Friday, 30 March 2012

Dodgy companion

My mum gave me a lovely book for my birthday, one which she has been talking about for the last year or so:

It's a beautifully written and illustrated A-Z guide to companion planting.

Here's what it says under 'B for Beer'

"There is nourishment in beer. The rinsings of empty beer bottles will be appreciated by indoor plants, plants in tubs and border plants"

I can assure you, after rolling in at 2am this morning, that none of the above applies to humans.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Rooting around

I'm sure there's an obvious answer to this question. In fact, if I were to pose this at Gardener's question time I would be hounded out of the studio faster than you can say Titchmarsh. For all the worthy intention of expert answers for troubled gardeners, I can't help but feel you need a minimum of 5 garden GCSE's (with at least a C in latin names and composting) to be allowed to participate.

Being the class dunce, I'll post it on here instead.

Can you reuse compost?

Right, lift your jaw, or self off the floor now and consider it for a moment. I'm talking containers with compost from last year. Thinking about it logically as possible, compost contains the right balance of nutrients for things to grow. Plants grew, and took the nutrients, how are they replaced?

With your average bed of soil, there's so much of it and a bit of compost is added each year, and I guess there's a balance. And besides, you have worms to look after it all for you. Grow a few peas, fix a bit of nitrogen, rotate a few crops and away you go.

But is compost like a battery, with only a certain amount of juice. And how can I tell when the juice runs out? 

And what if the compost has been contaminated? Oh yes, I left a few containers out with their compost from last year, and the weeds took hold. This morning I took the weeds out, and their roots had run riot, right to the bottom of the container? 

In the picture above, you may be able to spot roots all tangled up like headphones left in a coat pocket for a week, miraculously inter-twined. If I leave them in there, will the weeds re-grow? And how do I make sure I don't pick and eat them instead of my planned salad leaves? Death by leaf...

So I have just spent an hour of my life picking through all my weed-riddled containers, patiently picking out the noodles, shaking them free of dirt and bringing the compost, hopefully, back to life. I've refreshed the containers with extra new material and with any luck I'll be happy as rabbit very soon. Come salad leaves come:

Last year's emerging crop

Thursday, 22 March 2012

No Sham-en this high

I'm on a mission to create as many highs in life as possible. We spend much of our young lives on a rush, stimulated by all manner of artificial concoctions usually involving bright colours and / or sugar.

When the hormones kick in though, more aural pleasures take over (yes I did spell that correctly), and we become conscious of the music that makes us want to dance, sing and generally just not care about how we look to others. We strive in our fantasies to become rock stars or (sadly) X-factor heroes ( we can't be both ). There is still a dreamy innocence in this, where we are convinced we'll achieve the ultimate high and everyone will love us. Even Simon Cowell.

But, there comes a point in all our lives when Mr Cowell kicks us in the nuts; where innocence gives way to harsh reality. Our mind takes over, our fears drown out the buzz we get from our senses. Yet it is our very senses that give us our innocence - triggering to our mind and soul to feel undiluted joy from a new meaningful experience. In fact we feel like children again.

So how can we continue to manufacture these highs? We can't rely on new experiences all the time. Thankfully, as adults there are some pleasures we've had before that we can't get enough of...

Yes, this is the time of year when gardeners reach a collective climax, yummymummy nature having worked her foreplay magic. Our patience is rewarded and bam! New shoots.

Check Out My Peas:

That's right, it's not all about sex, drugs and rock n' roll baby. In the immortal words of @KateGinty

"Peas are good, peas are good..."

Sunday, 18 March 2012

No thyme like a present

It was my 21st birthday yesterday. Plus a few years. Ok, plus a decade. And a few years. I'm a very lucky boy, blessed with messages, cards, drinking buddies and pressies.

Birthday presents are always brilliant. A combination of the generosity, thought and care of family and friends, the presents often bring more than happiness. Indeed they often bring you the excitement of anticipation. Of joys yet to come.  But naturally the present has to reflect the age you're at: 

Red-veined Sorrel
  • A child?  You get lego. Innocence and training for your future all wrapped in one amazing toy.
  • 16 it's condoms hidden in box full of hot chocolate sachets (at least it was for me, cheers Kris and Ben). 
  • 18. Booze.
  • In your 20's - its anything to reflect your ill-chosen career, that you still believe passionately in. Or books.
  • 30 - More booze, just a bit more expensive this time, usually with bubbles, usually causing you twice the pain over twice the length of time alcohol did when you were 18.
And once in to your's your hobbies that get the full attention of your nearest and dearest. Very kindly, my good friend Sarah surprised me with three new herbs for my collection. I'll be adding these to the 'About thyme' page shortly, but let me introduce you to them because they are not herbs I'd have immediately been aware of or thought of buying.

