Tag Archives: Strawberries

Glory of the Fruit Cage

Another long overdue post, but we’ve been busy and summer has finally arrived. Working as a professional gardener has kept me extremely busy and I’ve been heading to the plot as much as I can to keep things ticking along there.

While there have been a few spits and spats of rain, my main job has been keeping everything watered. With the late start this spring, we have lots of seedlings and young plants coming along right now. We’re very much a month behind compared to last year, but I’m hopeful this warm weather will continue on.

One area of the allotment that’s blowing our socks off right now is the fruit cage. Despite the late start, all the plants are fruiting beautifully. Both the gooseberry and currant shrubs are laden with fruit. The raspberries are forming up nicely. Just having to keep up with trimming the grass in and around it really. For no other reason than keeping the b*****d slug and snail population in check.

Red currants colouring up nicely.

Red currants colouring up nicely.

By far the best has been the strawberries. We planted them very early spring last year and they have truly hit their stride this year. In the last week we’ve harvested about 4lb of strawberries and there’s plenty more coming along. Frantic weeding and a few pinches of slug pellets* has resulted in beautiful, lush berries, some of which never seem to make it back home…

Strawbs!

Strawbs!

We built the fruit cage last summer and it has truly paid dividends. Simon did a fantastic job building the frame work, it’s sturdy and has plenty of space to move around in. Which is especially important as I am rather freakishly tall. Getting the netting, bought cheaply on eBay, was a bit off a faff to get on. When I say faff, it means I ended up using language that would have made a sailor blush. I was chatting to someone late last year and she commented on the lovely new fruit cage, “it’s always worth putting in the effort to build one of those. You really have no idea how much of your crop is lost to the birds until you build one.” Wise, wise words.

Looking good.

Newly built fruit cage

 

*Apologies to those that oppose the use of slug pellets, but they do bloody work and I can’t bear to let all that hard work go into feeding and already exploding mollusc population.

Groundhog Days

Last weekend the weather was glorious and it enticed many a gardener out on to their plots. Like the legendary groundhog  I emerged from my burrow, but I should have known better when I saw my shadow…This weekend it’s back to frigid temperatures  and I’m huddled back in my burrow.

Even though this weekend was less than productive, last weekend we did manage to weed and mulch the fruit patch. The shrubs all got their winter pruning earlier in January and the strawberries are already starting to put on some growth. This will be the strawberries’ second year, so I’m really hoping we might get a nice little crop this year. It’ll be interesting to see how much of a difference the fruit cage makes in regards to our current and gooseberry crops. Last spring, I arrived at the plot to find two plump wood pigeons eating their way through all the red currant flowers, so no currents last summer.

Fruit cage before....

Fruit cage before….

 

...And the fruit cage after.

…And the fruit cage after.

The rhubarb & asparagus patch even got a weed and mulch. We had a rather large rhubarb plant in the middle of the asparagus half, but it has now been donated to a neighbour plot and gives the old ‘gus a bit more space. We’ve still got four rhubarb plants, but I think that will be more than enough for us.

Of course, now that area is all done, I’m itching to push on with a few other jobs before the real madness begins in mid-March. I still need to build our raised herb bed and I want to assemble our log/scrap wood bench. I know I’m not the only one dying to get on with things. Maybe I just need to get over my fussing about the cold weather, layer up and get out there. Or maybe I’ll just have another hot chocolate and wait for another week. Yeah, that sounds good.

Planting Plans: Beans & Fruiting Things

For most of the country, it would seem that winter has found its second wind (so to speak), but here in London it remains mild and rainy. I really should head out there and get some final jobs done, but am struggling to get the gumption to do so.

I haven’t been totally idle, seed potatoes are chitting away in the spare room, winter pruning of the fruit shrubs is already done and the seed packets are already organised by planting month. The sun is setting later and later in the day, before I know it, I’ll be back to visiting to the allotment after work again.

I can’t wait for those longer days and the crops that can only be had with some hot summer sun. We had some great success with dwarf and climbing beans last, even if the summer wasn’t the best. This year we’ll be growing Golddukat, a yellow dwarf French and a purple climbing French, Purple Cascade. Peas were less successful last year, reaching a mere three inches in height, but I’m determined to try again. We’re trying a English heritage variety, Champion of England. Originally developed in the 1840’s and nearly went extinct, but was in part saved by a family farm in Lincolnshire in the 1940’s. I’m hoping I can do the provenance of these seeds justice and grow them successfully.

