Saturday, 29 August 2009

A Flowering Butternut Squash!

The rise of the butternut squash plant here on the London Vegetable Garden balcony has been staggering! Now standing at around 4 feet tall, the plant produced its first flower yesterday morning, which was promptly joined by another come the evening:

Having talked to fellow gardeners on the London Vegetable Garden Twitter page, it transpires that squash flowers can be very different, with male and female varieties determining whether that flower will produce a squash or not.

As you can see from the pictures, the single stamen suggests that these are male flowers, although I'm no botanist, so please correct me if I'm wrong! Hopefully I'll have some female flowers joining these chaps, which will mean the start of a butternut squash!

Many gardeners have also told me that butternut squash plants are happy to grow along the ground, but due to the London Vegetable Garden's obvious space constraints, I'm training these up a cane. Hopefully, I'll have a squash lower down the plant which I can focus on looking after, as I'm still concerned that this pot is not big enough to bear one, let alone ten, squash plants!

However, I have put mulch on the top of the soil, am giving it plenty of water and adding a liquid vegetable plant feed once a week. It's certainly starting to look positive on the butternut squash front, but the trouble with one plant on a balcony is that if it goes wrong, that's your lot! Let's wait and see what happens...

(Do you have any good squash-growing advice? Are you growing a butternut squash and have some pictures you'd like to share with the London Vegetable Garden community? Visit the London Gardeners' Network!)

The Root of the Matter...

I'm not sure whether this thread bears any interest to followers of the London Vegetable Garden, but for the budding botanists amongst you, here is an update on the spider plant!

The other week, I took clippings from an overgrowing spider plant and while I potted the majority of these cuttings in soil, I left one in a glass of water to see whether it would grow. Well, it's been perfectly happy over the last two weeks and it's been interesting watching it grow some new roots, displayed here:

I plan to keep this plant in the water purely to see how long it keeps growing like this. Watch this space!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Holey Radishes Batman!

Yes indeed; I have holey radishes! A few months ago, I reported that the London Vegetable Garden's first attempt at growing radishes had ended in success, although with a lot of room for improvement.

Having sown some more radish seeds, I was careful to sow these much more thinly this time, as my previous efforts ended up strangling each other and failing to grow properly. Well, this time, the radishes seem to be growing a lot better, however many of the leaves have holes in them:

I'm not sure what it is that's causing these holes, since the London Vegetable Garden's relative height acts as a good deterrent for pests. Are my radishes being attacked by some unseen pest? Will these holes affect their capacity for growth? Will I get any more radishes this year? I'm hoping that I'll have answers to these questions, along with some pictures of crops, very shortly!

Bloomin' Marvellous...

Two urban gardeners. Two Cobra Lily bulbs. One London Lily-Off Championship 2009. You know the score – it's Grumblegarden's Charles verus myself. Here's the latest snap of my Cobra Lily, that looks set to flower despite being only six inches in height! Is the London Vegetable Garden set to win the world's first official 'Lily-Off'? Can Charles come back with anything more impressive than my botanical beauty? Stay tuned folks!

Tomatoes - The Journey Comes to an End...

It was only back in April that I decided to plant a few tomato seeds and blog about the process. Five months on and what started as an interesting project has developed into a full-grown passion, with an abundant crop of sweet tomatoes the fruit of my labours, in every sense of the phrase!

As you all know by now, the London Vegetable Garden is a big (well, little) experiment, that aims to show urban gardeners just how much is possible, even when challenged with a small space in the city. These tomatoes have lived quite happily out on the balcony for months – no greenhouse, cloche or trickery; just a grow bag, a weekly tomato feed, plenty of water and daily attention!

Looking back, I remember saying how hard I thought it would be to grow such a demanding plant, but caring for these tomatoes has been an absolute joy. As they crop starts to slow and trusses dry up, it's clear that my tomato supply is beginning to run out for the year, but the whole process has been incredibly enjoyable.

Several of you have written to me (both here and on the London Gardeners' Network) and have been kind enough to have shared your tomato-growing experiences. Tumbling tomatoes are a clear favourite amongst space restricted London gardeners, along with grow bags on balconies. From my experiments and the experiences you've shared with the London Vegetable Garden community, urban tomato growing is nothing less than a clear winner – gardening that can be enjoyed by any urban city dweller.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Spiders & Cobras...

