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JULY dining out

July 28, 2010

Last week we ate my first crop of courgettes, grilled and mixed into a pasta salad with basil sauce.  It was a bright green dish and it was good.  I’d just got back from two weeks adventuring round southern France and northern Italy by train, and it was wonderful to be welcomed by four small but handsome vegetables, calling out to be eaten. Deep post holiday blues were eased by views of a roof that is looking jungle-ish at last.  The garden survived two weeks of heat wave without an owner because my extremely kind flatmate agreed to babysit, armed with a watering can and bribed with biscuits.

The food on holiday was obviously excellent – cheese, olives, peaches and pesto to die for.  The tomatoes were especially brilliant, those huge crazy looking ones, that come in all shades of red, green, yellow and purple.  Some neatly striped, others bulbous and epic.  Market days were some of the best of the trip.  I’m now anticipating my own toms ripening much more keenly.  The plants are giants now, and sporting many berry sized green tomatoes that swell slightly every day.  In other vegetable news, I have flowers on my runners and a few tiny beans can be spied among the stalks.  Salad leaves and herbs are on my menu daily.  I am especially enjoying re-discovering the power of the chive.

I thought I’d have potatoes by now and have done some rooting around in my sack container.  So far I’ve only pulled out five baby spuds and found some undeveloped ones.  I’m worried I’ve nursed these plants for months and have failed to even grow enough for one meal.  A novice potato farmer, I now think I planted too many in a rather small space.  The plants above the soil’s surface were large and luscious, monsters even, and looked very happy.  They flowered and I assumed my crop would soon be ready to harvest.  I’ve stopped my rooting and am now waiting…  I’m not sure for what.  Perhaps I’ll have another dig around next week.

At the moment I have lots of bee and butterfly visitors to make me feel better about the lack of spuds.  Both are enjoying the lavender flowers most.  Evenings are still long and gloriously warm at the moment.  When I’m out on the roof after dark, moths dance around the lights. I haven’t seen my dishevelled blackbird for a while though, which is a concern.

I do have a timid young squirrel that’s started visiting.  His knees positively knock if I catch him in the act of eating my sorrel, a salad leaf that he seems to love.  I accidentally surprised him the other day, initiating the most athletic, and perhaps dangerous, flying squirrel leap I’ve ever seen. He launched himself off the roof, hit the top of the downstairs neighbours’ privet hedge and then bounced right into the middle of the next-door-neighbour-but-one’s garden.  He landed on his feet and looked shell shocked; I looked guilty.

I’m conducting an experiment in growing upside down vegetables.  I read about people doing this in the New York Times and thought it sounded fun.  Apparently you can grow any climbing vegetable upside down and the reason to do it is to save space and to protect them from pests.  Upside down plants are harder for squirrels, slugs and snails to reach.  I’m growing two tomato plants this way in old lemonade bottles.

You can see their roots working their way up the clear sided containers and the plants have twisted themselves up to grow.  They are still rather small but they seem to be doing OK.  They’ve certainly proved immune to pests so far.  They look good, I like having toms hanging the wrong way round from the fence and the drainpipe.

The final highlights of July that I must mention are flowers.  As well as bee friendly lavender, the tomato and beans are looking lovely in bloom and the courgette flowers are nothing short of exotic.  I love their huge orange petals that twist into fat, veined cones and spring open into eye achingly fluorescent stars.  Edith the rose has had some pretty pink flowers and I’ve had a few mystery blooms too, from plants that are probably called weeds by most but that are more than welcome in my garden.

I helped out with gardening club again yesterday, on the Somerford Estate in Dalston.  It was a busy session, maybe because it’s the school holidays now.  We spent the whole time watering, it was great fun.  We set up an efficient hydration system using six watering cans and several mini gardeners.  Watering continues to be the main job on the roof too.  Tonight we’ll eat out there – in summer it is as much a dining room as a garden.  A dining room woven with leaves.  And then, when we’ve eaten our fill, I’ll water the plants by the light of the moon.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 1, 2010 7:57 am

    Hi Helen, very intrigued by the upside down plants… How exactly do you plant them? Did you plant them as seeds inside the bottles or did you squeeze the leaves through the bottle top once the plant was already established??

    • helenbabbs permalink*
      August 1, 2010 9:25 pm

      Hi Amy
      Thanks for getting in touch about the ever intriguing upside down tom plants!
      It was with young but already established plants (maybe 1-2 inches tall), a little piece of cardboard is keeping the soil in place, it has a stalk sized hole which the plant pokes through. I stole the idea from the New York Times – have a look at this article:
      All best, H

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