Undoubtedly the little person success of last year, possibly of all time, was the discovery of mouse melons. They’re the fruit of cucurbit and are also known as Mexican cucumber, Cucamelon and Mexican miniature watermelon. Their Latin name is Melothria scabra and we bought some seeds from Suttons seeds where they are part of Eden Project range.

One thing that became apparent last summer was that the plants are better off if grown up and over something, rather than being allowed to scrabble around on the ground – here they are like melons proper, rather than say marrows.

I couldn’t readily find any seeds this year and so when we found the seeds left from last season, I was relieved as Little Boots had requested we grow them. Since they are cucurbits I was pretty sure they’d have retained their viability and would grow OK and so began to give some thought about what to grow them up. Sticks and poles seemed like a no-no as did peasticks and string-lines. I reckoned that some kind of netting type affair was the best option. But netting in the garden is at best functional and at worst naff and always something of an eyesore. Then I recalled something I had made in the garden when LB was a toddler and which had been a definite success. Much as I would like to say I invented this, I did not, but having said that I have no idea where I picked the idea up from.

The answer’s obvious I thought – a big spider’s web.

This is a fairly simple thing to make, though does take a little while to construct. First make a square frame, it doesn’t have to be bamboo but that’s what I’ve used. Stick two uprights in the ground and then tie in top and bottom cross pieces. Next tie a series of lengths of string along the top bar and the top half of the uprights.

(TIP = To make a knot that doesn’t slip wind the string three times around the bamboo before tying your knot.)

Start by tying one of the strings to the bottom bar in a diagonal line. Then start tying the other strings in, making sure to tie a knot where they cross the first string. After the first couple the string pattern is stable and you should tie the strings off irregularly and not in straight lines. You should end up with something that looks like this:

The final stage is to start with a small ball of string. Tie it somewhere in the middle, and then move outwards in a spiral, tying it off everytime it crosses another string. I like to make this pattern irregular and also to keep a fair bit of tension in the strings. neither is vital, but tying tight knots that don’t slip is. Because of the number of knots involved this last phase can seem to last forever, but it’s worth persevering, because the end result is, if I say it myself pretty groovy.

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At the allotment Little Boots is no longer such a liability, and seems to actually enjoy working with me down there, rather than constantly demanding to be occupied and entertained.

Certainly my back is grateful, when digging spuds, for a short assistant to pick them up.

The munchkin can also be employed in picking beans, although this is not without problems.

This year I grew my climbing French beans on string cordons much as grapes are grown.

The idea was that they could then be picked from both sides which would be more effective than if they were grown up wigwams.

What I did not spot was that there was a fundamental design flaw in this plan.

Allotmenteers seem to fall into two camps. Gardeners and Farmers.

The latter generally grow regimented rows of vegetables which they could buy for buttons at their local supermarket.

It keeps them off the streets I guess.

The Gardeners can be broadly identified by the fact that they do not grow potatoes [other than earlies], seldom bother with onions, and because they annoy the fuck out of the farmers.

I am a gardener. My allotment is the best looking on the site. If you like shape and form and colour, rather than sterile monocultures, that is.

Whenever I read about somebody growing something different (especially to eat) I get a bit excited.

Actually excited, is probably too strong a word and makes me seem a bit odd. Curious is probably a better word. No, not strong enough. Actively curious? No, that’s no good – it makes me sound like a category in some kind of psychometric test, or pollster’s demographic.

Anyway, I hope you get my drift, so I’ll get to the point.

I was reading in a book, some old boy talking about one of his fellow allotment plot holders, who was Asian, growing a plant called Mehti, for the edible leaves. I immediately looked this up and found that the crop concerned is best known in the UK as fenugreek. “Oh I know fenugreek,” I said to myself, “I must try it” and made a mental note to get some.

So, earlier this week, when I saw a large packet of seed marked down to 50p I picked it up as a bargain.

The thing is that the packet was for ‘sprouting seeds’ which meant that there were no instructions on how to grow the things in soil. At this point it dawned on me that my comment “I know fenugreek” was actually a load of rubbish and that I knew just one thing about fenugreek – it’s a herb. Or a spice. In fact I don’t know anything about it. 