Aside from balconies and vegetables, I also have a penchant for plants and flowers. Whilst I may not have the space to plan a fanciful garden full of spectacular bloom and wonder, my flat is dotted with pot plants and interesting flowers that offer a pleasant alternative to vegetable gardening.

When my girlfriend and I moved into the flat in April 2008, we purchased a spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) that has lived quite happily in the bathroom ever since. For months and months the other half harassed me to re-plant it and sort it out, since it was taking up more and more space by the day!

Whilst I was setting about this task however, I thought it worth chronicling the plant's unique growth. As you can see from the picture below, the plant has branched off in a long row, with several discernible 'root lumps' ready for re-planting:

Having cut these apart, I proceeded to re-pot these in various different pots in the hope that we will soon be overrun with new spider plants. I happened to remember reading somewhere that some plants simply need water to survive – please feel free to correct me if wrong! As an experiment (that shall of course be chronicled here on the London Vegetable Garden), I have given one spider plant a new home in a glass of water:

At the time, I didn't have any hormonal root growth powder to hand, so I'm not sure if the 'roots' on these separate plants will take very well – watch this space...

Before I stop writing and start enjoying some of my delicious tomatoes for tea, a quick update on the (in)famous 'Cobra Lily Challenge 2009'. The full story of this gardening challenge can be viewed by clicking here, but regular readers will know that I challenged Grumblemouse of GrumbleGarden fame to a Cobra Lily grow-off; here is my progress so far:

Grumblemouse, it's over to you...

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Super Salad!

I've said it before, I'll say it again and I'll keep on saying it – salad leaves are one of the easiest and most rewarding things for any urban gardener to grow! A large proportion of food waste comprises of bags of mushy brown salad leaves that have sat in the fridge and turned to mulch. When growing your own is this easy, those wasteful bags could soon become a thing of the past!
This is the third batch of salad leaves I've grown in this window box on the London Vegetable Garden this summer. Were I not experimenting with all sorts of crops in pots and vegetables, I could have dedicated the whole balcony to salad leaves and even in this small space, have been self-sufficient in terms of salad leaf needs.

In addition to how easy these plants are to grow, they also grow very quickly, making them ideal for people without much space. They also only really need soil, sunlight and watering, so even if you have no outside space whatsoever, an empty ice-cream tub on a windowsill will work just as well.

It's a fantastic feeling eating your own produce; and when it's as easy as lettuce, there's really no excuse for not giving it a go. Great taste, growing satisfaction and it will save you throwing away money each time you dispose of a brown salad bag from the supermarket. Why not give it a go?

For urban growing advice and to see how you could start growing your own salad leaves, come and visit the London Gardeners' Network today!

Flowers and Foliage...

The London Vegetable Garden is split firmly into two camps; vegetables and flowers! Whilst my enthusiasm for container vegetable growing threatens to overrun the poor balcony, my girlfriend ensures that we have a botanical balance in force!

Throughout the year we choose a variety of cheap bedding plants for window boxes that generally last anywhere up to three months. These hardy flowers would last longer in the ground, however in containers they quickly grow too big for their environment. Take a look at the before and after pictures – taken two months apart:

Another feature of the London Vegetable Garden's flower display is an array of plants in containers. My girlfriend's father very kindly sent down some new plants from his beautiful garden this weekend. As gardening author Bob Purnell states, one of the benefits of container gardening is your ability to move and re-arrange plants to create a stunning display – this is certainly a huge advantage when pottering about on such a small space.

The London Vegetable Garden project may be about the vegetables, but I'm certainly grateful for my girlfriend's insistence on a certain quota of flowers; it certainly makes the balcony an attractive and a colourful place to work on! The versatility of plants and flowers in pots in containers is incredible – and allows urban gardeners the chance to build some impressive displays.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Butternut Squash - a Whole New World!

Arguably the London Vegetable Garden's most thirsty plant, my butternut squash has been enjoying the recent muggy weather and continues to grow exponentially! There are many different things going on in the pot however, so I'm appealing to you, dear readers, for advice and pointers!

