Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Friday, 28 December 2012

Salad Days: A Winter's Airing

As a first time winter salad grower, I'm learning not only is good protection needed, a good airing of everything from time to time is also a wise move. I'd spotted a touch of mould on the compost under the coldframes, so I decided to give everything a good airing last Friday to prevent further problems. It was a lovely dry, mild day amongst all the rainy ones we've had recently and it perked my salad up no end.

As you can see, the potted lettuce 'Amaze' is coming along rather well under its cloche on the patio. A picking from a couple of these, plus some mustard, mizuna, fennel, chervil and pea shoots gave us a fine Christmas salad. Indoor sowings start in earnest in the New Year to supplement my under cover crops.

NB I'm continuing with the 52 Week Salad Challenge into next year. Whilst I've managed to grow and blog something 'salady' for every week in 2012, it wasn't until March that I managed to grow a complete serving of salad for NAH and me. Therefore, I don't think my year of growing is complete yet and I have quite a few posts to spare. Regular and new Salad Challengers are welcome to join me for 2013 :)

How's your salad coming along? Let me know in the comments or add your blog post link to Mr Linky below. Happy New Year everyone and here's to lots of salad growing in 2013!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Postcard from Christmas

Field of Light at Holborne Museum, Bath - December 2011
Seasons Greetings to all Veg Plotting readers. Thank you for your kindness, comments and friendship during 2012. Warmest wishes to you and yours and here's to a cracking 2013!

Veg Plotting will return briefly for Salad Days next Friday (28th), then there'll be a further break until the New Year.

Friday, 21 December 2012

A Salad By Any Other Name

It's been great to have so many Salad Challenge and #saladchat participants from across the globe this year :)

Therefore, I've had this post on my 'To Do' list for a while as I've found sometimes we don't speak the same language. For example, I've been contributing to Niki's next book and quite often had to look up Canadian/USA names to make sure she understood which crops I was talking about.

So here's a handy guide to the naming of salad leaves. You may have something to add, so do pitch in with your comments below.

Common Name used in UK Latin Name AKA and Notes
Alfalfa Medicago sativa Lucerne, Purple medick
Amaranth Amaranthus sp. Calaloo, Chinese spinach
Beetroot Beta vulgaris 
Carrot  Dauca carota
Chard & Perpetual spinach Beta vulgaris var. cicla Chard: Swiss Chard, Silverbeet; Perpetual spinach: spinach beet
Chicory Cichorium indybus Types include: Sugar loaf; Witloof or Belgian; Radicchio (red varieties)
Chinese broccoli Brassica oleracea var. algoglabra Chinese kale, Gai laan, Kai lan
Chinese cabbage Brassica rapa Pekinensis Group Chinese leaves, Napa cabbage
Coriander Coriandrum sativum Cilantro, Chinese parsley
Endive Cichorium endivia Frisee, staghorn, cut-leaved (curly leaved); Batavian, escarole, scarole (broad leaved); Chicory (in non-English speaking countries)
Florence fennel Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce Sweet fennel, Finocchio
Kale Brassica oleracea Acephala Group Borecole
Komatsuna Brassica rapa Perviridis Group Mustard spinach
Lamb's Lettuce Valerianella locusta Corn Salad, Mache
Land Cress Barbarea verna American Land Cress, Upland cress
Lettuce Lactuca sativa plus variants e.g. L. sativa longifolia = cos lettuce. The Constant Gardener has written a handy guide to the different types of lettuce
Mibuna Brassica rapa var. nipposinica Same latin name as Mizuna, but leaves are strap-like, rather than deep serrations
Mizuna Brassica rapa var. nipposinica Kyona, Potherb mustard
Nasturtium Tropaeolum majus Also the tuberous rooted Nasturtium, Tropaeolum tuberosus (mashua) has edible flowers
Orache Atriplex hortenis Mountain spinach
Oriental Mustards Brassica juncea
Pak choi Brassica rapa Chinensis Group Celery mustard, Bok choy
Pea (shoots) Pisum sativum
Radish Raphanus sativus Spring/summer grown radish is known as radish, but the latin name also encompasses winter radishes such as Mooli (aka Daikon in Japan)
Rocket Eruca  sativa spp. sativa Arugula, Mediterranean salad rocket, Roquette, Rucola
Sorrel Rumex sp. Rumex acetosa = common, garden, broad-leaved (and wrongly French) sorrel; Rumex scutatus = true French or Buckler-leaved sorrel
Spinach Spinacea oleracea
Tatsoi Brassica rapa var. rosularis Spinach mustard, Spoon mustard, Rosette bok choy, Rosette pak choi
Texsel greens Brassica carinata Texel greens
Tree spinach Chenopodium giganteum
Watercress Nasturtium officinale
Summer/ Winter Purslane Montia  perfoliata (was Claytonia perfoliata) Claytonia, Miner's Lettuce; Summer purslane seems to have Golden and Green varieties
Sources: Plants for a Future; The Organic Salad Garden by Joy Larkcom & Wikipedia

