Friday, February 27, 2015

Goodbye February 2015

Right, January went from having a pleasantly over-indulgent rounding off of the Christmas season and thank-you-but-I've-had-enough-chocolate,-cheese-and-wine-and-don't-talk-to-me-about-liqueurs-for-another-eleven-months-and-where's-the-timetable-for-the-yoga-centre? kind of feel to it, to superintensiveclassicintensiveoffsitepage43?itmustbeTuesdayandtellmeagainhowmanydayswe'vegottilltheweekend. Then we got - I dunno, we've still got one day to go and I think I may be delirious - Flubruary? Pharyngary? Bronchiary?.... Ah soddit, Plaguary - yes. But now, literally in the last 36 hours or so, I've felt a change in the quality of the light, a lightening in the air, a sense of sap stirring. Concrete pavements, asphalted roads and iron lampposts are pale grey under a white sky. Bare-branched, motley-barked trees seem to be holding their breath and expanding towards the white-gold sun in discreet but irrepressible ecstasy. And after weeks of feeling utterly at one with the sofa, of blissful burrowings under pillows and quilts, of keeping the windows shut, the heating up and the kettle on, I find that I want to - mooooove..... Did someone say yoga? What a seductive idea... Mountains? Are those mountains? I'd forgotten. Ooh, don't they look inviting! I'll bet there's fresh air up there. Birds. Lichen-covered limestone boulders (my favourite!). Shining streams flowing over fascinating brown mud and bright green moss. Peace. And a sky as wide as - the sky! Where are my boots? What time's the train? Ooh! And the Improv Meetup! What could me more fun than crossing the city to spend a surreal hour or two making a complete twit of myself with a bunch of very-strangers? And why couldn't I see the attraction last weekend? Haha!!!!!!!! Let's hear it for March, that cheeky, swaggering little upstart, all mouth and ragged-arsed trousers, who always has to be first with the news that the tarpaulin's coming off, the motor's revving up, the first violin's having it out with the third trombone, the pastry chef is on the point of exploding with anticipation and - Did you doubt her? Oh you foolish, weak-minded sillies! Has she ever let you down? Of course not! So - Dig out your dancing wellies! - Spring is on her way!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Heat, leaves, stems and beasties


Bloody hot week. Stress and pleasure in more or less equal measure, though the balance has shifted since I gave up watering in the evening. And I've had advice. Ants really don't like cinammon, so the colony appears to have moved out, though I've made a strong solution of cayenne pepper in case it doesn't do the trick. Been reading up on companion planting: to deter pests, attract pollinators, provide shade or ground cover, or just take turns with other crops. All a bit clever really. Also researching vertical planting with a proper solar-powered watering system for next year. And a friend recommended some solar powered LED lanterns for when I go back to evening watering in the autumn. All quite heartening, in fact!


 So it's in the upper 30s, but while the pumpkins do that limp handkerchief thing in the afternoon, they're just fine. I wondered about putting up a hessian canopy, but I don't think I'll ever foget a pumpkin patch in the desert sand beside the Abu Dhabi Road. There was a little shack with an A/C unit, and where the water emptied into the sand, that pumpkin had sprouted and proceeded to climb up the side of the building and onto the roof. Huge leaves, bright yellow flowers, and yer actual pumpkins. Amazing. So I'm resisting the urge to cosset, because if these guys can do 45ºC, what's a mere 36ºC?


But we're watering! Rain on Wednesday - but we still had to water. By now, I'd got to the point where I dreaded evening watering. I'd realised I was overwatering, and dropped the morning session, because you lose less from evaporation overnight. But I cannot bear 35º+. Exhausting. So, new practice: since I'm usually up at 7 or 8, when it's delightfully cool, that's when I water. And it's a pleasure. There's time to notice every development, from the opening of another bud on the fig tree, to another pea-sized tomato I've previously missed; to do little jobs like nipping out dead leaves and supporting drooping stems; and just to observe and think about whether something needs more or less sun, and what - if anything - I could do about it. A happy, busy morning before the sun comes out and gives me a slap across the back of the head that sends me reeling indoors!


