Friday 25 June 2021

To dig - or, not to dig ...

A drizzly morning - so a chance to stay dry and blog
... that is a question that intrigues many gardeners who have become aware of the debate: to dig - or, not to dig

Codger enjoys digging and has probably done more than his fair share - but in the case of our own plot a spade is now only used in order to plant a shrub. It may sound odd today but I was actually taught to dig at school (a punishment for failing the eleven plus?)

These days, I do not do any real digging, yet everything in the garden flourishes! So, what is the story?

Need to do some levelling? (courtesy Wiki)
Gardening in concrete

We moved to our present property in the autumn of 1990. The land was previously the site of a steel works and, therefore, subject to heavy remediation due to contamination of the soil. I do not know for sure where our heavy clay came from, but I have reasons to suspect the Corby area as a result of iron ore extraction. I strange sort of apology for scarring the planet!

By the time the housebuilders got to work, the ground had been heavily compacted by huge machines trundling back and forth

Part of the border as it is now (actually photographed today weeds and all)
During the first winter, I tried to dig the soil. Joke! The imported clay had set like concrete. So we settled down to several seasons with pick and shovel. Meanwhile the neighbours raced ahead by hiring a Kango. But, remember, educated as as a 'hewer of wood and a drawer of water' I dug doggedly on

In fact, I double-dug - a technique known as bastard trenching (why, I've no idea) and, in the process, discovered that drainage was a problem. This was in part solved by constructing a pond and also a reservoir (a story for another day)

Raised beds

Skipping a few years and (hardly surprisingly) suffering some backpain, I decided to change the top half of the garden to raised beds. Two reasons: to improve drainage and to reduce bending on Codger's part. You will get a feel from this photo

Half of this area is now Codger's Nursery and half still used for vegetable growing which I still enjoy more than any other aspect of gardening - grow to eat, what could be better!

Today's crop. Grow to eat, what could be better!
No dig

Somewhere along the way, I discovered a couple of things about vegetable growing. First, stuff grew well in undisturbed soil. Second, I did not need artificial fertilisers provided I was generous with home produced garden compost

So, almost by accident I became a no-digger. I lacked time to investigate this way of growing until 2017 at which point Mrs Codger had become unwell and needed hospital treatment

Beans to the front (French) and beans to the rear (broad)
Now, this is not a criticism of the NHS but but I soon discovered the key skill of waiting. There seems to be a 90/10 rule at work. !0% treatment and - you can guess the rest. So, Kindle loaded I set about studying soil science in the hallowed waiting halls of our local hospital

The key thing is this: look after your soil and the soil will look after your plants. For me, the big thing about no-dig is that it promotes this approach allowing the micro-organisms in the soil to do their thing without unnecessary disturbance 

Codger's caveat

Now, I've told the story for a reason. I do not think I would have got to the present stage of no-dig abundance without the initial dig. Why? Because the ground was so compacted by the original earthworks remediation

As it transpires my help was sought only this week by friends living in a fairly recent new build (recent to old Codger - probably 10 years old). Builders rarely respect the soil. They flatten it, compress it, and build on it  - and, for good measure, add rubble, sand and cement to the mix

So, I had no compunction in digging out (!) my old trusty tools. These included a mattock - a nice touch as the friends originate from Nigeria where the mattock is the standard digging implement. (Interestingly, they considered my mattock a puny thing compared to the African version!)

After! The plants were well watered in
(The neighbour has booked Codger for the same treatment)
As I had suspected the soil was severely compacted. Incidentally, some care is needed with a task like this as telecom cables often lay there waiting to be severed by the unwary. We turned the 'soil' over, extracted a bucketful of stones and rubble, added a bit of compost and planted immediately

Old Codger has found that new gardeners need to be encouraged by a bit of impact so we cheated slightly with the addition of a hanging basket. You can see the result in the photo. The new plants (zinnias, dahlias and petunias) should fill out quite quickly

So what about no-dig?