They may be salads by any other name, but which ones taste as sweet? * For Florence fennel, the clue's in the latin name, because dulce means sweet.

NB, the above table doesn't include all our favourite varieties. See previous posts for our top lettuce and other leaf recommendations :)

* = with apologies to William Shakespeare. A salad taste guide is in the pipeline...

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Orchids Flower on the Streets of London

I'm not sure if the slogan's part of the pictures, but it fits somehow

I love this! It's a shame I don't live in London because I'd be down there like a shot. If you've seen my photography blog Sign of the Times, you'll know already that I'm a huge fan of graffiti art :)

I don't think I've seen much of it featuring flowers, so perhaps it's not surprising this is part of an exhibition designed to raise awareness of orchids as well as bringing some seasonal cheer. If you head down to Great Eastern Street in Shoreditch on Friday (21st December 2012), they're giving away orchids too :)

The exhibition continues until December 23rd and there's also the chance to win a luxury trip to Amsterdam (where NAH and I honeymooned, so that's a big thumbs up from me) which includes a visit to a Dutch orchid grower. Sounds fab.

The artwork was created by the London based graffiti collective Graffiti Kings who were the official graffiti artists for the 2012 Olympics. The street orchid exhibition forms part of an on-going awareness campaign by Art of Life, who believe that the 25,000 species of orchid are all unique and pieces of art in their own right, with their diverse shapes, colours and patterns. 

The exhibition wall is available to view on the Great Eastern Street side of Village Underground by Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, London EC2A 3PQ.

Interesting facts, inspiration and tips on caring for orchids can be found here. If like me, you can't get to the exhibition you can find out more about the competition to Amsterdam via the Facebook page or via @orchids_info or #orchidsinldn on Twitter. NB the competition closes on December 23rd. 

Disclosure: The photos are used by kind permission from Weber Shandwick.

Monday, 17 December 2012

From a Goody Bag to The Guardian

It's funny how things turn out. If you'd said to me last year my first article for The Guardian would be about compost and tools I'd have laughed. I'd racked my brains for a couple of years and pitched all kinds of unusual ideas (to me anyway) to the editor, which were rejected, used for the blog instead, or kindly suggested as suitable for another publication.

A couple of these finally did get to the development stage last year, but then to my surprise the editor suggested I should revamp my Trendwatch 2012: Honey I... blog post instead. This was based on the catalogue I'd found in the 2011 GMG Awards goody bag and was very different to the kinds of ideas I'd been pitching, as well as having a rather strange source of inspiration. Note to self: I must get better at spotting these kinds of opportunities.

Having written the piece once, how do you write it afresh for a different audience? I'm a Guardian reader, but I wrote for 'me' in the original blog post and I struggled to find who I was writing for this time around. Eventually the picture of a young couple with a courtyard garden came into my head. They were relatively knowledgeable, but trying to make sense of various new products they'd found in the shops and how they might use them.

Then came the steep learning curve. I may have blogged for years and started writing for magazines, but this was quite different. There's a certain style and layout to get used to, as well as a word limit. I already admired many garden writers, now I have even more respect for them. So much knowledge and research is distilled into each sentence as well as lots more getting thrown away in the process. Yes, it's exactly the same approach for writing a good blog post, but with knobs on. It also helps having a patient editor, who gives constructive feedback when the initial article is way short of what's needed.

