Head Gardener Update Archive

Head Gardener's Update....March 2017

Many of the members are saying that the garden is looking in the best shape ever at this stage of the year. Certainly the land looks well prepared and as weed free as I can remember, I am hoping this will be the first year we do not need to rotovate, and we are able to use more no dig principles than ever.

The winter crops overall have been very good, with the exception of some very small Brussels Sprouts. We are still cropping Carrots and Parsnips from the ground, the latest we have ever done this, and with very little damage to the crop. We have had a bumper crop of Curly Kale, plenty of Savoy Cabbages and recently a small but steady supply of Purple Sprouting Broccoli. There is an abundance of Salad in the polytunnels and outdoor Radicchio supplemented this until very recently. Having cropped Leeks for over 5 month we have left the remaining variety Bandit for 5 weeks to fill out, which they have done and we have started cropping again.

We have grown White Sprouting Broccoli for the first time and have had excellent results.

The outdoor spring planting has started since the middle of March. 3 beds of onion sets have been planted. Summer Broad Beans have been sown to follow on from the autumn sown variety. Rocket potatoes have been planted using no dig principles, quick and easy to plant into the manure which has been put on the soil surface. They will be topped up with compost and manure. Accent potatoes have been planted, which means we have 50kg of First Early potatoes in the ground.

The forced Rhubarb, in spite of the attention of the slugs has been delicious.

In the polytunnel Spinach, Calabrese, Peas, Turnips, Kohl Rabi, Summer Cabbages, Parsley, Dill Coriander, Beetroot, Radishes, a range of Lettuces, Spring Onions and Red Onions have been sown and germinated. Soon many of these will be planted out under fleece into the garden. In propagators at members’ homes Tomatoes, Peppers and Aubergines have been started.

In the fruit garden new raspberries and extra rhubarb have been planted. An extra Quince and another Victoria plum have been added too. They have been winter pruned and at the moment there is a mass of blossom coming out. They look superb.

In the cutting flower garden members have been having a mass of daffodils to buy. The delphiniums are admired, no slug damage and all grown without the use of slug pellets. We anticipate another great year, the flowers in 2016 were magnificent.

The season is definitely in full swing.

Head Gardener's Update....November 2016

After a dreadful start to the summer, August and September’s weather has enabled us to have a glorious late summer crop of vegetables. In the middle of October we were able to sell 25 different vegetables to our members, including Tomatoes, Courgettes and French Beans.

I personally missed the period from Mid-August to Mid-September recovering from a knee replacement operation but the boxes of vegetables delivered to my door were superb. The Sweet Corn was as sweet and delicious as one could possibly hope for. The tomatoes in the polytunnel were enormously prolific, Sungold, Shirley and Sakura were all magnificent.

Cucumbers both short (Passandra) and long (Femspot) produced over a long period. Although I am not a great fan of huge vegetables we have Cabbages that reached 5 kilos in weight and Swedes 3 kilos. We have the best Celeriac we have ever grown and many more Romanesco cauliflowers than ever before.

The potting shed has already given the garden an extra dimension, including meetings and as above, a great talk by Rob Grist. We also now have a cool but frost free storage space for a number of the vegetables we have cropped. Autumn planted onions, summer planted onions, shallots, garlic, potatoes, red and white cabbages, squashes, pears and apples have found a home in the potting shed this year.

As we move into autumn and winter, there are still plenty of crops to look forward to. Leeks, Kale Winter Cabbages and Parsnips have just started being cropped. We hope to have Brussels Sprouts too if we can defeat the whitefly that always seem to plague the crop at this garden.

The polytunnels have been re-planted with salads, lettuces, Mustards, Mizunas, Land Cress, Winter Purslane and Chard, these are already being harvested. We have planted autumn onions, shallots and garlic outside. Some Broad Beans have been sown but the best crop we had last year was from the beans planted in December. The very mild early winter last year made the November sowings go very leggy pre-Christmas. The English climate is becoming quite challenging to predict.

