Friday, 22 March 2013

Guest Post: Wonder

Star struck in Kenilworth
by Mandy and Kaz - @2_littlepeas

We’ve been so pleased to get to know Tom the Hapless Gardener on Twitter - especially as like him we’re allotment newbies. There’s so much to learn and everyone else seems like an expert - we feel like we’re Mandy and Kaz the Hapless Allotmenteers!

So we were really excited about our visit last weekend to the Edible Garden Show near Kenilworth: a chance for us to learn a few things and to do some allotment goodie shopping to help us get started ...

And here are some of the brilliant things that happened to us, all in one day!

We met James Wong, of BBC and “Grow Your Own Drugs” fame! The last time I saw him he was Cornish wrestling on BBC1’s Country File, and it was great to meet him for real! He was giving a talk about how to grow your own kitchen micro garden, and he was really happy to stop and chat (and be photographed with!!) afterwards.

Then amazingly we got chatting to ‘Kathy Perks’ (real name Hedli Niklaus) from the Archers at the Archers Addicts stall. Kaz is one of the biggest followers of the Archers, and couldn’t believe her luck. We got the inside information on all the shenanigans in Borsetshire ... As well as a free Archers Addicts mug - could things get any better?!

We then listened to a fantastic talk by Alys Fowler. Alys presented an amazing BBC series the Edible Garden a couple of years ago and has presented Gardeners World as well, and her talk was all about life on her vegetable garden. We picked up some great tips - we especially liked her use of a brood of chickens to de-slug the allotment - labour-saving and effective! Result!

We loved looking round the stalls as well - we bought some great things for the allotments - lots of lovely seeds (especially pleased with some brilliant wildflower seeds), plug plants, tomato plants, and some great tools - and also found a man who sold the most amazing fudge and olives! Mmm!

What more could we have asked for? Great gardening tips, lots of interesting people to meet, some fabulous shopping, stepping into the world of the Archers - and a photo opportunity with James Wong!

We’re not sure if we’ll turn into anything other than Hapless Allotmenteers - but we’ll be back at the EDS next year! :-) 


Mandy and Kaz, aka @2_littlepeas on Twitter have been among the most enthusiastic new allotmenteers I've had the pleasure of chatting with.

They've got a lovely website called Little Beginnings and I get the feeling will be very happy to make new gardening friends on their Facebook site too 

Thank you both for writing, I don't think it'll be long before you have a little pitch at EDS and we'll be coming to have our pics taken!

Right, having had such energetic company, I can't let this bed get cold. If you're up for writing a piece on the emotion that gets you most in the garden drop me an email - or if you think there's someone I should ask to write then do let me know: or @haplessgardener

Friday, 15 March 2013

Peas please me

Two years ago, there wouldn't have been a cat - in - hell's chance of me writing that title. Actually, given how often cats behave in my garden I think hell is just the place for mischievous moggies.

Anyway, what I mean to say is I used to hate peas. Passionately. Yet now my final pots of the week are filled with dry little peas, waiting to burst into life and give me a glut of green jewels come the summer.

All I'll say this morning is that if you love peas, don't waste another moment to get some into pots or in the ground and just think of the bounty. And if you hate peas?

Have a read of 'Grumpy old pod'

Finally, as a treat for the weekend, some Beatles

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Red or bed?

I tell you what, trying to pot something every morning is getting harder and harder as the week goes on and I've managed today by the onion skin of my teeth.

It's all fine when you're fresh on a Monday morning, but four days in, the toll of the office and the temptation of an evening being wined and dined meant that I had a difficult decision this morning: 

Stick to my challenge and plant today's pot, or stay in bed.

I'm ashamed to say I chose the latter. But then I felt gardener's guilt, got up and have now hastily potted some red onions and written this post with 5 minutes at time of writing to get out the door...don't say I don't sweat for this blog!

I love red onions. Not only to they effortlessly cut through the dullest salad at night time they are a corker with bacon, eggy bread maple syrup and a few rocket leaves on a Sunday morning.

Now, a quick questions, I was always told to pot them like this but the seed packet says bury them. The former has worked before, but any tips very much welcome.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Take it to the ridge

Day 3 of my 5 days 5 pots challenge and I'm running out of puns.

Have you ever grown a cucumber? Until my first attempt at growing one, I had absolutely no idea just how they grew. On trees? Seriously, if you don't know have a quick think before reading on...

This morning I potted up some ridge cucumbers. I've grown them properly once before and once they get going they go nuts. They sprawl everywhere and give the garden some fantastic unpredictability. They send out creepers, grow bright yellow flowers and hide their goodies amongst their undergrowth like any self respecting vegetable.

But the thing that fascinates me most about them is how perfect they look as seedlings. Flawless and fascinating, sturdy and perfectly formed. 

It's like taking your dog for a walk in the park, seeing all those other dogs running around and you know everyone thinks they have the finest dog. But then there is always someone who has a stand out dog. One you can't take your eyes off.  Sure, there's little Jimmy and his pug and yes both will grow up to be thoroughly loveable rogues, but when the sleek, wire-haired Daschund pitter-patters past, or damn it someone has a Labrador bounding gainfully towards you, know that with the best will in the world that's where all the attention will be.

That's what it's like to see a cucumber seedling among all your mis-shapen new born veg. We love all our veg, no matter what it looks like (except of course evil tomatoes) but if I'm honest, at times I'd rather grow a thousand cucumber seedlings just for the sheer aesthetic hell of it. 