So I looked it up in my herb books and found . . . that it was popular for ‘sprouting seeds’. And no more.

Then I consulted some wider-ranging books about growing. And found . . . . more on ‘sprouting seeds’.

More scholarly tomes told me that it was ‘popular for ‘sprouting seeds’

I was still at a loss as how to cultivate it, and whilst of course there are general principles that apply to any seeds in terms of planting depth etc, I wanted to be sure that there weren’t any specific requirements that would make the difference between success and failure.

I asked a colleague who knew what it was and was able to give me some advice on cooking with it, but she’d never grown it.

So I’m just going to have to suck it and see. Or should that be chuck it and seed?

If you are one of the select group of people who read this blog, you may recall my Magic Beans post.

Well I planted some of the beans. I had been able, through some low-level mithering, to establish that they were yard-long type beans and so after checking with Joy Larcom’s Oriental Veg book and finding that they needed quite a bit of heat to get them going, stuck them in the heated ‘poppa-grator’.

Planted on Monday evening, the seed leaves broke the surface of the compost on Thursday. Overnight the first true leaves emerged and the thing grew to two inches tall inside ten hours, so that they went from the above to this……

With such an astounding rate of growth I ‘m wondering if  they might be magic beans after all. I’ve got a quite a few left – maybe I can swap them for a cow.

Boring botany bits

  • Seeds germinated and emerged from the soil surface within 72 hours
  • Epigeal germination – cotyledons above the soil
  • Cotyledons grew to around 3 times the size of the planted seed within this period and seeds were not soaked prior to sowing

Some are dismissive of the upsurge in veg growing as a fad. Usually a passing fad – as if there was any other kind.

I’m not sure that it is. Yes there’ll be lots of come-day-go-day flibbertigibbets dabbling away, but I think there is a sizeable core of devotees who are genuinely committed and hooked to growing at least some of their own food.

That said, there are aspects of the GYO movement that are classic pointers to it being a fad, such as sudden media interest and previously disinterested folk holding forth on the subject. But prime among these is the ill-informed cash-in.

At the weekend I saw seed strips containing not more than 6 plants each of runner beans, cabbages and carrots for sale at two quid a go.

Then yesterday, I saw pots (about 3 or 4 litres in size) of growing potatoes for a fiver.

I guess that if you have a small balcony, or tiny yard, a handful of bean plants is just the thing (especially if you are somehow incapable of pushing a handful of beans into a suitable pot), but I can’t see that the carrots are anything other than a waste of time. As for the spuds, I suppose you might get a crop ranging from pea to marble-sized. You could pot them on I suppose, but I’ve never heard of anyone potting on potatoes. I mean what’s the point?

And therein lies the sad consequence of people being taken for a ride, They will get a poor crop, lose interest and think “What’s the point?”

Three months back I expressed the intention that colour was to be 2010’s gardening theme here Boot Hall.

We’re doing all right. So far we have red carrots to add to the “Purple Dragons” we grew last year and yellow radish (Zlata) to add to the purple German and red and white French (Breakfast) ones we had in 2009.

In the last few days have been added some claret-flowered broad bans, purpley-black podded climbing-beans and seeds for a pink jumbo banana squash.

Another theme is also burgeoning – that of exotica, not only because for some reason I recently bought a packet of Mexican gherkin seeds, but largely because of the of the ongoing development of the jungle area and the office allotment. And, of course my new propagator has opened all sorts of possibilities.

I am trying, with only moderate success, not to buy every exotic seed I come across. This is not only tricky, but has had a small side effect.

Prior to Christmas, Little Boots was the recipient of a good number of parcels from various points of the compass. The munchkin now thinks every parcel that arrives has Little Boots written on it. So when two packages arrived yesterday that were both for the grown ups, and one of which also just contained banana seeds pronounced as “boring”, a minor sulk was apparently called for.

Luckily the second package contained chocolate for all and grumpiness, along with a telling off, was averted.

I mean, it’s not as if the little bugger has been short of presents lately.

Kids!