The shot below shows the plant in its pot on the London Vegetable Garden balcony:
As you can see, it looks very similar to a courgette plant at the moment – plenty of big leaves that threaten to take over the whole balcony! What is interesting however, is the recent appearance of these 'swirly feelers' – I don't know what else to call them:

As you can see, they're quite interesting – does anyone know what they are? Are they simply looking for a new cane / net to latch onto and grow up?

Finally, we have some bud-like things forming on the stems, as so:

Are these the beginnings of the squashes? As you can see, there's quite a lot going on in this pot – any advice would be most welcome!

Tonnes of Toms!

Although all of the hard work put in by gardeners is (usually) always enjoyable, one of the biggest joys has to be walking into your garden, picking some produce and eating it! Well, after several weeks of thinking that my tomatoes would be green forever, I now have an abundance of red fruits adorning the trusses!

These are without doubt some of the sweetest tomatoes I have ever tasted and it's so satisfying knowing they were grown right here on my balcony! When I started this blog back in April, I stated that I thought tomatoes would be the hardest plants to grow.

Having now successfully grown them on the London Vegetable Garden balcony, I'd say that they aren't hard; however they are very needy. As long as you take real care of them and nurture them well, you should be guaranteed fantastic fruits throughout the summer!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The London Vegetable Garden hits the Evening Standard…

It’s taken a while, but the urban gardening movement has been growing (forgive the pun!) for several months now. In addition to recording the progress of my gardening exploits on this blog, I’ve also tried hard to raise awareness of urban gardening issues and campaigned to increase urban allotments and growing space.

Well, the Evening Standard has now picked up the story of the London Vegetable Garden blog, as well as of the London Gardeners’ Network! Read the full article here, or turn to page 21 of today’s newspaper! (Early edition)

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Pests Ahoy!

One of the (few) real benefits of high-rise urban gardening is the lack of pests. Many gardeners I've spoken with recently have all bemoaned the rate at which snails, slugs and various garden pests are converging on crops and causing a nuisance of themselves.

Luckily, living away from the ground in urban London means that the only pests I have to deal with on the balcony are horses – as in clothes horses, laden with wet clothes and competing for space alongside plant pots, grow bags and watering cans!

This said, I did see a tiny slug on one of the leaves a few weeks back, which I presume must have been secreted in amongst some recent bedding plants that are brightening up a window box. Whitefly has also been a problem, but again, these pests were imported with some potted herbs that remained in the kitchen; luckily none of the outside plants were infected.

I was looking through my runner beans a few minutes ago when I came across this chap:

I've seen these insects before, but not on the balcony. Can anyone identify this creature and if so, is it a friend or a foe? Is it some form of aphid?

Red at Last!

It's finally happened – the tomatoes have started turning red! Since planting from seed way back in April, the tomato plants on the London Vegetable Garden balcony have entered the last phase of their growth and started ripening and turning red!

I never thought I'd ever be so excited about tomatoes in my life, but this feeling just sums up how satisfying gardening is – and what an enjoyable feeling it is when you can start harvesting fruit and vegetables that you've grown yourself.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Mustn't Grumble...

When not bemoaning about the lack of rouge on the balcony's green tomato population, or chronicling supermarkets and their desire to eradicate allotments, the London Vegetable Garden is also known to have a fun streak!

In a pure jovial aside, I was challenged to a lily-off by none other than Grumblemouse, of GrumbleGarden fame (or should that be infamy?)...

Well, Grumblemouse has struck the first blow, posting up a picture of his Cobra Lily bulb looking rather homely in its new pot. Never one to shirk from a challenge, I am now retaliating in kind, and present to you, fine upstanding readers of the London Vegetable Garden, the first picture of my Cobra Lily:

As I scour the Highway of Information for more secret lily-growing tips, space-age plant food recipes and the perfect growing environment, I leave the next move dear Grumblemouse, well and truly in your hands...

Wild Flowers in Wild London...

Whilst the majority of London's floral adornment comes in the form of plastic hanging baskets at train stations and dull, regimented squares, there are some stunning natural 'gardens' hidden throughout the capital.

This weekend, I made the short journey up to Stoke Newington and visited Abney Park Cemetery – a wild, overgrown haven right in the centre of this trendy area. A serene location with a dilapidated church in the middle, this cemetery is seriously unkemptunk, yet remains a beautiful example of a natural London 'garden'. These are some of the photos I took of various wild flowers and plants – the full set can be viewed on Flickr by clicking here. Enjoy!

