Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Broccoli and Rhubarb

With the weather finally warming up, everything is moving on apace. The first potatoes are through in this rather lumpy soil - a planting of potatoes will help break down the clumps.
Unfortunately, a stray parsnip has also shown itself in the potato bed. As they lose their vegetation in winter, they are notoriously difficult to dig up and I often have one or two left behind. No matter - this one will stay and be allowed to seed to add to my seed stock for next year.
Not all in the garden is rosy - this is one of the marrows I planted a couple of weeks ago. Stupid me - didn't think about the slugs, which have apparently woken up in the last week and set to work making breakfast out of these plants. They will recover, I think ( slug pellets now down), though a bit delayed in growth!
The peas (and one dandelion) are doing well under their cloche. I'll have a look at them again tomorrow and decide if to take the cover off. Germination rate looks good, but I also have a lot of seed left for a second sowing, as I love these peas - very tasty.
After a few months of doing absolutely nothing, the onions and shallots are also away well. The garlic is ok, though the ends of the leaves are a bit damaged by the cold winds we've had. These onions were under cover during the coldest weather, just to protect them a bit and reduce losses.
On the fruit front, I think I am going to have to set up a jam stall in the market and sell the fruits of my labours! The currants and gooseberries are simply covered in flowers - unfortunately they don't photograph well, being green - the plum is about to burst into blossom and the apples (above) won't be far behind.
The purple sprouting broccoli is finally ready to eat - here are the first pickings, delicious.
And the first rhubarb of the season - again, this fruit is prolific this year and I expect to freeze some for the winter.

First job tomorrow is to cut the grass, which is now at ankle height in places, and then weed the strawberries. Lots to do...

Saturday, 24 April 2010

A Good Long Walk

Today we went for a long walk, to see what we could see on a lovely sunny day. We started at the front door of the house, where these narcissi are in full bloom. Their scent is heavenly and I look forward to it each year. I'm a very bad gardener and have a habit of losing plant labels, so I'm afraid I don't know the variety.
At this time of year the edges of fields near the river are full of these plants - Lesser Celandines (ranunculus ficaria). Splashes of yellow flowers accompanied us along the riverbank.
After a long climb, we made it to the moors. There are lots of lambs about now - we upset this group by wanting to walk through their field (it's a public footpath but little used), so we deviated round the edge of the field a bit.
In the Musbury valley we had a surprise - Wheatears and lots of them. I played hide and seek with this one, peeking round the edge of a building to get this snap. It's not high quality as I had to use the digital zoom on the camera. These birds winter in Africa and nest in holes in the walls on the upland moors here. They've been breeding near here for years, but there seems to have been a population explosion as for the first time they have colonised the whole valley, we counted 23 of them, which is a record. We saw them mostly in pairs, spread out on territories which were roughly one field length.
The trees are just about to come into leaf, but they still have a striking silhouette on the unusually blue sky.
On the way down from the moors, we came across these daffodils, in what was a car park for nearby offices (now unused). The daffodils are out in full force everywhere now.
This is the park at Snig Hole, where the trees are blossoming freely. The park was created in 1922 as a memorial after the First World War. The small shrubs are rhododendrons - they had got very big and unkempt so a couple of years ago they were cut back severely, which caused a lot of upset. But they did need it, and rhododendrons come back well from this kind of treatment - these are all covered in fresh leaves and flower buds so I'm looking forward to seeing them bloom later.

Before you ask, "snig" is an old word for eel, which do still live nearby in the river which runs to the right of this picture.
This is Wood Sorrel (oxalis acetosella), which grows in shady banks alongside a wood on the way home. It is one of the origins of all those oxalis plants you find in the garden centres. It's a pretty plant which unfortunately flowers all too briefly.

I'll be back in the vegetable garden in the next few days, everything is coming on well now the temperatures are rising.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Planting Time

Finally the daffodils in my garden are coming out - this is my favourite, a white daffodil with an orange centre.
In the vegetable garden, it has been time to get going. Here is my shed, with assorted seeds in pots. The shed gets the sun from sunrise until lunchtime, so it's cosy in there for young plants. I've started pumpkin (Small Sugar), marrow (Tiger Cross) Cucumber (Crystal Apple) and Courgette (Partenon). They can grow on in the shed until they're big enough to go out.

