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!

Great Energy Race Prize Donation

We’re in the home stretch now for the Observer’s Ethical Awards, Great Energy Race, sponsored by B&Q.   It’s been a really interesting and rewarding process, and now all eyes are on the prize!  Up to £10,000 on a renewable energy measure for the winner’s home.

After lots of thinking about my energy consumption as a whole, I think that the prize would be better used by my children’s current and future primary school.  They have to heat, light and provide electricity for well over a dozen classrooms, a gym hall, offices, kitchen etc.  Now, I’ve not seen their yearly utility statements, but I am sure that their bills are much much higher than mine, and goodness knows Edinburgh Council Schools can use the help!  So by helping my community, I will be helping myself and my children, so it’s really not that altruistic at all.

So anyhow, here’s my plea for everyone to vote for me and Blackhall Primary School!!  Let’s get renewable energy installed at a primary school and let hundreds of children see, use and learn to love renewables!!  Please share this with friends and family and ask them to vote for me.