Florence fennel
Black Peppermint
The punters at the bar last night must have thought it an odd sight to see a group of us sampling the leaves of these herbs. Rock and roll! And it is indeed a miracle that my bleary eyes found these all in good condition this morning. Indeed, it was a relief that they were here at all. Rum. Kids, just say no.

Black peppermint tasted especially potent last night, and I'm really looking forward to planting these out. If anyone has good foodie suggestions for these herbs let us know with comments or tweets.

Now of course, along with presents come topical cards. And there is always one comedian, usually my (v talented) sister (see her contribution at the bottom of the card):

To everyone who made yesterday superb, thank you so so much. And a big thank you too to the fab Camilla and Agnese at my second home 194 degrees F for my post birthday hangover treat when I finally emerged from my shell at, oh about 4pm today

But of course, for a guy in his (now) mid-30's it's about time for a mid-life crisis. Gardening doesn't really fit the bill, so instead my parents extremely generously treated me to my very own drum kit. If this is the last blog post you ever get from me, you'll know it's because I'm totally delusional and am pursuing the dream to be a rock star...

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Phoenix from the flames

It's a short step from haplessness to lazyness.

Ask youself this, and answer honestly:

Is there something in your home which you know needs clearing up, sorting out or simply putting in the bin (I mean, recycling) that would only take a few minutes but really you just cannot be ar... um bothered to do?

More specifically for gardeners, is there a plant you've not watered for while and left for dead, knowing you're going to have to cut your growing losses and start again?

Yes? Of course. We have sleep to catch up on, Facebook/Twitter to check (and check and check), and New Girl to watch. Watch it.

No? Fibs.

Next piece of honesty. Are you like me, sticking your fingers in your ears mentally shouting la la la la la every time my guilty conscience pipes up "water the chilli". I've become quite adept at ignoring my guilty gardener's conscience but no more! Spring is prising off last clutches of winter and stirring me from my slovenliness. And I think I've been given a reprieve from my winter of neglect:

Inside this little beauty lies a potential treat - it sounds (from a little shake) like potent maracas. I'm hopeful of an ensemble of seeds from which to create new chilli plants. I wonder, has anyone else tried this out successfully? 

I'm excited. I hope I can start some sort of chilli family. I fear, however, that the chilli will be getting it's revenge for my neglect and its isolation. And that this will be served by its offspring, very very hot.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Shadow muppet

I'm easily distracted in the garden. Especially as I have a blog to feed and a camera to play with.

The sun has come out to play, and it would be rude of me not to oblige. 

I flirted with the idea of getting all arty with this and seeking your cultured approval. But lets be honest, you're all serious mature gardeners and, really Tom what do you think you're doing playing about during precious hours of winter sun?

Coming to a scary movie near you soon

My apple tree got confused and grew a coconut

But just in case you're a bit more playful, there is still time today to get out there with your camera and snap your very own garden shadows. Let me know if you do.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Pocket rocket - a competition

Last year I set you all a challenge - to grow rocket on your windowsill. Unfortunately I forced you all to remember Craig David (Met a girl on Monday, took her for a drink on Tuesday...oh yeah, it's in your head again)

Sorry, rocket. The more I grow it, eat it, watch it the more I'm in awe of this punchy leaf. Once again it has filled me with pride at responding to difficult circumstances. This year I've gone for the austerity approach - the baked bean can. This is the rocket I planted 10 days ago in its more humble home:

Some of the more professional bloggers out there run competitions, and usually they have fab prizes and lots of enthusiastic participants. I think I had 2 people taking me up on the rocket challenge last year. This year will be different...

I give you all until Easter Sunday to come up with the best austerity pocket rocket. You can use containers of any kind, decorated as madly, creatively or just hilariously as possible. I will send a prize to the winner, prize to be confirmed, judge to be confirmed, in fact I've just thought this up on the hoof so run with it! Get the kids involved, get your glitter out and turn the humble rocket in a can into something to celebrate.

Tweet me, email me, or leave a comment if you're in, or just crack on with it. I'll have a go myself and post my efforts too...


Friday, 9 March 2012

Guest Post: Planternal instinct - by Kate Ginty

This post has presented a bit of a challenge for me. 

Reading through the ‘Guest Bed’ posts, it is easy to see why. Our relationship with gardening can be a rollercoaster of emotion, with heady highs of success and shattering lows of disappointment (usually in the form of pest and disease).

