Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Do Look Ethel! *

People who know me well will be surprised to find me sporting a pair of gardening gloves because they know I love feeling the soil with my fingers when I'm working in the garden. Besides, having extra large hands for a laydeee, means my previous encounters with gloves have been far from satisfactory.

So, when Dominic at Quality Garden Tools offered me a pair of his beloved Ethel gloves to review a few weeks ago, I told him straight away that I was very happy to, but he'd be facing quite a challenge in converting me to his cause.

Well, Dominic can breathe a sigh of relief, because I'm totally smitten with them. I liked the simple measuring gauge he used to make sure the right pair was selected for me. I love their snug fit, so that I can still feel what's going on in the soil, plus the longer cuff so my wrists are also protected. The tougher material on the palm and fingers meant I could get to grips with pruning roses at home, and the always painful job of cutting back the autumn raspberry canes on my allotment with nary a scratch or getting the annoying splinter-like bits of cane in my fingers. All this and they're washable too!

This is the first pair of gloves ever** which I've used for a second time (and third, fourth... etc). Not only that, they're prominently at the top of my gardening bag now, rather than being left to sulk in the shed.

* = with apologies to Ray Stevens and his catch phrase Don't look Ethel!

** = believe me I've not only tried quite a few pairs, I've also soldiered on with pruning roses or cutting back raspberries or brambles without them, despite bleeding profusely from several lacerations, because I dislike gardening gloves that much

Friday, 30 March 2012

So What Exactly is Salad?

Gilly's post last week reminded me I've been pondering the question so what exactly is salad? since the start of this Challenge. Carl asked a similar question at the beginning of the year, so the definition I came up with in reply and for our purposes is...'s salad leaves, sprouted seeds, edible flowers and anything you can forage to add to the bowl. There are also other seasonal 'supplements' you may have available to add: e.g. beetroot and other root vegetables during the winter; or cucumber, peppers and tomatoes in the summer for instance.

So far that definition has served us well. However, Gilly's got me thinking about it again. In her post she said:

I don’t want to eat a lot of salad over winter, I prefer warm vegetables and veggie-packed soups.

There's nothing wrong with that of course, and it got me musing about warm salads in her Comments:

...I’ve been pondering salads vs. winter – we need some recipes for warm salads methinks (when I’ve got my head round what warm and salad actually means!). Plus a lot of the salad ingredients can be used for warming soups too, so it’s win-win.

Gilly replied:

Yes, when is a salad not a salad? With so many ‘non-salad’ items now entering the salad repertoire plus hot lettuce recipes I would pose the question “is it a useful way of looking at it?” but then where would that leave the Challenge!

It seems I'm not the only one confused by the term 'salad' these days, so I turned to The Free Dictionary for guidance where it's defined as:

sal·ad (sld) NB do click on the little icon to hear the spoken salad!

a. A dish of raw leafy green vegetables, often tossed with pieces of other raw or cooked vegetables, fruit, cheese, or other ingredients and served with a dressing.
b. The course of a meal consisting of this dish.
2. A cold dish of chopped vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, eggs, or other food, usually prepared with a dressing, such as mayonnaise.
3. A green vegetable or herb used in salad, especially lettuce.
4. A varied mixture: "The Declaration of Independence was . . . a salad of illusions" (George Santayana).

Concentrating on items 1a and 2, let's see...
  • Raw leafy green vegetables... so where does potato salad fit in?
  • Served with a dressing... though my leaves like those pictured at the top of this post often aren't
  • Often tossed... that suggests a number of ingredients jumbled together - simple tomato & basil salad anyone? And where does that leave composed salads, where the ingredients are often tastefully arranged, just so?
  • A cold dish... but there's also warm e.g. Carl's recent Warm Chickweed Salad and a whole lot more once you start looking on the interweb
It seems there are plenty of exceptions to these 'rules' as far as salad is concerned!

For NAH, a salad means various green leaves combined with tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, raisins and a low fat dressing so that it's less boring. It's served alongside grilled fish, meat or an omelette. It means he eats something in the evening which agrees with his constitution and doesn't interfere with swimming training later on or early the next morning. I get rather bored with that - hence my need for this Challenge!

What does the term salad mean to you?

