Category Archives: Problems

Compost Disaster


Well, we tried. We have tried to make compost on our roof terrace by putting it in a tub and maintaining it. I tried to balance the wet with the dry, to air it regularly and to mix it all up every week or two. But we opened it yesterday after being on holidays for two weeks and the smell was quite overwhelming!

Sadly, we have had to do away with the compost heap. I know it was ambitious to try and do this on a roof terrace but I still think it was worth trying to see if it would work. I guess we are sort of back to square one. Is there any homemade solution for compost if you have no soil or worms? There must be a suitable answer but I have managed to find nothing yet.

For the meantime we are going to revert to throwing all our garden and kitchen waste into the normal bin until we can find an appropriate solution.

Emma 😦


September So Far


September has started really well. We have been picking French beans since August and now they are in full swing. They need to be picked every two or three days before they get too big and after about three weeks like that they are still going strong. They have been added to many dishes. The tomatoes have also started to ripen. Fortunately they have been ripening a few at a time so we have not been overwhelmed with them yet. I have pruned back the plants quite significantly. The leaves have been thinned and any branches with no flowers or fruit were removed. Mostly they are branches which should have been thinned out months ago but we missed. The tomatoes are incredibly sweet and delicious. Nom nom nom!


Outside, the beetroot, turnip, pak choi, pea and chives have all sprouted and started growing away slowly. I am not sure if they are unusually slow or if they are normal, but they all look good. The weather has been a bit cool and wet so far this month. IMG_1898

I finally managed to find some seed potatoes for sale so I purchased a kilo of Charlotte to plant. To be honest they would not be my first choice, not because I don’t like them, just because they are usually eaten very small so I am concerned about them not keeping very long. As a result I planted half of them already and have left the other half for a few weeks. They are planted into old compost sacks, rolled down, with a few holes poked in the bottom for drainage. Still no sprouts coming through the soil yet, I am checking them every day!

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I sowed some seeds for winter crops. This is a bit of an experiment, again! I read that chard and kale will stand well during the winter so I have decided to plant some now. The problem is that they will probably stand well if they are already big by this time of year, but we don’t have any big chard or kale plants so I am hoping I can encourage them to grow now. Chard should be fairly fast to grow but kale takes a while and might not grow until spring. They have been sown into a small propagator thing, like a mini greenhouse. I sowed eight modules of chard Bright Lights and four modules of kale Black Tuscany.

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Finally, the bad news. The courgette plants are done for. After only three or four courgettes from each plant the mildew has won. There was one small courgette on one of the plants for a few weeks not growing so I decided to finish them off. The leaves were so brittle that they almost crumbled in my (gloved) hands. The case was worse than I expected when I turned them over and saw some shrivelled courgettes on the underside. There was no life left in the plants at all. I tried to get some of the roots up too but it is not so easy to find the roots. I disposed of the leaves in a separate bin bag and put them out for the rubbish. I hope the fungus is mostly gone and doesn’t come back to wreak havoc next year. It really decimated those two plants very quickly and before we had gotten our real value out of them.

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IMG_1884After a few days wondering what to do with the compost in those pots I mixed some fresh compost in and sowed carrots. I am not sure if the fungus will remain in the soil ready to attack but I decided against putting the chard or kale in the pots as they are leafy so they are probably more susceptible. It might actually be too late to sow carrots but I thought I would chance it seeing as I didn’t get a good chance to sow lots of vegetables in the Spring!


August Summary


August was a nice busy month. Early in the month we harvested another big crop of basil leaves and got to making some pesto. There was no real recipe involved; it was done by eye and feel. Pine nuts were put into a measuring jug and bashed up somewhat with the end of the rolling pin. Lots of torn up basil was added and a tonne of grated parmesan (about the same amount as the pine nuts) thrown on top. Finally it was topped up with olive oil and blitzed using the hand blender, because that is the only blender we have. We added a little more oil until the consistency seemed correct then ate some with pasta and popped the rest in a jar in the fridge with some olive oil over the top of it. Yum yum! The only shame was that the pesto in the fridge went mouldy before we got back to eating it. Supermarket pesto has a much longer shelf life, that was a real waste. I have now been tipped off by an Italian friend that we can freeze it in ice cube trays to prolong its life next time.

