Oslo Garden

A blog about gardening in Oslo, Norway


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First visits to the school kitchen garden

It’s still early days at the school garden. I’ve only made three visits so far, not falling into the trap I did last year of being so eager to plant out some vegetables it ended up being too soon and the cold weather took its toll on them.

So far I’ve sown:

April 26

  • four rows of lettuces
  • one row of Calendula flowers in beside the lettuces

May 1

  • two rows of parsnips
  • one row of beetroot

May 8

  • three rows of carrots (three varieties)
  • one row of ornamental carrot
  • One row of radish in between the lettuce

The chives that I overwintered have been transplanted alongside the rows of carrots. These plants are now in their second year, looking nice and healthy so I’m hoping I’ll see some lovely flowers from them this summer.

What I’ve sown/planted and where is according to my school plan but I’m already thinking I might amend it slightly. I may move the lettuces over to the area underneath the Uchiki kuri squash’s climbing frame. I recently saw pictures of this idea and it seemed an effective use of what would otherwise be dead space.

Plus it means that in the space that’s freed up I can grow some more beans and peas and possibly, if there’s room, another summer squash.

By the time of my third visit, the lettuces and calendula were beginning to emerge. Between the visits, the soil temperature in the raised beds had increased from (barely) 5 to 7 to 12 degrees celsius. I’m keeping the remaining beds covered for now and will be back soon to transplant some of the vegetable and flower seedlings currently hardening off at home.

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Preparing the raised beds

Before any serious planting takes place, I’m beginning to prepare the school’s raised beds. When I first filled the beds three years ago, I added some cow manure to the soil but since then, the beds have only had a mulch of leaves and newspaper and a top up of soil added to them. The soil in the beds looks dark and the level is fine now but this spring, I’m adding some more cow compost/ manure. ‘Kugjødsel’ is sold in bags at local garden centres here. I’m not really sure how unprepared this is (although it doesn’t have a discernible odour when you open the bag). Cow manure isn’t as high in nitrogen as other manures (chicken or horse) however it’s typically recommended to leave some time between adding the manure and using the bed (how long will vary depending on the type of manure). I’m only adding it to the squash bed for now as they are heavy feeders and it’ll be at least 4 weeks before any seedlings are planted out. Hopefully that will be long enough to prevent any root scorch.

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There’s been a fair amount of rainfall in April and the soil is still a little wet. It registers at about 2-3 degrees celsius so it’s got a way to go before I start sowing.

I cover the beds with a black weed membrane to stop weeds from taking over, and to warm up the soil so that I can sow earlier and get things going sooner. When I come back in a couple of weeks I’ll test the soil again to see if it’s ready for some direct sowing.


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School growing plan 2016

When the school kitchen garden began it was very, very loosely based on a crop rotational system with also a nod to square foot gardening. Within each bed there were sub zones with lots of companion planting and flowers. As time has gone on, the system has transitioned into more of a traditional 3 year crop rotational system: Legumes- Brassicas- Roots. This is the most basic system and I’m all for keeping it simple.

Now in its third year, the garden’s three raised beds will correspond to the three vegetable groupings. However, in two of the beds, Bed A and B, I’m dividing the beds into two, so that the main rotational crop is grown alongside a ‘floating’ crop. I’m using chard and squash as ‘floating’ vegetables, as they can be grown anywhere within the rotation. This means they can be used to fill gaps or add variety to a bed. This is especially beneficial here given I wanted to cram in as many vegetables as possibles in the limited space available. So this year, for example, chard is being planted in Bed A, where last year I grew carrots and beetroots. Ordinarily in this space (if following the rotation) would be planted with legumes but I wanted to use Bed C solely for legumes this time around.

I’m also hoping to focus on getting the most out of the garden by experimenting with hexagonal (staggered) planting and generally planting closer together to maximise space. In any gaps or between the slower growing vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and cabbages, I want to plant faster cropping vegetables, notably lettuces and radishes. Also wherever possible I’ll plant some flowers to attract pollinators, as trap crops and to repel pests. A full list of vegetables can be found here and flowers here.  I’m sure there’ll be some changes along the way. Here is the plan for now.

Bed A: Brassicas

Swiss Chard, Savoy Cabbage, Red & Green Kale. I’ll try to squeeze some Dill in here.

Bed B: Roots

Carrots, Parsnips, Beetroots, Summer & Winter Squash. Chives will be planted between the carrots, They are said to improve the growth and flavour of carrots plus their flowers confuse the carrot fly.

Bed C: Legumes

Vicia Faba, Peas- Pisum sativum, Lettuce (and other quick-growing crops) & Lathyrus odorata.

Flowers, some edible, will be dotted about in all beds where possible.


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Seeds for 2016- Part 1: Vegetables

Sowing time is always an exciting time! This year I’m adding a few new varieties of vegetables and flowers, and now I’ve got all the seeds I want (for the moment!) I can start sowing indoors.  Here’s what’s on the list; those asterisked are those  I’ll be growing for the first time:DSC_0060Vegetable seed list

Legumes:

Oregon Sugar Pod Peas*

Norli Peas*

Ambrosia Peas

Vicia faba ‘Hangdown’ *

I’ve not had huge success growing climbing beans here and what with the wet summer last year and the windy school site, I’ve decided not to grow them this year. Instead I’m focussing on growing more cooler-weather legumes. The Ambrosia peas that have, by contrast, been easy growers and have produced tasty crops will be joined this year with two varieties of mange tout- type (flat pod) peas and broad beans.