I met my deadline and the article was accepted, admittedly with quite a bit of editorial polishing needed. Then came the wait for publication. A summer date was initially pencilled in, then something more suitable for the time of year came along. Writing a blog, I'm used to publishing pretty much straight away, so it's been strange to play the waiting game, even though this is quite normal. The immediacy with most of my writing also meant I hadn't spotted I'd written a piece which can be slotted into any time of the year. It still needed a little bit more tweaking and price checking prior to publication.

I've been on a rollercoaster of emotions during this time. I questioned whether I have the ability to write for The Guardian and repeatedly going over them meant my words often felt lifeless. That's all put to one side now it's published and I have a deep sense of achievement. NAH always says difficult things are much more rewarding and he's right. I'm also thrilled with the specially commissioned photograph which accompanies the article - who knew tools and compost could look so good?

My thanks goes to Jane Perrone for giving me the chance to write for her and for taking so much care to ensure I came up to scratch. She could have chosen a much more experienced writer for this piece and saved herself a lot of time and effort in the process. I promise I'll do much better next time ;)

Saturday, 15 December 2012

GBBD: Buds of Hope

This week's winter chills have served to lay much in my garden low over the past few days. However, this morning's milder weather and bright sunshine tempted me outside to see what's what. It's heartening to see many of the drooping plants (including the fennel I showed you yesterday) are bouncing back and turning their leaves towards the sun for whatever warmth they can glean from its wintry rays.

There aren't any blooms to show you, but at least there are plenty of buds of hope like the pictured Helleborus 'Winter Moonbeam'. Whilst its partner plant has nearly 20 fat buds on display, I've chosen this picture because I like the contrast of the fresh green leaf. We may be only a week away from winter's darkest night, but it's comforting to know that nature is planning to bounce back whenever it gets the chance.

Elsewhere in the garden, the cyclamen are also sporting fresh new buds and it looks like once again the snowdrops may be out before Christmas. The daffodils are beginning to push their noses through the soil: they may not be as advanced as their Cornish cousins, but it's great to see them there. I don't know why, but I always feel my bulbs are never going to come back. It's rather reassuring the seasonal rhythms are still in force, without the need for intervention on my part.

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

PS I have my first proper grown-up article in The Guardian today. They've also made it available online. Needless to say I'm chuffed again and I'll be telling you more about it on Monday :)

Friday, 14 December 2012

Of Winter Frosts and Snizzle

We've had our first real breath of winter here in VP Gardens this week. A few days of air frost and cold surfaces have combined to outline everything in a magical dusting of hoar frost. Many plants can withstand the odd ground frost or three, but just like us a thorough air frost can chill plants right down to the bones.

Even a dustbin bag full of tinfoil* can look quite interesting when its varied folds have a hoar frost outline. But seeing it's Friday, what of the salad? I hear you ask...

The beets I showed you a couple of weeks ago are standing up well so far, even though I've left them without any protection. It'll be interesting to see if their leaves toughen up as part of the plant's self preservation.

My fennel's wilted leaves are showing a textbook example of physiological drought. I've rescued them and tucked them up in a coldframe now. I think the leaves will bounce back OK from their experience, but whether the small, iced up bulbs will also be edible - never mind keep growing - remains to seen.

I don't have the luxury of a polytunnel or greenhouse to cosset my salad leaves over the winter, so part of my own personal 52 Week Salad Challenge is to see how much useful protection is provided by simpler, cheaper options such as fleece, cloches and coldframes. Even these less roomy coverings help to keep the temperature a few degrees warmer (outside we've been down to -5o centigrade over the last few days and nights) and increase my salad's chances of survival. Before this week I was a little sceptical of their effectiveness, but after a quick peep under the pictured cloches (so my leaves don't get too much of a shock!) I'm encouraged to see they're a great help. Whether they can cope with the rest of this winter's chills, or indeed the exceptional weeks of cold like those we saw in the winter of 2009/2010 remains to be seen.

As well as learning a little more about effective winter crop protection, I've also discovered a fab new weather word this week: snizzle. This is a light drizzling form of snow which can fall from e.g. freezing fog. I went out on Tuesday night and was surprised to find the centre of Chippenham covered in a light coating of snow when I returned home. Our local TV weatherman alerted me to the technical term and said it's a relatively new one having only been proposed in an academic paper in 2009. However, I see there's a blogged reference to it dated 2007 :)

Related Posts

I saw lots of fields in Cornwall last week with their soil covered for warming up ready for early crops. That plus this week's frosts have reminded me of my earlier What's the Weather for Salad? post showing you how you can calculate your sowing, planting and cropping times for outdoor grown salad leaves. If you prefer a shortcut, there's also a link on there to a useful website which gives the air frost dates for many of the UK's towns and cities.