Update: I've now come up with a simple 4-step guide which ensures we get a great tasting salad every time, no matter where we are in the year.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

VP's Guide to the Yellow Book

Today sees the swanky launch of the Yellow Book for 2012 in London. It's their 85th year of raising pots of money for good causes, so now's a good time for us to have a quick peep 'over the fence' into the blogger gardens opening for the NGS this year :)

First up is Dawn of Little Green Fingers, who is a NGS first timer this year. Her Yellow Book entry says:

Set in 1/3 acre, this space has been designed to show that a practical family garden can still be beautiful. There is a large lawn with a sunken trampoline surrounded by mixed borders, ornamental vegetable garden, children’s play area and greenhouse

Dawn's garden in Hail Weston, Cambridgeshire is open from 10-5 on 9th June. My thanks to Dawn for sending me the photo of her garden :)

Next is my dear friend Karen, whose NGS entry title matches her blog: An Artist's Garden.

An Artist's Garden is a 140ft garden with slate paths leading to ponds, vegetable plots, cutting borders. The late summer planting is full of colour and texture.

You can read all about Karen's first opening last September on her blog, plus my delightful visits to her here and here. Karen's garden in Dyffryn Ardudwy is open from 11-5, on 2nd September.

Finally there's another dear friend of mine, Victoria of Victoria's Backyard who's been opening her garden since before I first got to know her in 2008.

The planting here is strong and modern: bananas, gorgeous tetrapanax, a tree fern... and the biggest phormium I've ever seen. Vast paddle leaves of bananas splay out against a background of bamboo' (Anna Pavord). 70ft x 40ft subtropical suburban oasis, designed to defy global warming, garden pests and kids without recourse to carbon emissions, chemicals or cranial damage. Design is contemporary but not minimalist

You can read all about my first visit to Victoria in 2009 here. No doubt we'll be seeing Victoria's regular posts along the lines of Eek, tweak there's only a week! and Phew, that's a relief but I had a great time later on this year ;)

Victoria's London garden opens 2-7pm on 26th August.

So we have 3 fab gardens opened by 3 gorgeous gardening bloggers which are very individual in style and in completely different parts of the country :)

Which NGS gardens are you planning to visit this year?

Sunday, 25 March 2012

You Could Be in Chippenham!

Chippenham's making the mainstream media lately. A few weeks ago, it was featured in The Guardian's regular Lets Move To... slot* and now, this week Justin Webb mentions it prominently in his Radio Head column in the Radio Times.

He's talking about how the power of the internet is enabling people to keep in touch with their roots: in this case keeping up with the live commentary from the rugby game in Bath, the team he supports. He says:

When I grew up in Bath, BBC Radio Bristol was a fine station if you were no further away than say, Chippenham. But, my lovers, as we say in the west, Chippenham feels like a dream to me now.

My son and I - nearly 80 miles east of Chippenham - fiddled around a bit with the local radio websites and suddenly - as clear as if we were sitting in the Roman Baths - we were by the pitch.

So if you find yourself on a desert island like the couple in the cartoon, fear not. Just fiddle around with that laptop you magically have to hand and like me, you could be in Chippenham ;)

Here's hoping these prominent mentions are a good omen for the town's Portas bid...

* = though any Chippenham resident reading it would have spotted it wasn't that well researched, or something was lost in the edit. E.g. St Mary's Street is magically relocated to East Tytherton, which is quite a way out of town. But hey, a feature's a feature :)

Friday, 23 March 2012

Salad Days: First Salad

Well, it's March and we're nearly a quarter of the way through our 52 Week Salad Challenge! I've seen quite a noticeable shift in the growing season the last couple of weeks. Fresh new leaves like sorrel (reported by @I_Like_Cake) and foraged ransoms (@ediblethings) are coming into production. They're taking our tastebuds away from winter fare and into the tangy new flavours of spring/summer.

There's a marked change in growth too. The peas shoots I sowed at the beginning of the month are now just two weeks behind the ones I sowed a month earlier. And at last I've managed to provide a complete salad for NAH and me, so the 19th March now marks the earliest date ever I've managed to do that.

