Monday, 29 August 2011

Big Harvest and the Surprise Leopard

It’s been a fruitful bank holiday weekend with many a vegetable being harvested and we’ve seen some good weather too (strange I know!).  Work on the new plot has been slow, in fact nothing has been achieved since last week, but I’m determined to get it in shape and the soil fed by Autumn.  On my existing plot the harvest is coming thick and fast and the Beetroot has been exceptional this year.  I think this is more down to luck than skill but whatever the reason I think I’ll grow ‘Detroit 2’ again next year along with a few others.  The beet in the image above was the biggest of the bunch and it weighed in at over 500g.  Most are destined for pickling but one or two will be added to a cake or two.  I’m sure to post about both processes so if you’re interested just keep an eye out on the blog page or subscribe using the subscribe button in the main toolbar at the top of the blog page.

The Allium bed has been very productive and after pulling the onions, shallots and garlic, giving them time to bask in the sun, they were ready for storing.  Shallot ‘Golden Gourmet’ from Victoriana Nursery Gardens was quite productive and both Onion ‘Red Baron’ and ‘Stuttgarter’ produced good, if not slightly smaller than usual bulbs.  The garlic ‘Solent Wight’ that I planted out in late March also produced a great, if not extremely whiffy harvest.  My house now wreaks but it’s definitely a welcome smell.  I’ve ordered five new cultivars of garlic for planting this year and a few heritage bulbs, which I’m hoping will prove just as successful as ‘Solent Wight’.

In the potato bed, Potato ‘Pink Fir Apple’ is the last of my five potatoes to be harvested.  As I write a pan of these potatoes is boiling on the hob and with a few chives and a little butter they are destined for the dinner plate.  They are a lovely looking spud and somewhat similar in appearance to ‘Anya’ being knobbly and finger-like.  The harvest was great and the yield of this potato has been very good.

In the cutting garden it seems as though the Dahlias are coming to the end of their flowering period and after much deadheading the plants now look rather lifeless.  I’m hoping that they might go out with another big hoorah but the signs don’t look too hopeful.  I have Tulip bulbs ready to be planted for cutting next year and I’m hoping to expand the cutting garden further again as it’s been such a success this year.  The bulbs came from the pound shop again and so this tradition is not set to disappear anytime soon.  In fact, I’ve been so impressed with what I’ve bought for the cutting garden that it seems daft not continue with my pound shop experiment.
Whilst at the plot today I had another rather unusual surprise – I found a giant Leopard Slug lurking near the cutting garden.  It is easily the biggest slug I have ever come across and I just had to take a picture.  These slugs really are quite beautiful and are unusual in their habits as along with eating dead and decaying material they also prey upon other slugs.  I think I’ll embark on a captive breeding programme?!

I hope your weekend has been equally fruitful.  Also, don’t forget to check out the competition page to enter for a chance to win a great hardwood steamer chair worth £99.99.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Good News!

Ever since I was allocated my allotment plot back in May 2010 I have been in need of more space to grow all that I need for the kitchen.  I had preconceptions about allotments prior to getting mine and what I didn’t bargain for was being allocated a quarter plot.  I’m sure this is ample for most and with the current demand for space I guess a little land is better than none but I had plans, which were later scaled down.  My quarter plot currently contains two 24ft x 6ft raised beds, an equally long soft fruit alley, a small cutting garden and my chickens.  Suffice to say that this plot is now established and I’ve crammed it full to the hilt in order to maximize what I get out in return.  It’s relatively maintenance free, only requiring heavy mulching in autumn with a layer of cardboard, chicken/horse manure and a tidy up every now and again.  I still have plans to extend the chicken run around the back of the coop and complete the dead hedge, to square off the plot, but that is certain to happen this autumn/early winter.

