Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Spring, Winter, which is it?

 The temperatures had risen, the soil had warmed up and dried well so it was time to put the potatoes in.  Several trenches dug, to the delight of my allotment robin who bobbed about picking morsels out of the soil.
 I don't grow early potatoes anymore as our climate is just too variable - we are increasingly prone to very cold spells in the spring.  So these are maincrop - Desiree and Cara.  They're safely in now and under the soil which is just as well given the cold snap we now have.
 I tried the rhubarb but it isn't quite at its best yet, will try again later this week.
 Beetroot is either great or dreadful for me.  This year I have tried a method given me by another grower, to just create a divot in the soil with a stick or dibber, put the seeds in and cover them over with a little soil.  These are under a cloche now.  They seem to like it drier.
 It's nice to have some colour around the house now.
 My favourite white daffodils are the last to flower.
 All the pictures above were taken last week in the warm weather.  Now it is freezing, we had sleet last night and hard frost the last few nights.  Naturally my plum tree chose this time to start flowering, so I really don't know how many plums will set this year.  We'll have to wait and see.
The germination of my broad beans has been quite poor, unusually so.  It could be the long dry spell, it's hard to know.  Yesterday I filled in the gaps with spare beans and we had heavy rain afterwards so I hope they will grow better.  Strange weather, but it looks like being on the chilly side for the next week or two so I will probably hang back with sowing the tender plants.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Spring 2015 finally arrives!

 In the last couple of weeks we have gone straight from winter to spring almost overnight.
 On the vegetable plot there has been much digging to do, above is an example of my heavy clay soil - you can see the clods of orangey clay in there.  I have three beds like this, they are at the bottom of a slope so prone to getting very wet, and we have had wet summers recently.  In autumn I piled manure and compost on these beds to improve them, this has rotted down over winter and I've now dug it in.
 The skies have been fairly blue recently so the soil has warmed up nicely, particularly under my cloches.  The starlings have moved into my roof edge to nest so it must be spring.
 With the broad beans and garlic already in, I decided to move on to other plantings.  I had left space along the edge of the garlic for these seeds - parsley, lettuce and rocket.   They have been in for a week now and are germinating well under the cloche.
 The garlic has come up quickly but I'm leaving it under the cloche for now.
 One of the rhubarb plants is not far off picking.
 Though the plum tree is still very bare...
 ... the early apples are budding well...
 ... the currants and gooseberries are putting out flower buds too.
 In addition to the lettuce, I have also done a first planting of spinach in a small bed next to the rhubarb.  I have planted in a bit of a pattern, with perpetual spinach round the outside, and orange chard in the middle, in a square.  Hope it turns out geometric!
 The robin on my plot is my constant companion while digging, helping himself to the goodies I uncover.  As you can see in this action shot, he does come very close!
I am happy to help as he now has a young family in a nearby shed, curiously his mate has her territory round that shed, while he always comes back to my plot for food.  Here he is among my cut off raspberry canes, I'm looking forward to seeing young robins soon.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Listen to Rhubarb Growing!

Just had to share this, this is the sound of rhubarb growing in a forcing shed in Yorkshire, the area known as The Rhubarb Triangle as it produces most of our rhubarb.  Astonishing sound!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Planting Garlic

 While we are currently in the grip of a mini-arctic chill wind, winter is loosening its grip and my miniature daffodils are in full bloom, a welcome sight.

Given the cold, I'm slightly behind where I would like to be at this time of year, so need to get on with the early plantings.  First up, garlic.  As a keen vegetable grower, I sometimes find it surprising that people generally do not know how to grow garlic, so here's a handy guide to planting garlic.
 First, terminology.  A garlic bulb is the large thing you buy in shops, garlic cloves are the small pieces which make up a bulb.  You should not plant a whole bulb!  Instead split the bulb into the cloves, they will be different sizes depending on where on the bulb they have come from but this is normal.  Getting the right variety is also important, using a mediterranean variety in northern Europe is unlikely to produce well.  And don't try supermarket garlic.   Best to pick a variety grown for the area, in the UK a lot of garlic is grown on the Isle of Wight and this has given its name to a few varieties.
 The one I use is Picardy Wight which tends to do well for me.  If you're planting garlic for the first time, the next thing you need to know is which way up - pointy end top, flat end bottom.  The roots grow from the flat end.  Some of my cloves had just started to sprout from the top so they were ready to go in now.  If you plant it pointy end down or sideways they will still grow but may be a bit delayed as the plant has to right itself, and they will also be more vulnerable to the stalk rotting underground.
 In the picture at the beginning you will see a long metal dibber, this is what I use to make the holes for the cloves to go in, they need to go in a few centimetres down with the pointy end up.
 I buy three bulbs which gives 45-50 cloves which should grow into 45-50 garlic bulbs.  I make all the holes first, they need to be a good distance apart, at least 15cm.  I did 2 rows, popped all the cloves in and then raked the surface to fill the holes gently, if you compact the soil it will be harder for the plants to break through.  Any decent soil will grow garlic, just don't use freshly manured ground.
 Once planted, I put a cloche back on (it had been on for a week before planting) to keep the cold and wet off the bulbs.  In a few weeks I will also do an early sowing of rocket and lettuce along the edge of the garlic under this cloche.  They will stay under here until late April, depending on the weather.
 Fifteen years ago I planted a loganberry which then proceeded to do absolutely nothing until last year when it put out a lot of shoots and produced some berries. I noticed that I have even more flowering shoots this year, they flower on shoots grown the previous year.  So I have tied these in along the wall.  As the wall is drystone, I put some old canes in between the stones and tied them on there.  Once they have settled I will snip the canes off a bit so I don't poke my eyes out!  This wall gets a lot of sun and so they should ripen well.
 Everywhere I went today I was accompanied by the bird I am starting to think of as "my" robin.  He either perched on a branch above me or bounced around my feet looking for easy pickings.  I do hope he finds a lady robin, it will be nice to have a nest of robins on the plot.
Last job of the day was to pick up the litter thrown over the wall during the winter.  This year we have a broken car mirror, some wire wool, some tin foil, an empty packet of Aero bubbles, a beer can and a wine bottle!

Friday, 6 March 2015

Spring Approaching

 Spring is finally on the way, though it has still been a chilly week.  The crocuses are coming out when the sun shines.
 The snowdrops, despite a dousing with snow earlier in the week, are also in full bloom.
 When I got to the allotment this very tame robin was sitting in a tree singing hard, a sound to cheer you up despite the cold wind.
 The March allotment looks very dead, nothing growing really.  I was going to take some pictures of the rhubarb which is the only thing growing, but didn't quite get that far, here's why.  I started the fruit pruning, taking down the raspberry canes from last year and moved on to the currents and gooseberries, taking out a few old branches.
 I had got my pruning shears sharpened in the autumn but forgot this and caught my thumb on the cutting blade.  Cue gushing blood and an abrupt end to my pruning and gardening activities.
 Oblivious to my near death experience, the robin carried on singing.  He really didn't care about my pain.  Anyway, the application of pressure and the sucking of the thumb stopped the bleeding in 5 minutes (avoiding the bleeding all over the car problem) and I went home to apply first aid.
So indoor activities for me for a few days.  I have got my potatoes going instead, they had already started into life.  On the left are Cara, on the right Desiree, both of which suit my cold clay soil and voracious slugs.  Correction - to be accurate, they don't suit the slugs as the slugs don't like to eat them, which is rather the point!

Happy spring gardening!