The picture shows our salad of pea shoots, beansprouts and leek microgreens. @simiansuter was right: the leeks are very strongly flavoured (in short bursts owing to their size) and were a fine contrast to the sweetness of the peas and the earthy beansprouts. Now my next challenge can commence - to provide at least one completely home grown salad for the two of us every week from now on :)

This week also sees a new way of making Salad Challenge contributions: Barbara Segall kindly sent me this picture (NB it's her copyright, so no pinching or pinning thank you) of her pickings this week. In her email she said:

I think your salad challenge is special, but as I don't think my salads, sown last autumn, qualify, I thought I would send you the image anyway. They have overwintered in a raised bed, with a light cover of fleece, which has become ever-lighter as the wind has ripped it. Chervil, oriental salads and uncovered, lambs lettuce, have kept me in in greens... I have also discovered wonderful herb vinegars, mixed with oil that seem to take the heat out of the rocket and mustards, great for friends who find them a bit feisty!

Of course Barbara's salad more than qualifies and I'm glad she got in touch because it shows you don't need a blog or to be on twitter to join in The 52 Week Salad Challenge :)

Over on #saladchat we've been discovering plants suitable for salads which I didn't know were edible. @AlysFowler urged us to try the young shoots of Sedum spectabile, whilst @JanePerrone offered us the possibility of at least 4 edible species of Sedum. @JekkaMcVicar urged caution because some species contain rutin. So I checked the ever useful Plants For a Future database and I'll just be trying S spectabile - its edibility rating is 2 which = reasonably useful - when sufficient shoots have appeared.

Elsewhere @naomislade added orach to my list of salad leaves suitable to sow in March, with @JekkaMcVicar adding she didn't need to use her propagator in the process. @ediblethings offers us the prospect of adding cucumber to the microgreens list and @higgledygarden the possibility of eating cornflowers next month. Oh and @simiansuter chipped in with Mesembryanthemum crystallinum during our chat re Sedum.

Finally, @Jaynethedig asked:

My cavolo Nero is running to seed. Can I eat the flower tips like purple sprouting?

Perhaps you can answer Jayne's question? Update: Jayne reports they were lovely.

So overall it's been a fantastic month for learning new things and real progress has been made in the salad growing stakes. We can look now look forward to much easier times for salad production and a crop of new flavours :)

How have you got on this month? Or perhaps you have some fabulous salad recipes to share like Carl Legge did? Add your links to Mr Linky below. NB Our next Salad Days will be April 27th.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Work, work, work...

It's good to enjoy the simple pleasures in life: one of them for me recently has been the pictured Forgotten English calendar I found in the January sales. It has all kinds of discoveries lying in wait for fans of the quirky and strange.

Last Monday's entry was more thought provoking than usual as it highlighted all kinds of strange occupations found in the early days of the census. As well as showing us a snapshot of occupations long gone, it seems being a little subversive when we can has deeper roots too. Perhaps declaring Jedi Knight as your religion on the census return isn't quite so original after all.

It got me musing on how we spend most of our lives letting work define us. Often one of the early questions when meeting someone for the first time is so what do you do? The idea being to seek out the common ground with the people we're talking to. How much more refreshing (and enjoyable) it would be to be asked so what do you like to do?

When NAH and I first met we had occupations designed to make other people's eyes glaze over when meeting them: electronics and electrical engineer for him and systems analyst for me. Yawn. So we invented 'alternative careers' which we'd use when going out to parties and suchlike.

NAH alternated between designing shapes for dog biscuits and putting cones out on motorways - this was in the days well before John Major and the cones hotline - and I was a crazy paving designer. We were constantly amazed by how seriously these occupations were taken before our joke was rumbled and there was laughter all round.

Nowadays we don't work in the conventional sense and it's well before the age retirement is decreed for us, so I often see people struggling to slot us into the 'correct' pigeonhole when they meet us. The one marked Bloody Lucky will do, but I'm also finding the idea of using one or two of the occupations on the pictured list quite tempting ;)

Friday, 16 March 2012

Sprouted Seeds Fact Sheet

It's a relatively short post from me today as I'm away most of this week.

I'm planning quite a few downloadable fact sheets to supplement my weekly posts about salad. Here's my first on Sprouted Seeds - all squeezed into one page. You can use the zoom in button and sliders in the embedded page above to have a good look at the fact sheet to decide whether clicking on the link to download is for you.

