Lambs lettuce

Short version:

A slow growing, winter hardy salad that grows in short rosettes and happily self-seeds. It can be sown direct into most soils but also does well in pots on balconies and rooftops. It can be sown now in October or in the spring.

I think that lambs lettuce is the name most commonly used for valerianella locusta in these parts, but this leaf is often known as corn salad, field salad and mâche. I have also heard that this is the leaf in the Rapunzel story that the mother craved so badly, so I have called it rapunzel when showing it to kids in the edible garden at school.

How to grow

October is a great month to sow this salad. There is very little that can still be sown this late in the year, but this is a great salad to sow September to October in preparation for the winter months. It has sprung up in the school edible garden, having self seeded, a testament to it being a good time to grow it. It can also be sown in March and April. It does well sown directly into the soil outdoors. The soil does not need to be particularly fertile and it grows well in pretty much all soil conditions, though it does like full sun. It can also be sown in early winter under cover.

You need to give these plants some space as they grow in rosettes that hug the ground. They should really be about 15cm apart and I’ve found that pretty much all the lambs lettuce seeds I sow germinate. You can either show thinly in rows about 15cm apart (though you can harvest/thin the plants that are too close to each other) or what I like to do is pop them in and around other, taller plants, that are not very bushy or that grow slowly. As they grow so low and have few needs, they don’t form much competition.

My preferred time to grow lambs lettuce though is now, in October, after I’ve harvested and cleared some of the other annuals. They fill the time and space over winter and can be harvested before the spring crops go in. They have quite thick, slightly waxy leaves which might contribute to their winter hardiness (British winters anyway). They do well with frost and the cold weather isn’t detrimental to their taste or texture. They do grow slowly though, especially so in winter but it’s a nice one to just sow in a box or pot and dump on a balcony or roof, to be ignored for a couple of months.

It grows like a weed and self-seeds very well so you can establish a patch somewhere in the garden and leave it to do its thing. If you prefer your salad less unruly you can collect the seed heads after flowering and just shake them into a bag. Just as a weird warning though – I have done this twice and have found that there is an odd smell.  

They seem to be left alone by the slugs and snails in the garden.

How to harvest

When thinning the extra plants can be eaten.  They can then be treated as a cut and come again salad leaf by removing the outer most leaves each time or the whole plant can be pulled out. They are often found in salad bags in small rosettes. The flowers are also edible but as it diverts energy into flowering, leaf production decreases. Unlike many other leafy greens, the taste does not diminish with flowering.

How they taste

It is basically a lettuce like leaf with a hint of nuttiness. It has a bit more body and texture than lettuce though. We often eat them in salads or just as a garden snack. Little one loves to graze on it so we try and grow it where she can access it. She’s often quite fussy about salad leaves and won’t eat things like cos or iceberg lettuce – either home grown, or shop bought. They can be wilted and seasoned or thrown into cooked dishes at the last minute.      

Carrots

Short version:

Not that much tastier than shop bought, doesn’t save you much money and carrots are easily available in the shops, but carrots are good fun for kids. They can be very easy as they can be sown thinly where they are to grow, but soil must be stone and weed free and not high in nitrogen. They are a great one for deep containers plonked on a sunny balcony or rooftop.

This is an odd one for me as I typically prefer to grow plants that are expensive or difficult to buy in the shops, or that taste much better when home grown. Carrots don’t really fall into any of these camps, in our experience they only taste a little bit better than shop bought. However, we do grow them because little one absolutely adores picking, washing, peeling and eating her own carrots. The draw for kids to carrots is so strong that the carrot and beetroot bed in the edible school garden that I maintain is the only vegetable bed that has been ransacked by the kids. I didn’t mind too much as I heard that they were taken home and forced upon parents to prepare.

The Daucus carota subsp. Sativus is from the Apiaceae or Umbellifera family. The umbellifers are characterised by the flowers growing in a head of small clusters of tiny flowers. You may have seen this type of flower formation in cow parsley, dill or coriander, which are in this family. This family tend to be rather aromatic and have tap roots. Be wary though as there are a few dangers lurking in this family like the deadly hemlock (highly toxic) or giant hogweed (contains phototoxins). The sap of hogweed can cause blisters if it gets on the skin and is then exposed to the sun (that’s where the photo bit comes from). In fact, this is why I have never been tempted to grow parsnips (also of this family) with the little one around, as the sap of parsnips also contains phototoxins. You don’t tend to see the flowers of the carrot as they should be harvested way before they get that far.

