Mirabelle: love unrequited

5 April 2012

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By now, I should have a dozen or so thin green stems sitting in the spare room waiting for the spring warmth to return and so to make new homes in 10 inch pots in the freshly cleaned greenhouse.

Alas. Mirabelle Blanche, my new internet seed love match, has stood me up.

I’m left with a hotchpotch of old seeds some faithfully fecund others, whilst not entirely panda-like, just a bit more coy and fickle.

Last week’s delivery from Tamar Organics was a proverbial mixed bag. A new lot of red clover sprouting seeds and Mirabelle’s Dear John letter. (BTW, if you like sprouting seeds, do try red clover. Fantastically crisp with a hint of spiciness.)

In response, I resorted to the tomato family’s answer to cockroaches (they could survive a nuclear holocaust) in Gardeners’ Delight and Moneymaker. Despite being well passed their best before date, I’m confident of at least a 50% strike rate. Given that I’ve sown a dozen or so of each, if you need any plants in 4 weeks time, I might have a few spare.

I’ve also emptied my store of slightly more exotic seeds. There’s Golden Queen – a tasty yellow oval – and Zuckertraube – sweet little fruits. The former produced a couple of plants last year but were hardly big croppers. The latter went all moody and died, not favouring for my erratic watering regime. Wimps.

To date, there’s been a bit of life from the Golden Queen and not much more. The plants got a good shot of spring sunshine last weekend, but since then have had to cope with cold blast from across the Bristol Channel.

Oh Mirabelle, you tease. I’m yearning for a tomato that tastes of something. No more over chilled, watery lumps from Spain thank you. Maybe this is the answer.

Next up, finding a space to protect cucumbers from July’s inevitable Atlantic gales.



My “love apples”

3 April 2011

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A couple of weeks after sowing, I’ve got several tomato varieties on the go and some yet to germinate. Golden Queen, which strangely produce yellow fruit, were only a few days behind the old standards Moneymaker and Gardeners’ Delight.

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Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for my precious Zuckertraube to kick off. These took some time last year. I recall a strike rate of about 1/4.

Some of these “heirloom” varieties can be a bit finnickety. The fruits are delicious, but what’s the betting I get none?

Last of the cukes

7 November 2010

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Picked the last of the cucumbers on Saturday. November cucumbers: pretty impressive, I think.

Still eating greenhouse tomatoes too. I’ve got half a dozen ripening in the kitchen.

Greenhouse, this evening

4 August 2010

Tomatoes, cucumbers and chillis. Yum.

Salad days

10 August 2009

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Finally. Looks like this year – yep, another damp summer – could be the year that I get a bumper crop of tomatoes.

I’ve assimilated loads of advice and tips. I sowed seeds in god time. Planted out when the plants were nice and healthy. The soil’s good. My magic liquid feed has been applied regularly. Thanks to Mrs Allotment 5 1/2 the greenhouse has been kept warm to ripen the fruits.

Everything else is down to sunshine. Intuitively, I’d say it’s not been great. But, we’ve had good stretches of sun in May and June. Plus, the last few weeks have seen a few decent days.

All told, I’m pleased that we’re getting a constant and growing stream of sweet little toms – Gardener’s Delight, indeed. Moneymakers are on the way.

Meanwhile, the salad bed keeps producing bags of sandwich filling. There should even be a cucumber or two ready by the end of the week.

Pete free

27 March 2009

This week’s Gardeners’ World (iPlayer should work for the next week) focussed on moving to peat free compost. I missed all but the last 15 minutes. Why was I watching cycling from Poland?

Peat, in case you didn’t know, is an unsustainable source of compost. Peat bogs have been laid down over the centuries by decomposing matter. The rate at which gardeners get through peat based compost means that the supply is dwindling. Peat cannot be replenished, except over many centuries.

It’s got to stop. In fact, it will stop.

I use peat free alternatives. However, as the programme mentioned, it is a trial for gardeners as the alternatives vary greatly in quality and nutrients.

This year’s tomato seedlings have done well in B & Q multi-purpose peat free compost. All 18 germinated within a week. On the other hand, we’ve seen no germination from our herbs and chillis. Now, I might put that down to watering or sunlight or my lack of green fingers. But, it turns out it might be that I’m not using the right growing medium.

As always, everything is an experiment.

And, please, phase out the peat.

Chilli willy

10 July 2008


Residents of southern England may have noticed a few spots of rain over the last few days. Exmoor, just up the road, had 58 mm yesterday. So, you can assume that we had about the same – 2 inches for those hard of metrication. The Met Office would have you believe that June was drier than normal. What’s more, the temperature was apparently near normal.

Hogwash! It’s cold outside.

But, it’s hotting up in the greenhouse as one of the chilli flowers has finally condescended to fruit. Just how do you spell it? Chili? Chilli? Voodoo Chile?


Rain, wind and cold aside, I emptied a couple of potato pots this afternoon as I waited for a heating engineer. (We thought we’d wait until the summer to replace the boiler. Summer 2007 that is – we’re still waiting for that one.)