However we still have great crops the photo below show what was available to members on November 19th.


Head Gardener's Update....August 2016

Having had one of the worst spring / early summer periods of weather, July and August have been excellent for growing. We have what could almost be described as a glut of tomatoes…

The growing year began with a massive battle against slugs and weeds. The land stayed damp so the slugs managed to cover large areas of ground and eat widely. The main activity each work day morning was to go on a slug hunt knife in hand. They managed to infiltrate the slug proof frames we have built too. Nevertheless we won the battle and apart from some small amounts of damage notably to lettuces, spring cabbages, other brassicas, and courgettes (for the first time) we survived. Forward planning meant that we had replacement plants. The weeds grew as it was virtually impossible to hoe them. In addition first sowings of carrots and peas failed.

We had great crops notably masses of early spinach, broad beans, spring cabbages, huge autumn onions, early Rocket potatoes, asparagus and rhubarb, but by the middle of June the garden was looking rather weedy in parts. This was a result partly of the weather but was compounded by a shortage of workers. It appears in June may of our members go on holiday or are unable to get down very often By the end of June I was beginning to get concerned, then the weather improved, hoeing became effective. Members turned up in greater numbers, and consequently by the end of July we were looking good again.

The crops overall have been great with exceptional amounts of onions, cucumbers, beans both indoor and outdoor, beetroot and recently tomatoes. Carrots have arrived a little late, but are now in abundance. In the summer each week members can choose from between 15-20 different vegetable crops, more if you include different varieties. In the depths of late winter early spring the range is more limited but each week there is something to buy and take home. We aim to have salads available every week of the year. I personally haven’t bought salad from a shop for at least 3 years.

Of the new crops tried this year, outstanding have been Florence Red Onions grown from Seeds of Italy seeds. We have limited propagation facilities but these have been terrific. Summer cauliflowers have been very varied with huge cauliflowers growing next to mini ones. Why F1 cauliflowers grown 2 feet apart can vary so much in size defeats me. Unfortunately there have been more mini ones compared to the huge ones.

The tithe which began at the beginning of July, has been giving delightful boxes of vegetables to some our elderly residents in Horsley.

In addition the flower cutting garden has really flourished this year, the hard work of the last couple of years has really paid off.

As I write the Sweet Corn is looking very tempting……


Head Gardener's Update....31st December 2015

Sorry for getting behind with updates…..

Climate change, it won’t affect us!!!

Well after the mildest December I can remember the garden has an unusual look, daffodils in bud, very tall broad beans, purple spouting broccoli being cropped, rhubarb shooting, salads still growing, weeds germinating and pests thriving.

However, overall we have had a very good year with some excellent crops, but as ever we have not been trouble free.

Early autumn was excellent the sweet corn was almost perfect, tomatoes in abundance, calabrese plentiful, large white and red cabbages, beetroot at the perfect size, good squash (but they need more irrigation next year), potatoes did have some wireworm but many are still great, and onions were still available at Christmas. Indoor peppers were disappointing, we may attempt to grow these in pots next year on the staging in the polytunnel rather than in the ground. The cool late summer certainly did not help in enabling them change from green to red.

Winter (have we had one) has given us huge savoy and drumhead cabbages, three types of kale, carrots ranging in size (we need thinning days) parsnips (one bed great and one bed with canker) good salads including radicchio and a huge supply of lambs lettuce. We have been cropping leeks since September 10th which have been great, but we are starting to get signs of allium miner damage now, which is worrying considering we have only used half the crop. They have been covered with ultrafine enviromesh but somehow the pest has got in. Brussels sprouts, the greatest disappointment were attacked by whitefly earlier in the autumn and we did not start to reduce the population until too late. So although the Savona soap we use killed the whitefly the damage was already done.

