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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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.


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September School garden update

I found a few surprises when I returned to the school garden this week to see how things were doing.

In Bed A, it looked a shambles! It was hard to see any resemblance to the planting plan I once devised. Still, it has produced (and continues to produce) some tasty edible food and that’s the main thing! 

After a nice harvest earlier in the summer (and a few ripened pea pods I found in the mess), I consigned the pea plants to the compost heap.

The school had been glad to get the peas I’d picked, bagged and froze back in July.

I’m pleased to see the carrots also doing so well. The purple ones do an especially fine impression of beetroots!

It’s still too soon to harvest though, as the school found out recently to its disappointment. The carrots they pulled up were full of flavour but were small. So now the school is looking forward to harvesting the remaining ones that have been left to mature for a bit longer in the ground.

In Bed B the Kale and Chard were still going strong…though I observed a couple of the Kale plants had suffered a major trauma…

While I stood pondering this over zealous harvesting, the mystery was solved. A little boy walked up to the bed, enthusiastically snapped off the top of a kale plant and duly stuffed it into his mouth, devouring it wholeheartedly! I had to admire his enthusiasm but I couldn’t help feel sorry for the plant!

I had been ready to give up on my beans and squash in Bed C but was amazed to see the squash plants, albeit stunted, still flowering and one even had a teeny tiny squash forming!

Not only that but there had been a spurt of verdant new growth among the bean plants with new flowers and beans forming.

They are a bit late developing, so I don’t expect there to be too many beans in the end but it’s great to see some progress nonetheless.

About 2 weeks ago the kids sowed radish (sorry, no photos!) and little seedlings have now appeared. It makes good use of the bare patch of earth where the squash should have been. Radishes love the cool weather and are fast developers, so we hope that they will mature and be harvested in time before the frosts arrive.

The calendula also have been disappointingly small this year but a few have flowered.

In each bed, the lettuces were in need of some attention. Some were beginning to flower and some had suffered water damage, with tale-tale soggy brown leaves at the base of the plants. I tidied up some plants by removing the affected leaves but disposed of some entirely. Where I’d removed plants in all three beds, I scattered some Grass Rye seeds, as a green manure. I hope there’s still enough time for it to grow substantially before the soil freezes so I can turn it over to add some valuable nutrients back into the soil before the winter.


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School garden in full swing

It has been a while since I’d checked up on things at the school garden and things were in need of a bit of attention. The pity of school gardening here is that at the peak of the growing season the schools break for summer holidays. In order to get the most out of a plot, the ideal is to choose to grow varieties that are quick to grow so that there is something to pick before the holidays; grow things that can be stored mid to longterm, or choose things that will grow slowly and can be harvested later in the season. I can’t say that I’ve got the balance entirely right yet. So for now all I can do is harvest some produce and store it until the school reopens.

Bed A: I thin out some beetroot, harvesting the biggest to make some room in the bed for the carrots. There’s a lovely smell of chives but no sign yet of flowers. Despite sowing them earlier this year to give them more of a chance of flowering, this doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference. If I were to grow from seed again, I’d sow them under cover first, before the last frost, in order to give them a head start before transplanting them into their final position. At the end of this season, I’ll take these plants out of the bed and overwinter them at home, before transplanting them as small plants next spring, and hopefully that will also help.

The pea plants have got very heavy, weighed down by the sheer volume of bushy leaf growth and pods full of peas. They are leaning a bit to one side and the sweet peas next to them are struggling to find their way to the wigwam. It all looks a bit of a mess. But all is forgiven when I pick off a pea pod and taste the peas inside. They are wonderfully sweet, it’s all I can do to resist popping them all in my mouth instead of into a plastic bag to take home and freeze….!

Amongst the dense foliage, I discover some radishes. Unfortunately it seems the school forgot to harvest them before the end of term and now they have become ginormous monster radishes! They have started to degrade inside so they’re no longer good to eat and only destined for the compost heap!

Radishes

Radishes

The lettuces in this bed seem to be the only things ravaged by snails/slugs so I leave them there to serve as a decoy.