How to grow

They like stone free, sandy, loamy soil in sunny spots. Carrots are rather picky. The heavy clay in our garden would give short roots. Any obstacles (like stones or even the roots of other carrots or weeds) will lead to forks and twisty roots. Too much nitrogen can also cause carrots to fork. Nitrogen will give lots of great foliage, but that isn’t a good indication of what is going on down below.

They don’t like being transplanted and if the foliage is crushed during transplanting (or even during thinning) then they can attract carrot root fly, whose larvae burrow into and eat the roots. This means that sowing directly into the soil THINLY is the way to go. This does make for an easy crop to grow, as long as you provide the right growing medium.

For all the above reasons I prefer to grow them in repurposed containers, like polystyrene boxes or old water tanks. The containers should be about 7cm deeper than the variety of carrot you intend to grow in it. Because they are low growing, they are also a suitable one for deep containers shoved on a roof or balcony. I’m afraid the urge to grow edibles in any available container on every conceivable surface was inevitable in our house when lockdown happened. They also do well in raised beds full of compost. The nutrients already available in good compost means that fertilising isn’t necessary, so I don’t need to go find a fertiliser that is low in nitrogen but higher in potassium and phosphate.

They can be sown as early as February if they are protected from any frosts, but for an easy life we sow between April and July.

Sow 1cm deep in rows about 5 cm apart. It’s best to sow each row thinly. If necessary, thin the seedlings when about 10cm tall so that seedlings are about 4cm away from each other. They don’t like competition so should be weeded. When thinning or weeding be careful not to crush the leaves, to avoid attracting carrot fly. There are fly resistant varieties on the market though if this is a worry. I have read that planting strong smelling plants like onions, garlic or chives nearby can mask the smell. Do not plant near other umbellifers as these can also attract the carrot fly. 

Grow shorter carrots if you’re worried about your container depth. You could even grow spherical Parisienne carrots. You can grow interesting coloured ones instead as they are not easy to get in shops.

How to harvest

Carrots take 2-3 months but if thinning is required the thinnings can be eaten. You can tell if the carrot is ready to harvest by pulling the soil around the base away. You’ll be able to see how big the carrot is underneath. You can pick the carrots as you need them, taking the largest ones first to give the others time to grow. However, be gentle with the plants and take the carrots away straight after harvest as you don’t want to attract the carrot fly.

How to eat

Er… raw or cooked. It’s up to you. The forked ones may look a bit weird and are hard to clean or peel, but generally they taste the same. The carrot tops are edible, and taste much like parsley but we haven’t found a use for them yet as they’re a bit too tough for us. I’ve read that they make a good pesto ingredient though.

(Swiss/Rainbow) Chard

Short version:

Also called leaf beet and perpetual spinach this easy to grow, winter hardy leaf is great for cold months and the hungry gap as a cut and come again green. It’s something you can still sow now in September to replace the things that have been harvested. It tastes great but can cause that furry feeling on the teeth and isn’t recommended for anyone who has kidney stones.  

In some pages on the internet swiss chard, rainbow chard, chard, leaf beet, perpetual spinach are all terms that are interchangeable and all versions of beta vulgaris subsp.cicla var.flavescens. From what I can gather the term swiss chard is sometimes used for the chard with white stems. Perpetual spinach is usually green stemmed and rainbow chard is a mixture of seeds of chard plants that are white, green, red (sometimes called ruby chard) and yellow (sometimes called golden chard).

How to grow

September is your last chance in the year for some chard sowing in the UK. They can be sown outside where they are to grow between March and September, depending on where you live. In London, where it is warmer, you can push to the boundaries either side of the sowing season. Up north (like Liverpool where my parents are), sowing April till August is a safer bet.

Sow in fertile soil in a sunny spot in drills between 1-2cm deep in rows about 30cm apart.

Chard seeds are like beetroot seeds in how the seed is actually a cluster of seeds. 1-4 seedlings can sprout from one seed. This means that you need to thin the seedlings to about 15cm apart once they have sprouted. If you have a cluster you can thin with a small pair of scissors as pulling seedlings out can sometimes pull up all the seedlings.

For this reason, and also because it means I can sow early and late in the season  I prefer to sow in pots (often made of old milk and juice cartons) indoors and then dig up the seedlings to thin them into individual pots. If you do this, handling the seedlings by their leaves leads to less damage than holding their fragile stems. I also do this because seedlings are dug up and pooed on by the local cats or devoured by the local gastropods. Planting out rather more well placed, substantial plants have been more successful for us.