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I did plenty of reading in August and absolutely devoured You Grow Girl by Gayla Trail (a birthday gift from my very generous brother). I love her blog and found the book thoroughly enjoyable and very inspiring. The tone was just right for me and the illustrations were really cute. It is definitely a good book for every girl who has even a flicker of interest in growing plants. I immediately wanted to get outside and get to work with all the veggies. By now the vegetables had mostly recovered from the trauma of the move, some tomatoes were taking on a red hue, more and more flowers on the beans were slowly turning into tiny little French bean pods, and we were starting to get some courgettes too. Most the herbs were also in flower, which means we accidentally missed the harvest season for them. whoops!

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By mid-August the problem of no compost was becoming more significant. How do two urban gardeners, with no car, acquire a sack of compost in the middle of a city? Well, there is an answer to this conundrum. We took the bus to a large B&Q a couple of kilometres from our flat. We surveyed the shop and bought some seeds, containers, a lavender plant and a few other bits. Then later the same afternoon we borrowed a sack truck from our building. This is one of those two wheeled trolley used for moving heavy objects around. We wheeled it to the bus and headed off to B&Q again. Surprisingly enough the security guard seemed unfazed by us bringing our own trolley and was happy to let us bring it inside the shop. As we now had the truck with us we decided to take two bags of compost, two of the biggest bags in the shop; 120litres each! This was probably a mad folly, but the effort of taking a sack truck all the way to the shop was just too much to be repeated at regular intervals. So we staggered back to the bus stop, carefully lifted 240litres of compost plus truck on to the bus and headed off home!

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Armed with new supplies of soil and pots we immediately got out to the terrace to see what could be done. The strawberries have been sending off runners for months so Adam got to work potting most the runners in any containers he could find; small pots, finished butter tubs, half plastic bottles, re-cycled supermarket packaging. 


IMG_1781By now the courgettes were suffering from an attack of powdery mildew so we started a routine of spraying the leaves twice a day with a mixture of milk and water. This seemed to work after a few days and we continued to get a few fruits, although they took longer to ripen than before.


I had intended to plant potatoes at the end of August in the hope of having some fresh new potatoes by Christmas. It turns out that it is extremely difficult to buy seed potatoes at this time of year and after a week trawling the internet I finally got desperate and decided to have a go at IMG_1810chitting my own potatoes. We had recently bought some new potatoes, of unspecified name, from the supermarket so I chose a few which were past their best and lined them up in an egg tray. I added a chopped shallot as I remember reading once that onion fumes can encourage potatoes to sprout. I put them in a dark place until I read that I should put them in a sunny place so they were moved! They are still chitting away and have a few sprouts.

Finally, in the last days of the month, we finalised the cleaning of the garden. There were some pots on the terrace when we moved in, mostly with dying plants in them and a few fake olive trees. On close inspection one of the very brown shrubs turned out to be a rosemary bush. It was in bad shape but I transplanted it to a larger pot and added plenty of compost to help it recover. There were some troughs with no plants in them so I added fresh compost to these and sowed turnip, beetroot and pak choi. Hopefully we will get some autumn crops from them. There were some pieces of broken pots in the bottom of them which I left in place as the troughs have no drainage holes. Fingers crossed that they get sufficient drainage. In addition to those somewhat appropriate crops for Autumn sowing I decided to chance a pot with two peas in it and a pot full of chives. Who knows, maybe they will work! I also filled up two indoor troughs with compost and sowed sprouting peas, rocket, radish and spinach on an inside windowsill.

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I feel all set for the Autumn now and the garden is looking lovely and tidy too!


Basil Greenfly


I haven’t posted for a little while because I have been busy. I also haven’t posted for a little while because all is not well in the garden and I can’t bring myself to photo the state of the plants.

The weather has been cold and overcast for almost two weeks as far as I can remember. There is no sunshine to ripen the strawberries which are all half grown and there are no bumble bees buzzing about to pollinate the tomatoes or courgettes. It has also been raining and windy so the two courgette plants have had their stems snapped from the wind. Oh, it is a disaster out there. At least the peas and beans seems to be just about surviving.

Inside we have lots of basil. Basil coming out our ears. Lots of basil is good news. Unfortunately the plant which was brought in from inside has become a bit of a greenfly breeding ground. I have been keeping an eye on it since it came in because I found one or two flies on it already. Last night I noticed eggs and did a thorough inspection. The case had suddenly gotten quite out of hand. I picked more than ten leaves off the plants, all with multitudes of little eggs on the underside. I think I managed to get them all but I will have to keep a close eye on it from now on. I also checked the other plants but they seem to be clear for now.