After a pretty unremarkable week came an email that had me seriously excited.  If anyone had actually seen me they would have thought that I had either just won the lottery or taken an overdose of stimulants, suffice to say I was rather happy.  I had been offered the chance to expand my plot.  But it was better than that, I had a choice of two plots.  The first plot is directly above mine and is a half plot.  It’s a well cared for and fertile space with established currant bushes the only downside, and it is a big downside, is that taking this on would mean that I would have to give up my current plot.  I am not prepared to do that.  It would entail leaving behind raised beds that I had spent ages enriching with compost, manure and fertilizer and moving the chicken coop and run, which is an almost impossible task on its own.  The other option was to take on a quarter plot, which is towards the top of the site and this immediately stood out as a more exciting prospect.  Plots at the top receive more sunlight and plants appear to thrive.  This would give me great growing conditions and really help me to grow those vegetables that enjoy a warmer soil and plenty of sun.  It could also allow me to erect a small poly-tunnel.  The decision of which plot to take appeared pretty straightforward.

I met up with my allotment secretary yesterday so that she could outline the plot boundaries and I was not disappointed with what I saw.  The plot has a gorgeous row of comfrey the whole length of the plot, I get through a lot of comfrey, and this immediately appealed.  It also housed a herb garden, including sages, mints, chives, fennel and a curry plant, which I could put to good use.  Of course, the plot was completely overgrown and has the national collection of docks growing on it but this was no real problem and I could do with the exercise anyway.  What I didn’t anticipate was that this piece of land also came with an additional plot, which appeared to be even bigger again.  On the additional land stood an old apple tree, mature blackcurrants, several large buddleias, a bamboo and a blackthorn.  Below these lay old beds that lay in semi-shade, making it an unlikely candidate for prospective allotmenteers but absolutely perfect for me.  To say that I was thrilled is an understatement and I said yes there and then.  I even made a joke about getting a pig, which was received enthusiastically and I had to point out that I have enough animals at present, thank you very much!

Today I started work at the new plot.  There was much gazing, pondering and planning to be done and after a quick tidy up of the grass path I started to weed the plot.  Five wheelbarrows of weeds later and hardly a dent made I left the plot soaked through due to the ever-present (or so it seems) Welsh rain.  Tomorrow’s outlook appears to be much better and I’ll save my energy for then.  I cannot wait to see what this new plot brings and I am very keen to get it back to full production.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Broad Beans: What’s the point?

I'm a fickle person, or so it appears.  I’ve always had a love hate relationship with broad beans but I’ve never really been able to say that I truly love them with utter conviction, perhaps until now.

Growing up I don’t think I ever had the pleasure to meet a broad bean, let alone eat one.  I know for certain that they were never on the menu at home and so I never really picked up any tips on how they should be eaten or served.  I think my first encounter with this summer favourite was at a restaurant some years back, probably in a risotto.  By the way what is it with broad beans and risotto?  Anyway, restauranters and foodies practically salivate at the thought of a broad bean and you see oodles of hyped up press every year.  To be honest I’ve always wondered what the fuss was about.  Okay, so it’s a bean – get over it!  What makes this bean so special?

This year I’ve had enormous success with my beans.  They now tower over the other vegetables at around 4ft and it did appear at one point that were set to rival the runner beans.  This success is probably down to a whole host of factors, namely the new raised beds with lashings of compost and manure and the new home made fertiliser that appears to have staved off the usual insect attack and provided ample nutrition.  This year I grew an old cultivar called ‘Bunyard's Exhibition’ from Victoriana Nursery and I’ve been astounded with the results (no pun intended).

On the day that I renounced the humble broad bean, telling my other half that I would never grow this vegetable again as we never really enjoy them, I stumbled upon a Moroccan recipe that led to a little experimentation and heralded the future safety of my broad bean growing exploits.  With a little bit of onion, garlic, cumin, paprika, and tomato the broad bean was less of a bland accompaniment and became a great dish to go with meat, in this case fish.

Next year will see a number of cultivars being sown and I do hope to find more recipes so that I can utilize the full crop of beans without getting bored of the same old dishes.  For once I have the conviction to say that I love broad beans!  And in the interest of balance, I still hate asparagus peas.