In the foreground is a tray of beetroot (Egyptian Turnip-Rooted). All the books tell you that beetroot should be planted directly in the soil and not transplanted, but in the damp and chilly north-west I have found that a change in the weather can kill them. Two years ago we had an excellent crop, but last year they failed as the weather turned while they germinated. Beetroot originally grew in warmer climes, in thinner and stonier soil, so to start them inside in the warm is my compromise. I've split the seed as much as I can (the seeds clump together) and put a few in each pot. Once they're established I'll move them carefully into the prepared bed.
Mum went to the garden centre the other day and bought a couple of bush marrows to plant out now. Here's one - the other is under the cover next to it. I've had these mini-cloches some years now and they're very useful for large, frost sensitive plants at the start of the season. Made out of plastic, they have detachable ends and are fixed to the soil with metal pegs. We're still having cold nights and the wind can be chilly, so these will protect the marrows until it gets a bit warmer.
The first gooseberry flowers are out, the redcurrants and blackcurrants aren't far behind!

The broad beans (Claudia Superaquadulce) are poking their heads above the soil, one month after planting. You can see from the cracks in the ground that the soil surface is very dry, after a couple of weeks of no rain. It's still damp underneath though, so while I'm weeding I'm breaking up the surface at the same time to let the rain in when it finally comes.

Spring onions - actually I cheated with these as they came from the garden centre. Very naughty, but what the heck.
And here's a Christmas Cactus that has decided to be an Easter Cactus this year.

Finally I couldn't let today go past without a question - anyone know if volcano dust is or is not good for the soil? I've seen different points of view on this one.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Rhubarb

Some things like a cold winter - fruit trees do, and so does my rhubarb. It's now growing strongly in its bed full of horse manure and I'm looking forward to a good crop this year.

The hard clearing labour is now finished, so work from now on will consist of weeding, soil preparation and planting. I hope to get some planting done later this week.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Spring Flowers

The spring flowers are finally coming out in droves, and I have seen the first bumble bees of the year buzzing around the primroses.
The Willow Warblers have been arriving from Africa over the last week (I love the sound of their song, which epitomises summer for me), and yesterday I saw the first Sand Martins and Swallows flying over the river. The Sand Martins are late - they normally arrive before the Swallows, at the end of March, so they have been held up by the weather.
But the trees are now budding and some are flowering, like this forsythia...
and this willow. On the vegetable plot, I have got my first sowing of peas in this week. The rest of the time has been spent doing the last of the clearing which I didn't have chance to do in the winter - it will be finished this weekend, so the bulk of the hard work will be done soon.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

A cold, cold spring

We went out to do some work on the plot this morning but it was so, so perishing with an icy wind that we didn't stay long. My fingers were frozen, but boy, did we work fast! So I thought it would be worth looking back at the same time last year to see the difference. Above is a picture of a sample bush in my soft fruit corner - there is growth, but no flowers out as yet. Here is the same date last year - plenty of leaf growth and flowers well on the way.
This is the purple sprouting broccoli - you can see there has been damage by wood pigeons, but the purple sprouts are just starting to show. And here is the broccoli on the same date last year (below the gooseberry)
I could go on - on the 3rd of April last year I posted this glorious picture of a flowering blackcurrant. We're going to be waiting a while for that this year. So after the coldest winter for 30 years, we have a cold spring, and we're clearly a few weeks behind. Still, there is life - above is a picture of the garlic, which really doesn't mind the cold and which has popped up this week. The bits you see on the soil are remnants from the compost - badly composted teabags and crushed eggshells, which apparently I don't crush enough before putting them in there!
In this kind of spring, cloches really are essential - this bed was cloched a couple of weeks ago, and today I started spinach, chard, radish and rocket underneath it. Another cloche went on today to warm the pea bed. So my advice to everyone is not to pay too much attention to when the seed packet says to plant, but to add on 2-3 weeks and wait until it warms up. I've lost too many seeds to cold to risk planting too much - today's sowings were thin so if I lose some, I've got plenty of seed left. If you can bear the temperature out there, hope you get some gardening done this weekend!