This invasion of insects makes me think about the insect problems we have been having outside as well. We have been staying in the suburbs and the plants were initially under a rose bush. This has resulted in invasions of greenfly, whitefly and blackfly. The courgettes now also have ants in the soil. Honestly, they are all totally covered in insects, and not the good kind. We realise that the tomatoes and courgettes might not work out so we are prepared to possibly abandon them and try some new seedlings soon, in the hope of a late harvest. However, I am now very concerned about the state of our soil. I do not want to move to a new apartment, with no insects or problems, and just bring all these little eggs with us in the soil. Then we might end up losing a second crop and possibly a lot of heart about the whole situation.

It does look like we are going to have to resort to some sort of pesticide to kill everything before we move. We didn’t want it to get to this but I don’t think we have any choice. We will research the options and see what choices we have but I don’t want to take any chances on starting a new colony of those pesky black fly in our new garden.


Mixed News from the Garden


IMG_1351Since all the rain and cold weather at the weekend the vegetables are not looking great this evening I decided to fertilise them all, despite none of them really needing much water.

The tomatoes outside looks really tired and unhealthy. The stems on all of them have turned quite a dark colour since the rain. I am not sure if they are bruised from being bashed around with the wind or if they are damaged from too much rain directly onto them. Either way they are not in good shape and may not survive, or bear fruit if they do.

Neither courgette plant looks up to much either. The flowers have shrivelled and I am not sure if they were pollinated in time. The second courgette plant was moved outside on a warm day last week, in full health, just in time for a good bashing of wind and rain at the weekend. The bad weather started when we weren’t at the house so there was nothing we could do. This plant previously had a broken stem but it seemed to have healed. Unfortunately it looks like it may be broken again. I must admit that we were both a bit upset about this plant this evening because it has been such a fighter and really it is our fault for putting it outside without hardening it off properly, even if we couldn’t have known about the weather change. 

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Better news is that the pea, which is still low on the ground, has had some flowers and now also has its first pod! This is the first sign of real fruit that we have seen from any of the plants! The pea has been a bit of an overlooked gem in the garden since we acquired it. It is in it’s own pot and we didn’t start it from seed ourselves so I tend to overlook it when I think about our vegetable collection. I think I should start paying it a bit more attention.

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The other little gem is the beans. The beans have hardly complained at all. They have been climbing away and now some even have flowers on them. Surely it won’t be too long before we have fresh beans to eat from them. Fingers crossed.

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The basil, overall, has been a success. On the surface it has been a real success, it is prolific and we have been eating plenty of it every week. The downsides are that it seems to be malnourished and cramped in its pots. I have taken to feeding it once a week with the tomato food but it is recovering only slightly. It seems that basil requires more space than we allowed (3 to 6 seeds per 4” pot). One of the plants has set flowers now, which I doubt is a god thing for our crop. This evening I also picked some greenfly off one of the plants inside. The leaves on that plant have been subject to greenfly attack already. All in all it has been nice and easy, we will definitely grow more and again!

Our conclusion from all that is happening now in the garden is that it is definitely time to get some second crop plants going either to follow or replace our existing lot. It is getting a bit late for planting new seeds but we will give it  go in the hope of getting at least one good crop of tomatoes and courgettes. We may also plant some new vegetables as well, if my excitement and impulsiveness are not contained!


The Beauty of Gardening


Yesterday evening there was an unexpected storm. The skies turned grey before opening and a barrage of hail stones pelted us on the street in London, where we were caught out. The temperature really dropped too and my first thoughts were of our delicate tomato and courgette plants at home. When we got back late I took the torch and went outside to see how they were holding up, terrified I’d find them collapsed and dead looking after the shock of it.

I was blown away by the little courgette which is not only alive in spite of its ailing health but it has flowered. it really lifted my spirits to see how tough our plants are, in spite of a few setbacks the little moments of joy really outweigh the difficulties.



Herbilicious Leaves


The herbs have really cheered up since we transplanted them last weekend. They seem to be pleased with the addition of some compost, lots of water and more room. After transplanting them I read that both lemon balm and marjoram will spread so we will probably need to thin this pot out later in the season. We are really learning as we go with all of our plants.

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Each herb has a few issues. In order of the pictures; the marjoram has some dried out leaves and looks a bit malnourished and yellow. The lemon balm also has some leaves drying from the tips up and it is quite yellow (although this might be normal as we are not familiar with these herbs).

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The sage has a few less healthy looking leaves although the plant has really come along in leaps and bounds since we bought it in April. The mint is in its own pot where it has plenty of room to spread and give us a big crop of delicious leaves later in the year.