I really do have my fingers crossed for some hotter weather this year, there are a few crops that I want to attempt again this year. Their lack of success, even utter failure was not just down to the weather. The fault in part to me not being diligent enough in keeping the crops safe from weather changes or pests. We’re determined to grow sweetcorn again and put up fortifications around it to stop the foxes from getting it again. This year we’re growing a bi-coloured variety, Double Standard. With it’s yellow and white kernels, it’s what I could call a Peaches and Cream variety, which is a very popular type back home. We had some success with cucumbers last year, just a few rather wonky looking ones, but they tasted fantastic. Even the chilli plants managed to cough out a couple of Jalapeños. I’ve ordered plants for this year though, I’m hoping they’ll be more robust than the ones I started from seed last year. Also being started from plants are the tomatoes; Sungold, Chocolate Cherry & Tropical Ruby. Last year, I started everything from seeds, but the plants were knocked flat by a sudden cold spell. Thought some recovered, blight struck just as the fruits were about to ripen up. I’m hoping by ordering plants, they’ll get off to a quicker start and fruit out before the inevitable blight gets them.

Baby tomato plants, eventually lost to cold and blight.

Baby tomato plants, eventually lost to cold and blight.

The fruit cage remains more or less the same this year. The strawberries, which were planted last year, are filling out nicely and we’re hoping for more fruitful crops this year. I’ve pruned the gooseberry and current shrubs harder this year as they were getting very congested. I may have lost some fruit due to cutting back much of last year’s growth, but mildew was an issue last year. Really, I’m hoping the fruit cage will make the most difference  protecting what fruit we do get from the marauding wood pigeons. As someone said to me last year, “you don’t really realise how much you’re feeding to the birds until you put up a fruit cage.” My only addition to the fruit cage is a container grown blueberry. The container was left over from a planting job, which means I can plant it in lovely acidic ericaeous soil. It’s a novelty variety of blueberry, bright pink Pinkberry bought from Thompson & Morgan.

Novelty fruit or otherwise, I hope hot summer don’t become a novelty. The rain splattered windows today make it a little hard to imagine, but perhaps through our combined power of hopeful thinking, we can make it so!

Feeling Fruity

Dare I write it down? Dare I even say it out loud?

I think we’re finally winning the War on Weeds. Now we haven’t won, but the plot is looking pretty tidy. I think this is primarily due to the super tidy I did in the fruit cage and it’s surrounds.

Having emerged from the sea of grass and waves of bind weed, I’m very proud of our fruit cage. My only regret is wishing that we had built it sooner. Recently I was stopped by a woman standing outside the allotment site, it turned out she once had a plot there a few years ago. She politely asked if she could be allowed in to have a look around. We had a great chat and she spent most of her time having a look over our plot. She gave a strong nod of approval to the bright blue shed, but most of her admiration was given to our fruit cage. “It’ll be the best investment you make. You don’t really get how much fruit you lose to the pigeons until you have a fruit cage. It’s so easy to just blame the weather, plants or yourself for poor crops.”

I think I understand what she was getting at. The netting went up pronto after I caught two wood pigeons sitting in our currant bushes in the midst of gluttonous abandon. Their one afternoon of snacking has meant we’ve gotten virtually no currants this summer.

This year’s currant crop: underwhelming

We planted two rows of strawberries this winter and they have been doing well. Lots of runners, which I’m trying to keep managed. We don’t have a huge amount of space for them, but I’d like to get a few offshoots to fill in a couple of gaps. As they are in their first year, we should really be picking off the flowers to stop them fruiting. This is to allow them to put their energy in growing, not fruiting. As much as we try to do things “right,” this is one aspect we’ve been a bit naughty with. The odd strawberry is such a treat, assuming the slugs don’t beat you to it first. There’s nothing more disappointing than spotting a glorious red strawberry, only to turn it over, only find it hollowed out and a happy fat slug smiling back at you. Okay, so they don’t actually smile back, but the way those beady little eyes look at you, they must be smiling in their own way.

Ripening strawberry, so far untouched!

The raspberries have been wonderfully abundant, I even got enough at one point to make home made raspberry ice cream. Mostly, at the end of a tough work session, I just pop into the fruit cage and announce loudly, “treat time!”