The chillis have to compete with the tomatoes in the greenhouse. Like just about everything else here, the tomatoes are lagging behind. So far, so good though. We’ve got good strong flowering trusses on all the plants. I clipped off some of the lower branches today, giving the top growth more of chance to develop.


Probably not a surprise that I’m eating a lot of potato salads for lunch. I pack in mixed green leaves, baby spinach and rocket with the pots, a bit of cheese and shop bought tomatoes (boo!). I’m now having baby lettuce leaves from the raised bed too.

To complete my day off, I sowed yet more basil and marjoram.

You may feel a small prick

6 May 2008


For the last year and a bit I have been suffering from trigger finger, a rather unpleasant and irritating feeling. The condition is most noticeable when my hand has been at rest for awhile. The middle finger on my right hand locks in the claw position. To straighten it, I have to pull it, causing a clicking and a slight pain.

A steroid injection dissolves the nodule that causes the clicking. I hate injections. But, what you going to do? I can’t go around with a claw hand, or even part of a claw hand.

Then again, the condition doesn’t affect my digging. (Yeah, that’s the good news.) In fact, activity like digging improves the mobility.

For someone in a sedentary job, it’s probably wise to cure the locking. One of the doctors in the local surgery can carry out the injection. Apparently, you have to know what you are doing. At least, that’s what he says.

So, on my day off, and a day after my birthday, and the best day of the year, I endure a small prick and an pushing sensation in my hand as the doctor finds the right place to release the drug. The injection includes a small amount of anaesthetic to make it less painful. That means I spent most of the afternoon with a numb right hand. Well, that matches the numbness and pins and needles from my neck problems.

Excellent all around.


In better news, it was such a nice day that I gave the cucumber, tomato and chilli seedlings a treat of sun in the greenhouse.


It was also a great day to plant salad leaves. I put in a bunch of rocket, oriental leaves, rhubarb chard, baby spinach and lettuce. For a change, I popped in a few short rows of cornflowers, which I love.


Next to the spinach (protected from the birds by my horrid, but cheap, coldframe), I have sown some wild poppies. No idea how these will turn out, but again it’s a bit of colour to contrast the green of all the lovely leaves I hope will grow in the raised bed.


The sweet smell of success (or ‘you stink of Jeyes fluid’)

27 April 2008

An unexpected window of sunshine allowed a couple of hours digging this afternoon. But, I gave in around 5.30 and collapsed into the bath.

Not that I wasn’t busy in the morning. Jeyes fluid made another appearance as I disinfected a whole load of small pots in preparation for sowing seeds. Late sowing, this was.


We are well behind on greenhouse crops. Not that this leaves us worried. There have been enough disappointments in the past: see above. So, waiting until late April to sow tomatoes and cucumbers is not such a big deal.

I hope.

Tomatoes have never been our strong suit. And, I think it’s down to not understanding which shoots to prick out; too many plants craving too little sun; too much or too little water. Whatever it is, I’m determined that we do better this year. A little light reading in the evenings from my extensive, yet hardly touched, gardening library should put us right.

From this disastrous experience, we plumped for a couple of varieties that any idiot should be able to grow.


Moeymaker: just the name inspires confidence. ‘Well known for reliably producing heavy crops.’ Er, not in our experience, but we’ll give it another go. It is a medium sized fruit on large trusses, so a bit of scaffolding might be required.


Gardener’s delight: it sure should be. ‘Bite sized fruits…sweet flavour. Heavy crops…’ Can’t go wrong! (Note: The tray also contains some parsley I sowed.)


One of last year’s surprises was some success at cucumbers. We’d not tried them before and because we crammed the greenhouse full of tomatoes, the cukes wound up outside. Three plants ended up under a cold frame and half a dozen or so lived in one of the few sheltered spots in the garden on the greenhouse staging.


Not the greatest yields, I’m sure. The leaves got a bit brown and powdery, a sign, of some horrid bug. Nevertheless, we got a steady stream of 10-15 cm or so fruits through until September. I love cucumber, so a bit of a bonus.


Let’s see how Green Fingers -‘early cropping, high yielding baby cucumber…powdery mildew (ha!) resistant’ – do.

Let’s go for it!


As a coda, I popped in one of my maincrop potatoes – Desiree – into a pot to sit in the greenhouse next to my thriving first earlies.



Later on, I trundled up to the allotment for some back torture. The trip did yield something tasty: some lovely purple sprouting broccoli and spinach, courtesy of Barry (not his real name, of course).

I benefited from scone and tea around 4.30.

The late planted onions are starting to produce green shoots. I felt the earth yesterday and it has definitely warmed up, so no excuses now you boys!

Another four potato plants have poked above the soil. Another three of four spots show cracks in the soil, so the shoots are about to reach daylight. (Eight weeks from planting to digging: six weeks to go then.)

Bathed before dinner – including purple sprouting – but I still smell of Jeyes.


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