In addition, with feeling like the apocalypse has been looming this whole year, our small garden is crammed full of edibles. There isn’t any space for the winter veggies yet. At some point the beetroots, carrots, onions, squashes, Jerusalem and Chinese artichokes, yacon and tomatoes will be harvested, and the garden will be very bare. So, this month I’ve sown kales, cauliflowers, Chinese veggies (kai lan, choi sum, Chinese cabbage) and chard indoors. Each plant has (or will have) its own tetra Pak pot on every conceivable window sill space. Once there is bare earth I’ll do some hole composting (bury my growing collection of green kitchen waste in holes about a foot or two deep) to add fertility and then plant out the winter veggies on top, which should be bigger and sturdier then.   

After the chard flowers it dies back and then needs to be dug out.

How to harvest

All the different types of chard will grow leaves on slender stems from the base. You can begin gently harvesting a few of the leaves when the plant is about a foot tall. Patience is rewarded with stems and leaves that are bigger and thicker and you can begin more substantial harvesting. Harvest the bigger outer leaves first by cutting close to the base.

When the weather starts to get really warm chard starts sending up thick (can be up to 3cm in diameter) flowering stems from the centre. These can be picked when immature and make a great bulky, fast growing vegetable. Once you cut the central flower stem, it will send up thinner stems from just below the cut. These can also be harvested. They become thinner and thinner, as you harvest, until they’re too fiddly to pick easily, but by continuing to pick the flowering stems you can prolong the life of the plant.

If you sow later in the summer, they become a biennial. They won’t mature before the weather turns colder and then provides a great source of food over the colder months and the hungry gap later on. They then will start trying to flower and subsequently die when the weather gets warm.

How they taste

Chard can be eaten raw, but I prefer to simply fry in a little butter and garlic with a sprinkling of salt. The stems need more cooking time, so I usually chop with scissors into 1 cm long pieces straight into the pan. I’ll fry for about 2 minutes before tearing (or cutting) the remaining leaves into bigger pieces before adding.

They also work well steamed, boiled or the stems are great roasted.

The leaves are soft, almost velvety and yielding when you bite into them. The stems have a crisp bite, like celery does or a beansprout.

They have a slight earthy taste, like beetroots, the red more so. The yellow maybe slightly nutty and the white and green sweeter. There is a slight metallic aftertaste and usually the same furry feeling on the teeth and tongue afterwards, like you get with spinach. This is due to the oxalic acid present. It combines with calcium that is also present in the leaves to form crystals of calcium oxalate. This is insoluble (doesn’t dissolve) in water so the crystals give you that film in your mouth. This also means that, though chard is high in calcium, you won’t be able to absorb much of it in the body as it is bound as oxalate. Whilst eating in moderation isn’t a health hazard for most, chard consumption is not recommended to people who have issues with kidney stones.   

By boiling chard, discarding the water and rinsing you can remove some of the calcium oxalate and some of that furry teeth feeling.

Problems

Growing chard is generally easy, though the slugs and snails can be quite fond of it. The biggest problem I find is the leaf miners. The grubs of these beetles live and burrow within the layers of the leaf. This is a reason in itself not to use pesticides as they don’t work when the culprit is protected by the leaf. You can protect with fleece, but I usually just rip the bits of the leaf off and dispose of (not compost) them to stop the grubs from maturing and then going on to produce it’s own offspring. The leaves can often carry on growing fine with holes in. Another way is to harvest all the affected leaves and then cut out the affected bits in the kitchen as part of your prep.

Southern green shield bug

Short version:

The invasive southern green shield bugs are not benign like the native green shield bug (England). Let them live to the peril of your berries, fruits and beans. This one species comes in many guises. I can only apologise for the blurry photos, especially the microscope lens ones.

I found these newly hatched bugs whilst harvesting beans. What do they look like? Beetles? Ladybirds? Leave them be I may hear some of you say. Don’t you want a gazillion tiny ladybirds that will become voracious eaters of pests?

No… well yes… I do want that. But no. These are not ladybirds. These are Southern green shield bugs, also known as stink bugs. I know they’re definitely NOT ladybirds. I know because ladybirds start off as alien looking nymphs (click here for last week’s post). In fact when I wrote last week’s post I had put some eggs into the bug jar so I could confirm that they were ladybirds. They hatched and this is what they looked like below. Mini ladybird nymphs.

