Saturday, 27 March 2010

Potato Day

I was in two minds about putting the potatoes in today. They're just about ready, but could have waited a week. However, the weather forecast for next week is very wet, so I decided to take advantage of the coming full moon and get them in today. As you can see from the Other Half's legs in the photos, I had some help - he dug three trenches, I put the potatoes in with some manure and fertilizer. I did the last trench and forked over the trodden down bit of the bed on the way out.
Here are some of the potatoes - Pentland Javelin for first early, and Cosmos for second early (very like a maincrop potato). PJ is completely slug proof which is handy in this area, Cosmos a little less immune but not too tasty to the slugs, and both are blight resistant - essential in the damp climate of north west England in the foothills of the Pennines. I generally get 4-5 months worth of potatoes from a full tray in the photo.

It's still a bit cold for other plantings yet, hope we get some fine weather later in the week so I can get more in. The lettuce/spinach bed was prepared today and cloched to warm it up a bit. But with a cold spring, more haste = less speed, so I'm in no hurry. The one thing I've learned over the years is that plants catch up very quickly once the temperature's right, so putting seeds in too early is pointless.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

More Daffodils

These are my earliest pot daffodils every year, and they last well too. This week I have fed all the pots around the house, finished pruning the roses and cut off the last of last year's dead foliage. Time to get back to the vegetable garden now...

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The First Narcissus of Spring

It may not look it in the photo, but this is a miniature narcissus which has been sitting outside on my windowsill. It bloomed a couple of days ago, so I brought it in for a photo.

More to come...

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Edith O' Gorman - "The Escaped Nun"

Ok, so this isn't a gardening post but please allow me to indulge myself. A few years ago, I was browsing copies of the Rossendale Free Press when I came across and entry about a woman called Edith O'Gorman, "The Escaped Nun", whose visit to Rossendale had been cancelled for fear of public disorder.

A few internet searches later and I found her story interesting. An Irish emigrant to the US in the mid nineteenth century, she entered a convent which she left, allegedly after an attempted rape, became a protestant and embarked on an international lecture and book tour about her experiences. She was a Victorian celebrity and very controversial at the time. I followed her around the UK, spending several hours in the British Library and more in the local Bolton library, where I found some excellent accounts of her lectures which have never been seen since they were written. She moved to England and is buried in the cemetery in West Norwood, London, with her husband.

She was an opinionated, strong woman, unusual for her time, who lived on her own earnings. I kind of respected her for that, but she also showed a tendency to reinterpret her life and modesty wasn't one of her qualities. She deliberately stirred up controversy and even violence wherever she went, not a woman anyone could ignore! Today she is sometimes studied in feminist academia, and in discussions of Victorian religious opinions and violence.

So I decided to write a short book about her. In it I summarise her own story, with lots of extracts of her own writing, a short chapter about the religious context in England at the time, and contemporary accounts of her lectures, mostly from England but also some from the US. Her book is still available in second hand book stores, in various editions (I have a copy of the first edition and one of the 37th, in the 1920s - she died in 1929), and online.

I published this myself on and the book is available as print on demand for £6.00 plus P&P. I should say the cover is slightly different now to the example above. If you're interested in this kind of history, here's a link:

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

It's also available as a PDF download.

Ok, that's the marketing over and done with. Thanks for bearing with me. Back to the gardening tomorrow...

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Spring Gets Going

Finally, spring is really here and the flowers are popping up everywhere. The temperatures are balmy and the winter is finally slipping away. The snowdrops are nearly over, the crocuses and primroses are now getting into their stride.
On the vegetable plot, it's now warm enough to get planting in earnest. Yesterday I got the broad beans in, three weeks later than normal. We have had a very dry March, but a good amount of rain today and more forecast is just what we need now to get everything growing. So I hope to be doing weekly posts from now on.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

New apple tree

Yesterday I picked up my Other Half from the railway station after his night shift and instead of letting him go home to bed, forced him to wander round the garden centre with me. I needed a new apple tree - one which would act as a second pollinator for my Blenheim Orange tree, which suddenly burst into bloom last year after 5 years of complete inactivity. Unfortunately there was no fruit, as I had forgotten it needed two compatible pollinators and one of the trees I originally chose had died. So on Friday night I wrote out a list of all the suitable trees and took it with me to the garden centre.

