It’s not blight – phew!

Almost a week on … and the sickly tomato seedlings which we potted up into 3-4 ltr pots last week are looking so much better. Thank goodness – it wasn’t blight but malnutrition and cold.

I’m always surprised how quickly seedlings planted in the peat-free compost we use exhaust the nutrients in the soil and start to get pot bound.

Anyway, tomorrow we’ll probably plant them up into the large troughs we have available. I’m reluctant to put them outside immediately until they’ve shown that they can grow strong and lush.

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The dreaded blight?

SAT 7th June 10.30 – 4.00pm SHAFTESBURY PLACE. Celebrate 150 years of Brighton to Seaford railway with coffee/tea and homemade cake, exhibition, open garden, cookery demo, model railway display, music, picnic, guided walk, etc.  See ‘Events’ above.


Every year brings with it a different set of challenges. Last year, there was a very cold spring , the year before it was very dry and the year before that our summer was very cool. This year, it’s warm and wet – we had a warm winter when pests weren’t knocked out. Warm and wet are ideal for pests-and-diseases.  It looks like 2014 is turning out to be a pest-and-disease year.

Our fruit trees have a bad infestation of aphids, luckily not terminal. Our chard has a virus rot, and the unsightly leaves can be removed. But our tomato seedlings look very much like they may have a blight. This is early in the season for blight but the conditions have been ideal. We’ve been pushed for space so I put the tomato seedlings outside. It was also fairly warm and dry ten days ago (17-21C) so I was hoping to harden them off ready for outdoor planting. But it’s been raining on and off for the last week, and it’s got colder: 13-15C. And we’ve been watering from the water butt. And they’d been collecting water in the trays I had them standing in when it was hot. And we’ve been busy with planting and preparing for our event on Saturday, so the tomato seedlings have been a bit neglected. Oh dear!

I have some beautiful Sweet Million plants in the greenhouse – I don’t want any blight to spread. Should we just give up on the seedlings?

I’ve been searching the internet. This hasn’t really helped as many sites are North American and there they suffer from early tomato blight Alternaria solani. The RHS tells me this is not prevalent in the UK. So is it magnesium deficiency? Or Septoria? Or one of many viruses? Some leaves have spots, but not the blotches on the edge that I associate with blight. They are upper leaves, not lower ones. And no other symptoms.

So here’s a plan:

1) We pot up the healthier looking seedlings – no more than 10

2) We remove any yellow or spotted leaves and bag up immediately to get rid of

3) We spray with a foliar feed: many people swear by Epsom salts.

4) Watering needs to be with mains water, not from water butts, and always around the bottom of the plant, never on the leaves.

5) We keep the selected plants in the conservatory where it’s warmer but we need to ensure ventilation.

6) We keep a regular check on them to see how they are doing

7) We use anti-viral and anti-bacterial hand sprays before and after handling the plants.

They may just be sickly from not very conducive conditions: cool and not enough nutrition as they need potting up. Fingers crossed







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Aphids in the orchard

SAT 7th June 10.30 – 4.00pm SHAFTESBURY PLACE. Celebrate 150 years of Brighton to Seaford railway with coffee/tea and homemade cake, exhibition, open garden, cookery demo, model railway display, music, picnic, guided walk, etc.  See ‘Events’


It’s not a good year for pests. The winter was too warm and wet; pests were not killed off. Slugs, snails and aphids are much in evidence. Last year, we didn’t suffer much from slugs and snails – it has been too cold. Our brassicas and leaves were, however, severely attacked by caterpillars: as well to remember now, as a cabbage white butterfly was circulating yesterday, so it’s time to look at covering our cavalo nero in some way. Slugs and snails are just a perennial problem: I have learned to be marginally more tolerant over the years, and have discovered that they really do not like strong coffee and coffee grounds. My garden is starting to smell like an cafe.

apple tree leaves aphidsThe major evidence of pests in the station garden is on the fruit trees. Last Tuesday, the leaves on the apple trees, particularly Saltcote Pippin, were all shrivelled and curled. The new leaves were a sickly light green. Closer inspection revealed a serious infestation of aphids. The under sides of the leaves were black with them. I took my pressure sprayer and on the worst affected trees, systematically sprayed the aphids off each leaf. We’ve now had heavy rain over a few days and the trees are looking better: leaves are a darker green and not so curled.

Aphid infestations basically suck sap from the trees and weaken them in this way, but they are not usually fatal, thank goodness. The leaves do get horribly deformed but they generally recover. The most effective approach I’ve found is to squash the aphids manually and then spray with water to remove them. I’m proposing to follow this up with a foliar feed spray to help the tree recover. I’m waiting for a dull, dry day: the rain could wash Plumlets cthe feed away, bright sunlight can cause damage on the leaves.

Interestingly, the serious aphid infestation is on the apple trees at the station. The pear tree seems to be recovering from the virus, discovered earlier this year, while the plum is growing on at full strength and there are even a few plumlets on our two-year old tree.