This is an interesting bug for it’s young alone. After hatching it goes through quite a few stages, known as instars before it becomes the recognisable green shield shaped bug. If you hadn’t seen them before, you wouldn’t be the only one to think that the different instars were different bugs. Now the common green shield bug (palomena prasina) adult looks very similar to the southern green shield bug (nezara viridula) except it has a darker patch at the back of the body. I’ve not seen any of them in the garden so I have no photos, but if I did, I would not mind as the common green shield bug isn’t a berry pirate. The southern one though…

This monster only arrived on our shores fairly recently (reportedly 2003). It is thought they hitched a lift on food produce from Africa. The southern green shield bug does a lot of damage. I first came across them about 6 years ago. My cucamelons had funny little bumps on them and it was only when I saw the shield bugs swarming over them (if a dozen constitutes a swarm) and put 2 and 2 together. I hadn’t really minded them in the last 2 years in this new garden, until they treated my blackberries like juice boxes and damaged hundreds of berries. I wouldn’t mind so much if they ate the whole berry. When half of the drupelets have gone this weird white colour, the berry just isn’t appealing. The individual drupelets then go on to die anyway. So, when the berry isn’t ripe and this damage is done, by the time the berry is ripe, the damaged drupelets are just disgusting. They have needle like stylets which they use for piercing. You can see the entry wound on the individual druplets.

I had harvested many of the blackberries 2 days before and everything looked lovely. In only 2 days they had done this. I knew it was them as, again, I saw them crawling over the berries. After a good old hunt and collect of the berry pirates there was considerably less damage.

They seem to favour berries, beans and tomatoes in our garden. Their eating can cause little bumpy scars on beans and cucamelons, which I don’t mind too much to be honest. Unfortunately when they feed heavily there can be distortion of the beans.

From looking at the young you wouldn’t have thought that they were green shield bugs. This is how they change over time. Just as an FYI they are a giant pain in the butt to kill. I tried to take photos of them alive, but boy do they move fast. I tried to drown them in an old jam jar. I thought they had died and lined them up to take photos. 20 minutes later though they were wandering around… Every…. Single…. One of them! These are hard little devils. I’m afraid my camera is only my iphone, I’m no photographer and my subjects were very reluctant so the photos are not great quality. The young come in stages called instars. I’m not sure how accurate my identification is, but this is a rough estimate of the nymphal stages:

They apparently stay on the egg cases for 48 hours, which is probably why I was lucky enough to spot them and capture a batch before they wreaked havoc. They moult between each stage and as far as I can tell only the adult has wings. The one from the above photo had a damaged wing so they never folded away properly.

As I tried to take a photo of what I thought was a dead shield bug, it started to wiggle and then climbed into my microscope lens. They really are resilient little blighters!

Ladybirds

Short version:

Harlequin ladybirds have overtaken the native British ladybirds mostly in the South of England, but they are still great predators to encourage in the garden. They go through a nymph stage, turning into a pupa, before becoming the recognisable beetle shape.

I was actually going to post about berry pirates, better known as the Southern green shield bug but as I was writing I found myself researching an awful lot about ladybirds. You’ll understand when you see next weeks blog. I was also hunting the garden for specimens of both the shield bug and ladybird to take photos of and I found the ladybird in its various stages and thought it might be an interesting read. So pictured here are both ladybirds that are one of the most helpful critters in the garden. Yes, I do realise that pictures are a little blurry, but these are small creatures that are being photographed with an iphone, through a microscope.

Unfortunately, the British native red ladybird (coccinella septempunctata –7 spot or adalia bipunctata – 2 spot) is in decline because the harlequin ladybird (harmonia axyridis) has muscled in. They are all part of the same Coccinellidae family, but the harlequin reportedly came from Asia in 2004 via Europe when it was introduced as a pest predator, according to the natural history museum website. I’m sad to say that I haven’t seen a native ladybird for about 15 years. This is also down to a move from a more rural setting up north to a big southern city, where the harlequin is reportedly more prevalent.

The same website also mentions the STD that the ladybirds are reported to carry. It is a fungus called laboulbenia, and no, it does not affect humans. Phew! I was bitten during my research this week. It hurt but at least there are no lasting effects.

Between the STD and the natural predators like parasitic wasps there will be an equilibrium reached where both native and invasive species should co-exist (so says the website). In the meantime, I’m rather fond of the harlequin ladybirds (even the bugger that bit me) because they are voracious eaters of the aphids that are my most unwelcome garden inhabitants. The photos are all harlequin ladybirds as those are the only ones I seem to have in my garden.

Below are ladybird eggs, I think. I have put them in the bug jar and so will confirm this when they hatch. They were laid on the most aphid infested leaf that was in the garden which is a good indication. Mothers will lay eggs where there is a plentiful supply of food. The leaf would not have made for good eating with that much damage.