However this mild winter will have an impact on our early crops in 2016. The broad beans normally compact growing close to the soil at Christmas, are long stemmed and vulnerable. I know some growers who have lost all their broad beans already. We have been through one bed and re-sown between each plant, but the other beds although sown at the end of November and the beginning of December are looking frail. At least with broad beans we can sow again in February. Unfortunately these beans are normally a few weeks later producing their crop, and the plants are more likely to be affected by blackfly. Also some of the Purple Sprouting Broccoli has already started producing well before the expected March / April cropping period.

It could be possible that the hungry gap may be hungrier this year.

One feature of this winter has been our friendly (unfriendly) pheasant who defends his territory with a passion. He appears to be happy to greet and occasionally attack anyone who walks into the northern section of the garden. He is not fazed by power tools, standing on the wall above one of our members as he drilled holes. We have transported him to the A3 to give him a new home, but he has found his way back. He is loved or loathed.

Head Gardener's Update....31st August

It is pouring with rain as I write and seems to have been for a week, but that will not stop us having the highest water bill ever. In spite of the dry weather, we have had good summer crops with few if any failures. However some crops have tended to be on the small side such as the early carrots, and I anticipate the rather late sweet corn may also be not as plump as we would like. On the positive side the few maincrop Picasso potatoes we have cropped are huge.

The cropping tables this weekend were full of a huge range of vegetables, even a few early autumn crops such as Romanesco and Autumn Cabbages (note will have to sow these later next year). We even almost had too many tomatoes!!! Hopefully our blight days are over, no outside tomatoes this year. The change in varieties in French Beans to Cobra; and Runner Beans to White Lady and Polestar; as well as growing Helda Beans have produced lovely and plentiful beans.

Helena is producing more and more flowers each week, she tells me she has sold 200 bunches so far this summer. They have really been a wonderful addition to the garden, she has really produced a beautiful range of plants.

The summer lunch was a success, although numbers were a little lower than in previous years. Now we have an indoor venue, perhaps with a new kitchen next year anything might be possible.

Alex and Su are tweeting on Grace and Flavour, if any of our younger generation (below 60) are not already following us get connected!!!!

Wednesday sessions finish this week, they have been useful but numbers have tailed off in the last couple of weeks. We will try it again next summer.

We still are producing surplus crops, so for the first time we have delivered free vegetables to Number 5 Project in Guildford.

No sign of ratty yet, but a rabbit has been trapped and taken back to his friends in Dene Place. Unfortunately we are having to use netting to protect against the rabbit or rabbits that have appeared in the garden. The leeks look healthy under the fine enviromesh, I note one allotment holders leeks have been attacked, so hopefully our protection will be worth it.

See you at the garden or if you can make it I will be presenting prizes at the Horsley Garden Society Autumn show on 19th September....


Head Gardener's Update....21st July

Still no rain. This is one of the earliest and most prolonged period of dry weather I can remember. Is a hosepipe ban imminent, if so what will we do? We will need an army of people with watering cans to water and water and water. Are you ready!!!! The combination of draught and strong winds has really been an issue this year. I have just been for a walk around Wisley Garden and you can see the trees wilting and the areas that have not been watered are really struggling to survive, so we are in good company.

Nevertheless the vegetables, fruit and flowers have overall been excellent. Bob’s fruit bushes are really starting to produce, blackcurrants, gooseberries, redcurrants and loganberries have been available to buy for a few weeks, and the raspberries are just beginning to appear. The blackberries Tim planted 2 years ago have ripening fruit and the new bushes remain healthy as a result of lots of watering by Tim.

After a difficult June when everyone seemed to be on holiday we have really caught up with the work, and most of the garden has been planted at least once. Although we did not start planting leeks until July (a little late) we have now put in nearly 3000, a considerable increase on previous years. They are covered with fine enviromesh to prevent an attack from either allium miner or leek moth. The garden has also been planted with many winter brassicas including Savoy, Red and January King cabbages, Purple, Green and Black Kale, Cauliflowers, Romanesco, Purple Sprouting Broccoli (4 varieties) and Swede.