In other news I’ve launched a brand new competition to win a gorgeous steamer chair worth £99.99 following the success of the photography competition (you can see all of the entries here and please ‘Like’ my facebook page).

Ryan's Garden Competition: Hardwood Steamer Chair

This competition is now closed.  Congratulations to Janice (@twydalldee) who is the lucky winner.
Many are saying that Summer is coming to a close but it’s not over yet and in the spirit of prolonging some of the summer weather I am offering up a gorgeous Sherwood Steamer Chair from The Garden Furniture Centre.  I’m really pleased to be offering one lucky reader the chance to win this great prize (worth £99.99), which  is made of hardwood and will be extremely hard wearing I’m sure.

To enter the competition and for your chance to win this great prize simply leave the answer the question below in the comments box and accompany this with a tweet including my username @ryansgarden to @gfcuk.

Question: In my most recent post on growing broad beans which cultivar did I grow?

Good luck all and I really hope this weather stays for a little while!

Terms and conditions: Entrants must be UK residents aged 18 years or older to enter. The winner will be chosen at random and you agree that by entering your name may be published. Prizes will be delivered by courier within 28 days. The competition is not open to employees or affiliates of The Garden Furniture Centre Ltd. Entries for this competition will close at midnight on 31st August 2011.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Ryan's Garden Photography Competition: The Results

A Stunning Entry by Alex Jobber
Back in June I launched the first ever Ryan’s Garden Photography Competition and I was really surprised with the response it prompted.  Images poured in and the standard was excellent. Images ranged from pristine single blooms to rock star gardeners and we even had an anatomically correct daikon!  I was over the moon when Charles Hawes agreed to judge the competition and after some professional deliberation the verdict was in.  Here’s what Charles had to say on his favourites and the standard of entries:

'It was very interesting to see the selection of around 50 pictures entered in this competition.  As with most garden photography competitions, most entries opted to go in close, looking at plants and bugs up front and personal, rather than the broader views. I think this reflects just how difficult it is to make garden views have real impact and why professional garden photographers get up at the crack of dawn to use the special light, which is sometimes there at that time of day to help their pictures have impact.

Stephany Ungless's idea of a garden made of paper was a fun idea, though, and it was nice to see Melissa Cannon's shot of people enjoying the garden- the only one with people in, as it happens. So the strong contenders were the close ups and there were several really great pics.

Lee Telfer's composition with sweet peas was lovely but it just needed to be a little more in focus for my taste.  Kate Howlett achieved something similar with her beautiful pic of spring blossom. I loved the humour of Mark Willis's daikon and I admired the capture of the honeybee in flight by Neil Hedge (although the light levels could have been lifted a little).

But there were two outstanding photographs in my view that were in a class of their own. Alex Jobber's composition of a single hellebore flower was stunning. I loved the background colour and the way that it fades subtly towards the bottom of the pic. Setting the plant off-centre was a great idea. This would have won were it not for Stewart Johnson's amazing spider web photograph.  This is a beautiful, mesmerising picture. He is showing us true creativity here and is using photography to take something in the natural world as his source and gives us back a work of art. A worthy winner'.
The Winning Entry by Stewart Johnson (Click to enlarge)
So there we have it, the winner of the Ryan’s Garden Photography Competition is Stewart Johnson who wins £100 of vouchers from The Range.  In addition to this, Dee Edmonds wins the People’s Choice with the highest number of viewer comments at the time of competition close.  Congratulations to you both and I'll be in contact shortly.  A big thank you to everyone else who entered and don't forget to visit shortly for the next of my competitions which has a prize worth £99.99.  All competition entries will remain on view on the Ryan's Garden Facebook page so please feel free to pop on over, add your comments and 'Like' the page.

If you would like to see more of Charles’ work Don't miss 'Discovering Welsh Gardens' and 'The Bad Tempered Gardener' .
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