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Every Little Helps – Or Does It?

England's shortage of available allotment plots, and quite frankly ludicrous waiting lists, is now a well-documented problem. Although highlighting this issue has led some councils to open up disused building sites and launch garden adoption schemes, it seems that many local authorities, especially in London, have more pressing concerns.

After all, why invest a relatively small amount of money providing new allotment plots that will be tilled for 100 years when you can spend millions and millions of pounds on an Olympic venue that will be dismantled after its one month of use? Irony? Politics? Either way, a very real situation.

Since our elected representatives are struggling to support this campaign for urban gardening space, power is very much in the hands of the people – we've already seen the huge success of the Shoreditch housing estate and their makeshift community allotment. But perhaps there's also an opportunity for private business to get involved, which of course, comes no bigger than Tesco.

The iconic British supermarket / retail behemoth is now planning to offer customers Tesco allotment plots. You do read correctly dear readers – Tesco has applied for planning permission to create thirty allotment plots next to its Southport store in Lancashire. When it comes to getting more allotments created and opened in England, to quote Tesco's infamous mantra, 'Every Little Helps' – but does it? If we look at this issue more closely, as with gardening, there's a lot more going on under the surface.

250 miles away from Southport, in Hadleigh, Suffolk, Tesco is in fact battling to tarmac over a number of allotments in a natural beauty spot to pave the way for a proposed superstore. The 'Bridge Allotments' have been tilled for over fifty years and Tesco is now flexing every corporate muscle to eradicate these plots for its own gain. As Bridge Allotment plot holder Brian Dicks says, “It is complete hypocrisy for Tesco to pretend to be concerned about the need for allotments in Southport.” My thoughts exactly.

As a campaigner for urban gardening space, I'd normally welcome any sort of plot opening. As with all gardeners however, one of the things we crave is authenticity. Tesco may be waxing lyrical about addressing the shortage of allotment problems, but when examined more closely, this is purely a PR stunt. I'd advise gardeners nation-wide to boycott Tesco allotments and expose the truth that is going on behind the scenes, lending any support possible to our gardening friends in Hadleigh.

(For more information on this issue, further articles can be found in the Telegraph and on Click Liverpool.)

Saturday, 1 August 2009

London Gardeners' Network - Growing by the Day!

I enjoy all aspects of urban gardening, from the sewing of seeds, care and maintenance, to the harvesting of tasty vegetables that I've managed to grow on a tiny London balcony! One of the other really enjoyable features of the London Vegetable Garden project has been meeting so many like-minded urban gardeners and sharing information, tips, photos and advice!

In recognition of this, I decided to set up the London Gardeners' Network; a social gardening website for all urban gardeners, whether you're from London or Luton, Birmingham or Brighton! On this site, you can upload your own gardening photos, ask gardening questions in the forums, read blog entries from our members, share gardening tips, watch horticultural videos – there's even a chat function!

This group has only been live for a fortnight, however it already has a thriving group of passionate urban gardeners sharing tips, advice, recipes, photos, videos and stories. If you're a keen urban gardener, why not come and check out the site for yourself? It's completely free and promises to be the number one destination for urban gardeners throughout the UK!

There's an army of urban gardeners out there just like you – come and be part of it by clicking here!

Butternut Squash Report...

Although a space-loving vegetable plant, I've decided to have a stab at growing the adventurous butternut squash! It's been growing solidly for a few weeks now and this is the latest stage of its progress:

As you can see, it looks healthy enough, although two of the leaves at the very base of the plant withered and had to be removed. In addition to this, you can see from the picture below that several buds are starting to form, although I'm not sure whether these are more leaves or the start of squashes!

I've added a layer of mulch to the top of the soil, since squash is an extremely thirsty plant and I'm wary of letting it dry out. I've been advised from gardeners on my new website, the London Gardeners' Network, that regular watering is essential for squash plants, so I've been heeding this advice by the watering can-full!

If any readers of the London Vegetable Garden have tips on growing squash and feel they could help me with advice, please leave a comment on this blog post, or alternatively, proffer your tips on the London Gardeners' Network. Update to follow next week!


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