You may also like the following posts:
There's also a Page dedicated to The 52 Week Salad Challenge, showing the story thus far, with lots of extras and showing how you can be involved. It's never too late to join in!

NB The next Salad Days when we share our posts on how we're all getting on is Friday, 23rd March. The link takes you to the ones we've had so far :)

Thursday, 15 March 2012

GBBD: The Guerrilla Garden

I often talk about the public land by our house here on Veg Plotting, but I haven't shown you that much of it. Previously you've seen the hawthorn and blackthorn *, plus the snowdrops which I planted on the wooded slope next to our house and along the drive leading up to it.

The flowers are part of my guerrilla gardening activities and because the land right by us is woodland cum hedgerow, my planting is simple and mainly of spring flowers. The picture shows part of the footpath leading down to the path running next to our house and the local brook. I've used daffodils and Muscari, the latter reviled by many for their tendency to spread, but planted by me for their resilience. The dreadful ground left by the builders is keeping them in check.

I'm rather pleased by the way the Pulmonaria is spreading itself down the path. These were originally tiny pieces given to me by my friend Lu which I planted a couple of springs ago. As seems to be happening so often these days that spring was a dry one and I thought they wouldn't survive. But they have, despite my not watering them and I love seeing the bees out visiting for an early season's feed.

At the weekend I was out there again, planting out a spare
hellebore left over from from the batch J gave me, which I was able to split into several new plants. I also planted some more Pulmonaria (also divided) and some foxgloves. These are rescued self-seeded plants from the gravel path in my back garden.

I've done nothing to look after my guerrilla garden apart from the initial planting and it's rewarding my tough love by blooming every spring. Soon the folks from the local care home will be coming along the path to admire my handiwork. Little do they know I can hear their cries of pleasure when they see the daffodils I've planted amongst the trees. It's an annual treat for them and for me to hear them whilst I'm out working in my garden :)

* = currently in blossom, so here's hoping we don't get a blackthorn winter.

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Monday, 12 March 2012

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #31

  1. Operate your typical edge of town supermarket kinda store
  2. Decide something quite different is needed
  3. Tell your customers something's happening
  4. Wait for a blogger with a camera to notice the sign says in tiny letters at the bottom left: Image for illustrative purposes only
  5. Et voila!
Since when has an image not been used for illustrative purposes? ;)

However, since I took this picture on 28th January all has been revealed. Last week the store had a massive revamp and there is indeed a wondrous new array of vegetables, fruit etc. on offer. It's going to take time to work through all the things I've not heard of :)

It turns out Chippenham's Morrison's is one of six stores chosen to pilot the supermarket group's brand new strategy. The link takes you to this week's article in the local paper which tells you more. If this is a success, it'll be coming your way too. Such power in the hands of Chippenham's people! ;)

Friday, 9 March 2012

Salads for March

March is the exciting month when at last lots of possibilities present themselves in terms of seed sowing and summer harvests start their transformation from dreams into reality.

It's also time to experiment a little, so I was pleased to find the pictured lettuce seed mats in a local shop this week. I'll write about these more fully in a later post.

Here in the south west of England I've sown lots of other leaves this week. If you live further north you may have to wait until later th
is month - see my What's the Weather for Salad? post on how you can work out the best dates for salad growing where you are. Do also bear in mind how fickle a month March can be and the rate in which your particular soil takes to heat up and adjust your sowings (or protection) as necessary.

So far I've sown (mostly indoors and in modules, so the windowsills are getting a bit crowded!):
  • Lettuce 'Little Gem' - fast growing and produces sweet, smallish leaves. One of my favourites
  • Mangetout pea 'Shiraz' - a new, purple podded variety, which I'm chitting. I hope the reality is as good as it looks on the packet
  • Lots more shop bought peas for pea shoots - to tide us over until I can plunder the mangetout
  • Carrot 'Artemis' - having nibbled a test leaf in the supermarket, I'll be using the tops for salads this year (sown outdoors)
  • Flat leaved parsley - I prefer this to the curly leaved type (sow indoors only)
  • Chervil - a new herb for me, which is meant to be practically indestructible and a good leaf for salads
  • Buckler Leaf Sorrel - I love the contrasting bitter, lemony taste as well as the unusual shape of the leaves
  • Rocket - I prefer the greater pepperiness of wild rocket
  • Beetroot 'Bull's Blood' - I grow this for leaves rather than beets
  • Spinach 'Apollo' - I grow this for baby leaves only
You could sow most of these outdoors if your soil conditions allow, though fleece may be required for frosty conditions. It's also time to start hardening off my lettuce sown in January/February ready for planting out under cover.