When I started growing fruit and vegetables, it was a cinderella hobby and the fruit section at the garden centre was small. Ten years on and the section is huge. What surprised me most was the vast number of M106 rootstocks (too big for my plot), so people are certainly buying lots of apple trees now. There was also a lot more choice than there used to be. Still, I needed an M27 rootstock for my tree so I hunted round until I found the section - not as much choice but happily there was one Spartan tree left. It's a late dessert apple (October-November), which is good for me as I have so much summer fruit. So here it is, at the end of the apple row on my plot. I hope it flowers this year.
After that, I moved on to the herb beds which I started clearing last week. I leave all the summer growth and seeds on the plants over winter, some for the birds and some simply to protect the plants in case of a cold winter - the extra vegetation protects the crown. Since they were buried in snow for several weeks this winter, this was A Very Good Idea. Most have survived well - lavender and sage in the foreground, marjoram and a different sage in the middle bed. I was most concerned about the rosemary; as I started cutting it back I realised it had died back a lot, but eventually found there was still live wood near the bottom, so maybe there's hope. The fennel and sorrel are fine too. I have planted sorrel in the front bed (I take seed from my sorrel plant each year) for an early salad leaf. The light coloured compost you can see is a mixture of wood cat litter and cat wee (well composted), which is my cat's contribution to my garden. It's a good soil conditioner (ammonia) and builds up humus in my soil. By the way, the two herb beds are made out of old British Rail folding wooden things which I think were used when digging holes. Now they use metal, so someone donated a number of them to the allotments. Very handy, I also have two which I use to keep my manure piles contained.

What surprised me today was how dry the soil is - we have had a lot less rain this winter than normal and one of the local reservoirs is quite low. The soil should warm up more quickly as a result of this, but the temperature forecast for spring is colder than average. Normally I have the potatoes in now, but they are at least 3 weeks away from planting. I am way behind in the planting schedule - that does make time for more structural and preparation work, so it's not a bad thing.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Pruning and Tidying

While it has been bitterly cold, the weather has been sunny during the day and around lunchtime it's warm enough to get out and do stuff. So I have tidied up my pots around the house, removing the autumn leaves which swirled around them and which I didn't get around to clearing before the snow (the leaves and spare soil go on the beds).

I moved my pots around, so I now have snowdrops and primroses on the windowsills, with daffodils waiting in the wings.

The final job around the house is to tidy up my rambling rose (New Dawn), which grows over the door as you can see. It's not a big job, as I prune it properly in late summer, here's why. Rambling roses grow their flowers on horizontal shoots, so you need to have them grow sufficiently for the next year's blooms, and tied in (roughly, in my case, as you can see!) before the new season. The rose also grows on the windy side of the house, so a good prune before the autumn gales means less damage. So at this time of the year, all I need to do is cut off errant or unwanted stems and re-tie/weave in branches which have broken free over the winter. Next week I'll give it a good feed (potato fertiliser, which it seems to like) to bring on the growth. The rose looks straggly at the moment, with bits of ugly string showing, but in 6 weeks time none of that will be visible.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Flowers in the Sunshine

There's simply nothing better than seeing the first spring flowers open on a sunny day...

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

First Spring Flower

After two more weeks of intermittent snow and frozen ground, the sun has returned and temperatures have risen. The first flower is out in my garden - this crocus, with snowdrops not far behind.
We can now see the damage caused by the snow. In the centre of this photo are some very sad broccoli plants, hard to see because they have collapsed. It seems that these plants were completely covered by snow, got frozen and as the temperature warmed up, rot got in the cracks caused by the snow. The plants that were tall enough to have their heads above the snow have survived well, with just the loss of some lower leaves. So the lesson for future heavy snow is to protect the shorter plants, perhaps with a plastic bell cloche over the top to keep them free of snow. While the leeks were completely buried for weeks, they have fared much better. I lost a couple of them, but most are now growing on in the sunshine.
Normally I would have the broad beans in the ground by now, but with temperatures about 4 weeks behind normal, I expect to get them in sometime this month. So today I composted the ground and covered it with a cloche to warm the soil. I also composted most of the fruit trees - I needed to move a compost heap so I can plant a new apple tree later this month.

So, normal service resumed, hope to do more work later this week.