looks great, these are developing their first true leaves, ones near the windows of the green house looked parched but they will recover. Took lid off now.

Bortolli Beans, sweet corn, cucumbers, courgettes - Nothing yet only planted last week.

Basil - Growing slowly.