Planting out the veg plot

It has taken me seven years to figure out how to grow flowers in Scotland.  I think that if the little old lady who we bought our flat from could see our garden now, she might not break down in tears.  Two years ago she certainly would have wept to see its decline, but now that I have figured out what is flower and what is weed, it is certainly on the up!

I tried to plant some cabbages and cauliflower in the garden about four years ago, but within weeks of planting out lovely little baby plants, worms and slugs destroyed any semblance of green.   Needless to say, this southern California girl that was used to sowing any sort of seed straight into the garden and watching it thrive with lots of watering, was depressed, downhearted and determined to NEVER plant veg again.

But, my recent Great Energy Race (GERace) efforts have made me more determined to finally master growing vegetables and fruit in the garden.  I have had a great bounty from my red currants, so this year as part of the GERace, I planted four different berries – tayberry, raspberry, blueberry and cranberry.  I’m pretty confident that we’ll have a lovely berry bounty this Summer and Autumn, but I also wanted to conquer my fear of growing vegetables!  So…

After definitely pulling a muscle in my back last weekend, turning the compost heap, adding the best compost bits to the newly cleared veg plot and turning the whole thing over thoroughly, I am started again in a big way to see if I can start to learn how to grow vegetables in the UK.  Lord only knows, it’s not as easy as in California.  But at least I never need to water anything here!


So, my windowsill propagator has been putting in lots of overtime and I have tried my very best not to spend too much on new seeds.  But for about £10, I’ve gotten myself quite a nice selection of standards like carrots, radishes and parsnips, and also some less common fruits like tomatillos, cucamelons and physalis (Inca berry or Cape Gooseberry).  And of course lots of herbs for the kitchen windowsill too.  I am really looking forward to harvesting and eating my efforts, but I am also not getting my hopes up too much.  I’ve already planted out a litte cucamelon seedling after weeks of frost free weather, only to see this week’s forcast for a late frost…  Oh well, hopefully my reused pasta sauce jar cloche will protect it.


I was totally inspired this week after watching Gardener’s World, so I have sowed a row of radishes with parsnips, in-between carrot seeds sowed a week apart.  We’ll see what happens.  I need to plant a bit more though, but I think that my two pumpkin seedlings and the other fruit will take up a fair bit of the plot, so I should conserve space for them.  I will try my best to wait until the end of May to put these little guys outside to avoid a late frost disaster.



Happy Earth Day!

Despite the rain that has come down steadily all day today, I have had a glorious Earth Day!   There are lots of cucamelon, herb, pumpkin and tomato seedlings in the propagator ready to pot on, and tomatillo, poblano chilli pepper and epazote plants in pots ready to go outside.  This rainy spell is a good opportunity for me to put them in our cold stairwell for a few days to harden off a wee bit before planting in the garden.  I had been prepared to be mean and put them straight into the soil from my flat windowsill!  But I will just sow a few more seeds this rainy week to make up for not getting into the garden.

The weather was glorious over the Easter holiday, so I took full advantage of it and my sore back is feeling the brunt of my efforts.  But I now have a fully aerated, turned and relocated compost heap, with lots of lovely fresh compost worked into a fluffed-up bed ready for to plant out my seedlings.  Here’s what my tomatillos looked like a month ago, and now they are starting to develop flower buds.  They’ll need cross pollination to bloom, so it’s quite important that I get them outside soon for the bees to do their thing.