We explained last week that we have the opportunity to establish a vegetable bed in a Birmingham garden. Last year's lockdown had provided the opportunity for the new owner to rescue the plot from utter dereliction

Meanwhile in Codger's patch the beans show they are happy enough
There are plenty of beans in there, I promise!
The garden has been restored to one long green strip - mainly grass but, we guess, quite a few weeds mixed in. Two flower beds have been established - a small and a large - and now comes the time for the  veg

Cardboard has been laid down (Charles Dowding style - see last week's photo) and we are ready to move to the next stage. The weather and real life has intervened so look out for a progress report next time - compost bagging has begun in preparation

Also following up on last week ...

Excuse the waste pipe - this is real life, not glossy mag
I have now planted up the posh growbag - the one for which I constructed a frame made out of decking. (Remember, one 8' length turned into a 3' by 2' box with just two cuts?)

The middle tomato and the one on the right are both Sungold. Rather than a cane, I am persuading them to do the Monty Don rope trick. On the left we have the ubiquitous Cerise - with a bit of bamboo support. I'll report back in due course. Although they will only get morning sun, I'm hoping that retained warm from the wall will assist growth

A fishy tale

I have resisted an aquatic report for some time now. Partly because of a complete lack of drama. I think the heron still pays an occasional visit here but these intrusions less appear less frequent due to his, or her, lack of success

It seems that the provision of an underwater hiding place has been surprisingly successful. Now, a friend of Codger, and a reader of these pages, has requested that I help him restock his pool. In his case, the predations of a local heron had been 100% effective. So, for days now, I have been trying to catch some of my smaller fish

The photograph shows the total result of one whole week's angling. Time for a break - and a test of Codger's patience! I'll let you know how I get on ...

Another view of the border - weeds and all
... which, two hours later, was utter failure. But we'll try again tomorrow

Winning tip

But, of course, life in the garden is like that. If you insist on being a perfectionist, gardening is not for you. It is a faithful slave but a tyrannical master. At least, this is what I tell myself when I look at my neglected soft fruit area. I had plans - but in the Lord's goodness we may be granted another chance next year to do what I had planned this year. Not in my hands ...

Yes, you can get plants like this one quite cheaply
However, here is a tip that does not take much time and can save a bob or two. Sign up with one or two online suppliers of plants. Resist their many email blandishments until the summer solstice (just passed, of course). then look out for their special email offers - and you can save a small fortune

How does this work? Well, they have to move stock on to make room for the next lot - remember, we are dealing with perishable goods. Here are the bottom few lines from an order I placed today:




- £52.56


- £5.00



Total Paid


Sorry about the formatting - I've done a literal cut and paste from the invoice to make the point

Speaking of bargains

Angela Webb's charity plant sale is on Saturday 10th July. More details next week

And more bargains

This is the last call if you are after tomato plants. We are almost out of our favoured bush tomato, Cerise. But quite a few cordon varieties (Gardener's Delight, Money Maker and so forth) - please get in touch, if you are interested

My big job in the coming week is to make up a few hanging baskets - hopefully like one one here (see photo). There is a snag with hanging baskets - the cost of the containers which can be as much as £10 each! However, I have found a number of cheaper alternatives and will press on with the job and tell you more in the next episode

A nice surprise

The other day, Mrs Codger took it in her head to do a spot of weeding at the front. Seeing a couple of girls playing in the street (a cul-de-sac) she engaged them in conversation in a grandmotherly sort of way. Later in the day, we drove off in the car passing the two girls and received friendly waves

Returning home we found a slip of paper pushed through the letterbox into the porch


All for now, with best wishes from the old Garden Codger

Saturday 19 June 2021

First Fruits

Colour alone persuades us to give the strawberries star billing this week. These are a commercial Malling variety that hold their heads high, making for easy picking

AND we still have a few potted plants available - you could be eating your own fruits within days! Just get in touch and the plants are yours. The fruit shown was grown outdoors and picked a couple of days ago - they will be devoured in the next 24 hours

Being completely honest, the strawberries are not the very first fruits we have enjoyed - we have been eating lettuce for weeks now. But not so glamorous, I admit
Our Rhubarb
I tend to think of rhubarb as rather humble crop - but value it greatly. Perhaps it is misunderstood because it is spoiled by overcooking. It only needs five minutes simmering once the water has boiled. Keep an eye on it and remove from the heat as soon as looks in danger of going mushy

My other tip concerns sugar. Put the chopped rhubarb in the pan, sprinkle the sugar on - and then add some more!

