Shoot #1

It’s always exciting when the first seed of the year germinates…


look closely… it’s there!

Autumn Bounty

Despite a garden full of builders and no indoor growing space until late July, the autumn is proving to be bountiful chez snail. One of the raised beds spent much of the early summer completely covered in building materials, but clearly the tiny potatoes remaining after last years harvest loved the conditions. We went from this:

There's a bed somewhere under there

There’s a bed somewhere under there

to this:

Not bad in two months

Not bad growth!

in a just a couple of months. Resulting in this 615g monster:



and hopefully many more to harvest, as this was just one very close to the surface that Max would have ‘harvested’ otherwise. We will let them continue growing until the tops die back before we dig the bed over and can see our final crop.

Meanwhile, inside the limery, chillies and sweet peppers abound, tomatoes are ripening and we’ve had a couple of large courgettes from the plant sown in July,. I’ve potted up the plants from the courgette seeds sown in August and we are crossing our fingers for a few fruits from those a bit later in the autumn.

We are keeping our fingers crossed that the chillies ripen (they have started and the pyramid chillies are already hot) and that the younger courgette plants mature, but even if they don’t, we’ll have had an amazing end to the season, including a couple of months when we haven’t had to buy any sweet peppers.

As to future crops, we found this very promising ginger root in the local organic shop the other day:

It’s now been planted and we’re hoping for good things. In addition, the passionflower has taken off:

Up, up and away

Up, up and away

And I’ve sown some more lettuce in a big tray that can be brought indoors when the weather cools. So, no shortage of fresh goodness here.

Still not there

Those of you who have been following the saga of the limery will be wondering what has happened. Well, I’m sorry to say, nothing. We still await the final sealed unit with which to glaze the door. Apparently the ‘conservatory’ bit (glass, ridge, sealant, mount for lights) will be finished on Monday and then all that will remain is the lighting.

I got fed up with the ingress of insects, so have rigged up a temporary fly screen using a thin curtain:

Make-shift fly screen

Make-shift fly screen

And I could no longer bear to keep all my plants outside, so now it is being used for growing.

They’ll all have to come out if work happens on Monday, but the tomato plants at least seem to be thriving – I may even get a crop later in the summer.

We now have the paint for the inside – a lovely blue shade. But that too is waiting for the rest to be completed. Perhaps next week…

June Bloom

Mixed weather so far this June, but I’m delighted to report that we have some very welcome flowers starting to appear.

These ones mean that there are potatoes developing underground:

Potato flower

Potato flower

And this bodes well for a harvest of peppers:

Pepper and flower

Pepper and flower

And this is the first of the runner bean flowers:

Bean flower

Bean flower

And this means we might have limes in the winter:

Lime flower

Lime flower

Just waiting for squash and courgette flowers now. Currently, our main crops are lettuce and rhubarb.

What’s doing well in your garden right now?

Parade of peppers

One of my favourite crops to grow is peppers… partly because they require no garden, so anyone with a windowsill can manage them, and partly because they were my very first growing success.

Pepper plants in the sun

Pepper plants in the sun

After I completed my degree, I stayed on at university to work towards my PhD. I moved into a little flat on the sea front in Aberystwyth (in the 1980s, before it had been ripped apart by storms). It was on the back of the house, so I didn’t get a sea view, but I did look out on my landlady’s tiny garden, which was filled with roses and an enormous ivy growing up one wall. There was no space for me to grow anything outdoors, but I had a hankering to produce some sort of fruit or vegetables and so I settled on peppers. I found a dwarf variety that claimed to be suitable for growing in pots on the windowsill and planted some seeds. The variety I chose was Redskin and it turned out to be a great success. Such a success, in fact, that I didn’t have room for all of them in my flat and I transferred some of them into the bay window in the big storage room in the house, where they flourished. My landlady did not mind a bit – she was a lovely lady.

These days, 25 years down the line, I wouldn’t choose Redskin as it is an F1 hybrid and my preference now is to grow open pollinated and heritage varieties. However, the F1 hybrids are consistent and, whilst success is not guaranteed, there is a good chance that you will get uniform results. As a complete novice, Redskin was probably a good choice and it certainly encouraged me to continue growing peppers… in fact I think I have grown some every year since that first attempt.