Other possibilities include (under cover of some sort if marked with a *, otherwise outdoors is OK):
  • Basil * (and preferably with heat)
  • Dill
  • Radishes
  • Broad beans (if you didn't sow them in November)
  • Turnips for leaves
  • Chard
  • Salad onions
  • Shiso (perilla) * (and with heat)
  • Pak choi
Boy doesn't that make the 3-4 varieties found in shop bought bags of salad seem rather puny? I should be able to start cropping some leaves, such as the lettuce as soon as April. In the meantime sprouted seeds, pea shoots and microgreens are the order of my day.

Now Harvesting

Mags has shown us the harvest possibilities from her polytunnel with her beautifully labelled picture.

Or how about this little lot from Naomi:
Salad Supplements

The new season's salads are just beginning to appear at the greengrocer's, like these radishes I spotted in the above picture in Bristol last Saturday. I'm not so keen on the roots, but the leaves grown as a microgreen to garnish our salads have become a firm, peppery favourite.

I don't know how well the pictured leaves would go down in a salad. Worth a try or a bit tough perhaps? If it's the latter, then they could be added to soups. If you like the roots, then they make a great salad supplement or you could try Yolanda's Radish sandwiches.

If you have a greenhouse or polytunnel, it's also time to start sowing those stalwart summer salad supplements, tomatoes and peppers. My windowsills are packed at the moment, so I'll be obtaining these via other means - more on this to come ;)

Carl has also posted a rather yummy looking Winter Panzanella recipe using pea shoots and foraged chickweed. Which reminds me, Emma has posted a rather handy guide on how to pick indoor grown peashoots so they grow again.

Those of you of a foraging disposition and looking for something other than chickweed to try may like this carrot and ground elder salad recipe. Apparently ground elder tastes like parsley, so if you've been battling it as a weed in your garden, you could change tack and eat lots of it instead.

What salad leaves are you sowing/eating this month?

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Get In!

NAH and I have been watching the GB swimming Olympic Trials with great excitement this week.

NAH because his ex-training team mate Stephanie Millward has secured her place on the paralympic team and me because I'm loosely involved with the hopes and dreams of Michael Jamieson, pictured on the left.

Since December I've been looking after Smiths News' Community Week blog, which brings news of all the company's fundraising efforts for various charities.

They're also supporting Michael's efforts to reach and compete in London 2012. He's the son of one of the staff working at the head office in Swindon and he trains at nearby Bath University.

Both NAH and I have trained at this pool and can vouch for the superb facilities there. It's also very close to where Threadspider and I go to the fab talks put together by Bath University Gardening Club.

After our disappointment in not getting the tickets we'd hoped for the Games (to the swimming of course!), it's rather marvellous to be involved in this way.

Those of you who know me on Twitter may have been rather puzzled by my non-gardening related tweets over the past few days, so now you know!

I'm looking forward to seeing more like this over the coming weeks:

Monday, 5 March 2012

I've Got the Commenting Blues

Readers and writers of Blogger blogs can't have failed to have noticed there's a new Word Verification (WV) kid on the block.

A few weeks ago, Blogger opted to use the captcha method: i.e. the one we were grateful we didn't have when reading blogs on other
blogging platforms.

I believe it's because quite a lot more spam has been getting though lately and Blogger are trying to make it more difficult for the bots. Trouble is, it's a hell of a lot more difficult for humans too :(

As a result I've been tinkering with the way comments work on Veg Plotting. The WV so many of you hated has gone. So far this hasn't increased the amount of automated spam arriving in my comments. *crosses fingers*

Instead there's been a phenomenal increase in the amount of spam trapped by Blogger's spam filter. I also started getting around 10-30 spam comments per day in my inbox, as I'd opted for forwarding comments to my email.

