Tag Archives: urban gardening

Three ways to deal with slugs

Article and photo by Jacqui Shannon
It’s the time of year when our gardens are starting to really come into their own. Our delicate seedling are full of vigor and the promise of harvest is within sight, we know it and so do the slugs.

Slugs. Grotesque, slimy, and capable of completely devastating your plot. It’s enough to dishearten even the most dedicated and have them reaching for a spray bottle.  There are multiple reasons I won’t use chemicals, but I don’t want to get political.

As an organic gardener, I am always looking for ways to improve my soil. Chemical pesticides and fertilizers may offer a short period gain but ultimately leave our soil poorer.   But how do we “win” against slugs without turning to chemicals?

Pick them off. For those with small plots of vegetables and time, a daily commitment to checking each plant is an ideal solution. Taking time for a daily inspection and removal and disposal will keep slugs in check, but this may not be practical if you’re short of time or if your garden is larger than a few meters.

Mulch. A slug is a delicate creature. It has a soft underbelly and will avoid crossing any mulch that is rough and irritating. I ring of mulch of moderately abrasive material such as diatomaceous earth. I suggest 10 cm wide and at least 1cm thick as an effective barrier, or rough bark mulch. You’ll need to ensure you keep it topped up of course, but weekly inspections should suffice. Mulch should not come in contact with the plant, try to leave a good few centimeters circle empty around each stem. I like this method because along with creating a barrier it also helps keep moisture in the soil.

Provide shelter. Slugs do most of their damage at night. During the day a slug will look for refuge. By placing an piece of untreated board at both ends of your garden row, and one in the middle if the row is long, you’ll encourage the slugs to use this as a daytime refuge. This doesn’t stop them from eating your plants, but it does make collection an  disposal quite easy and quickly puts a dent in the number of slugs feasting on your patch . Simply lift the board each morning and remove the slugs below. A upside down empty grapefruit skin in the same positions also works.

Many a gardener has heard about the effective use of copper in deterring slugs. Every year I hear people talking about copper and pennies. Copper tape, if thick enough may certainly do the trick. My experience is adhering it and ensuring it doesn’t get accidentally covered over by soil, (and thus ineffective), can be laborious, it’s also quite expensive.  Pennies unfortunately, have not contained enough copper to work as cheap substitute for a very long time. My advice is to forget about copper and do two or even all three of the above for success.

Photo from http://www.allaboutslugs.com

Urban gardening

Just three weeks ago, my rooftop garden on narrow boat Miracle was starting to look like a winner. The garden I’d planned and planted was just beginning to show its potential and I was pleased.  In a proud moment on that sunny Saturday I snapped a photo and shared it with the world via my Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Nearly immediately after sending my “Boast Post” I saw a competition was happening on line by Saltyard Books asking people to post photos of their kitchen garden. The competition was in celebration of a new book by Mark Diacono of Otter Farm, about gardening and getting the most out of your urban kitchen garden.  I’ve never entered any competition before but, it seemed nearly serendipitous, so off went my tweet with their hashtag into the competition.

I’m exceedingly pleased to say, I won the competition and early this week my copy of The New Kitchen Garden arrived. I got to unwrap it just as a very rare UK thunderstorm began.  At just under 400 pages, I can’t pretend that I’ve read it all as yet, but so far, it’s impressive, encouraging and informative. It’s a book that I suspect, I’ll be keeping and referring to quite often. Thank you Mark for writing this!

A little video about the book and what inspired it.

 

More about the book here.

Getting the most out of small spaces

 

Early maturing snowball turnip paired with late maturing beetroot and spring onions all growing together maximizing the productivity of a small space
Early maturing snowball turnip paired with late maturing beetroot and spring onions all growing together maximizing the productivity of a small space

One of my favorite things about gardening is that I can choose what I want to grow each year. I subscribe to the school of thought that  you should plant what you like to eat, however planting the same vegetables every year does get a bit predictable. Experimenting with unusual varieties gives me a kick and expands my knowledge as well as my pallet.

This year, with a view to expand what I can produce in my 1.5m potted roof garden I chose to give planting of “early” and “late” maturing crops a go.  To do this I looked for an early maturing small turnip to pair with my old faithful beetroot. I found a lovely sounding turnip called “Japanese Snowball” which is described as a fast growing, egg shaped globe with a mild sweet juicy flavour. The globes should be harvest size by the end of this month, leaving sufficient space for the beetroot development. I’d never heard of this variety before I began looking and was surprised to find it’s been around in western world since at least 1885.