A parade of potted peppers

A parade of potted peppers

This year, the varieties I have chosen are more varied: Lipstick (a favourite now from The Real Seed Catalogue) and Nova (also from Real Seeds, but a variety I have not tried before), plus the plants from a mixed pack of Australian Peppers from Kate (Tall Tales from Chiconia). In addition, as I have developed a liking for spicy food, I grow chillies. I’m quite boring with my choice of these and now only grow Lemon Drop and Alberto’s Locoto, but both of these do well in my greenhouse, and sometimes will overwinter.

Despite having given some pepper seedlings to my sister and another friend, when I came to do my potting up yesterday, I discovered I had rather a lot of plants. I haven’t counted them up, but I think that (weather permitting) this year might be a really good year for capsicums. If so, I’m planning to make pepper passata as a way of storing them.

In the greenhouse

In the greenhouse

Stuffed peppers

This month I was planning to write a blog post every day… and it was all going well until It became necessary to spend a day and a half struggling to sort out one mobile phone contract and one mobile phone top up. I’m not going to go into details, suffice to say I seem to have wasted a lot of time and energy and haven’t managed to write for a few days, but I’m back now!

Profuse peppers (and chillies)

Profuse peppers (and chillies)

Yesterday I decided to make lasagne, using lots of home-grown tomatoes and peppers. The pepper harvest was slow starting this year, but we’ve eaten lots over the last few weeks. Sadly, they aren’t ripening very well, but we are just enjoying them green… or pale yellow in the case of Amy, the wax pepper. It is the variety Lipstick that is, however, especially abundant at the moment.

As the plants have grown so prolifically recently, it has got increasingly difficult to reach the ones in the far corner of the greenhouse. Yesterday, however, was nice and warm so I decided to extract some of the pots so that I could see the state of the plants properly. Once removed from their inaccessible location, I was disappointed to notice that a few of the plants had been nibbled by slugs – I even found one of the little blighters wrapped around the stem of a pepper plant.

Anyway, I harvested the chewed peppers and some others that were a decent size and went indoors to prepare the lasagne. And it was at this point that I discovered that two slugs, not content with having snacked on my produce, had decided to take up residence inside! Yuk!

However, I am pleased to announce that organic pepper stuffed with slug is a real delicacy… for hens. The slug-free lasagne was good too, but just for us!

My Very Own Seedy Saturdays

What a lovely time of year here in Wales. No, not the current weather… stop looking out of the window… but the fact that I can now turn my attention once more to growing things. Not only ordering seeds, but also actually planting.

The beginning of February may seem early, but with my propagator removed from the loft, yesterday I was able to make use of all those toilet roll middles I have been saving for months and get my hands dirty.

Newly sown in February 2013

Newly sown in February 2013

Those new to gardening often read the seed packets and think that you can do no better than sow everything at the earliest possible moment, but those of us with a little more experience know that it may be prudent to wait. Sow too early outdoors and seed can rot, or germinate but not grow because it’s too cold, or grow very slowly and therefore be susceptible to pests and diseases. Hanging on and planting a few weeks later can produce more vigorous plants that romp away faster than the early plantings. Sow too early indoors and your seedlings can become weak and leggy before the conditions outside are favourable for planting. It’s a bit of a balancing act.

However, there are some things that really benefit from an early start. These are usually plants that are destined to be coddled for the whole of their lives – things like peppers (sweet and hot). So, yesterday I planted Lipstick sweet pepper, Lemon drop chilli, Alberto’s Locoto chilli, Roma tomatoes and basil. The lid is on the electric propagator and conditions should be good for germination… in fact capsicums germinate much more reliably when warm.

My interaction with seeds hasn’t stopped there, though. I have been frugal with my seed-buying this year. Last weekend I inventoried my left-over seed from last year, compared notes with a friend and we have coordinated purchases… sharing our surplus and reducing waste. I was so taken by this idea, that I’ve also set up a seed swap via Facebook for people doing the diploma in applied permaculture design.

