Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day April 2014

 I don't always post on Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, mostly because I forget but also because I concentrate a lot on vegetables and fruit, but since I have some lovely flowers out just now, I couldn't let the day pass by.  This is a beautiful narcissus which I keep in pots, it has a lovely scent and is just at its best right now.  Being a very bad gardener, I can't remember the name, I probably have it written down somewhere but no idea where.
 Also in pots, some primroses peeking out from among the crocuses and the leaves of the yellow welsh poppy which self-seeds everywhere.
 Another narcissus/daffodil, a white one this time which flowers profusely but has this annoying habit of holding its heads down so you cannot properly see the lovely blooms unless you are on your knees!
The grape hyacinths are nearly finished now, but the red fronds of the peony shoots are coming through, both showing nicely against the black coal hole door behind.  The peony is in the middle, the grape hyacinths around the outside of the pot and this arrangement works really well for both plants, has done for several years now.

Happy garden bloggers bloom day!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Spring Racing Ahead

 The weather has turned dry if still a little chilly, but it is now time to get the potatoes in.  They've been chitting for several weeks on a cool windowsill.  The shoots are now long enough, though they do vary, even within the same potato variety - the ones above are one third smaller than the ones below, which is strange.  Not seen that before.
 Potato planting is hard work, and my back is now feeling it.  Still, I have lots of lovely potatoes to look forward to later in the year.  I have planted two maincrop varieties - Desiree (red skinned) and Cara.  They are old favourites, blight resistant, slug resistant and they do well in the heavy clay soil here.
 I was heartened to see the Victoria plum tree flowering.  I wasn't sure it would as it had a bumper year last year after the worst year of its life in 2012 when the biblical level deluge damaged it badly.  I wasn't able to prune it in 2012, so had to do it last year but it has responded well and looks healthy.  
 There were several plum trees in flower on the allotments, they are the first fruit to do so every year so they are vulnerable to late frost, but there is no frost forecast and all being well we will be eating plums in July/August.
The apple trees are not ready to flower yet, this Katy apple has its buds ready to go, so perhaps will flower in the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Spring! (and the art of compost making)

 For me, spring truly arrives when the primroses come out and this clump in the corner of my vegetable plot is bursting with colour.
 The last month has been full of boring, hard jobs such as fruit tree pruning.  The Blenheim Orange apple was growing over the path and getting too tall (in the centre of the photo).  Now that it had a good structure I decided that serious surgery was required to bring it into shape and encourage it to put out flowering shoots.  It took over an hour of sawing and chopping...
 ... with a lot of long offcut shoots...
 ... and a few larger branches but the work is done.  The pruning should encourage the growth of smaller shoots which bear fruit, I hope!
 On 31st March I picked my first rhubarb of the season, the earliest I have ever picked it.  While the winter has been wet, it hasn't been cold and so the rhubarb got away early.  A nice early dessert dise.
 We have done a lot of digging and soil preparation in March, once the soil had dried out a bit.  Given the wet winter, we hadn't been able to do any digging after October, so there was a lot to do.  But 10 years of hard work here mean that it doesn't take too long to reclaim a bed from weeds, and this part of the plot is now done.  The three long beds here have been manured (horse manure) and composted for the planting of potatoes next week.

And this brings me to compost - making it is an art, which has taken me several years to perfect.  Too much wet material means it is slimy, rots and attracts slugs, too much dry and it doesn't break down, gets ants nesting in it and is generally useless.  Two years ago I switched my tactics on compost making.  I still use the black compost bins, but in addition to the vegetable material and odd bits of paper I now layer the compost with (used) wood based cat litter.  I have mentioned cat litter before and was chided by someone who warned me of the dangers of contracting some kind of dread disease.  Well, I did my homework and found that unless my cat hunts wild deer or sheep and eats them raw, the risk of contracting this disease is very, very minimal.  Since my cat exists solely on a diet of cooked, commercially produced catfood and has never eaten anything raw larger than a spider, I will take my chances.  The wood based litter is full of ammonia, I do compost a lot of it separately for about 2 years, but by layering it in with household waste my compost has improved massively in quality and quantity.
 About 4 weeks ago I planted my first lot of broad beans under a cloche to keep them warm.  They have now emerged, and will be able to leave the cloche soon.  Today I planted the remaining seeds in another spot but without a cloche, so we can have a second crop as we love broad beans (Claudia Superaquadulce).
I also planted my garlic (Picardy Wight) at the same time.  In a spontaneous moment, I planted the gaps between the garlic with Stuttgarter onion sets.  The rationale for this is that the onions and garlic have roots at different depths in the ground and I hate weeding between garlic plants.  My hope is the onions will reduce the weeding.  However, as you can see, there are already weeds in here, a couple of forget-me-nots in the foreground!  Will see how this rather random experiment goes.

Monday, 3 March 2014

After the Deluge

 While our rainfall this winter has been above average, it's not been as bad as other areas. But the soil is completely saturated, here you can see the pounding it has received, resulting in puddles leaving smooth soil behind.
 I really don't like to stand on such wet soil, but the parsnips I have been unable to dig because of the wet have started to sprout so they had to come up.
 There were rather more parsnips than expected, here is the pile.  It's vegetable cobbler tomorrow, then mashed parsnips, then roast parsnips....  Tender and True is the variety, they do well for me as long as I sow them at the right time, when the soil is warm and damp, but not wet.
 Here you can see how wet the soil is - this is a boot print, you sink in by 3 cms at every step.  Dreadful.
The soil is too wet and cold to sow yet, so I have put a couple of cloches on one bed to start the warming and drying process so I can get the garlic and broad beans in this month.  This bed is the driest and has the lightest soil of the whole plot, so it should be ready in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Carrots and Puddles

 At the weekend I went to the plot to dig up the last carrots from 2013.  These carrot are huge and they have stood up to the wet weather well.  They are Autumn King, which is definitely the right carrot for my conditions on wet clay.  Sown and grown entirely under insect mesh until winter to protect from carrot fly, they have been my most successful carrot.
I still have some parsnips in the ground but it is really too wet to get to them at the moment - some of the beds are covered in puddles like this.  I am hoping it might stop raining, but at present I'm just grateful we're not under water completely like so many people in the south of the country.

My seed order has arrive so I'm itching to get out, just need the weather to improve!