Below is a ladybird nymph. They hatch as tiny versions of these. I’m afraid I couldn’t get a photo because bugs that small are hard to find. I did manage to get a photo of a discarded skin though. As the nymph grows it sheds its exoskeleton several times.

They then enter a pupa stage, where its insides change. It then emerges in the beetle shape. This is the adult form with a hard wing case that hides the wings when not in use. They hibernate over winter, ready to lay eggs in the summer.

Despite their very different colouring these are below are all harlequin ladybugs. Their colouring acts as a warning to tell predators that they taste unpleasant and they can extrude a horrible yellow liquid when they feel threatened from their leg joints.

The best way to encourage ladybirds into the garden is to have plenty of food, i.e. aphids, and to not spray pesticides. You can help them to overwinter by providing them with somewhere to hibernate. Apparently the bug hotel of choice is one with narrow tubes of various sizes like a pot stuffed with bamboo and other woody, hollow stems.

Musk mallow

Short version:

A tasty and attractive short lived perennial plant with unusual leaves and lovely large pink flowers. It can grow in almost all soil types and can tolerate some light shade.

Malva moschata or musk mallow is a relative of the better known marsh mallow, whose roots in times past were use to make the confections of the same name.

I started growing this after reading about it in ‘How to grow Perennial Vegetables’ by Martin Crawford. I’ll have to blog more on this book at a later date as I’ve found it to be an amazing resource. Out of the types he listed: hollyhocks, wood mallow, marsh mallow and musk mallow I found, at the time, the musk mallow seeds the easiest to purchase. All mallows are supposed to edible (but don’t eat them unless you’re sure of your identification and do your own research to check that the specific one that you’re eating is definitely edible) but I think only these ones are listed because the others are biennial or annuals.

How to grow

These can be grown from seed either in autumn or in spring. If growing these for the first time I’d suggest sowing in a pot indoors if possible, to help with identification when the seedling appears. It can then be planted out after frosts. I originally sowed mine in autumn and kept it indoors through the winter where it grew fairly slowly.  It then was a strong little plant in the spring.

It can tolerate all types of soil but prefers a moist soil that drains well. I’ve read that it should NOT be fertilised as it can accumulate harmful levels of nitrates in the leaves. Apparently, it is the same with lettuces. It likes full sun but can tolerate light shade. Ours are in a pot which only gets sun from about 1pm onwards and they’re happy.

It has the strangest leaves though. They become more divided as the plant flowers. This makes for interesting pressed leaves or sunprints (which I’ll do a blog on at some point too). In the set of pics of the flowers you can see all the different leaves.

The flowering period runs from July to September, but we have had some flowers in late June before.

It is an evergreen plant and will keep a few leaves at the base, even if the frosts come. However, it is a short-lived perennial but it does self-seed quite happily (even my voracious 5 year old doesn’t manage to eat ALL the flowers before they have a chance to set seed). You won’t notice the oldest plant has died if you have a few that are a year or so old filling in the gaps.

How to harvest

Help yourself to leaves and flowers as of and when they’re there. After flowering, the unripe seed pods can be eaten. I’ve read that they are called cheeses due to their shape. These only have a short window of opportunity before they ripen and become hard seeds. That isn’t a problem as it means you’ll be able to save seeds for next year or let it self seed.

How they taste

I’ve been trying to grow a plethora of edible flowers. Edible is not synonymous with tasty. Things like artichoke buds are gorgeous steamed, borage makes a fun cucumbery snack, nasturtiums are tasty but a bit spicy when raw to eat many of, pansies have a wintergreen flavour (think ‘deep heat’ spray) and then there’s sunflower or dahlia petals which are nicely nutty but many varieties are bitter. Some taste like the rest of the plant, like brassica flowers or herb flowers. Some are just deeply bitter and I find it hard pressed to call them food, though they make a lovely garnish like fuchsias or Siberian purslane. I’m still growing fuchsia in the hope that one of the varieties I grow will produce tasty berries (all are edible but not all taste good).

Musk mallow is a delicate, beautiful flower that grows prolifically in season and tastes lovely raw. It has a lettuce like flavour so goes very well on top of salads or, as it happens in our garden, as a snack as soon as the petals open. If you’ve beaten the bees to it (and the bees do love it) you’ll also get a lovely sweetness to it. The flowers have a slight musky smell if you put your nose in close – hence the name. The musky smell is not noticeable when eating though.

The leaves have a lettuce like taste again, but they also have a slightly mucilaginous feel which is probably why they can be used to thicken soups or stews.

The ‘cheeses’ taste slightly nutty.