My three-year old plum trees in Ditchling Rise and my neighbour’s cherries, however, have been seriously attacked by aphids. The books I’ve consulted tell me that this should not damage the fruit, but it does make the trees look very unhappy. The aphids should disappear of their own accord as the summer moves on, and with the rain, but they may then return late summer to settle in again. So I’m squidging and spraying, and then feeding them as soon as I can to bring them back to health and resistance.

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Catching up on the new season

SAT 7th June 10.30 – 4.00pm SHAFTESBURY PLACE. Celebrate 150 years of Brighton to Seaford railway with coffee/tea and homemade cake, exhibition, open garden, model railway display, music, picnic, guided walk, etc.  More under ‘Events’


It’s a typical May Bank Holiday, which means it’s raining heavily. Time to catch up with what’s been happening in the edible growing plot at London Road Station. We’ve had a month of sunny and rainy weather – great for growing, but our warm and wet winter also provided perfect conditions for slugs, snails and aphids.

Shady leaf bed

Sorrel cavalo shady bedWe’ve moved our exuberant mint and have devoted the shady bed by the wall to cavalo nero, lettuce and some variegated sorrel. The slugs of course went for the cavalo shortly after we planted it, so that we renewed some of the plants last week. We have had to resort to organic wildlife-friendly slug pellets.

West bed

Potatoes in west bed 2 c

This bed is looking good cleared of raspberries, now growing in various large pots by the railings. Sue planted three seed potatoes – a first for the garden – and they are doing very well. We prepared the bed for climbing beans, mixing Veolia’s soil enhancer into the soil. We’ve not been very successful with germinating beans from seed this year, but we do have some plants ready.

East bed

We planted onions here earlier on, and they’ve overwintered well. We now have chard and spinach in this bed, growing well.

Apple and pear orchard beds

Parsely by apple treesThis year, we’ve got lovely flat-leaf parsley and lollo rosso lettuces growing here – both doing really well. The lettuces are nearly ready to harvest. We’re holding on to see if they will last until our event on 7th June and can be part of the ‘Pick and Cook’ demonstration.


StrawberriesWe’ve kept the strawberries in the second raised bed and they seem to be doing well, though with more leaf and fewer fruits than the ‘left-over’ strawberry plantlets, abandoned to do their own thing in an old window box by the pear-trees. The soil in the raised bed may be too rich – too comfortable – so the plants are growing lush greenery, not fruits: back to the principle that a little stress stimulates fruiting.

Salad and courgette in apple bedIn the pear-tree bed, we’ve got spiky oriental greens and three courgette plants. These are dwarf bush plants, requiring about 60cm space between each plant, so it may be that they’ll sulk at some point. We’ll need to keep an eye on ensuring sufficient water in this bed; as for nutrients, the soil, enriched with our compost, Veolia and ‘Black Gold’, should be able to sustain them. They will require careful management as they start to grow outwards, downwards, every which way. Contrary to our experience with courgettes last year, these plants (Franchi ‘long’) are doing very well indeed.

As part of catching up, I’ve also gone back through e-mails and texts recording what was going on in the earlier part of the year. Thanks to Diane for keeping in touch!

Tuesday 4th March 2014

A beautiful early Spring afternoon made for some really enthusiastic gardening (and talking about gardening!)  Very pleasing to survey the plots and share our thoughts.  The shady triangle is really coming into its own with a specially good show of ‘Golden Daffodils….’ with the last of the cyclamen doing their best.  We decided the miniature daffs are by far the best, much less subject to the wind blowing them over, and providing good patches of colour because of the dense planting.

The veg garden stays tidy, with buds appearing everywhere.  We are still getting used to the fruit trees new angle, but they look good, specially as Mark disentangled them from the now redundant canes.

We planted some little sorrel seedlings (the red variety) just to see what they would do, and we harvested some more leeks.

The greenhouse plants are racing along now, and we were pleased to see new dark green shoots coming from the base of all the parsley plants we potted on only last week..  We harvested the lettuce, and then planted seeds for the next crop. Then time for tea, and planning!  Which variety of beans to grow?  where to site them?  Among other important topics.

Tuesday 25 February 2014

Tuesday was dull, weather-wise, but in every other respect it shone!  We potted on the parsley plants, tended the greenhouse (actually, should say ‘admired’ as Mark and Daphne have done all the tending and it looks really good!) and the basil seedlings I didn’t bring home for tlc are doing fine now (M and D’s magic touch again!)

The highlight of the afternoon was Bryn’s visit.  He was fulsome in his praise for our fruit trees – the best of the bunch he is ‘overseeing’. They are vigorous, healthy and have flower buds to prove it. The main task was to pull each little tree(not so little now) down to an angle of 45 degrees.  It did seem a bit brutal at first, but the trees didn’t mind, and they look very comfortable in their new positions.  We, well 99%Bryn, tied the branches in with the plastic tree ties, and snipped off a few small branches which were heading towards the wall.