Today I've linked to a selection of relevant posts I've made previously about the weather. You may also like to see my popular ABC of Weather series and further posts I've made under the Weather label.

* = NAH's aunt can no longer get to her local recycling facility in Poole, so we brought her piles of tinfoil home with us after our last visit. We're waiting for the right week (i.e. the recycling one) for our bin men to take it away. Distance caring tasks get a bit bizarre at times...

Monday, 10 December 2012

Postcard From Cornwall

We've just got back from a week's break in Cornwall. I love the deserted beaches you find when visiting out of season. This is the view from Tate St Ives last Tuesday just before the wind blew us indoors in search of something warming :)

Friday, 7 December 2012

Travellers' Salad: Out on the Streets

When I started the 52 Week Salad Challenge in January, I had no idea I'd find some salad in public bedding schemes this year. I took the above picture a couple of weeks ago whilst out shopping in Calne. The chard looked even more dramatic a few days earlier with the sun slanting through the red stems. Of course the leaves on display here would be a little tough for a salad, but at least the thought's there.

Bristol has also gone into edible bedding schemes in a big way this year. In the summer I saw lots of lettuces and mangetout peas on display in Castle Park. It seems they've continued this idea into winter. Luckily Nigel Dunnett was on hand to comment on and photograph the results recently:

It looks like the influence of Incredible Edible Todmorden on our public planting is spreading :)

What salad have you found on your travels?

Monday, 3 December 2012

Still Chuffed

Apologies to those of you who've seen this on Facebook or Twitter already, but I have a few things to say which need to be said within Veg Plotting itself.

Firstly, a huge thanks to all of you who've contributed to this blog in some way this year - as a guest poster, by leaving a comment or contributing to #saladchat or Salad Days. This award is because of you :)

Secondly, a number of you took the trouble to get in touch by email after the awards last year re the judging. Like you, I was extremely disappointed not to have been shortlisted. However, it gave me a chance to look again at the way in which I'd submitted Veg Plotting's nomination. Whilst what I'd said was OK, I hadn't really told the judges enough about why Veg Plotting was special (to me anyway!) and different to any other blog out there. I set out to change that this year.

With a change of event organiser for 2012, the opportunity's been taken to do things slightly differently this time and all blog entrants were listed in the 'book of the day' given out to all attendees at the awards lunch. From that I see the number of entrants was down this year and I strongly believe a number of 'independent' bloggers who deserve to get the recognition I've had are missing from the list.

If you value your blog and what you write about, I urge you to enter in 2013. I know some of you aren't keen on the entry fee or the self-nomination process. The entry fee covers the admin and postage needed for the awards process and is comparable with the fees I've seen this year for writing competitions. As for self-nomination... well you have to be in it to win it. Besides, we don't have friendly editors or publishers to shove us into the limelight - we're those things as well as being the author and photographer!

Going forward I hope to encourage the judging process to include feedback for all entrants in some small way. Hopefully this won't be too onerous a task for the judges (who are probably queueing up to throttle me now) and means we'd have something to work on (if we want to) in the future. If you have any observations you'd like to add, do let me know. I've just been elected onto the Garden Media Guild's committee and so have the power to make your views known!

Finally, huge congratulations to the Guardian Gardening Blog on their win. They have an extremely talented set of regular bloggers, so were always going to be the one to beat. It's been a pleasure to write a guest post for them this year :)

Saturday, 1 December 2012

GBMD: Birches

The birch tree from our bedroom window - Christmas Eve 2011
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Extract from Birches by Robert Frost (1874-1963). The full poem can be read here.

Birch trees are one of the most commonly seen trees in the UK and it's no different here at VP Gardens. As well as the one on view from our bedroom window, our neighbours have 2 in their garden and we have another out the front. They add stature to our winter view both here and elsewhere on our estate.

In January it'll be the birch trees which will probably yield the most sightings for the RSPB Garden Birdwatch at the end of the month :)
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