 Still, pumpkin protection, after all. They're sitting on top of the A/C extractor, and the hot blast was scorching their leaves.  The overhanging plastic tray directs the A/C extractor blast away from the leaves. It works.


    Gorgeous!


Cucumber flowers, though I'll be surprised if these turn into cucumbers after the messing about I've given them, repotting and moving them, then tying them up. 


I think they're extraordinary, the way they unfurl these perfect sets of leaves, and produce these tendrils.


 But I still think half-open cucumber leaves look like space aliens.


Our lovely, precious compost bin. I've bought hundreds of litres of compost over the years, and it all gets worn out and has to be chucked. Not anymore. We've got two bins, and a dinky one in the kitchen. You can get expensive metal ones with carbon filters, but we've just got a mini plastic dustbin with two metal fasteners to keep iit airtight, and we empty it every evening. Simple. So here's the first big bin. Principal contents, kitchen veg scraps and peelings, egg shells, fishbones, stale bread, teabags and coffee grounds, fishbones, garden waste, toilet roll holders, egg boxes, used kitchen towels, worn out last year's compost, torn newspaper, air (See the drill holes halfway up? andsome more 3cm from the base) and just enough water to get it active. Moisten from time to time, and wait for next year! Red bin just starting.


Looks like the peppers are here to stay.

Second pot of pumpkins going for it. I crocheted  a trellis mesh for them, the cucumbers (before I moved them) and the peas.

              
More beautiful pumpkin tendrils! Love 'em!     
     

In fact, they are just wonderful structures from top to bottom. Ask Gaudi or Calatrava or any mediaeval mason erecting a gothic cathedral. Stems and canopies. Marvellous.


But I've still got black thumbs where peas are concerned.


And then there's that little infestation problem. I followed the instructions on how to use the neem oil, but have since learnt that a 0.1% solution is too weak, that neem oil needs to be added to warm water to be effective, and that adding grated soap to the mix (dissolves more rapidly) makes it more effective. The challenge was to find pure, natural soap, not 'cleanser' full of betyl this and wotsit benzoate. Finally found it - nice lavender scent, too - so mixing it up today to spray it on this evening.


 Spontaneous basil. I'd given up on the basil seeds germinating when I sowed spinach, and now up they come to cheer me up when the spinach are under siege from marauding aphids. Bloomin' prima donna, I still haven't quite worked up to feeling grateful for surprise basil, because this is about the most capricious herb there is, in my experience. Still, it would be sooo nice if we could have fresh basil again!

                                  

 Gave up on the aubergines (never the same since a hanging basket fell on them) and moved overcrowded baby leaves over. They love it! Flinging their leaves in the air and transpiring with happiness!

                                                                                                                                                                 Ignore the basil. That's one of three new pots of marigolds behind it, which I bought as companion plants because aphids don't like them! They're Tagetes, which worried me when I saw marigolds on TV listed as Calendula. However, I've got the right one, so between the neem oil mix to kill off the current pests -possibly in time to save the last of the spinach and the worst-affected baby leaves - and the marigolds to keep future prospectors at bay, I'm feeling optimistic. Note to self. Not near legumes - so move them once the bean starts climbing.                                                                                                                                                                                            

Holding my breat, but we appear to have a happy, healthy bean plant. I've popped a couple of salad plants in with it. Let's see how they do.


I expect I've said it before, but I just love the colour and shape of young fig leaves.


Raise your hands if you're happy.


Look at this canopy. This tree's gone through so many phases in its short time here.


 This photo makes me think of Redouté roses. I don't like pillar box red plants like salvias, but I love this crimson geranium and its white companion..


Every gardener needs a wasteland for contrast. Mint might have recovered from application of citrus fertiliser if woolly aphids hadn't moved in.


Ghost of little Viking leader remains upright long among the devastation.


And let's hear it again fro trachelospermum jasminoides! I have planted four of these beautiful climbers. Early in the year, I got terribkly worried because the leaves seemed to be fossilising and dying off. It turned out that I was overwatering, which was causing a very common root fungus, so I cut right back on the water.


I've mostly got it right, but the problem has come back with one plant. I cut these off the parent , which I think is going to be fine after all.


