Monthly Archives: September 2012

Collared Dove

Collared dove on my garden fence braving the weather head on!

Collared doves (Streptopelia decaocto) belong in the family Columbidae (pigeons and doves).  Their plumage is a pale pinky-grey colour and they have red eyes and red feet.  Their common name is attributed to the black collar around the neck.

Collared doves came to the UK in the 1950’s spreading rapidly throughout Europe from the Middle East.  They are commonly seen in villages and towns either alone or in pairs or in greater numbers where there is an abundance of food.  Their diet consists of seeds and grains.




Autumn Planting of Onions

Allium cepa ‘Electric’

Today I bought my garlic and onions for Autumn planting all ready to be planted out except we are getting an entire month’s worth of rain in one day today so not even my waterproof trousers are giving me the confidence to brave the weather.

Instead I’ll just note down a few interesting facts about the three different Allium species I’ve chosen.

I have Elephant garlic which is good for roasting and has a sweet, mild flavour.  Elephant garlic’s latin name is Allium ampeloprasum so is not a true garlic but a member of the onion family nonetheless.

I also bought Garlic ‘Marco’, Allium sativum ‘Marco’ which has a distinctive strong flavour and is a good storer.

Garlic needs a free draining fertile soil in full sun.  Before planting the ground should be dug over, removing weeds and adding well rotted compost if needed and a general fertilizer to improve yields.  The bulbs should be broken into individual cloves which are then planted 3cm deep and 10cm apart along the row.  When the leaves start to die back in the following summer the garlic can be lifted and left to dry and ripen on the surface for a few days.

Lastly, I’ve chosen Onion ‘Electric’,  Allium cepa ‘Electric’, an overwintering red onion for early harvest and whose young growth can be used as spring onions.  Apparently it’s very good in salads and stir fries.  Soil preparation is the same as for garlic but they require a distance of 12cm apart in rows that are 30cm apart so a little more room than garlic.  Protection from birds will probably be a good idea as they like to pull them out of the ground.

Now I just need the rain to ease off!



Aloe ~ Versatile and Architectural

Aloe vera growing commercially

Aloe vera belongs in the Liliaceae family, is a well known succulent and probably best known for its medicinal properties but did you know that there are about 325 species in the genus ranging from perennial herbs to shrubs and trees?

They come from South Africa, Madagascar, Tropical Africa, Arabian Peninsular and the Cape Verde Islands.  There is a huge diversity of form within the genus making Aloe spp. desirable as architectural garden plants in arid and semi-arid climates.  Despite this diversity the cultivation of the majority of the Aloe species is surprisingly similar.  They will tolerate depleted soils with low fertility and require high light levels.

I have two specimens namely Aloe ferox, Cape Aloe and Aloe striatula, Haw.  Since I live in a temperate climate I will need to treat my Aloes as glasshouse plants, bringing them in before the frosts arrive.  The ideal winter temperature for them is 7-10 degrees centigrade so an unheated room will be fine.  When I brought them home from the nursery the first thing I did was to pot them on into terracotta pots using a mixture of John Innes No. 3 for mature plants and horticultural grit (at a ratio of 3:1).  They need a mineral based growing media which is free draining.  You can also add a small amount of organic matter such as moss peat or leafmould but not to the extent where its breakdown might slow down drainage which needs to be sharp.

Cape Aloe

This little beauty, under the right conditions can grow to 3m in height! Mine’s got a long way to go. It comes from Cape Province, South Africa, hence it’s common name, Cape Aloe.

Aloes should only need to be repotted every 3 to 4 years (in late winter or spring) so it’s important to plant them firmly and in the right media.  During the summer when all risk of frost has passed they can go outdoors in a sunny position.  Watering should be carried out when the potting medium is almost completely dry and only then should you drench the soil and then wait again for it to dry out.  During winter the potting media should be kept dry but not arid so only minimal and infrequent watering is necessary.  When the pot is full of roots a liquid feed can be given.  Scale insects and mealybug are the two most likely pests you’ll encounter.


A. striatula is a shrub reaching 1.75m in height. It comes from Cape Province (South Africa) and also Lesotho.

Harvesting the Seeds of Calendula officinalis

So these final few warm dry days of Summer have encouraged my Calendula seeds to ripen to the point where they need to be collected.

I know they’re ready because they have turned a dry brown colour.

They need to be collected at this stage as the plant will shed them soon after, which is okay if you want them growing there again next year, but I don’t.

Silver Y Moth

Spotted in our garden today, the Silver Y moth, Autographa gamma is quite widespread occurring in Europe, North Africa and much of temperate Asia.

Autographa gamma

Migrants arrive in the British Isles in Spring and produce a second generation in Autumn though these don’t usually survive the winter.  It’s usual habitats include gardens, farmland, wasteland and open countryside, plenty of all of those around us.   The caterpillar feeds on low growing plants and is sometimes a pest of lettuce, peas and other crops.  It’s a yellowish green or dark olive green with wavy white lines along its back and a white stripe down each side.  Its head is green with a black stripe each side.  I’m not surprised we’ve seen this moth because they do fly both at night and during the day.

Growing Garlic

Garlic has long been known for its health benefits and I eat rather a lot of it, so this year I thought I’d have a go at growing my own.



Garlic prefers a light, well-drained soil in full sun, it won’t tolerate wet and heavy soils.  If this is your soil you can plant in modules in the autumn and plant out in Spring as the weather improves.  Garlic can only be grown from bulbs because viable seed is extremely difficult to produce at present.

Garlic Bulb

There are two types of garlic, ‘hardneck’ and ‘softneck’ referring to the way they grow.  The hardneck varieties produce a flower stem known as a scape which can be used in soups, curries and stirfries and has a more delicate flavour than the bulb.  The softneck varieties don’t produce a scape but have a longer shelf life.

Garlic Clove

Garlic needs a cold period to grow successfully so the best time to plant is the autumn though there are spring planting varieties available.    The bulb should be carefully split into it’s separate cloves and each clove planted 2.5cm below the surface with the root scar facing down, the clove should be sitting just below the surface.  They should be planted 10cm apart in rows that are 30cm apart.  Addition of compost at the planting stage will help the soil structure keeping it light and feed the cloves as they grow.

Garlic plants …

Garlic needs limited maintenance except for keeping it weed free, watering during long dry spells and protection from birds who’ll be tempted to pull the bulbs out of the ground.  There are two diseases to look out for which are white spot which will rot the roots and eventually the bulb too and rust which shows up as rusty spots on the leaves.  There is no cure for either and you should avoid growing garlic in the same spot for at least 3 years if you have either of these problems.  Crop rotation will help to discourage these pathogens.

Autumn planted garlic can be harvested around June or July the following year. You know when it’s ready to harvest when the leaves start to turn yellow, don’t put this job off or you may find the bulb re-sprouts causing it to rot later and thereby reduce its shelf life.  Take care when lifting the bulbs out of the ground not to damage them with your trowel as this too will compromise their keeping qualities.