Life in Crouch End, bikes, trying to be green and other randomness

Archive for gardening

Guerrilla gardening on Crouch Hill?

Guerrilla gardening on Crouch Hill – or some kind of odd council gardening? It is right on the border of Haringey and Islington so it is not really clear who is responsible…. i might slip some daffodil bulbs in late at night!

Crouch Hill

Crouch Hill


Asparagus, Broad beans and Garlic

Very little can be started off in the veggie plot at this time of year – but there are a few things that can get started, that like the cold and provide some winter joy. Asparagus isn’t one of them, but this is a good time of year to plant crowns of asparagus. These are young plants of one year, which can be transplanted live and replanted in another plot.  This is very much a long term effort. Although some tasty stems will grow next year, they must be left to add strength to the plants, meaning that in 2009 we should have a good crop of purple asparagus. In the mean time it is important to feed the plants as much as possible. I dug in lots of manure beneath the crowns before planting them – which should nourish the young shoots. I’m then going to inter-plant some broad-beans in the bed. As these are legumes, when they have died back in may/june their roots will be full of nitrogen, as they decay below ground this Nitrogen is released by bacteria into the soil.

There are other crops that are still in the soil that are overwintering are parsnips, cabbages, kale and broccoli. With some luck some of my Swiss Chard will survive too. I’m trying to overwinter some chilli plants and aubergines in little pots.

The best thing I’ve discovered so far for winter is garlic – i ordered a mixed set of planting garlic from the Isle of Wight garlic farm – from which I’ve planted about 80 cloves, each of which should end up as 80 bulbs between May and August. There are seven different varieties – so they should be ready to lift at different times. In the mean time they push up green shoots , not unlike leeks (same family!) which give some green to the bleak winter garden.

Different Veg

These are white carrots, Kuttiger carrots, which I decided to try as an alternative to orange carrots. I’ve decided that this is going to be my approach with the majority of the stuff I try to grow, if you can buy it in Tescos I’m not interested – variety is the spice of life! These have a wonderful taste, a bit like a cross between a carrot and a parsnip. That might just be my mind telling me that because they look like parsnips.

May Harvest

It’s June, and all of a sudden the weather has gone from almost wintery, to distinctly summery. About time too. What’s more the increased day length and fall of solar radiation means that everything is suddenly growing at a rate of knots – keeping everything under control is a challenge.

Now that things are coming on apace i thought I’d summarize what I managed to harvest during May – not very much as most of the things I am growing either become fully mature in July/August, or I gave away the plants that had made the best progress as presents……

Still – we managed

20 radish (French breakfast)
4 rather mangy “January King” cabbages that didn’t really form heads.
2 bowls mixed salad leafs
3/4 swiss chard leaves
1 Artichoke Globe head


Container Vegetables

A challenge in a small urban space is to make the most of the area you have available for growing. This means growing things up walls, on widow sills, or improvising something else completely.  Hanging baskets hang from the most suprising places, and they have the added advantage of not getting too cold – at my last flat we had no outside space, but there was a dead satellite dish that was adept at carrying 2 hanging baskets without breaking sweat.

Here’s some of the things i’ve been trying:


This is a basket with a big bush tomato (Smadar i think – although annoyingly Garden organic don’t list them at the moment so i can’t link), a Hungarian Hot Wax pepper, severely nibbled by a slug the somehow managed to get into the mini bottle clotch (there’s a little shoot or recovery but it is slow progress). There’s also a little Cinnamon Basil seedling, this should help add some flavour to the tomato, and the three plants together are complimentary.

butternut seedling

This Butternut squash seedling in a patio pot is protected from snails with the copper tape around the base of the pot. The canes are for training the plant up. Amazingly butternut squashes are supposed to be good climbers, I only realised this last year when in a fit of boredom i had a look at the types of squash you can grow to eat…. last year the plants went in the soil, snaking between flower beds. The slugs and snails had a field day.


This is a window  box of salad. Quite excited about this because last year just a tiny pot of cut and come again salads produced loads of leaves, and this year we have about 3 of these on the go – plus some  odds and sods elsewhere. The leaves in this one are Rocket, Miznou, Corn Salad, and Giant Red Mustard. The thing that impressed me is how much more flavour the leaves have than shop or grocer bought.

Lastly the potatoes, they have come  along somewht since the last picture – i’m now having to remove flower buds from the top of the ones in the black bucket, so that they work more on producing tubers than flowers… not long until the first new potatoes – <fingers crossed very tight> cimg2165.jpg

12 Things to do with the vegetable patch in May

The Guardian allotment blog has a new post suggesting a 12 Step Plan from Gardening Guru  Caroline Foley for making the most out of May. To my joy we’ve already got some of these things underway – hurrah! Others will be a bit more tricky…..