We have begun working on Wednesday evenings at 6.30, which has been really successful in the first 2 weeks with groups of 7 and 9 people making a real impact. We have worked as a team on specific jobs, leek planting, shallot cropping and clearing broad beans. This has really helped the garden and has allowed people a different time to garden during the week. Teas has been served as well.

The polytunnels have started to produce mountains of cucumbers and French Beans, with Sungold tomatoes ready this coming weekend 25th July.

The annual Cheese and Wine evening chose a beautiful sunny evening with many people turning up with excellent canapes. The cheese much improved this year(!!!!!!) was plentiful. Sergio even brought Mateus Rose which enabled us to reminisce about sunny 60’s evenings and the bottle being used for candles and making lamps. Didn’t we drink well in those days Chianti in raffia bottles, Liebfraumilch in a blue bottle, and possibly some Babycham.

The new potting shed is already proving useful, particularly as it is very airy(!). We have put the newly cropped garlic and shallots to dry, under the area with a roof, before we sort them and select the ones we need for next years growing. All the crop is from saved bulbs from last year. The shallots began as 30 bought shallots, a few years ago.

I hope by the next time I review the garden it will have rained....

Head Gardener's Update....23rd June

June 2nd

I began writing this update on June 2nd saying as I write this the wind is howling and it is pouring with rain, I fear for our recently planted squash and beans. May has not been a good month, compared to last year but better than 2013.

The hungry gap has been bridged, we have had good quantities of purple spouting broccoli, spring cabbage, salads from the polytunnel, radish, early spinach and some great asparagus. In the last week of May we have been cropping some new season onions, the first early potatoes and outdoor salads including rocket, broad beans, beetroot and kohl rabi will be picked this week, so in spite of the below average weather we have done very well, I think.

Helena has been producing some lovely flowers for sale, rhubarb has been both a success and a failure. We had some good pink rhubarb and the non-forced rhubarb has provided significant quantities of sticks. However they are very green and mainly quite thin, but more significantly there has been a huge number of flower spikes produced. These problems can be an indication that the crowns need thinning and/ or the variety is susceptible to flowering. We will thin them this year; in addition we plan in future to gradually introduce named varieties that give us a long cropping season. The blackberries are beginning to spread on the west wall. We have had some great blossom on many of the trees and fruit is forming, it could be a really good year. Even the trees such as the Bramleys that were lifted and transplanted are doing well.

For those of you interested in sustainability I note with interest the article in the RHS Garden magazine P8 (June 2015) on trialing a test for growing media. It does seem that progress is being made towards making it peat free eventually; I note that in North America bark based growing media is the norm!

June 23rd

Now it is all about draught, watering, and too many weeds.

It is surprising how in 3 weeks so much has changed. The dry weather has been a challenge but fortunately our layer of clay a few feet below the surface has held in some water. The crops have done well overall. My list for this week is Mange Tout, Potatoes, French Beans, Courgettes, Lettuces, Turnips, Carrots, Beetroot, Onions, Kohl Rabi, Radish, Rocket, Broad Beans, Spinach, Spring Cabbages, Calabrese, Redcurrants, Gooseberries and Rhubarb

However the challenge when so many people go away on holiday in June is to keep the weeds at bay, whilst continuing to sow and crop. One bed of parsnips has been completely submerged waiting for the seeds to germinate

Also blackfly has really taken off in the dry weather, normally by the end of June the ladybirds have taken over but this year may be different!

Much of the garden is planted but we need a big push to get all the leeks out in the next couple of weeks, and to take control of the short beds!

See you at the garden!.......

Head Gardener's Update....29th April

At this time of year we are sowing a large number seeds and potting on seedlings. The polytunnel and the garden frames are full with much more to be sown in the next couple of weeks. So I thought I would emphasise that the garden uses peat free compost. We are very committed to this approach and believe if we cannot make some small steps to help our and other peoples environment, we are failing in our aims to be a community garden.

