Oslo Garden

A blog about gardening in Oslo, Norway


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A very determined carrot

When we grow vegetables as annuals, it’s easy to forget what their true life cycle is. Take the carrot. It is a biennial plant; in the wild its life cycle is over two years. The first year it grows a fantastic tap root and this is what we usually harvest. But if left to its own devices, it will use this root as a food source to over winter and, in year two, it will continue to grow, produce flowers and set seed.

I grew this carrot from seed last year, and it was harvested in the autumn. I trimmed back its green top and stored it away in my fridge with the intention of eating it at some point. Just in a plastic bag, nothing fancy. But then I forgot all about it.

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Not one for regular meticulous fridge cleaning, it had got hidden by other items piled on top of it. In a mad bout of spring cleaning, I rediscovered it and, to my surprise, noticed that there was a tiny bright green shoot emerging from its top!

I put it in an empty pot to see what would happen. The shoot grew bigger. So I tossed in a handful of soil left over from some sowing I’d been doing, and fed it some water.  More shoots grew and got bigger, developing into some fine feathery leaves. Eventually I re-potted it and had to prise away a mass of young roots that had formed and attached themselves to the pot itself. Such was its incredible rate of growth in just a few weeks.

So, the carrot is currently in my cold frame. I have high hopes of seeing some lovely carrot flowers this summer. Perhaps I’ll even try saving some seeds.

Then I will have seen it through its complete and wonderful life cycle.

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Insect hotels

As part of my ambition this year to do more to support pollinators and encourage wildlife into the garden, I’m building a couple of insect/bee hotels. To have a healthy garden, it’s important to attract predatory insects and pollinating insects, and to create little habitats where they can nest or hang out.

Making a hotel is very simple and doesn’t require any special equipment. Yesterday I thought I’d pop down to the Botanisk Hage to check out their free workshop all about building an insect hotel. It was great to see lots of people there eager to get more involved. 

There are so many different methods, the simplest of which is to drill some holes, of different widths (but no more than 10mm) into a block of wood. Or you can cut the end off a plastic bottle or use an old tin can and stuff it full of bamboo canes. Hang them up somewhere dry and sunny and hey presto, you have a nesting site for solitary bees. A great description of what insects are attracted by what materials can be found here.

I’m going to try making two: an insect hotel that I’ll leave near the ground, with lots of cubby holes full of leaves, bark, and dead wood, and a bee hotel which I’ll hang up and fill with lots of hollow stems.

I’m off to do a bit of foraging. This is the perfect time to do it.


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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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More fool me

When I came to replant my dahlia tubers it became apparent that, unfortunately, they hadn’t survived the winter. They looked fine from the outside but were hollow and dry to the touch. I had, sort of, forgotten about them, stored in a shed, wrapped only in some newspapers. Unsurprisingly they hadn’t endured the freezing temperatures. They’re made for the southern hemisphere, not for the arctic!

So lesson learned…the hard way. Next time I’ll be more careful. I’ll overwinter them by finding somewhere to store them that is cool, dry, dark and, crucially, frost free. 20150827_154731I’m tempted not to buy some new tubers now but instead see what the end of season sales throw up. In the meantime, I’ll continue my quest to grow lots of annual flowers this year such as Zinnia, Cosmos and Antirrhinum, Hopefully that will create a riot of colour and help me forget my little faux pas.


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Seeds for 2016- Part 2: Flowers

Parliament has recently adopted a proposal for a national strategy for bees and pollination to ‘ensure continued diversity of wild bees and other pollinating insects’. It’s still too soon to say what this will involve but there are things we can all do right now to support biodiversity and help encourage pollinators into the garden. It doesn’t matter whether your garden consists of a few pots on a small balcony, a vegetable patch or a garden the size of a football pitch!20160330_141848

  1. Plant colourful, single petalled flowers. With just a handful of seeds you can produce a mass of nectar rich flowers that will be attractive to bees, butterflies and hoverflies (Syrphidae insects). The Hageselskap’s bee campaign ‘Summendehage‘ lists bee friendly flowers here with their Norwegian common names.
  2. Help pollinators find food over a longer period by growing flowers that bloom early and late in the season, not just summer.  Spring bulbs like crocuses or daffodils, Primulas or hellebores offer an important source of nectar early in the season whilst sunflowers (Helianthus), asters (Symphotrichum species) and heathers (Erica speciesare good for late season.
  3. Grow a pot or window box of bee-attractive herbs like Thyme, Oregano, Mint and Chives.
  4. Create a home for a bee. Make a bee hotel, or a bumblebee nest box. Spring is a good time to do it and you can find simple tutorials with different methods online.

This year, I’m dedicating more space to annual flowers alongside this year’s edibles and my existing perennial plants. Here is the list of flowers that I’ll be sowing:

Antirrhinum

Centaurea cyanus

Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Purity’

Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Rubenza’

Daucus carota (Ornamental carrot)

Dianthus barbatus

Helianthus annuus ‘Velvet Queen’

Lathyrus odoratus mix

Phacelia tanacetifolia

Zinnia elegans ‘mix’ & ‘Lilliput’

Edible (and bee) flowers (Demeter) mix- Glebionis segetum, Centaurea cyanus, Calendula officinalis, Borago officinialis

I’ll be incorporating a lot of flowers alongside vegetables.  They help to attract pollinators which in turn helps the vegetables. Squash is an example of a vegetable that relies on bees to pollinate its flowers, so planting lots of flowers alongside it will increase the chance of bees finding it.

Not only that but by interplanting Calendula, Sunflower, Dianthus and Zinnias alongside my vegetables, they provide natural pest control by helping to confuse or repel pests such as slugs, aphids and whiteflies.

If that wasn’t enough, the petals of Zinnias, Calendula, Dianthus, Centaurea and Borage are also edible. 20160330_140634

I’ve just started sowing some of the flowers today. I’ve used some homemade newspaper pots and water expanding coir ‘pots’. I’ve never used the coir before so time will tell as to how successful they are. It’s good to sow some seeds early indoors to give them as long a growing season as 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.