Bryn will be back to look at how they are doing in late June/July.  In the meantime we need to water well when needed, and stop feeding as they will get too leafy and big, and not concentrate on fruiting. There are other things to do at solstice time and early August, and we had instructions about how and when to remove excess fruit to ensure good harvests. The plum tree received some training to fill its allotted space efficiently – tied in with inner tubes this time – a brilliant tip.

We ended the afternoon with a leek harvest – leeks in cheese sauce for Bryn and the De Boissieres, leek and potato soup for Diane and Simon.   A delightful way to round the afternoon.

Tuesday 18th February 2014

It was a worthwhile afternoon – and the plots felt quite spring-like!   Just a bit of general tidying, weeding the tree pit  (and I harvested some chard for a savoury tart!)The greenhouse is looking good, just a little bit of watering to do. The geraniums in the conservatory also had a little drink.   The sun was pouring into the conservatory by 3, so it was certainly time to sit down with one of Elspeth’s gardening books, feet up, cushions in place……. I woke up at 3.45!   Thank you, Elspeth for sharing this little bit of heaven with all of us! The basil which is now on my windowsill is hanging in there, five of the plants look really viable now.


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Update on the orchard

2014-04-22-1246Our mini-orchard of cordoned apples and pears is springing back to life. But there’s a bit of a problem in one of the pear trees. Some of the leaves are mottled with light-coloured blotches which are starting to turn brown on the underside of the leaf. We’ve identified this as Pear leaf blister mite, caused by a microscopic beastie which invades the leaves.

Luckily, the advice is that this invasion is less serious than it looks – phew! There are no chemical controls: if a few leaves are affected, they should be removed, but otherwise, the tree should just keep going and the mite should not affect fruiting.

As much of the tree appears healthy, we’ll start by removing the worst affected leaves and giving the tree a good foliar-feed spray.

The trees were winter-pruned back in February when Bryn visited from Brighton Permaculture Trust: photos below.

2014-02-25 16.36.16 2014-02-25 16.37.51 2014-02-25 16.38.03 2014-02-25 16.38.53 2014-02-25 16.39.43 2014-02-25 16.41.22 2014-02-25 16.57.02


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New season sowing

Despite the cold these last few days in Brighton, the new growing season feels like it’s started. We’ve started getting seeds in and there are green shoots poking up through the soil.

Our recently sown troughs of salad leaf seedlings in the greenhouse which already need thinning out.

Our tray of that LRSP favourite cavalo nero is showing signs of germination.

We’ve sown different varieties of tomatoes: sweet million, gardener’s delight and tumbling toms.

There are also courgettes and some dwarf beans (Blue Lake) showing signs of breaking through the soil.

We’re also all sowing basil (Sweet Genovese) on window sills.

There are still a few basil seedlings which have survived in the greenhouse over the winter and they are showing signs of recovering. They were very sickly during dark and rainy January and February. Basil proved to be a favourite in our public herb planters so this year we’re trying to ensure we get enough continuous stock throughout the summer.

Image2725And we’ve still got lots and lots of seed. Last year, I experimented with scattering all the ‘past sell-by seed’ onto a prepared raised bed in late April. I was rewarded with a wonderful variety of salad leaves, although French frisee lettuce turned out to be thuggish and tried hard to dominate the plot.

Daphne is our seed queen in the LRSP. She’s already potted on tomato seedlings and has basil coming up. Her seedlings enjoy the luxury of a warm south-west facing bedroom.

I never feel very confident about seeding, though germination usually happens.  I’ve decided this year to keep heating on at a very low thermostat in the conservatory to encourage the seeds to germinate; after all, we had frosts last week. I’m hoping this will encourage the tomatoes, courgettes and beans.

The RHS have recently posted a guide to what can be sown when in a greenhouse or conservatory that’s particularly helpful.



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Mort Bay Community Garden

I’m upside down again. North is South, winter is summer. Australia is a fantastic country for swimming, surfing and outdoor life, but as I have been basking in Perth’s temperatures well above 30C and Sydney’s 25-28C, it has struck me that the challenges of water harvesting and watering of a community vegetable garden are in a whole different league from those we face in Brighton.

2014-03-11-512 2014-03-11-516In Sydney, I came across the Mort Bay Community Garden – a fantastic project in Birchgrove, not far from the city centre. Friends showed me the site on an early evening stroll: it’s much bigger than the London Road Station pocket-handkerchief site, but it had been developed from waste land. There was clearly a solid irrigation system in place. A quick look at their web-site shows their useful watering rota.

They use corrugated iron raised beds to grow a whole range of produce: lots of herbs and hot climate vegetables such as sweet corn, aubergines and peppers, but also fruit bushes.

Looking through their website, it was really interesting to see a similar range of activities: general maintenance, planning planting, organising events such as a harvest supper, composting … Looking around their large site, I was really impressed with the number of things growing so well in hot weather – and not a water butt in sight.


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