Bed B: I harvest swiss chard from some lovely looking plants. They haven’t grown too big and the leaves are luscious.

Swiss Chard

Swiss Chard

Two of the plants have bolted but I decide to leave them in situ as they are about to flower and there’s something nice about their sculptural quality. The short spell of hot, dry weather earlier in July may have caused them to bolt but luckily it’s only affected two plants.

I don’t harvest the kale this time around but loosen the netting a bit as the plants are growing big and healthy. There is no sign of damage from cabbage white butterflies but there is one leaf that has been chewed. I suspect something has managed to crawl underneath the netting. I root around a bit but there is no evidence of any critter lurking so there isn’t much I can do other than secure the netting down a bit more.

Bed C: My most disappointing raised bed. The beans are still stunted in growth and don’t look like they’ll recover at all. When compared to the ones I’m growing at home in pots they look a sorry sight.

The squash, too, are also very small compared to mine at home and some leaves are wrinkled and brown. On the plus side they are flowering a lot so perhaps they will come through eventually. The only saving grace is the lettuce and the first bright yellow Calendula flower that brings a bit of sunshine to an otherwise depressing raised bed.

Bed C

Bed C

Overall, the lettuce in all the beds just keep growing and growing and, even after harvesting, it looks like I’ve hardly made a dent in them. Unfortunately this year they haven’t really come into their own until well into the holidays so the kids haven’t had the benefit of salad lunches yet. But I continue to harvest just to keep them from overcrowding and getting too big and bitter. Hopefully once the kids return in mid August, they’ll get to have some lettuces before I replace them with a green manure crop.

Here is the some of the harvest and an overall shot of the garden in July.

My observations:

I could have planted more companion plants. Other than Chives for Carrots, I didn’t make as much of them compared with last year when I grew Tarragon, Hyssop and Marigolds. They also serve to fill the gaps in planting. This year, the raised beds aren’t being used to their full potential and there is too much bare earth on show. I would also make more use of intercropping, growing some fast cropping varieties in between slower growing ones, perhaps lettuce or other salad varieties. This year I will have to be content with leaving the gaps until I sow some Phacelia and Buckwheat as green manures in a few weeks to prepare the beds for winter and next year’s growing season.

Talking of Phacelia (main photo), imagine my surprise to see it growing beside one of the raised beds! Phacelia is a fantastic plant to attract bees and insects, is rich in nectar and has pretty lilac-coloured flowers. But that’s not the main reason I was thrilled to see it.  Last year, I had grown some seeds in one of the raised beds only to find that it had been removed one day, perhaps by someone who had mistaken it for a weed. Luckily it managed to seed itself naturally! This may also be true for the blue cornflowers that I spotted alongside some other wild flowers nearby. Last year, I sowed some cornflowers as part of an edible wildflowers seed mix. It’s great to see these wild flowers pop up unexpectedly, they add so much. Not to mention, I’m so glad there’s been a nice result from my somewhat lackadaisical  approach to clearance around the raised beds!!


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All seedlings go in

This morning I planted the last of the vegetable seedlings into the school beds. I’d been raising them in root trainers which has produced some reasonably strong root systems, so hopefully they’ll do well. So far I like using the root trainers.

The sweet pea, Lathyrus odoratus, will go in next to the edible peas and will add some lovely colour and fragrance to the beds. Plus they’ll help to attract pollinators. I had intended to grow more beans in this spot that would have intertwined with the Lathyrus but I’ve decided to grow the rest of the batch in a pot at home instead so that I can compare how they turn out in each position. My pots sit against a south-west facing wall, which I think has it’s own little warm sheltered micro climate (though it wasn’t immune to the fierce winds we had lately) so it’ll be interesting to see how the beans fair there compared to these on this site. Here are the school ones with signs of new leaf growth so they’re still holding on…just! The end of the relentless wind and arrival of warmer weather has no doubt helped.P1010850The edible peas are thriving and have not been adversely affected by any lashing rain or cooler temperatures recently.P1010852Chard, carrot and lettuce all growing well.

A picture of the how the school kitchen garden looks overall today.P1010853