Gooseberry, fool!

We visited my friend Louisa’s allotment a few weeks back. In it she has a huge and very delicious (but prickly!) gooseberry bush. I love gooseberries but Miss E had never eaten one. She was overwhelmed by their deliciousness, which of course is the only acceptable response. Gooseberries rule.

Ever since, I have been on the lookout for a cheap plant, and yesterday I found one, in the doorway of our local Scandinavian supermarket. After popping in to buy some meatballs and a copy of Abba’s greatest hits on CD, I decided to buy two, since they were only little.

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I was glad I could a-fjord them! And thankfully they were not flat-packed and in need of construction. They were, however, in need of a very good soak and re-potting. I put both plants in one big pot.

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I used John Innes No 3 soil, just because it’s all I have at the minute. Should be fine, I also mixed in lots of perlite.

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I like to mulch with some used coffee grounds (or kaffegrums, as the Danish call them).

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Now to water, preferably in sight of two ornamental ducks.

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Hey presto! This should grow as reliably as a Volvo runs. Very likely too late for this year but we should be eating fools a-plenty this time next year.

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What’s that? Aldi is in fact German, not Scandinavian? Oh.

Chilli update / Pepper progress / Capsicum conquests

Here’s my long promised chilli pepper progress update. I have about ten chilli pepper plants, mostly bought as tiny little seedlings. There have been some ups, downs and re-pottings, but now all but a few have fruit on them. Yum! Here are some photos…

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Hungarian Wax. These are doing pretty good, a couple of nice big juicy peppers on there! I have seven of my plants on my windowsill, outdoors (no greenhouse cheating here!).

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Jalapeño. These have been hard work (very fragile and kept getting attacked by slugs at one point), but this one has some small peppers coming through. I also have two more which are only just starting to look promising. Note the copper tape, to keep pesky slugs away (it works!).

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Sweet Red Pepper. This was a 25p salvage job from my local DIY megastore, it’s done great. Look at that nice big fruit. But when will it turn red?

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Orange Chilli Pepper. Bought this from my local Scandanavian supermarket for a couple of quid. It already had most of the peppers on it so I can’t take all the credit. Note the coffee grounds used as mulch. I have mulched all my peppers with used coffee grounds, it doesn’t seem to have done them any harm. I believe this one was of Ethiopian origin (the coffee, that is).

Tweet me your chilli pics to @deightongarden, or leave a comment below, I would love to compare how yours are getting on!

Bonsai Adventures!

Today I spent a fantastic few hours at the John Hanby Bonsai School, at Newstead Nurseries in Wakefield. Although this seemed like a terrible idea when I was getting up at 8am on a Saturday, it was an absolutely brilliant day. If anyone’s dithering about going to classes because you don’t know enough/aren’t good enough/don’t have a lot of trees then don’t let it stop you. Everyone was really friendly, and more than happy to let you watch them working on their trees to get an idea of what different paths a bonsai can take.

The main reason I wanted to go was to get a definite answer on what type of tree my supermarket bonsai was. I suspected it was a Boxwood, but didn’t want to spend ages treating it like one in case I was wrong. This was (unusually for me) a good shout, because I was wrong – it’s a Carmona, or Fukien Tea Tree.

The other worry I had was that for every website/book telling me DEFINITELY NOT to do something, there was another website/book telling me I NEEDED TO DO IT IMMEDIATELY or else my tree would die. There was no clear guideline on watering, re-potting, light levels, pruning, or any of the skills I knew I lacked. Speaking to people at the workshop today, the consensus was that no two trees are alike. Two bonsai of the same species in the same garden can do very differently, so what works for one enthusiast might not work as well for another. Basically, it takes time, but learn what works for your own trees yourself!

So this was what the tree looked like when we got it:

17th July 2015 Carmona pre-pruning

And this is what it looks like now after some care and attention:

25_7_15 Carmona re-potted

The Carmona is known as an “indoor” bonsai. However it’s OK to keep them out during the summer months as long as they aren’t exposed to low temperatures. It’s a difficult tree to look after, but it is do-able. Winter will be a challenge but at the moment it’s hopefully fine outside in a sheltered, sunny spot.

The first thing I had to do today was re-pot it. Despite some sites informing me gloomily that re-potting at any time other than early Spring was tantamount to murder, I learned today that leaving it in the wrong soil can be just as harmful. And the Carmona was definitely in the wrong soil. So off came the potting compost, off came some troublesome roots, and I set about wiring it into the rather attractive pot you see here. The difference this made was immediate and I felt like I’d done something to look after the tree, rather than just pouring water on it haphazardly and hoping for the best.

Artist's impression.

Artist’s impression.

Carmona dealt with, I went exploring the polytunnels at Newstead. The other people on the workshop were incredibly helpful, and all had really good advice on picking out new trees. The end result was that I came home with not one, not two, but three bonsai – an Oak and a Privet in addition to the Carmona.