I sewed the seeds as directed both for greens (close) and 2.5cm apart in two rows in mid-late March. I’ve already harvested a crop of young greens from one row and eaten them raw in salad along with some chard,  last week used a few of the larger leaves as a cooked spinach substitute. Obviously, because my rows are small, my harvests are only handfuls however, I can’t believe how quick they are – they’re ready again! The spaced counterparts remain untouched and are sheltering the slower growing beetroot beneath their large foliage.

So far I am very pleased with this experiment. I am quite happy with the taste of the greens both raw and cooked and am awaiting the globes with much anticipation. It seems that I’ve doubled the output of my tiny space this year. Looking back, it now seems quite obvious, however I’d not considered this before my work experience on the Organic Lea farm.  I guess it just goes to show what we can learn if we’re open to it.

Potting on Tomatoes

Article and photograph by Jacqui Shannon, expat Canadian in the UK.

A month ago myself and several volunteers helped plant hundreds of Tumbling Tom and Golden Queen tomato seeds at Organic Lea. They will be both for the summer production on site and for the annual plant sales. For anyone who has ever eaten a perfectly ripe home grown tomato, it will come as no surprise that tomatoes are by far the most popular plants for home gardens in the UK.

These seedlings have a slightly blueish tinge, indicating that they've begun to lack nutrient.
These seedlings have a slightly blueish tinge, indicating that they’ve begun to lack nutrient.

The month old seedlings have really thrived in the three week warm spell we’ve been having and it was evident by the blueish tinge on their leaves that the nutrient in the seed compost was exhausted. It’s too early to put them in the ground, so potting on, into more nutrient rich potting compost was the only option. In order to avoid “leggy plants” each seedling is planted into the soil up to the first pair of leaves.

There’s really no excuse not to grow at least one tomato plant. Perhaps more than any other, tomatoes have a wealth of varieties to suit your available space, even a height restricted roof garden like mine has more than one option.

For three years now, I’ve planted heritage dwarf variety Tiny Tim (which grows to 30cm) and had exceptional results. They’ve got some lovely attributes aside from their stature. Firstly, for a tomato they’re remarkably un- fussy. These hardy plants do well in both sun and shade which works well since I am on the move. Secondly, despite their small size they really pack a huge sweet tomato flavour punch, meaning four or five picked and thrown into any dish makes an impact.

This year, just to try something different I’m planting Tumbling Toms from the plant sales.

Regardless of which variety you choose, your plant’s fruit will have flavours that far surpass their store bought brethren. With tomatoes we’re spoilt for choice and justly rewarded.

 

What’s not to love about nettles?

Photos and article by Jacqui Shannon.

Urtica Dioica, or Stinging Nettle in the first flush of spring. This foul looking stuff on the right hand side of the photo is nettle tea, a nutrient rich organic fertilizer for the garden.
Urtica Dioica, or Stinging Nettle in the first flush of spring. This foul looking stuff on the right hand side of the photo is nettle tea, a nutrient rich organic fertilizer for the garden.

Stinging Nettles are terrible, brush up against them and you instantly know. Itchy red bumps that stay irritating for what seems like forever. We’ve all been there. Stings aside however, you might be surprised to hear that this hardy nuisance is a bit of a celebrity in the world of organic gardening.

Nettles offer the organic gardener a triple benefit.

One of the first greens to shoot up in the early spring, young tops are a much welcomed first green for our beneficial insect predators such as the Ladybug. .

Blanched quickly they’re fantastic in risotto, and steeped, they make a rejuvenating tea.

The third reason organic gardeners allow the nettle to remain is to make organic fertilizer. Nettles have a root structure that allows them to pull mineral nutrients up from much deeper depths of soil than many plants. The nutrients are then in the plants stem and leaves. Left to their own when the plant dies back in winter the nutrients are then available in the compost. Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on the natural cycle of things!

The benefits of Nettle tea is available the whole of the growing season and it’s really simple to make. There are two methods you can use a quick one that gives a bit of benefit, or a longer process that really packs a nutrient punch (and a pretty pungent smell!) Use which ever suits you, be sure to wear protective clothing to avoid the “sting.”

Quick Method: Pick the nettles and boil the leaves and stems for 30min. Let cool, strain, and you’re ready to use. The liquid should be the colour of weak black tea.

The Long Method: Pick the nettles, bruise the leaves and stems and pack in your container. Weigh the greens down with a brick or some rock and cover with water. Let it sit submerged for up to 3 weeks, it will really start to smell. The longer the better. Then use in a 1:10 ratio on your plant soil.