Chinese Chives

Short version:

These perennials have flat, grass like leaves that radiate from the base in an upright manner. They spread slowly and grow in clumps. They can be grown from seed or the bulbs/rhizomes can be transplanted to start a patch. They thrive at the opposite time of the year to three cornered leeks so work well grown in conjunction. They taste like sweet mild garlic.

I have been around Chinese chives , also called garlic chives – allium tuberosum – my entire life. Both my maternal and paternal grandparents, as well as my mum grew these in their gardens. Each single plant looks like a succulent wide leaf grass with the leaves stemming from the base. They will grow in a clump.  

How to grow

They can be grown from seed in little pots around April/May and then planted out as small clumps. It’s written in lots of websites that they self seed invasively, but in my own experience the seeds don’t germinate particularly easily. They also lose viability within the year. This may be why they don’t spread very fast. An easier way to get started is to ask someone who already has them to give you a dozen or so spare little plants. They are perennial so they come back every year and can keep growing for decades. The plants my mum has have continued to thrive even after 30 years. It would be hard to know though whether they are still the original plants or whether the oldest plants have died off years ago but have been replaced over the years by self propagating itself some replacements plants. They don’t run rampant like three cornered leeks, which can fill a whole bed within a couple of years. The Chinese chives (from what I’ve seen in my and my family’s gardens) will stay rather local and spread much much slower.  They are however a great plant to grow in conjunction with three cornered leeks.

The three cornered leeks thrive in the winter. They start in October and are in full swing by November when the Chinese chives are beginning to lose their umph. The three cornered leeks flower in April and die back soon after. This is when the Chinese Chives are filling out. As you can see from the photo they look very similar with the broad, flat leaves. The three cornered leeks have the middle rib and have the triangular cross section, whereas the the Chinese chives are very flat.

They like sun but grow fine in shade. This year the runner beans have completely shaded them and they’re still looking fine (picture at the start of the blog – you can even see that the nasturtiums are trying to overrun them).

The flowers grow on tall stalks that get tough as the flowers open. The flowers are lovely and don’t look out of place in a flower bed.  They are also loved by bees.

How to harvest

You can chop the whole thing off at the base before they send their flower shoots up. This is the quickest way and generally how my mum harvests. I, myself, often pull the thickest, juiciest, individual outer leaves to give the inner leaves a bit more time to grow, by severing with a thumbnail.

The flower stem with the bud on top can be harvested, as scapes, before the bud opens.

The flowers can also be harvested and look lovely in a salad, but by this point the stem will be too tough.

How they taste

They have a sweet, garlicky taste. They are excellent lightly stir fried or added to dishes at the last minute. We often eat them as a spring onion substitute in crispy duck pancakes. When they are at their fullest and juiciest, we sometimes stir fry as much as we can collect as a side dish. If they’re chopped up into centimetre long bits, they can be dropped into piping hot soups or congee (a Chinese rice porridge) to add flavour and colour. The scapes are fabulous just lightly fried in a pan.

Japanese Wineberry

Short version:

Like a raspberry but much easier and very yummy. Doesn’t require ericaceous soil, as much sun, has it’s own defence system and won’t send runners into every corner of your garden. The only downside I’ve found so far is that it doesn’t survive not being watered as well as raspberries do.

How to grow

This is much easier than its raspberry counterparts as it doesn’t require ericaceous (acidic) soil to grow in. It can also deal with a little shade and still provide plenty of sweet berries. Its stems are completely covered in these spikey hairs, which provide a wonderful defence against insects, but it does not make it any more cumbersome to harvest than other raspberries with thorns (pruning can be a little difficult, but good gloves help). The wineberry doesn’t tend to wander like raspberries. Raspberries tend to send underground runners into your garden and you’ll find escapees popping up all over the place. This is wonderful if you’re looking to propagate lots of plants, but if you have a small garden and / or a small ericaceous bed then it can become tiresome rather quickly – especially when the raspberries have over run and choked the blueberries. I have read that the wineberry will self-seed. However, in our little garden in London (UK) this has not happened. It might be because the berries are so yummy and not so numerous on our young plant so far that we haven’t left any to do so.

However, they don’t deal as well with dryness as raspberries do, as I found out earlier this summer in a hot spell. The raspberries all did fine, but the Japanese wineberry dried out and died. It was probably because all the raspberries had zapped all the water. It was at this point that I was very sad that it wasn’t invasive like the raspberry or had self-seeded. When I replace it, I will put it in a corner away from the raspberries. I only put it in the ericaceous bed when I originally got it because I thought it was just another type of raspberry. I was very wrong. The flowers do look very different to raspberries. The prickly sepals provide a wonderful defence. In the photos you can see the berries just beginning to push out from under the segments of these flowers.