Incidentally, I say our rhubarb because it is an unknown variety that has been passed down Mrs Codger's family through the generations - a true heirloom! (Perhaps it should be called Great Bridge or Horseley Bridge and Piggott - Tipton historians, please note)

Broad beans
I've left the best 'til last - broad beans (variety: Aqua Dulce). Old Codger is both amazed and relieved how they have pulled through. Although they were knocked back by that week of frosts, they are tastier than ever

Now, broad beans, just like rhubarb, are wrecked by overcooking. And, I think, almost uniquely are a vegetable that needs to be homegrown. Pick, pod, cook and eat

They barely require more than five minutes in the pan. I've noticed that TV chefs like to remove the skins. It is much easier to do this after cooking. When the beans are young, I find them absolutely fine - skins and all. A truly delightful experience - good with bacon and also tasty as a salad ingredient

[In case you have never eaten them the beans are to the right and the skins are to the left. The pods (above) go on the compost heap]

Growing your own
The space allotted to gardens is undoubtedly getting smaller. I certainly know readers of this blog who have little room for veg. So, an idea we kicked off last week - using a growbag (see photo in last week's edition)

Codger's twist on this is to frame the bag with a length of decking. Here's how - and with just two cuts. First, purchase a 2.4m length - about £10 at B&Q. Cut exactly in half. Place the two pieces together and cut off one foot (between 30cm and 31cm, not critical). Screw together (see photo)

Nearly finished - see more next week
The hardest bit is making saw cuts that are straight and square. But there's an easy solution - get B&Q to do it, up to four cuts come in the price - not bad

Two further points. Make sure you perforate the bottom of the bag - simply give it a few jabs with a fork. How you fashion the top of the bag is up to you. Many bags have instructions for cutting out three planting holes. I prefer a completely open top

As regards position, sun is essential but not necessarily all day. It is advantageous to position the bag against a wall - the retained heat can make quite a difference

Tomatoes still available!
Read back over the previous blogs to see what we have available. We have many varieties but if you want to keep things simple, just go for Cerise - an easy-to-grow bush variety. But, please get in touch soon - when they have gone - they've gone!

Although not obvious from the angle of the shot, these fruits are on a tomato plant growing in a hanging basket

Boxes of plants
We are still pleased to supply a box of plants for the flower border. And also willing to give a bit of advice, if that is what is required. This photo shows plants that went out just this afternoon - made up to meet a particular requirement

Codger feels a project coming on
As regular readers will know, Codger comes into the no-dig organic category of gardener. However, I've never created a growing area without digging!

Well, that's about to change. We have a brand new opportunity to deploy the no-dig method on, what is currently, a lawn at a secret location in Birmingham

Why secret? Well, apart from anything else, we do not want floods of tourists distracting our efforts!

Slight digression
Viewers of the BBC Gardener's World TV programme may not remember the series as it was prior to being filmed at Monty Don's Longacre property in Herefordshire. Up to 2010 it came from a 'secret location in Birmingham' - a garden specially constructed for the series

Fans did their best to find the site. This photo shows one spoiler. Why the policy of secrecy, I cannot remember. You may have noticed that the BBC does strange things from time to time

Anyway ...
... as regards our new no-dig project, the first decisive step has been taken: the purchase of a bicycle! 

The evidence is visible in this photograph. However, this is but the initial stage in the process which will result in a productive vegetable patch growing salad crops

Watch this space next week to see how the exciting story unfolds ...