Oak Bonsai

Oak Bonsai

Privet Bonsai

Privet Bonsai

Oak grows very slowly but looks absolutely amazing when it does. Privet, on the other hand, makes an attractive bonsai and grows quickly, so if you make a mistake pruning or re-potting it, it’s not a disaster. Given that the Carmona came with a health warning about difficulty today, I thought that seemed like a good idea!

So the garden has two new bonsai additions today, and I’m hopefully a bit more knowledgeable about looking after them. I definitely plan to go back to another workshop, and to the beginners course in November.

15_7_15 Workshop results 1

 

Parsley, Sage, Bonsai & Thyme… (1)

One of my more recent additions to the garden was a bonsai tree, £10 from Asda. I’ll be posting more about that as it develops, and am going on a course to learn how to look after it next weekend, so updates to come soon!

I hadn’t actually meant to buy one, but I walked past it and Mr D pointed it out and then it had just sort of fallen into the trolley. A bit like my turtle planter did a few months ago, except not hiding under a Chicken n Mushroom Mug Shot and a family size bag of Haribo.

Anyway, looking into bonsai and how to create/maintain/design them gave me an idea of what I could do with an old rosemary plant that until today looked something like this:

19_7_15 Original Rosemary 2

This was one of our 25p B&Q rescue missions that didn’t go so well. Despite me being really nice to it, it stubbornly stayed a rather fetching shade of…well, not rosemary-coloured. So I had the bright idea to turn it into a bonsai tree. With some help from this page and this video, I had some idea of what to do, so this afternoon I sat in an incredibly uncomfortable position for a couple of hours defoliating:

Halfway there...

Halfway there…Yes, they are lovely flip flops, how kind of you to notice

Nearly there...

Nearly there…

Defoliated entirely!

Defoliated entirely!

and clearing soil off the roots:

19_7_15 Root dusting action shot

(You can get specialist bonsai root forks, which is something I’m thinking about investing in. But this is a B&Q two-pronged hand weeder, and worked very well for this job. I left the tips on by accident but actually that resulted in a much gentler action on some quite delicate roots.)

At this point we realised that the original rosemary was three separate plants. Because he chews the furniture when he gets bored, I gave Mr D two to pot and grow normally, keeping the one with the strongest looking roots back to attempt to bonsai:

Not a great picture, but take my word for it, there are strong roots in there.

Not a great picture, but take my word for it, there are strong roots in there.

Meaning the final pre-potted plant I was left with looked something like this:

19_7_15 Final cutting

I trimmed the roots somewhat, though not much as the defoliating and separation was already quite a big shock. Then I left it to dry out in the sun for a few minutes because the innermost roots were soaking wet and freezing cold, which may explain why the plant hadn’t been doing so well in a big pot with lots of water. While it was drying, I made a soil of:

– approx 1/3 soil from original pot

– approx 1/3 Verve peat-free compost

– approx 1/3/ John Innes No 3

– some perlite mixed in at each layer

– layer of rough stones on the bottom for drainage

then popped the rosemary in there. I made it nice and compact:

19_7_15 Potted

before watering it until I could see water draining out of the bottom:

19_7_15 Wateredand that’s the current state of play.

At some point soon, I’m going to prune the branches back, and shape it into the eventual form I want it to take. But I am very conscious that this plant has had a lot of shocks today, so that might be a job for a couple of weeks’ time. Meanwhile I’ll be monitoring it closely for growth and watering regularly – though potentially less often than I was watering the parent plant, given the state of the root ball earlier today.

So watch this space! Next post on this will be my attempt to shape it into a nice design.

Yorkshire Balsam Apple Tree

After yesterday’s ap(ple)ventures, I woke up this morning with a spare terracotta pot, a load of soil and a desire for more apples!

While browsing through the apple selection at Beardsworths a few days ago, I noticed a great sounding apple called a Balsam.

Apple Balsam is without doubt the heaviest cropping variety in the Beardsworth’s orchard. If you want a dual purpose variety you should certainly consider Balsam. The stored apples make a regular appearance in our fruit bowl over the winter and it also makes excellent cider… Apple Balsam is from Yorkshire, England. 1750

Bingo.

So imagine my disappointment when I couldn’t find any there yesterday, while I was buying my Yorkshire Greening. I just assumed they had sold out. But this morning I had a bright idea. I rung up to see if they had any in stock.

 

Here is what happened next.

2015-07-19 13.13.36 2015-07-19 13.14.02The tree itself looks really healthy and has been well maintained at the nursery. It was well tied in four places to a tall piece of bamboo, which has trained it to grow nice and straight. Unlike the yesterday’s Greening, there is no fruit on this one yet. This is probably a good thing though, as the energy of the plant can go into the trunk and branches instead.

Method wise, I am doing exactly the same as yesterday, so you should have a look at that post if you want more detail. The Balsam is also an MM106 rootstock, and the pollination group is 2 this time. So (as I understand it) the two trees will probably not pollinate each other, but they should still both get pollinated from local plants and trees anyway.

Here goes…

2015-07-19 13.18.14Get your rocks off. Or in.

