Friday, November 30, 2018

Snails in the rooftop garden!

My facebook recently brought up one of their 'photo reminders' where they remind you of what you posted in the past. Here is a recent one that popped up, when I went snail hunting!

My little rooftop terrace garden is four floors up. I am pretty organic up here, all my vegetable scraps and coffee grounds go into a compost bin.

Considering I'm off the ground and only bring up soil in commercial bags, I'm amazed that I have a plethora of living creatures up here like worms, bugs, snails and slugs. 

Periodically, i.e. when they start eating too much of my produce, I gather them all up and relocate them to a more suitable place at ground level in our public park or in woodland on the way to our allotment. If I don't clear them regularly every year, I end up with a situation like this when I skipped a year:

I'm not sure where they're coming from but I've eliminated a few sources:

1. Ground level: I live in a concrete jungle. They're not climbing up the side of the building.

2. Neighbours: My neighbours don't have plants so they're not hitching a ride on a pot or in soil.

My current thinking is to blame the birds! As I have a roof terrace garden, I still have additional roof space which is above my living space. We regularly get birds up here: crows, sea gulls, magpies and occasionally sparrows.

The bring a mix of gifts to my rooftop. They like to perch on the TV ariel and over time the pots below this area started to grow a variety of plants that were not from me such as rapeseed and general weeds. I have since moved these pots.

In addition to their organic matter the crows LOVE a good takeaway and we have plenty fast food shops nearby that cater to drunk folks on a Saturday night who leave their empty boxes in inappropriate places. The clever crows will bring up the leftovers, in particular, the fried chicken remnants. Every time that we have a good storm I am guaranteed to find chicken bones or various dead bird bits on my rooftop.

I much prefer the friendly magpie. He seems to have stolen a ping pong ball from the local outdoor community tables (looked like an egg?).

Imagine the conversation I had with my neighbor who also has a terrace, we're separate by frosted glass but have 5 inches of clearance so things can blow underneath. 'Excuse me kind neighbour, are you missing a ping pong ball?'

In the meantime I found some slugs in the lettuce that I picked this week. They're back! Time to go hunting again...

If anyone has any other ideas of where they're coming from, feel free to comment.  :)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Book Review on the Dig for Victory Campaign

As the nights draw in I find myself under a wool blanket (and usually a cat) with a good book. I wanted to share my recommendation for The Spade as Mighty as the Sword by Daniel Smith.

I picked this little gem up a few months ago at one of those book stores where everything is discounted. If you're interested in the Second World War and how the Dig for Victory campaign came about, this book gives a full overview.

It gives background about how the nation sourced its food prior to the war, how government policy came into being, how commercial and farm production changed and how each person was encouraged to take part.

It does have a few pages in the centre with black and white photos.

A poster from the campaign at the Duxford Imperial War Museum 
The most interesting thing that I learned from it is that the original campaign was not called 'Dig for Victory' but instead was 'Grow More Food.' In 1939 it went through a re-branding effort which seems to have paid off.

One of the Amazon reviewers stated that the book isn't much of a nail biter. I find that sort of true, it does read like a history textbook at times, dense with facts. However, it is also filled with personal anecdotes of how people reacted to government policies which balances it out.

Another neat things that I learned from this book: by 1943, 25% of fresh eggs were coming from home coops, can you imagine that today?

It also states that in 1942, 55 - 60% of families were growing some part of their own food.

If you're interested in this time period or how the nation produced and consumed food at the time, I'd highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Overwintering Thai basil, will it work?

I love cooking with fresh herbs! The rooftop garden has some basic ones that I've had for years like mint, oregano, rosemary and thyme. My lavender is lovely in the spring too; the bees like its purple flowers.

I mentioned on an earlier post that I haven't brought some of my containers inside for winter due to concerns about the plants being toxic for the cat.

The only plant that I have been able to bring indoors is my Thai basil as basil is non-toxic for cats.

This was one that I started from seed in early June:

I wouldn't bother if it was 'regular,' i.e. Mediterranean basil. According to internet research, Thai basil is a perennial in the warmer climates of Thailand. In prior years I've left my plants out and they won't survive the cold temperatures. It does have a much tougher stem than Mediterranean basil.

I am a 'try and see if it works' type of gardener.

I brought it in six weeks ago. The wisdom I gathered from the internet was to continue to cut off the flowers to ensure that it doesn't think its growing cycle is done. Sure enough, once per week I cut off the new flowers and it is continuing to make new leaves.

It does have quite a scent though when I trim it, so maybe not one to have indoors if you're don't like strong smells although I don't notice it after an hour.

This was immediately after trimming it, kitty boy will give it a sniff but otherwise he's leaving it alone. As he is curious and gets into anything and everything we might stand half a chance on this one!

Friday, November 09, 2018

Lettuce in the rooftop garden

Heather here, giving Dicky a week off from writing. :)

Whilst most of our crops come from the farm, I am lucky to have a sunny rooftop terrace where I do container gardening. As I'm four flights off the ground I get around six extra weeks of growing time due to the sheltered nature of the rooftop. Also it catches the morning sun which warms up the concrete under my containers.

As Dicky was busy getting the farm ready for winter, I've been planting and getting things sorted up here.

Here is my lettuce as of today, November 8, 2019! On the left is 'salad bowl' and just next to it is 'lamb's lettuce'. They are both hardier varieties. Salad bowl can be sowed into August for harvesting in October, but I'll probably get a few more weeks out of this one.

We just had some of the left one last night; it was tasty with no hint of bitterness.

Here is one of the two remaining chilli peppers that I still have going. The variety is called 'Razzamataz.' This one was a late bloomer compared to the more easy going jalapenos and habaneros.

Then it took ages for them to start to turn red.

I'd like to bring it in to try and overwinter it but I'm seeing mixed research online about chilli plants being potentially toxic to cats. For now I'll leave it as is and take my chances that it will survive the winter.

While we've had a few nights of overnight freezing in our corner of Essex, I haven't had any frost up here yet. It needs to get consistently cold, like a few days in a row where it gets below freezing and not above 5 C during the day.

The eagle-eyed among us may notice a fern-like plant to the right of the chilli, it's dill.

It came in a multi-pack of herb seeds. I don't actually use dill in cooking but I planted the seeds to see what it looked like in plant form.

Apparently it's quite happy up here. It went to seed and I composted it and magically it appeared again....and again....and again.
One more plant to show you today, my avocado! I eat a lot of avocados and put the stones into my compost bin. It gets so stinking hot up here in mid-summer (even when we don't have a 'super summer' like this year) that they sprout.

I hate to see a plant unappreciated so I sold a few on ebay. Then I freecycled some. I took them to my gym as a freebie for members. Dicky put them in the 'free' area of our allotment and thankfully our fellow gardeners took them off our hands. My final avocado plant tally was over 30!

Here is one of the last ones. They do not tolerate frost but it's another one that I am hesitant to bring indoors due to possible toxicity to the cat.

 I hope you enjoyed this little autumn tour of some of the things that are still growing on my rooftop.