So last week I switched off that option. Result? I received none of the emails I like to see from genuine commenters, but I still got all the hated ones from all the spam. Not quite what I wanted :/

I then considered what else I could do:
  • Change to Comment Moderation, but I don't like the delay in comments appearing on my blog and the conversation it prevents
  • Disable backlinks, but that would prevent me from seeking out new people who've popped over for a visit
  • Prevent Anonymous comments like Lucy did. She found her spam comments ceased when she stopped allowing these on her blog. However it means genuine regular commenters like my friends Lu and Zoe wouldn't be able to comment
  • Use another comment service. When I raised my Issue on the Blogger Help Forum, re the commenting changes, DarkUFO recommended the DISQUS system. I need to investigate further as Petra over at Oxonian Gardener had some problems with it when she went over to WordPress recently. It would also mean a major hack to my blog template and I need to consider any implications for earlier changes I've made.
So what have I done?

I'm no longer allowing Anonymous comments even though I don't like solutions which may discourage genuine comments. So far it's stopped the spam and I've heaved a great sigh of relief. I was also cheered to see Lu left me a comment yesterday.

It would be good to know if Blogger have any more changes planned because they could negate any solution I'm contemplating. I believe I still have some changes to do, hence my commenting blues.

Increased spam isn't just an issue on Blogger blogs. I've seen a marked upturn on my WordPress ones recently too. One cheekily congratulated me on my blog post, but said it was a little too spammy!

How do you manage your blog to encourage genuine commenters, whilst keeping out the spam?

Update: I forgot to mention I use Comment Moderation on blog posts greater than 10 days old. However, I found this does not stop the spam in its tracks when I removed WV. An email to moderate is still an email to deal with :(

Friday, 2 March 2012

VP's VIPs: Charles Dowding

You can imagine how thrilled I was to see a the above tweet and top tip from no-dig and vegetable growing guru Charles Dowding in my timeline :) I was even more thrilled to visit him at Lower Farm last month and see where he produces salads leaves for sale year-round and also teaches his day courses.
Charles was just finishing off a couple of things when I arrived, so I took the opportunity to have a good look around (with his very friendly cat, Catmint as my guide) and take some photos in the late afternoon sunshine. It was the first day this year when the promise of spring could at last be felt in the air.

I then joined Charles who still busily working away. At first we enthused about our favourite apple varieties (with many in common) and the recent news that soil could be beneficial to health before settling down comfortably for a walk around the farm and for a more detailed look at the subject of salads.
How long have you been growing here and how much space do you have?

I've been here for 11 years. It's two acres with about 1 acre of that devoted to production. I rent the rest of the farm to my brother. [I was struck by how much of the growing area's outdoors and how much greenery there was on the plot in mid February. I was expecting much more in the way of polytunnels]

And you must be on limestone here?

Actually it's clay! But regular application of muck and mulch over the years has really taken care of that. Most people are wary of treading on the soil in winter, but I can happily walk over my beds and it bears my weight easily [we walk across the beds towards the polytunnel - it was a bit like walking on a fruitcake], see how the soil is firm but with a little give without it being too yielding. That frost we've had recently has really helped to break the down the manure I used to top up the beds this winter [kicks a massive lump of manure which instantly disintegrates]

We've started our salad growing in January so we've been limited to mainly sprouting seeds and growing microgreens indoors. What should we be looking to crop this time next year?

Outdoors, kale is doing well this year - when the pigeons aren't after it - and lamb's lettuce is always reliable, as is land cress which has a good peppery taste. Indoors mizuna's cropped well due to the mild weather, there's various mustards and I'm picking some good pak choi. You must also try picking some chicory.

We've had some great pea shoots grown on the Challenge

You've managed pea shoots already? And picked more than one crop from a sowing? You've done well.

Update from Charles: One correction, I always pick lots of times off pea shoots, I was surprised at the earliness of your harvest.

When I started the 52 Week Salad Challenge, everyone was enthusing about yours and Joy Larkcom's books on salad. Your approach is quite different isn't it?

Yes, my picking's quite different to the cut and come again approach where the plants are grown very closely together. But you must remember that Joy's book did so much to raise awareness of what's possible and many new kinds of leaves were introduced to our plates. My approach is an extension of her good work into new ways.

Can you describe the picking technique?

Seed is started off in modules and the plants when they are a good size are planted out at about 9 inches apart. Later, the outside leaves are picked off before they grow too large and a central core left, so the plants can continue to grow to the same size as before and crop again and again and again and...