They are perennial and they will get bigger as the years go on, unless you forget to water and leave it to die… humph!

The canes can be pruned in the autumn after fruiting.

How to harvest

The wineberry get another point for its harvest time. It comes into its own as the summer raspberries are starting to dwindle and the before the autumn fruiting raspberries begin. The berries ripen behind the spiky sepals. The spiny sticky hairs protect the fruit from pests that would like to sneak in there first under the radar before the berry has even had time to grow. The berry starts to push its way out when it is still green. The berry will go orange and then deepen to a scarlet colour. They are quite small, smaller than raspberries.

How it tastes

They basically taste like raspberries, except sweeter. I think these beautiful, shiny, little berries taste how raspberries would taste if they were magicked into sweets.

Lend and Tend – matching garden owners with garden tenders

www.lendandtend.com is a site that matches people who want to tend a garden (or a bit of a garden) with people who own a garden. Obviously, it’s great for those who want to do some veg growing and don’t have the space or find it hard to get an allotment. It’s also great for those that love their garden and for whatever reason can’t look after it like they used to. It’s a great way to build communities and meet people and it’s a great way to get more greenery on our residential streets.

The website has no fees, they run on donations, but the more people that sign up, the more likely that there’ll be lenders and tenders living in close proximity.

I’ve interviewed it’s founder Joyce Veheary on Zoom so she can tell you all about it:  

To help you navigate it – if you don’t have 25mins to listen to the whole thing:

0:11 Introduction to lend and tend – how the website joins lenders who want people who look after their garden to tenders who have no garden space .

1:18 How lend and tend has reached other countries and how the Netherlands have started their own version of the site called ‘Green Thumbing’

3:06 How the coronavirus and social distancing has affected lending and tending gardens and how we can continue with it safely and keep interested in gardening.

6:01 How a patch match happens. How the whole process starts with an introductory call to get to know each other and talk about what the lender and tender is looking for. This is followed by a meet (each can bring another person for safety). Also, a bit of information about what to expect and other safety aspects.

10:30 How the mutually beneficial exchange generally means that both lenders and tenders keep lines of communication open in order to ensure that a happy relationship is maintained.

12:30 For when minors want to get involved in a patch match.

14:15 How lend and tend came about.

15:03 How produce from the garden is shared.

15:52 The other benefits of lending a garden:

  • The broken window theory and how well tended gardens have an effect on the crime rate.
  • A friendly face and some social interaction for those who are more isolated.
  • Someone to use a garden when the owner is too busy

17:55 How to help if you like the ethos but are not in a position to lend or tend. Donations are welcome. Sharing via social media in order to provide closer lenders and tenders is appreciated. Someone with the technical knowhow to volunteer would also be appreciated.

21:50 Websites to follow and free things to sign up to and a couple of last few bits

So… now you know all about it, please do sign up and / or let other people know too. There are so many benefits to gardening, especially when growing some food. For every plant you grow, that’s carbon dioxide being removed, and oxygen being added to your immediate environment. For every single own grown thing you eat, that’s zero food miles and zero packaging. Think not of just the disposal or recycling of our supermarket packaging, but also the energy required in its manufacturing. That’s also food grown without damage to the environment if you choose not to use pesticides or fertilisers.

Know your enemy – the munchers

Short version:

I’d say avoid this one if squeamish. It’s a slightly different look at a couple of the pests you can get in the garden. You may find that it’s a good idea to let certain caterpillars (and possibly even slugs) live. Meet the caterpillar zombies that care for the parasitic wasp and the predatory slug… and just when you thought slugs couldn’t get any grosser…

Caterpillars

We love beautiful butterflies with their pollinating loveliness, but we hate caterpillars and their vegetable destructiveness. Unfortunately, one cannot exist without the other. In lock down they became a source of home edu-tainment.

I don’t use pesticides, so I often find batches of caterpillars in the garden. They are usually cabbage white caterpillars. They come in 2 types. The smooth green cabbage white ones often get put into a dish and left on the table for the robins. The spikey other ones don’t get eaten by the birds, so they are often chucked in the bin. Sometime I keep eggs in case they are something that eats other bugs – like ladybirds.