We have to work in a sustainable manner. We have used a peat free compost (growing medium) available at the RHS garden which is a blend of fine bark, wood fibre (bi-products of sustainably managed British forests) and coir (from a single, known source). It contains balanced nutrients sufficient for the first 4 - 6 weeks of growth, Melcourt Sylvagrow. It is excellent.

The weather stayed cool and although we had some lovely weather, growing summer polytunnel plants without electricity in the garden is a real challenge. As you can see from the photos we are a very amateurish outfit in this respect.

These tomatoes and peppers have been brought in overnight in my utility room to protect them from an expected frost. We are growing the same varieties of tomatoes as last year, Sungold and Shirley, but also a few beefsteak tomatoes Diplom an organic variety. We are hoping to grow both Sweet Peppers and Chilli Peppers this year

Cucumbers are very susceptible to cold weather. These have been started in my windowsill propagator but the temperatures are too cold overnight to leave them in a greenhouse or polytunnel.

We are growing both the short variety Passandra and the all female long cucumbers Femspot

Cropping continues on a limited scale, it is the hungry gap, but we have stacks of salad, sprouting broccoli, rhubarb, radishes and the start of the asparagus crop. The over wintered spring cabbages should be available this weekend as should some of our first crop of this year’s spinach (although the slugs have made an impact on the first planting)

All the potatoes have been planted, carefully trenched and manured with the aim of preventing the loss of crop we suffered from last year. The first peas both traditional and mangetout have come through, Calabrese, Turnips, Beetroot, Salads and Spinach have been planted out. Autumn sown Broad Beans are getting taller and are in full flower. However we are not growing summer cabbage as so few were bought last year. The polytunnel is full of plants waiting to be put out including a huge number of flowers for cutting.

We hope to include a flower and herb page shortly, but I must note the daffodils and anemones have been a gorgeous start to the cut flower year.

Head Gardener's Update....30th March

Well it should be spring and although much better than 2013, the weather remains cool. As a result we certainly are not as advanced in our planting as we would hope. March 10th suggested as the magic date in the last update seems more likely to be April 10th.

We have been able to cultivate the ground so far without the use of a rotavator this year, thanks to a lot of hard digging during the last few months, and protecting the soil with weed suppressant.

The talk I referred to in the last update by Paul Templeton told us a great deal about the potential destruction of the soil, he is a soil scientist and advocated the need to care for the microorganisms that live at different levels within the soil. This view of the damage being done to soil all over the world including Britain was highlighted in an article by George Monibot in the Guardian last week ‘We’re treating the soil like dirt’. He stresses the importance of not treating soil as a never ending resource. He referenced a report by researchers in the UK which shows that soil in allotments the small patches in towns and cities that people cultivate by hand – contains a third more organic carbon than agricultural soil and 25% more nitrogen. This is one of the reasons why allotment holders produce between four and eleven times more food per hectare than do farmers.

You can read the whole article here

The garden is still producing but in reduced quantities with the exception of the salad crops in the polytunnel which are producing a huge amount of leaves. Mixed Salads of lettuce, mizuna, golden frills and ruby streaks mustard, winter purslane, wild rocket and land cress are wonderful.

We have sown a great deal in propagators and in the polytunnel. The first outdoor planting took place on Saturday 28th March, spinach, lettuce and beetroot under fleece which were sown in the polytunnel in February.

Summer broad Beans and an early (perhaps too early) carrot bed have been sown. We are trying to repeat the success of last year’s early potatoes so Rocket first early has been planted on 5 of the short beds.

Jeremy using a Rob Treble design has produced the first extra cold frame which we hope will be slug proof!!! We aim to grow even more in modules before planting out this year. For example turnips (one of our member’s favourite crops!!!!) have been started in multi sown modules after the success of this approach with beetroot last year.

We are also experimenting with growing red onions from seed, more difficult with the lack of a heated greenhouse bench. It is at this time of year I look with envy at those gardeners able to have the benefit of heat inside a greenhouse to produce crops, my windowsills are beginning to fill