And finally ...
... The first fruits idea got me thinking about the situation described in the Bible where the Old Testament people dedicated the first portion of the harvest to the Lord

How might Codger apply this principle? It then occurred to me that all our produce - not just the first bit - is all first fruit! All we receive dedicated to the Lord in the form of support for BCM. This prompts me to thank all those who have made cash donations this week. As a result I have just transferred another £230 into the BCM account

You can find the current total by clicking here. The figures displayed will show donations made online and also those cash donations I receive here at Codger's Nursery. Our stock of plants is changing all the time - feel free to have look but, please, get in touch first

All for now, thanks again for reading  - best wishes from Garden Codger

PS - as well as strawberry plants we also have available the rhubarb mentioned which, I've now remembered, is known in the family as Raspberry Rhubarb

And a few photos to follow ...

A bit of help with the rhubarb

Our first rose: Peace

We do hanging baskets - interested?

Origanum - looks fresh, doesn't it 

Thursday 10 June 2021

Bursting with flavour!

You can guess what we've had for lunch. There was some ham as well but it was the tomatoes that added the zing. Bursting with flavour!  it says on the wrapper

The packet shown was bought from M&S this morning. I may have paid over the odds but old Codger wanted flavour - so he parted with £3.00 for 400g having checked that 250g cost £2.00

I won't be buying them much longer, though. My home grown version will soon become available - and, of course, at a fraction of the cost

The move to bite-size cherry tomatoes has been a significant trend in the fresh food market. A lot of work has gone into developing the commercial breeds such as the one in the photo above. The supermarkets (therefore, presumably, the customer) are after a particular blend of sweetness and acidity

The growing enterprise is huge. The fruit grows in trusses on vines that are many metres tall. Completely out of the question for amateur gardeners

The sweet bite-size answer?

Easy! Grow a bush variety - just as we have been suggesting for several weeks now. A year ago the receptionist at our dentist had a couple of plants from me. When we booked recently, she asked for a repeat - so I left a box of tomato plants with them at the practice and collected the few left over a couple of days later

Here are my greenhouse tomatoes planted out. Those
without canes are bush varieties. The yellow flowers
are French marigolds, said to deter greenfly
Got into conversation with the dentist himself - he had treated each of the staff to a plant. When he discovered the way we support BCM he doubled his donation. That must rate as our best visit to the dentist to date

So, please let me know he you would like a bush variety - our favourite is Cerise - but we are running out fast. Two plants go well in a trough and should keep you supplied throughout the fruiting period

Alternative varieties

We also grow a variety called Alicante. This is normally trained as a cordon (see below) but I've now discovered that it can also be grown as a bush. I've also been told that very popular Gardener's Delight will also do well as a bush

Pinching out - scissors mark the spot!
We have both Alicante and Gardener's Delight in stock. Two other varieties may interest you. San Marzano is an Italian plum - I'm trying this for the first time. Also new is Sakura. This has the advantage of being an early fruiter

Growing method

Bush varieties are easy. Plant, water, feed, pick, eat. Cordon varieties, however, require side shoots to be 'pinched out'. Take out the wrong shoots and, disaster: no fruit!

Once learned, pinching out is easy. But so much better to be shown than told - Codger strongly recommends looking at a couple of YouTube videos. Plenty on tap

What a change!

The rain and, now, the sun has certainly made a difference. The plants - both edible and flowering - are growing so quickly that I need to get back out in the garden before too many jobs run away from me. So, please excuse a brief episode today. However, I cannot resist a few flower photos taken during the last few days 

Look out for next week's offering. I've come up with a twist on using a growbag for growing veg where space is at a premium. The photo is a clue ...

... best wishes from the Gardening Codger

Photo tailpiece - we're in the pink this week

Great thing about oriental poppies - they keep coming back!

A rose at dusk - last night

Peony at sunrise this morning (or just after!)

And at midday

A foxglove in a delicate shade of pink