Here’s what she she suggests and what we have done,

1. Prepare the ground by warming it for a couple of weeks with black plastic ready for sowing French and runner beans and the Cucurbits, or cucumber family. Marrows, courgettes, outdoor cucumbers and pumpkins can be sown in situ in May- or a little later depending on your precise location. Err on the cautious side as they won’t survive the smallest whiff of frost. If there is an unexpected chill, cover them with newspaper or fleece at night.

 We have  already got the baby courgette plants in the ground, they are ready to go into pots and under the Fig tree this weekend.

Constanza beans: photo Howard Sooley2. Check out interesting varieties. Try black or yellow French beans or the ‘Fire tongue’ bean -the classic speckled Italian bean for drying – ‘Barlotto Lingua di Fuoco nano’. For
stockist. French beans do a triple act – they turn from green bean to haricot and have a final flourish as a flageolet bean.

 Our climbing beans are Barlotto Lingua di Fuoco and Neckar Gold varieties – i’m quite exited about the possibility that they might cross and make something really weird. There are some dwarf yellow beans as well that should be good.

3. Try salsify – an intriguing vegetable. It tastes like oysters and is pretty enough for the flower border. To get straight roots, use a trick of the show bench and make funnel shaped holes with an iron bar. Fill with the sandy soil before sowing.

No salsify …..

4. Sow maincrop beetroot and leeks, winter cabbage, sprouting broccoli, kale, swedes and Swiss chard now for winter eating.

I’ve got calabrese, cabbages, and swiss chard ready to go into beds.

5. To beat the drought and to get enough water down to the roots economically, saw off the bottoms of plastic soft drinks bottles with a serrated knife (or get hold of short sections of plastic pipe) and sink them along the row so you can target the water accurately.

 This is cunning, although i’m not entirely sure of what she means, I’m protecting the small seedlings with bottle cloches to fend off birds and slugs.


6. Get going on cut-and-come-again salads and stir-fry leaves. This can save you a fortune and is so easy to do. Look for many different mixes – Italian, French, oriental etc. etc. Sprinkle a few seeds every couple of weeks for non-stop production. For non-organic culinary herbal mixes i.e. ‘Nice ‘n’ Spicy’, ‘Meek ‘n’ Mild’and ‘Cut ‘n’ Cook’. Organic growers should check here.

I’ve got a whole load of seed from last year of salad greens i got from Woolworths, there’s a good mix of leaves, home grown Rocket seems to have twice the taste. It’s going into window boxes at the weekend – going to be a busy one….

7. Tuck straw (preferably barley straw) under strawberries and cut off all but a few of the runners so the plants can put their energy into the fruits.

We have 3 Strawberry plants in hanging baskets, they’ve not got any runners I can see yet but i’ll be sure to cut them off if i find them.

8. Nip off the tender top shoots of broad beans where the blackfly loves to assemble.

 No broad beans this year, although they were really easy to grow last year.

9. Plant rosemary and thyme. They confuse pests that go by smell with their pungent volatile oils.

 Missing both of these except for a woody rosemary bush in one corner.

10. Sow the seed of the old-fashioned cottage garden plants – love-in-a-mist, bee balm nasturtiums, marigolds, the poached egg plant and cornflowers. They will brighten up your plot, provide camouflage and draw in friendly predators.

We’re trying Marigolds, Nasturtiums… but we’d love to have ….

11. Make predators even more at home by providing insect hotels, bug boxes and habitat towers. Examples to copy or to buy can be seen on Click on ‘Caring for Nature’.

 A bug box! I can never quite justify the expense.

12. Net all fruits unless you are happy to share them with the birds. Put up bird feeders instead.

The birds have our cats to fear more than i fear the birds nabbing our strawberries – they’ve not brought anything larger than a bee into the house yet, it can only be a matter of time.

Progress in the garden

Over the Easter weekend i strung together a wrecking crew of guys and we took my old rotten shed down – this solved the dangerous rickety shed problem – but also created a large pile of wood……

Hapilly, I have some room where I did have some empty beds, dying to have some raised vegetable beds put in. I’m experimenting with companion planting this year, and as you can see from the photo I’ve managed to put some of this into action already – the geraniums either side of the wooden ends of the bed are intended to catch attract hover flies that feed on aphids. The tomatoes are deliberately at the back to be shielded by the peppers in front which prefer the full sun. There some garlic there too which deters pests, and going in there later will be some basil, parsley, carrots and lovage – all beneficial.