Brassicas

Red Cabbage ‘Holdbar Vinter’*

Savoy Cabbage ‘Smaragd’*

Green Kale ‘Westlander Winter’

Red Kale ‘Redbor’

Kale is another stalwart so I will be growing both red and green Kale varieties again alongside two cabbages for the first time: a red cabbage, which I thought would be nice for raw salads or even pickling, and a Savoy cabbage which is very commonly found in Sweden but very hard to come by here in Norway.

Salads

Rucola (Salad Rocket)

Winter Purslane (Claytonia)

Lambs Lettuce (Corn Salad)

Cerbiatta Lettuce

Red Giant Mustard leaf

Mizuna

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)*

Merveille de Quatre Saisons lettuce

Iceberg lettuce

I use the Iceberg and Merveille lettuces to delineate the kitchen plots within the raised beds at the school garden. These are happy as cut and come again crops and their contrasting foliage is pretty. I was intending to grow the other varieties solely at home and sow them in succession to produce continuous harvests of salad leaves, but I may also drop in one or two into the school site, in gaps between crops as time goes on.

I was thrilled to discover that Solhatt seed producers have introduced watercress seeds for the first time this year. I love its peppery leaves so I jumped at the chance of trying to grow some. Watercress thrives in slow-moving water but I’ll grow it at home where I can monitor it more closely and make sure it is kept constantly moist.

Roots (& Beets)

Knollfennikel Perfektion*

Beta vulgaris ‘Tondo di Chioggia’ *;  ‘Robushka’; ‘Burpees Golden’*

Daucus carota ‘Atomic Red’; ‘Milan’; ‘Purple Haze’; ‘Cosmic Purple’

So I ordered the fennel before I realised it’s completely unsuitable to grow with the other vegetables as it’s allelopathic, i.e. inhibits the growth of other plants around it! Dill is the only other plant that it can be grown with without any adverse effects. I’ll try growing it in a pot at home and set it apart from the other vegetables as I love fennel bulbs and am curious to see how it does.

Carrots have an interminably long growing season but are easy to grow, versatile to eat and magical for kids to harvest. I’ll grow four varieties again.

This year I’m growing two new Beetroot varieties which I hope will be as tasty as much as they are attractive; the Choggia with its distinctive candy stripe pattern when you cut it open, and Burpees Golden with its brilliant orange colour.

Tomatoes

Kirsebærtomat-Zuckertraube*

Matina

I’ve been spurred on by the family to grow more tomatoes this year, so I’ll give it a go again and see how we get on. Two years ago three Matina tomato plants grew well outside in our south-facing sun trap, and even the tomatoes that hadn’t ripened by the time the frosts came were perfect to make into lovely green tomato chutney! This year I’ll also try the cherry tomato variety-Zuckertraube.

Other vegetables

Chard ‘Rainbow’, ‘Rhubarb’

Summer Squash

‘Sunbeam’; ‘Pattypan’; ‘Gold Rush’; ‘Zuboda’

Winter squash

Cucurbita maxima ‘Uchiki Kuri*

Even though last year’s squashes were a bit of a washout I am going to try growing the same varieties again alongside a new winter squash variety: Uchiki Kuri. I’ve chosen it in particular because its pear-shaped pumpkins are small but store well and are reportedly very tasty. It also grows as a vine, so I’m hoping it’ll not only look impressive on a trellis but also free up some space to plant out more things in the plot. Squashes tend to be space hungry so having a bit of extra room to squeeze in other things would be very useful.


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Winter salads go into the cold frame

My custom-made winter cold frame is now finally finished.

It is now primed and painted inside and out to give it the best chance of survival in snow, rain and minus temperatures.

I had intended to paint it all blue but on a rather gloomy and cloudy day I realised that painting the inside a dark colour perhaps wasn’t the best idea. A better choice would be white which might help reflect what little light there is outside on those grey days. I’m glad I did.

It soon became obvious that I’d have to replace the hinges too. In its new horizontal position the window’s original hinge mechanism was putting stress on the frame each time the window was raised and lowered. So I fitted butt hinges instead. It took time to source the right screws for the job but eventually I got there and so far so good.

Then I discovered that an aluminium trim on one side of the window frame was stopping the window from closing flush against the cold frame box.  Had I known I was going to remove the window’s hinges I could have flipped the window over. But instead  I set to carefully prizing it off using a strong set of pliers. Luckily it came away cleanly from the window frame without damaging it but it did leave glass on that side exposed. So as a precaution I glued some cut offs between the glass and frame to support the glass a little on that side.