The seeds are in!

So, today I've started this year's round of my cucumber seedling obsession and I shall be sure to show them off to you all when they appear. Perhaps even take them out on a leash...

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The heat is on

Blimey its cold outside! And before the newspapers lose their nuts, it's always cold at this time of year.

Nevertheless (what a cracking word) it's time to turn up the heat, and for that, I'm embarking on two projects. 

Firstly, as part of my 5 days 5 pots, I've gone for chillis.  Fiery beasts, they are one of the most exciting things you can grow. 

A chilli plant was the first thing I ever grew, and the day my only chilli on the plant turned from green to bright red is one I'll never forget. One of those unexplained miracles of nature had happened overnight. I was in awe.

Now, when choosing chillis we fall in to one of two categories and it's all about how much pain we crave. It's the equivalent of getting into an outdoor swimming pool. You'll either bomb right in, with full on adult glee, or dip your toe shivering with fear.

Although having said that, there I was dipping my toe and I ended up with these.

It's hard to choose varieties and perhaps the best way is to follow the Woolly way (click me). Alternatively, if anyone knows of some good varieties to try I'm all smokin' ears. 

For now though, I've potted my seeds in fancy pots by the south facing windowsill, with a dash of water and a desperate prayer for heat. 

However, I have a back up plan - I just don't trust the sun to shine through my windows. As luck would have it the kind folk at Waltons have bravely asked me to road test one of their rather lovely looking wooden cold frames.

As a novice gardener, cold frames are contraptions of mystery - much lauded by garden books but never something I've tried. Well, that's all about to change when this weekend I turn from being hapless at growing-your-own to being, um hapless at building your stay tuned.

But for now, I'm just glad to have potted some more seeds. On. A. Roll.  

And to celebrate, here's a bit of cheesy 80's pop.Dance.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Thyme's up

Herbs. Every cookbook advocates a windowsill bristling with all manner of fragrances vying for your roasting tin's attention.

There's no doubt a handful of the good stuff can turn a limp chicken into a proud hen adorning Sunday's table.

On Friday, the lovely team at Unearthed food got in touch to share their pain. Thyme had literally run out. (Click me)

I feel for them. They have been enthusiastically trying out all manner of windowsill grow-your-own projects in the depths of winter. Me? I've been resting on my laurels, safe in the knowledge my bay tree is the gift that keeps giving, and the rosemary I planted out 2 years ago in the shade is somehow hanging on to plump my potatoes on a weekly basis.

Except this can't go on. I'm planning to move house, find a new garden, and these herbs aren't going to come with me. I need to get potting.

So, Susie and the team @unearthed, this morning I have potted some Thyme for my window sill, and every day this week I'll pot something new. I promise. Even if I'm hungover, suffering from long days at work, or have been on a punishing row through Bristol's Harbourside.

5 days, 5 pots. 

Well, 10 pots. See, I've got a collection of tin cans from my neighbour and I want to see what, if anything I can grow in them.  

I'm hoping this will kick start my growing year. There is a danger Spring will pass me by, that May will come and all that veg potential will be missed.

If you too need a kick up the cock-a-doodle-do then join me, 10 minutes each morning. A pot, seeds, compost and water. Beats Daybreak.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Weeding frenzy

In the past, I've been known to stick up for weeds. I've even given them their own catwalk on this blog. But that was when I led only my sheltered life, with the odd raised bed here and there and instant access to the hoe.

I now see I was wrong about them. I've spent all morning making barely a dent in a steely mass of weeds at the allotment. I didn't quite appreciate what a beast of a task this is (as an aside apparently 'beast' means excellent in teen speak, so says one of the mums at work. In this context, I promise you I do not mean excellent).

What I once thought was a simple task of uproot and discard is clearly so much more than that. See if any of this relates to you:

Psychological challenge

Turn up, take one look and this 'this is hopeless, I'll never get this done'. 10 minutes in, and a small square patch is complete. Criticise yourself for being slow. Still think this is hopeless. An hour in, with numb toes and sore hands you think, ha I'm breaking through. 90 minutes in, proud of your work you pack your things to for some food and your neighbour says in thickest Bristolian "you give up easy don't you."

Quick and dirty or steady and thoughtful

Two approaches to weeding - just get rid of the big stuff on top and make it look neat. Or remove each and every last root. The first may give you instant satisfaction, but there is long lasting pleasure to be had from the latter.

Baby out with the bath water

Mud sticks. This morning the soil was clinging on to roots as if there was a mighty fall below it. The temptation was to throw the clump in the compost, but then I could see gaping holes in the ground and knew I wouldn't be able to get away with that. And anyway, does soil re-grow itself?


My grandad always said worms were good for the soil. And we all hold them in reverence whenever we see them, repeating that mantra. Well today I got fed up with them. I accidentally maimed one early on and was very careful not to incur worm-god wrath with any more injuries. But they were everywhere. Skinny ones, fat ones, slippery ones and worst of all slow ones. I can't hang around Mr worm waiting for you to decide whether or not to move away from impending doom. Precious weeding minutes lost! 

Fear of spring

Most people can't wait for that change in temperature, that evening light once again. Until those weeds are cleared, winter can hang around just that little bit longer. Otherwise, we'll all be on the back foot. But it does raise one question...

Why on earth do weeds grow through winter but not the veg?


Here's one I made earlier - well, actually my allotment buddy did. This is what I have to aspire to but it is worth it.

And as ever the trip to the allotment has the added bonus of the view on the way

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.