 

Raspberries galore

Next to the fruit cage is our patch for our rhubarb/asparagus bed. Initially, it was only rhubarb, but we were gifted with several asparagus crowns in the spring. Asparagus is one of my absolute favourite veggies, so I faced the dilemma of having to clear out some of the rhubarb to make room for it. I managed to gift two largish plants to our neighbour Tom, who has been enjoying them all summer. There’s still one big rhubarb crown that needs moving, but it’s also one of our best producers, so I’ve put off shifting it. I’ve decided that this winter, I’ll figure it out and re-jig things. We have too much rhubarb anyway, not enough asparagus!

Rhubarb & ‘Gus patch

 

So that’s that bit sorted, tomorrow I’ll get the ornamental area at the front weeded and done, then I can claim the victory over the weeds. I let you know how it goes.

Getting Cagey

Despite the lousy wet weather of April, our fruit bushes have been doing nicely. Okay fine, it’s really weedy, but I don’t want to think about that too much. However, no pesky nibblers or mould or anything nasty really.

We had always intended to build a fruit cage as there are an awful lot of wood pigeons and magpies around our site. I had worried about them snitching our lovely ripe fruit, but I was warned that they will also go after the fruit flowers. Makes sense, with so little food about, flower nectar must be irresistible to them. So we decided we should get  a cage built and up as soon as possible. Simon got inspired and did up a drawing in Google Sketch Up.

The Ultra Super Fruit Cage

Simon got the frame work up and I ordered some netting from eBay. I stopped by the plot just before the weekend and sure enough I caught two wood pigeons happily snacking away in the strawberry patch. After running about, yelping and waving my arms about like demented thing, I realised we had reached a Code Red situation with the fruit patch.

So on Sunday we unravelled several square meters of netting, armed ourselves with a B&Q Value wood stapler, we started to get the netting up. Even though the process resulted in me using the kind of language that would make a sailor blush, we did manage to get the netting on. At one point I managed to get myself tangled in one section. As I struggled to free myself, Scott declared, “look it works, it’s catching birds already!”

Looking good.

However, I did manage to misjudge how much netting we needed, so the back and far side of the cage aren’t really covered. I’ve ordered more netting and I think it should be fine in the meantime, I just hope we don’t get an attack from a group of savant pigeons that are able to figure out how to get in.

Bother

What to Grow?

When it comes to deciding what to grow, it’s very tempting to go for unusual things. I want varieties that I can’t get in the supermarket, or at least things  that will amaze and astound people, especially when I’m holding a fabulous dinner party. However, reality must be acknowledged and I’m well aware that I’m a bit of a ‘newbie’ at this. The unusual things are often more expensive and more challenging to grow. That, and my dinner parties are more frantic than fabulous really.

Generally, I’ve gone with modern varieties, but thrown in a few unusual things.  For example, I’m planning on growing ‘Resista-fly’ carrots, along side some ‘Purple Haze’ carrots. I figure we could use some challenge, after all, what’s life without challenge?

Our fruit area is mainly made up of things that were already on the allotment.  So we have raspberries, gooseberries, red & black currants, rhubarb and now strawberries. We planted the strawberries a few of weeks ago, there was a bit of snow on the ground, but the soil wasn’t frozen. I did manage to nab a couple of fleece tunnels out of the clearence bin at the Wandsworth B&Q. When the weather warmed up I left them uncovered, but have been on Red Alert for frost warnings since.

Baby strawberries, all cosy and warm in their fleece tunnel.

We’ve been fairly strict in making sure we grow things that we will actually eat, try to avoid gluts of things if possible. That being said, once I had a run through the seed catalogue, it had lots and lots of post it notes. We have 240 m², I now realise we need about 240 acres. So there was a quick discussion and some heavy editing occurred. So we’re growing two varieties of potatoes, not four. Two types of carrots, but only one onion. I have kept all four tomatoes varieties. Amazingly, all four of us want to grow sprouts.

We’re using a three year crop rotation on 18 beds, so 6 beds per ‘year’. In trying to balance out root veg, fruiting veg and brassicas, I’ve found we need to really embrace the brassicas. No colon cancer in this house, but we may need to spend next winter with the windows open…

Just a few Post-Its