What's been going on in the rooftopvegplot this month?
Last week, on a terribly rainy day, I finally administered the slug nematode treatment I’d been waiting for, for ages. I also planted another round of lettuces, radish and early carrots and hay-ho! they have already started to come up. I hate the rain, it keeps me inside, but, my dry raised beds needed a good soaking. I’m willing to pay for their gain with a quiet day indoors.
The cold nights and sunny days we had throughout April have been lovely. It allowed us to finish the greenhouse and get everything finally planted. We’ve even got the watering system up and running. (That is another sure reason why it started to rain!)
Now, a couple of weeks after the tomatoes and peppers were transplanted into the greenhouse, they are all looking very happy. The peppers that I overwintered and thought were dead, are not just spurting forward, but they are in flower. The seedling of various complementary flowers are now all sturdy plants. I’ve just sown another few seeds, to give myself chillies as well as peppers this summer. All the peppers are sitting in pots on a terracotta bauble base tray, into which I water. They all have vermiculite sprinkled on top, around the stem, to keep dampness under control. Peppers are hot weather plants. I’ve put them onto a shelf in the south west corner of the greenhouse, where they will get maximum light. They are loving it!
The Moneymaker tomatoes are reaching for the rooftops already and now have flower trusses on them. I notice that some plantsmen are selling grafted Moneymaker tomatoes. I wonder why? Moneymaker are such thugs anyway, I can’t imagine that they need a stronger base-plant.
The tomatoes are planted into bottomless pots which themselves sit onto a two inch bed of terracotta balls. I’m watering into the sub-base, which I hope will encourage the tomato roots to grow into the matrix, which absorbs water really well. Once the first fruits have set, I will start feeding them, watering into the pots, where the fine feeding roots tend to flourish.
Training indeterminate tomatoes
I’m starting to trim off all the side-shoots for the tomatoes, training them as tall single stems. These are indeterminate varieties. This tall, single stem, training system does well in a greenhouse. However, with a couple of the Moneymaker plants, I pinched out the leading shoot and let two side shoots grow upwards instead. This will, I hope, give two slightly less vigorous parallel stems, each trained to its own twine. I shall be interested to see whether that increases the yield. Every year my tomatoes grow right to the top of the greenhouse. I have to pinch them back, but even so they start to fluff out at the top with non-fruiting feathery growth, obviously wanting to grow taller. This is a tremendous waste of vigour in the plants. As soon as new shoots form, I have to cut them back again. The double stem, might check this ‘Jack and the Bean Stalk’ tendency.
Complementary flowers - basil and marigold
I’ve planted marigolds and basil into smaller pots that will sit around the tomatoes. In fact so strange is this season that some of the marigolds are already in flower. But my very expensive basil planting disc seems to have rotted in its terracotta pot, instead of sprouting. I’ve noticed a few green shoots, but not sure if they are the basil, or a weed. However the borage seeds I purchased at the Edible Garden Show a few weeks ago have come up wonderfully.
Fruit in the vegplot
To finish off the greenhouse I’ve purchased some all year strawberry plants that I’ve planted into a hanging basket, making use of the height of the pitch. Some of these have already flowered and are developing small fruits.
I’ve got more fruit in the rooftopvegplot this year. I’ve just planted a black elder, the common wild variety that produces flowers for cordial and berries for jam (or gin). It’s in a large pot and fan trained against a south facing wall, where I hope it will flourish.
The vertical composter
There are now two Japanese wine-berries on the plot. One is in a pot, with wide arching branches. The second has self-rooted from one of these branches and is tucked into a corner of the midsummer bed. I’ve trained this second plant, which was one long cane, around a chicken wire tube, about 12cm in diameter and 120cm high.
This is the experimental vertical compost heap. It is very useful to have such an accessible place to toss the odd tea-bag, dead leaf, twig or weedling, as I potter around the beds. As the pile rots down, it should feed the wine-berry roots which are directly underneath it. The chicken-wire shape forms a columnar support for the branches, as well as providing hidey-holes for beneficial insects. So if it works well, it is a very sympathetic system.
Prearing beds for courgette
Outside of the greenhouse all the beds are in transition, from winter to summer. The purple sprouting broccoli finished a couple of weeks ago. I’ve stripped out all the plants and prepared the soil for courgettes. That meant digging out the old soil, laying in neat kitchen waste, and back filling with my home made compost. I’ve planted a catch crop of rocket and another line of radishes while I’m growing up the courgette plants in the greenhouse. As I replenished I found horror of horrors a vine weevil grub. They are fat white fellows with little brown noses and they would be a disaster in any of the beds. They feed on roots and grow into black beetles. I dug around trying to see if there were any more in there, but I didn’t find any, so I hope it’s a one off. (But is it ever?)
Early salad crops chicory and radish
I’m harvesting every other chicory, which is planted in the quincunx pattern (See previous post) and putting back seedlings of giant red mustard. So I hope I’ll soon have a checkerboard effect. However something is eating the mustard. Could it be pigeons? The leaves have been completely stripped in one bed.
This is very mysterious, because elsewhere in the garden the mustard is doing well. Giant red mustard leaves are very pretty, being serrated and mottled dark red, almost black, with a green tinge running through the veins. They don’t heart up like lettuces. Their leaves just grow and grow and seem to taste good at any size. But mine rarely develop too far, for they are so delicious I use them early. They add a tangy flavour to any salad.
My early crop of radishes has been disappointing. Half of them didn’t heart up at all, producing nice leaves, but few radishes. I can’t seem to get a good crop of radishes in the raised beds, though I keep trying. I’ve now planted two more rows, one a seed-tape and one hand sown. It will be a good test of their relative efficacy. So far both are doing well.
Natural slug deterrants
I’m pleased to see that the chicory doesn’t have too many slugs living on it. The secret here seems to have been my companion planting of purple pansies. I was looking forward to the edible pansy leaves on my salads. But I haven’t had the chance for more than one or two petals. The slugs have beaten me to it every time.
However that does mean they have kept off the surrounding veg and the species tulips. In the bed without pansies, the slugs devoured the tulips before they had time to flower. They didn’t worry the daffodils though. (Note to self for next spring).
Unfortunately slugs are everywhere. I’m sure they are responsible for eating the top shoots of the tall peas, as well as nibbling right through the stems of some of the early broad beans. A week ago I received the Nemaslug treatment and immediately used it. After giving the soil a good soaking with clear water, you water on the treatment, in dilution. Of course it’s impossible to see what’s happening. And in any case the critters take about a week to get going. So I’m still using slug pellets. Despite their being the ‘safe’ kind, I don’t really like pellets. In wet weather, they go mouldy on top of the soil surface, and look very unsightly. In dry weather, there is a danger of finding one on your plate, adorning your salad leaves. (Ugh) And I’m sure the slugs just laugh at slug pellets.
Recently, it has rained so much, I’m now worried that the nematodes will have been washed right through my light shallow soil-beds. Oh well, if all else fails the electricity board left behind a head torch when they read the metre last time. If they don’t come back to collect it soon, I will be forced commandeer it for night-time slug raids!