Lots of seed does go to waste each year, and lots of people have surplus saved, so seed swaps are a great idea. You can get involved either online or in person. Patrick of Bifurcate Carrots blog fame runs a seed exchange network, for example. There are also  lots of local events, for example, near me the Dyfi Valley Seed Savers have a Seedy Sunday coming up in March (just waiting for confirmation of the date), and there’s one at the Welsh National Wool Museum in Drefach Felindre on 23 March as part of their Eco-fair. For something in your area, just search on the internet for ‘seed swap’ plus your location and you’re bound to find something. And don’t worry if you don’t have seeds to exchange – a small donation is usually fine; in addition, swaps aren’t direct, offers go into the pool of seeds available, so you don’t have to arrange a mutually beneficial one-to-one transaction.

Chilli festival

In this strange year for crops it appears that we are about to enjoy a bumper crop of chillies – a visit to the greenhouse reveals a veritable chilli forest, including healthy plants with flowers and fruit in abundance. None are ripe yet, but they are starting to change colour.

Mainly Lemon drop – you can see the green unripe fruit amongst the leaves

I have been trialling varieties for a number of years now, and have finally identified ones that do well in my greenhouse here in west Wales. I only grow two*, both from The Real Seed Catalogue. The first is Lemon Drop – a slender fruit that ripens to a beautiful lemon yellow colour and has a reasonable amount of heat and a slightly citrus flavour. This variety is good for drying for use over the winter.

A forest of chillies – purple flowers on Alberto’s Locoto

The second is not, in fact, a different variety but a different species, it’s called Alberto’s Locoto (not sure of the scientific name). Alberto’s Locoto is a great plant – it’s a perennial and so you can keep it going for a number of years. When you do need more you can simply save seeds yourself –  because it is a separate species, it doesn’t cross with any of the other capsicums and so it breeds true. It is a lovely plant – hairy leaves, purple flowers and bright red fruit when ripe. And finally, the chillies are good to eat – they reliably have a decent amount of heat, unlike some chillies I have grown in the past.

Which reminds me… it’s worth noting that all capsicums/peppers/chillies are perennial and, with a little care, they will survive over the winter. Like many vegetables, we treat them as annuals and replant each year, but I have had some very successful crops of peppers in a second or even third year. You can either keep them in the greenhouse (as long as it doesn’t get too cold) or bring them into the house or conservatory (if you have one). Just keeping a couple going is worthwhile if you don’t have much indoor space, as they will crop earlier the following year than newly planted individuals.


*In fact it’s not entirely true that we only have the two varieties; we also have the Hungarian Wax peppers, which we are now referring to as Russian Roulette peppers. We were given the seed and will never grow them again, because their flavour is so unpredictable. I had been led to believe that they started sweet and got hot as they ripened up. This is a lie. Some are hot, some are sweet, the age, colour and plant of origin are not correlated with the flavour at all. As a result Mr Snail-of-happiness and I had the hottest risotto (possibly the hottest dish) I have ever made last week because I naively put two green Hungarian Wax peppers into it without tasting them first. It was impossible to taste any of the other ingredients and we needed some chilled Sauvignon to help us recover! (what an excuse)

Fifty shades of green

Apparently a woman of my age should be enthralled by the book ‘Fifty shades of grey’… erotica unburdened by plot or believable characters if my niece is to be trusted. She tells me that she can’t believe that she wasted hours of her life on the whole trilogy. She’s more than twenty years younger than me, but I have always found her to be thoughtful and reliable, so on her recommendation I am going to spend my time on a colour other than grey.

Lettuce, oriental greens and rocket in my polyculture bed. Alas the dwarf french beans rotted in the wet.

Of course, my colour of choice has to be green. The transformation of the British summer from washout to glorious sunshine has revealed that not everything in the garden is beyond hope. There may be no red tomatoes or golden squashes, there may be precious few runner bean flowers or vibrant black and yellow hoverflies, but there are lettuces in a variety of shades of green… from ‘Flashy butter oak’, which is green mottled with a deep burgundy, to ‘Emerald Oak’ with its crinkled vibrant green leaves. All hues seem to be there in the salad crops, whether lettuces or oriental leaves.