What are the benefits of picking? I'd be so tempted to fill out the spaces between the plants as they look so much further apart than usual

Well, you could plant out your new crops [when they're small] between the plants when they're getting towards the end of their cropping period. As for the benefits of picking, successional sowing isn't needed because each plant has a much longer period of production over many weeks. This smooths out cropping so you don't have peaks and troughs in your produce and plants are slower to bolt. You only need to sow about 4 times a year. [that answers @GillyinAriege's question :)]

Can all crops be picked? What about the looser kinds of leaves?

Yes they can, there's still a central core of leaves you can leave.

And how much do you pick - those endive look like you've picked about half of the leaves.

It really depends on the season and the type of crop. You'll need to experiment to find out what works best for you. [The theme of there being no hard and fast rules occurred several times that afternoon. It was so refreshing to talk to someone advocating we should try things out for ourselves.] I use 2 buckets, 1 for the leaves I'm going to use and the other for those going on the compost heap.

It's clear from your book that you've taken careful of notes of what you've sown, produced and when, particularly with your no dig approach to growing.

Yes, I've been comparing dig vs no dig very carefully in my experimental plots.

The results shown in your book vary, and though no dig seems to have the slight edge overall. I'm not sure whether it's statistically significant?

No, but I've proven yields can be as good as with digging and many people said it wouldn't. There are plenty of other benefits. It's a much easier system in terms of effort and the soil's health is better.

And it means you have a spade! [@TalkieTom's question]

Yes, it's very useful for chopping up the kale stems and other brassicas before they go on the compost heap!

Do you have any new experiments for this year?

I'm trialing biochar as people are asking about it on my courses. [It's the darker bed on the right of the picture above the dig/no dig trial beds]

Since starting the Challenge, I've noticed quite a few more businesses specialising in salads.

It's about the only viable vegetable growing business in my view. I've been helping a couple of people get started who've been on my courses. [that answers @Simiansuter's question]

What are you sowing at the moment? (NB this was on February 15th)

It's my spring sowing time so there's lettuce, spinach, spring onions, dill (which is frost hardy), peas and broad beans. I've found those polystyrene modules really good for sowing early seeds, but they don't seem to be available these days. [I said 6-12 module versions are often used by garden centres for bedding plants, but not the larger version he uses]

Apart from salad leaves what are you using in your salads at the moment?

Tonight we have beetroot, celeriac [we agreed this is much easier to grow than celery], squash, apple, parsnip because we've run out of carrots plus avocado with a little lemon juice [Charles produced a delicious looking bowl of finely grated vegetables when I asked this question]

I took my cue to leave at this point as it was getting dark and there was the rest of the evening meal to prepare. My thanks to Charles for such an inspirational afternoon which has given me much to think about for the rest of my Salad Challenge this year :)

NB I also got a sneak preview of Charles' new book, which is a distillation of the courses he teaches at Lower Farm. It looks great and is on my birthday present list (hint hint NAH!). I'm also hoping Threadspider would like to go and see him at Toppings bookshop in Bath on April 18th. He's also due to appear at RHS Wisley's Grow Your Own weekend on Sunday, 25th March and there's full details of his other appearances here.

Update Dec 2012: Charles has since left Lower Farm and is currently setting up again on land a few miles away.

You'll see who else has kindly been a VP VIP by looking through my Interview label :)

Thursday, 1 March 2012

GBMD: A Subversive Plot

Discovering I might be growing subversive salad last week, reminded me I've been wanting to share this marvellous 2011 TED lecture by Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International for some time. It's just over 18 minutes long so grab yourself a coffee, settle down and enjoy. Roger puts across his thought provoking message in a humorous way*.

If the embedded video isn't working for you, then try this link instead.

Sometimes gardening has a reputation for being rather fluffy and lightweight which in itself isn't a bad thing, especially when lots of things in life aren't. However, this offering for Muse Day shows gardening can also tackle some pretty fundamental issues in a positive way. You might also like to look at:
...and you'll see gardening can actually be pretty cutting edge. BTW those straplines are my summaries of what each project's about. The content in the links state their case far more eloquently.

* = You may also like to read my Food 2030 blog post which also looked at these issues.
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