2015-07-19 13.20.54Our old friend John Innes number 3, and a good sprinkle of perlite.

2015-07-19 13.20.40Use your stake (and your loaf) to get the depth right.

2015-07-19 13.22.13Bish.

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Bash.

2015-07-19 13.28.28Bosh.

Was a slight fiddle to get the old bamboo off as it was so well fitted. The tree was actually pretty steady with no stake, but I sunk the big stake anyway, which should give decent protection for quite a while. This time I used two ties as the tree is a wee bit taller than the Greening was yesterday.

2015-07-19 13.30.49Magic fertiliser pellets. Nom nom.

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Soak. [ACTION SHOT!]

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Stones to decorate and keep the moisture in.

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Sorted. Sitting pretty next to yesterday’s Greening.

As you can see, once again I have been forced to accept a tacky, tasteless ornament. I will be getting my own back on Miss E by poisoning her Bonsai.

Blackcurrant Rescue Operation (BRO)

A couple of our best herbs have come from the discount shelf at various garden centres. Big pots of herbs going alarmingly brown around the edges, on sale for 25p – what’s not to love? Most of the ones we’ve picked up have eventually flourished with a bit of care, attention, water and sunlight (except a fairly dismal-looking rosemary plant, but more on that later).

So when we saw this blackcurrant “bush” at B&Q for the extortionate sum of £1, we thought “why not?” and I set about rescuing it.

DSC_0487

Though I can’t escape the nagging suspicion that I might have just paid £1 for a stick.

Root Ball 2

Reliably informed by Google that I should plant it deep, I got a nice big pot, mixed up two scoops of a Gro-bag, a generous handful of Perlite, John Innes No 3 and one of these:

Feed

tried my best to disentangle some of the “roots”, gave it a good watering and am hoping for the best.

Final Watering 2

It’s probably too late for this year, but if it survives more than a couple of days we might be in luck for 2016.

(As an aside, the best thing about the watering photo is that you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse of my all-time favourite turtle planter in the background).

Yorkshire Greening Apple Tree

Today I planted my first ever apple tree!

I am just re-potting for now but it can stay potted for a year (or more) until I pick a permanent location for it.

I have gone for a Yorkshire Greening. Firstly I want, if possible, to only grow Yorkshire varieties. Secondly this is supposed to be a tough tree and a reliable cropper. But most importantly it is noted as a decent cider apple. (Eventually I want to make cider. Lots of cider. Cider. Mmm. Cider.)

I got this from my local nursery, Beardsworths. The rootstock is MM106, so it’s semi-dwarfing but will ultimately get to about 4m and yield lots of juicy, acidic apples. (Cider. Mmm. Cider.)

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The tree is pollination Group 5. I was a bit concerned about having a partner for it but one of the helpful members of staff at the nursery said it wouldn’t be a problem. There are quite a few apple trees and loads of other fruit trees within half a mile of where we are, so it would be a surprise if this didn’t get pollinated. Plus I plan to buy more apples trees later.

Right, let’s get down to it…

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Here is everything I used. First off I bought a nice heavy, terracotta pot. It is 35cm and nice and deep too. Two of these with matching dishes was about £12 at our local home and garden megastore, so not expensive at all.

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First I jammed a few small rocks in the bottom, just to make sure the single, large hole at the bottom doesn’t get clogged when I water the tree. Now, soil time…2015-07-18 17.06.13

I used a John Innes Number 3. This is a soil which is especially for trees, or things with big or mature roots, and it apparently keeps nutrients well. Not the cheapest but still, a 20 litre sack was under a fiver. I only used about two thirds of it, if that. I also mixed in quite a bit of Perlite (the white bally stuff) as I went. This will help moisture retention so the experts say.

Now time to get the tree in there. I carefully snipped away and removed the cane and scraped off any weeds from the top of the pot, then popped it in, making sure to keep the base about an inch from the rim.

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The tree was a little fragile (and carrying two quite large apples already) so there is Miss E holding it steady as I prepare to stake it. I have filled in around the side and lightly pressed the soil in around the rootball.

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Hey presto! Stake in and tied with a small rubber tree tie, one should be enough for now. I winced a bit as I sunk the stake through the roots, but the tree is hardy so should take this slight damage. Plus it now has loads more room to spread out in to.

After another thin layer of the soil, time for a drink…

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Then I put 5 of these bad boys in. They should add some nutrients for the next six months. I placed them mid way between the rim and the tree, and after taking this photo I sunk them in about an inch under, and covered them over.

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Then a serious water. In total (before and after the fertiliser pellets) I used about 6 litres, just to bed things in. The water eventually found its way down and was escaping quite easily from the bottom of the pot, which is a good sign.

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Now some inexpensive shingle or decorative stone. A huge bag was £2, and I used about one tenth of it. Hopefully this will keep the roots cool and help avoid moisture loss through evaporation. It also makes it look neat and tidy.

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As you can see I was cajoled into placing Miss E’s hideous purple turtle planter on it. I suppose it has to go somewhere.