Initially I was going to write about gratitude. Since leaving my career and taking up a college place studying horticulture, this has featured predominantly in my psyche. Then again, so too have panic and doubt. Then it came to me as I was having a chat with a classmate about the joys of seed propagation. It was obvious to me I experience an emotional response to this plant process, but I don’t know what it is called. It may have a proper name, but in the meantime it shall be known as planternal instinct. I explain it below.

I recently sowed six varieties of chilli seeds. I popped them in the propagator and placed it on a south-facing windowsill. I gave each of the 18 seeds its own module, thinking some of the seeds might be a bit old and fail to germinate. In the past I put a few seeds in the same pot and was then faced with the decision to either kill off the weaker ones or rescue them all. I opted for the latter and recall spending half an hour staring at these sorry looking, wilted seedlings having detangled them from one another to put them into their own pots. It was touch and go for a while, but all made a good recovery. I wasn’t about to put myself through that again.    

To my delight and surprise, all of the seeds germinated. And which select few will I be potting off? I do not need the wisdom of Solomon to solve this quandary. All of them will be moving on to new containers. I want them all. I don’t care how big, inconvenient and demanding they become. The bond has formed and cannot be broken. These plants will bear the fruits of my seed packets. As far as I’m concerned Thompson & Morgan, Sea Spring Seeds and Unwins have played their brief part, but the responsibility for how these plants mature is down to me. I want them to make me proud and will do all that is in my power to nurture them into successful high yielding plants. I will protect them from the lurking monsters ready to pounce as soon as my back is turned. I will be waiting for you red spider mite and whitefly. Nobody puts baby in the corner. Not unless it has good natural light, with ideal humidity and first-rate ventilation.

I guess simply put, the emotion I am trying to describe is love. It is the hub of our emotional bond with plants, as without it we wouldn’t care so much when things do well or badly. I have been told I will have to become ruthless if I end up propagating professionally. There’s no sentiment to be had in the business of nursery stock production. I have no problem with that. Our decision processes at work are often different to those we employ at home. At home we are more emotionally invested and in my domestic environment, all my seeds will be given a chance.


Kate's post is the latest in the series of guest posts in my ever cosy bed. Kate has taken the bold and brave step of leaving a high flying legal career to find herself in nature through a horticulture course, or in actual fact just ride big machinery all day long. You can read more about her shenanigans on her website

If you want to indulge in the emotional depths of others, then snuggle up with the other gardeners over in the guest bed

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Half baked

My favourite part of getting a cold is the point in your recovery when your appetite returns.

Having starved the cold, nearly drowned in soup kept afloat only by loaves of bread, and forced down enough fruit to sink the man from Del Monte, here's the chance to get my taste buds salivating again.

The body naturally seems to want its greens. Deep, rich and earthy. The dark side of your 5-a-day. 

Yesterday I potted my first lot of peas, casting my dreamy mind back to last years juicy pearls, and their undoubted health kick.

I realised that I was planting to the direct demands of my body, not my eyes, and that my perception of/desire for healthy food is already changing (not that the chippy should worry just yet, one step and all that). But I have noticed this approach in the food I buy too. Where I buy it from, what I buy, what I cook. I'm definitely being more proactive, but it does involve a bit of critical thinking.

Bombarded with nutritional claim and counter claim, I find myself unconsciously retreating to what I trust is good for me. And that seems to be the raw unprocessed freshly pulled crop. If only I had a farm...

Then, the other day I saw this:

Are you taking the beanz?! That's like taking tons of raw potato, trucking them to the factory, cleaning them with what I hope is water, chopping them up, cooking them in industrial vats, deep frying them in gallons of oil, freezing them, shipping them and claiming if all you do is then char them in the oven they're good for you. Oh, wait a minute... (note, I'm speculating on general knowledge that this is how chips are made). "It's all good". Really?

So for now, I'll continue to eat my chips and beans as if they're bad for me, and nurture my peas in the hope of true vegetable redemption.

The Hapless Kitchen Gardener

My photo
I only feel hapless because some people make it look easy to grow 10 ft marrows or a banquet of greens whereas my courgettes got nabbed by killer slugs and I only got one raspberry. So tips and stories from people less hapless than I are more than welcome. As a disclaimer though, none of my comments should be taken as expert advice on which you can rely! © Unless stated otherwise, and with the exception of guest content where that guest retains copyright, all photos and posts are the copyright of Tom Carpen and may not be used without permission.