The photograph does not adequately show the contrast between the dark green of the potato leaves and the downy grey-green apple mint.

But other crops are showing their true colours in the sunshine too – potato leaves, contrasting with the grey-green downy foliage of apple mint. Even some of the corn and squashes are finally starting to flourish, though it seems rather too late for the production of mature winter squashes that will store well or bursting-with-sweetness corn, straight off the plant and into the pan of boiling water (in the style of Bob Flowerdew). In the greenhouse (how appropriate) greens abound – deep shiny green lipstick peppers, sickly yellow-green Amy sweet wax pepper, plus another brighter green-shading-to-red Hungarian wax pepper. And quite a few green tomatoes… which I hope will not remain so for too much longer.

Oca… plus a Calendula flower that just opened today

Elsewhere in the garden, the yellow-podded mangetout are starting to flower, purple against their subdued green foliage. Field beans (planted very late because of the bad weather) have abundant flowers amongst their grey-green leaves and oca (masquerading as shamrock) has soft green trefoils nodding in the wind. The glaucous leaves of breadseed poppy are surmounted by both purple flowers and newly formed seed pods (which should not open when they are ripe, thus preserving all the seed for me to harvest).

Squash and corn… flourishing in a compost-filled dumpy bag.

I could go on… salsify, leeks and bunching onions are just starting to show signs of resuming growth, ginger mint and lemon balm look and smell delicious as I walk through them in the fruit cage to collect raspberries off the old and slightly tatty canes in the midst of new fresh green canes that will bear fruit next year (or later this year for the Autumn variety). But, it’s time to stop now and go and enjoy picking and eating some of this bounty. So, when asked to choose a colour, I say ‘no thank you, grey… give me shades of green any day’.


Of course, there’s no such thing as an original idea… Diggitydigg beat me to it!

Cat chat

We used to have a cat… she was the most unlucky cat you can imagine . She got her tail damaged and had to have it amputated; she developed pyometra after a bungled spay at the rescue centre we got her from; she disappeared for weeks and came back like a skeleton; she got entangled with her collar and ended up with a huge wound under her front leg (twice), which got infected; she had all the skin scraped off one side of her legs (goodness only knows how – strimmer?), she got an abscess on her neck… the list could go on. We finally lost her when she (at the age of about 12) got hit by a car. She was very expensive to run and when she died we made a conscious decision not to replace her.

Muffin the cat – taking a rest from rodent control and warming the soil up

But I do miss her – I don’t miss her bad temper, nor the fact that we didn’t dare feed the birds or put up a nest box in the garden for fear of the carnage that might ensue. I don’t miss the vets’ bills or the fur balls expelled noisily in the night. But I do miss her ability to keep the shed and greenhouse free of mice. We now keep the chicken feed in a metal bin and the bird seed in the house so that we are not feeding the local rodent population, but this season I have had a variety of seeds and seedlings excavated, eaten and simply chewed up. The first evidence was the jumping bean incident, but more recently I started finding holes dug into the large pots in which I had planted mangetout and the newly emerged shoots chewed to pieces but not consumed; in addition several sweetcorn seedlings were uprooted and chewed and then several more had disappeared completely over the next night and there were holes dug in the compost. Some plants seem to be ignored – melons, squashes, tomatoes and sweet or hot peppers – but how long they will be ignored I don’t know. The mangetout have now been moved to the no-longer-waste-of-space, the sweetcorn are on the ladder allotment and the beans are happily climbing their poles in their place in the raised beds so perhaps other things will have to serve as mouse food.

You would have thought that owning two terriers would keep the rodent population down, but I think that a mouse could walk over Max and he’d probably ignore it and, whilst Sam is great at alerting us to the presence of other animals, catching them seems to be beyond her. SIGH. So, surely the neighbourhood moggies should do the job? Perhaps the presence of the dogs and chickens puts them off (chickens give them a severe talking to if they come in the garden), but whatever the reason they have not caught our mice.

Another cat is definitely not something I want, so I guess that from now on I will have to start looking for mouse-proof covers for my seeds… some sort of fine metal mesh seems like the best option. Or perhaps there’s something that repels mice… pepper perhaps or chilli…?

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