Early April tomatillo seedling

Same tomatillo seedlings just 2 weeks later after a repotting

Same tomatillo seedlings just 2 weeks later after a repotting

Non-toxic aphid control

Two aphids hiding out in my rose bud

Two aphids hiding out in my rose bud

*UPDATE 30 April 2014* Well, I had read that oil can enhance sun damage on leaves, so to only apply at night.  I thought living in cloudy Scotland would preclude me from taking these precautions.  The good news is that the aphids were dead overnight.  The bad news is the oil solution damaged my rose, and heavily applied leaves fell off!  It’s not dead though, so the new growth is pretty aphid-free and with daily finger smashing, I’m keeping the bugs at bay.  So take the recipe and application recipe below with a grain of salt and spot check first before covering a beloved plant!***

After a month of Great Energy Racing, I finally have some more time to work in my garden.  But before I can get stuck into more planting, there are a few pests that need to be dealt with.  Today’s chore was treating my climbing rose that has been taken over by aphids and ants.  My children love to tell me that the mean and naughty ants are farming the aphids, and that the aphids are sucking the juices out of our lovely rose!  I think they have been reminding me for the past month or so as we have watched the aphids multiply ten fold whilst I have been busy with other draught-proofing and boiler tasks.

Two weeks ago, I did my annual ladybird larvae treatment to both the front containers and back garden, so hopefully somewhere there are ladybird pupae in the garden, ready to come out and continue eating my garden pests.  But the front containers are beyond the ladybird stage, and I’m quite sure that those evil ants have done away with my expensive larvae anyhow.

Ants be gone
So today the gloves came off.  I brought down a boiling kettle to flush out the ant nest.  As I type this, I am suddenly flushed with a bit of guilt… but not too much!  Since I couldn’t be bothered to move my pots away from the stair wall and see where the ants are coming from, I’m not at all sure that I even poured it in the best spots…  I also had some leftover polenta, so put a few piles of that out for the ants to take back to their nest.  I am really hoping that these little measures will make an impact.

Aphids be goneNext I turned to the aphids currently curling my rose and beloved flaming parrot tulip leaves.  I hate getting green aphid goo on my fingers, so I took some kitchen towels to wipe clean the tulip leaves and rose leaves as best I could.  The jagged edges of the rose leaves and stems don’t make it easy though, but it certainly cleared several thousand of the wee pests.  My 2-year old then had a field day spraying our plants all over with a solution of one part vegetable oil, two parts water, and a healthy squirt of dish soap.  It seemed a bit cruel to use a kiddie butterfly spray bottle to do this, but that’s the spray bottle we had to hand, so that’s what we used!  I’ll need to go down and reapply tomorrow evening and finger’s crossed it will do the trick so my rose bush can grow well and finally bloom this year!

My 2-year old ate three oranges this morning, so perhaps I’ll cut up the rind and sprinkle that around the base of the most impacted plants to repel the ants a bit further.  Or perhaps I’ll just make candied orange peels instead!  Hmmm, the joys of deciding what to do while waiting around the flat all day for the Worcester-Bosch repair guy to come and fix my BRAND NEW boiler!!  At least it’s under warranty for the next 8 years!

Crossing the Great Energy Race Finish Line #GERace

It’s been an eye-opening four weeks in the Observer’s Ethical Awards Great Energy Race.  Thank you B&Q for sponsoring this important new award category!

It has been so amazing to see how our household can reduce our energy demands.  Our energy use was never particularly high, as our household is already pretty environmentally savoy.  But we did manage to steadily reduce our electricity demands steadily over the race from 50 kilowatt hours per week to 38 kilowatt hours per week (and this last week saw workmen installing a new boiler, so extra lights and power tools were plugged in!).  Still, that’s just over a 25% reduction in our electricity usage!  Yippee!!!

The average UK household uses 63 kilowatt hours per week, so I’ve gotta say that I’m rather proud of both our starting and finishing points.  FYI, the average American household uses a whopping 208 kilowatt hours per week!  Yuck!!!

I wonder how much of this energy conciousness has been and will be retained by my children, aged seven and two.  While I enjoy saving money as much as the next person, the main reason for the last month’s endeavours is my children.  I love them more than I ever knew was possible, and I want them to be able to say that the Great Barrier Reef is alive and thriving and not lost to ocean acidification.  I want them to live in a peaceful world, and not one ravaged by wars as mass migrations due to sea level rise and limited resources inflame international tensions.  I want my children to say that they were handed a planet that was in better shape than the one their parents inherited.   I want my grandchildren to think upon my generation and say “thank you” for tightening  belts and loosening thinking caps to solve Earth’s current energy crisis.  I hope that my children will retain my values for conservation.  They will need these values in years to come!