My last challenge was finding planters. I had mistakenly assumed the shops would still have them but to my dismay I discovered that the garden centres were being emptied of their summer stock and the planters that I had intended to use had now been replaced by seasonal paraphernalia – christmas baubles, bird feeders and wreaths..!  As I watched my seedlings languishing on my window sill I desperately considered using everything from homemade grow bags made out of plastic bags to washing up bowls. Eventually I finally found some plastic containers from a well-known Swedish home store that were a perfect fit. A few holes drilled at the bottom and hey presto ready for planting!

When it came to transplanting the seedlings some had grown rather leggy and were a bit tricky to plant out. Too much time spent on a warm window sill. Not ideal. Still, I’m hoping they will recover sufficiently and grow into healthy robust plants. It’s just a relief to finally get them in. Now let’s see what happens.


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October garden update- late bloomers

Whilst garden-wise things may be slowing down now, October has got to be one of my favourite months here. A perfect blend of dry crisp bright days and beautiful rich autumnal colours.

Daytime temperatures are now hovering under 10 degrees celsius.  The sun sits lower in the sky and this means that my plants, even though they face south, receive less direct sunlight before it disappears behind buildings or trees. This is how my garden looks today:

The Dahlias are straining for the sun and many of their buds have yet to open. I’m not a Dahlia expert but I noticed some of the leaves look like they are showing signs of frost damage.

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The last two nights have seen temperatures drop to around freezing. It may be time to sacrifice the buds and cut the plants back and store the tubers until next year…

Back at the end of May I was given some Cosmos bipinnatus seeds by a neighbour. They are only now beginning to flower and it’s great to see them- pink and white. There’s something about the plants I like: feathery foliage and open flowers that make them very uplifting.

I wasn’t sure the plants would flower before the colder weather set in. So even though these won’t have time now to reach their full potential (Cosmos are typically prolific bloomers) I’m glad I’ll get to enjoy a few flowers for a little while at least.

The Antirrhinum continues to produce lovely velvety purple flowers but, like the Cosmos, won’t get to produce alot of flowers. I reckon I’ll grow both again next year to enjoy them over a longer period.

Some of the other smaller plants are also providing some late season colour: the Sedum cauticola with it’s lovely dark pink flowers against blue-green foliage; the Euphorbia Polychroma, true to its name, now bursting with yellows, pinks and fiery oranges;

the magenta dwarf Astilbe peeking out from under the straggly geranium, and the Ophiopogon ‘Niger’ which has produced flowers for the first time since I bought it 2 years ago!

On the veg front, the chard and kale continue to produce. Unfortunately I’m now three chard plants down after I discovered some had been uprooted, probably by over exuberant little hands (the pitfalls of growing in a communal garden). I like to think that these little green fingers may one day become big green fingers!

I didn’t have so much success with the squash this year. The plant had developed powdery mildew and frustratingly I had to consign it to the compost bin even though it had so many undeveloped fruit still on it. Other than perhaps not enough watering, the plant may have been stressed in its pot. I noticed that this patty pan variety of squash seemed to want more space than other regular courgette squash I’d grown last year.  If I grow them again next year, I’ll be sure to find/make a large growbag to give them space to spread out much more.

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In contrast, the carrots did well. It was a really fun project for my daughter who sowed the carrot seeds, watched them grow and, much to her delight, harvested them yesterday.

We decided to harvest the beetroots too. They (variety Robushka) turned out small and oblong-shaped, perhaps as a result of being grown in a pot. Then again, whenever I’ve grown these beetroots they’ve always turned out oblong rather than round!

Well that’s it for now apart from to mention that my poor winter seedlings are languishing on my window sills as they wait paitiently for me to finish making my cold frame….I’m almost done! But more of that coming soon!


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Frost arrives

Since I’d visited the school garden four weeks ago Autumn had arrived. Today came the first frost.

Things are definitely slowing down now and I wanted to get a sense of how things are doing. And to tidy up.

I finally removed the bean plants and sweet peas that had been clinging to their frames and dissasembled the bamboo ready to be packed away until next year. I collected some plant debris such as from the old lettuce and shrivelled up squash plants and added it to the compost heap. The calendulas, that had never really shone this year, were still desperately trying to flower, with a few buds waiting in vain to come out. I didn’t have the heart to uproot them and decided to do it another day in the hope that the flower heads that had begun to turn into seed heads would also mature enough for me to save.

The radishes that had been planted back in September had not really grown big enough yet to harvest. The chives that had taken so long to mature now looked nice and chunky. I’d like to transplant them soon so that I can overwinter them in order to replant them into next year’s garden.

Chard and kale were still growing well and still had lots of life in them. Most of the carrots had already been harvested by the school but there was still the odd plant growing.

Quite unexpectedly I also found a couple of carrot plants growing in another bed alongside the squashes. Somehow they’d found their way there, perhaps blown by the wind or inadvertently transported by me when sowing! A happy accident nonetheless!

Disappointingly I didn’t find much of the grazing rye that I had scattered in September. Rather than a blanket of rye grass I only found a measly handful of blades.20151014_092831Perhaps it had been too late to sow them? I’ll keep my eyes peeled for any more sprouting up and, in time, I’ll dig in whatever has germinated which, along with the leaves, will add more nutrients into the soil.

I’ll be back again in a few weeks to continue with the clear up.