Little one followed me around the garden during much of the beginning of lock down and because she knows that caterpillars turn into butterflies, she begged me to let the caterpillars live. I couldn’t really let them go free, so instead they became pets. They were put into a very large glass vase and then sealed loosely with a bit of card. They were given the half-eaten leaves to finish off and then given a clean and the leaves that didn’t look so appetising to humans every other day. This was my compromise. They got to live, but they weren’t free to nibble holes in the best-looking leaves willy nilly. After about a week we discovered that one had turned into a chrysalis and a couple had turned into something else. A quick hunt through the internet informed us that the tiny yellow cocoons next to the caterpillars were in fact parasitic wasps. These wasps lay their eggs under the skin of the caterpillar. When the eggs hatch the grubs grow and then chew their way out of the caterpillar. They spin their cocoons and the caterpillar spends the rest of its life as a zombie nanny. It protects the wasp cocoons and forsakes eating. We were expecting to teach little one about the life cycle of butterflies in greater depth – but got something much more eye opening.

We waited a couple more days till all the caterpillars reached their inevitable conclusions. Out of 10 caterpillars, 7 had become zombies and 3 had become chrysalises. We placed the zombies and their charges back into the garden and cleaned the vase again and put the chrysalises back inside.

We waited almost 2 weeks before the first butterfly emerged. Unfortunately, the sides of the vase were too slippery for it to climb up, so the end of its wing was touching the bottom of the vase and dried a little crumpled. We assume that it became bird food as it wasn’t a great flier. We put a selection of twigs inside the vase and the next day the other 2 emerged and climbed up the twigs to air their wings. Little one released them a few hours later. 

So… we’ve learnt a few things. If 70% of the caterpillars that are in the garden become hosts for their predators then maybe we should let them live and then the next cycle there will be more of these predatory wasps available to keep the caterpillar population down. In nature it’s all about balance. It’s not easy to tell from looking at a single caterpillar if they are carrying the wasps, but if a caterpillar looks much chubbier than its cohorts then it may be a host. The chrysalises do fine on the bottom of their ‘cage’ but there needs to be something the new butterfly can climb up high enough for its wings to fully extend. Now that we have a system and need something to keep lockdown little one entertained (and also to teach a bit of compassion as we don’t want her to go around thinking it’s OK to kill things just because we don’t like them) the capture and contain method has been deployed 3 times in total. Twice there were some zombies, but our 2 peacock caterpillars both survived to butterfly-hood.  

If you do decide that you’d like to keep caterpillars, don’t keep any of the furry ones (spikey ones are OK). Their hairs can cause respiratory problems or skin irritation if touched. They end up turning into moths anyway.

Slugs and snails

Slugs and snails are evil. As an edible gardener I find it hard to find anything redeeming about them. This year they have destroyed beans and peas by chewing through the stems by the soil, they have completely gnawed most of my aubergine plants down to a single stalk, they’ve eaten a good portion of the courgette leaves and the brassicas don’t stand much of a chance.

They are, however, grossly fascinating creatures. From what I’ve read it seems that slugs have evolved from snails, which seems illogical. You would have thought that slugs came first and then evolved a shell to protect itself. Apparently not. Slugs may not have that instant protection of being able to curl up inside a shell, but they can, without an attached cumbersome fixed shape squeeze themselves into any tiny crevice which provides all the protection they need. They don’t require large amounts of calcium carbonate or need to expend energy in having to build the shell either. They then don’t need to expend even more energy in having to bear this constant load.

Slug and snails are also incredible reproducers. They carry both sperm and eggs and when they mate, they fertilise each other’s eggs. This means double the amount of offspring from a single coupling. I was hideously mesmerized when I found this pair mating. From later research I found that the white thing you can see is in fact their huge penises (a word I never expected to write when I started this blog). I really didn’t want to touch them. Slugs are already slimy and icky.  With the added grossness of the horizontal tango it was more than I could take. Unfortunately, by the time I had returned with an old bag to scoop them up into and dispose of them, they had disappeared. I’m sure by next week, when the garden is overrun by the slippery buggers, I’ll be cursing my squeamishness.

Well, I guess I can comfort myself with the knowledge that despite them being a giant pain in the brassicas, they do at least clean up dead matter and debris and aid in decomposition. They also provide food for other creatures. Failure to dispatch is maybe a little like stocking the larder for the amphibians, hedgehogs and birds. However, that won’t stop me from heading out after a rain with a jar and a pair of disposable chopsticks to hunt them down. Judging from the leaf devastation out there, there are not enough predators to keep the gastropod population down. I won’t use slug pellets, these are terrible for the food chain. You can see more info in this post about pesticides.

One last consideration is that I’ve heard that there are some gastropods that are great predators, though these ones tend to live in the sea rather than on land. The leopard slug reportedly will eat other slugs. Unfortunately, when there are no other suitable foods, they will wreak havoc on the plants.