And speaking of cutting. Side shoots. Hope I haven't overdone it. I don't think the tomatoes themselves need protection from direct sunlight, but the leaves are part of their cooling system.The plants were very leafy, and the tomatoes were buried
within. I think I've got it right.


OK girls, I've taken out the side shoots, so fruit, please!


A ripening Raf tomato. Look at the quilting!

Right, got some spray to make up...

Monday, July 08, 2013

It's been 7 months!

Ooooooh, life's been interesting! That's my excuse for not blogging for seven months!

Howsoever, although I'm on holiday this month, we're into our second week of 36º or thereabouts, which just knocks me sideways, so I'm sitting here posting some pics of the terrace that's too hot to go out on between 10 and 8 - but such a pleasure outside those hours! This is s what currently occupies my thoughts most days, and also those nights when it's too hot and sultry to sleep.

It's like having a new baby in the house: Are the plants ok? Have they got enough water? Too much water? Do they need more mulch? Space? Repotting? Do they need feeding? Moving? Pruning? That pleasurable if slightly neurotic state of having something utterly precious and rewarding in your care. Last year, everything drowned in April, fried in early May, and then drowned again. Peppers, cucumbers, baby leaves, everything. I was utterly deflated. Then in November, up popped splendid purple leaves, and I realised that the baby leaves were very much alive - and they continued to flourish right through the mild winter, and into the long, cold, wet spring we've had this year.

So with renewed optimism, and a lot more determination, I'm having another go this year. At the beginning of May, I sowed sunflowers, spinach, green and red peppers, cucumbers, aubergines, peas, pumpkins, coriander, parsley and sage. Lovely.


 Seeds? Check. List? Check. Cuppa? Check.

 Perfect weather for getting elbow deep in compost and seeds.

Yup. Lovely weather for it.

A few nights later the night temperature dropped to 1º. Deep sulks out there under the compost. A fortnight later, when there was still no sign of life from  the peppers, beans and cucumbers, I sowed some more seeds on top of the apparently defunct ones. Another fortnight later, and everything except the beans and cucumbers was coming up nicely.

 A small dream fulfilled - a fig tree of our own.

Six Raf tomato plants, which I am assured have the best flavour of any tomato.

A first brave bean pushing up to the light, still wearing its little pink seed casing.

And the spinach!

Hasta el 40 de mayo - by the 9th of June, we had

 pumpkin action - and the sunflower seedlings in the background,

 bean seedlings coming up - with a sprinkling of alfalfa for company, 

 abundant baby leaves

 and two pea  plants  - fingers crossed because 3 out of 4 plants died last year, and I think the total harvest was six pods. This year, out of at least a dozen seeds, two have germinated.

and another new baby - an olive tree. Spain, innit?

Now, it's all go, but despite heavy-handed applications of Neem - an eco-friendly pesticide (today's oxymoron) I've got a big problem with woolly aphids - didn't realise earlier cos the larvae look more like fine dandruff particles than any living thing. 
 Peas? Beautiful. Then they upped and died. Actually it took several days for grey, creeping dessication to finish them off, but that's what happened.
Beans... First one up, first one down. :(
 But here's another beanie.

 A ladybird on one of the sunflowers! Boy, could we do with more of her right now!


Anyway,
 from this,

and this, on May 1st,

        
with plenty of water,

food,

                                                                                and bovver, we've now got 
a terrace full!
But it's bloody hot!
 And there's still the question of
these!!! My lovely spinach!  The dandruffy things on the leaftops confused me, but with the camera I spotted the big grey mamas and papas on the undersides. Feck! They're everywhere!

BUT today someone on a Facebook group for smallholders, gardeners and foragers, has told me that you can buy ladybirds!  Gardening - the triumph of optimism, strategic thinking and sheer bloody-mindedness over lack of experience... Also that water infused with mint or tomato leaves will really put these so-and-sos off their dinner. And - and this, I think, will be the solution, given that I haven't got dosh or time to order ladybirds online, and the mint leaves I used appeared to have colonies of aphids on their undersides...  and so I plump for option 3: neem oil needs to be mixed with warm water, not cold, and works better with some soap suspended in the mix. Fingers crossed.