This is why I would very very much like to see the Great Energy Race prize donated to a school.  I’ve already seen that my own energy use is pretty small compared to most, so a renewable energy measure would have a much larger impact to the planet if installed on a larger consumer of energy, like a primary school with hundreds of children.  Also, renewable energy needs to be thought of as the standard and not some unattainable luxury that only wealthy conservationists can afford.  So, if you have read through to this and fancy voting to see the £10k prize given to school children, then please take a minute to vote for me here.  (scroll down to the bottom on the right hand side)

And perhaps this will inspire a few of my fellow competitors to likewise consider donating the prize to a larger consumer of energy in their communities too if they win!!

Lots of lessons have been learned in the duration of this race, and since I’m all about top tips, I’ve made one final Top Tips list for this #GERace blog entry.  Here are my top ten tips to reduce energy consumption for free.  Actually all of these tips will save you money, so it’s like you’re making money!

Robin’s Top 10 Tips – Free!

  1. Turn down your thermostat in winter (and up in Summer for you folks in glorious warm climates).  Putting on more clothes in the winter and less in the summer is a natural thing, so just learn to live the climate that you live in.
  2. Turn off the lights.  Make a habit of going around the house and turning off lights that are left on in rooms.  Eventually even kids can learn to turn off the lights when they leave a room.
  3. Seek and destroy hidden suckers of electricity – standby and chargers!  Go around and see what you have plugged into those dusty power strips under beds and behind desks.  If you don’t use things like computers, chargers, microwaves and TV’s regularly, then just unplug them when not in use.
  4. Open up your curtains in the morning, and close them at night.  Curtains add quite a bit of insulation, so if you close them when it’s dark and you’ll limit heat loss and peeping Toms.  Open them when it’s light, and you won’t need light bulbs and natural solar heat will warm the room.
  5. Wash your clothes in colder water.  If you don’t think it’ll clean your clothes well, then give it a trail for a month and see.  If you reduce the temperature to 30C you will save quite a bit of energy and your clothes shouldn’t suffer.  Actually the hot water will make them fade faster and you’re more likely to ruin wool items that find themselves in the wash on accident.
  6. Don’t tumble dry clothes.  If you do own a tumble dyer (booo hisss) then try to use it less and less.  If I can dry all of my clothes without a dryer, while living in cold and rainy Scotland, then everyone can do it!  Plus laundry dried outside on a line is just nicer!
  7. Only boil as much water as you need.  If you want a cup of coffee, then there’s no need to boil a whole pot-full of water.  If you want hot beverages all day long, you can consider using a thermos-type flask to keep your drinks hot.  Good ones will keep contents hot for the whole day.
  8. Reduce or end your food waste.  You may be able to save lots of money here, if you make a list of what you need before you go shopping, regularly move fridge contents from the backs of shelves to the front and freeze leftovers for another day.  Also, if you grow your own produce, you’ll be a whole lot less likely to waste it!  Plant a seed today!
  9. Think before you buy things that plug-in.  The best way to reduce electricity use is to not buy things that need it in the first place.  Marketers try to sell us all kinds of stuff that we don’t actually need – like warming lotion dispensers, digital image photo frames, electric milk frothers and “mood” lighting. But really do you need lights to give you “mood” and does your lotion really need to be heated prior to rubbing it into your skin?  I think you know the answer, so try not to give into the impulse to buy new “stuff.”
  10. Use less hot water.  This can be done by taking shorter showers, periodically turning off the water when you are lathering up or massaging conditioner into hair and by taking slightly less hot showers.  Long hot showers is a weakness of mine, but I do find it nice to have more time in the morning with a shorter shower!