Monday, 31 May 2010

Successful Plantings

The runner beans that I had to plant unexpectedly earlier in the week have settled in well, helped by some decent rain this week. The variety is White Emergo, a white flowered variety that produces equally well whether it's dry or wet. I sprinkled slug pellets around them, but I've seen very few slugs this year - the cold winter seems to have killed a lot of them off, thankfully, but also this bed has had the anti-slug and anti-weed treatment, being completely walled in using paving slabs (see my winter posts) and this has certainly prevented easy access for the slugs.
The beetroot (Egyptian Turnip-Rooted) that I transplanted from pots is also doing fine - it looks like I lost a few, but 99% of them are fine. Just goes to show you shouldn't believe what you read in books when they tell you you can't transplant them.
Yesterday I planted out my first 3 marrows (Tiger Cross) from the first sowings. The replacements for the ones killed by the frost are growing on now, but won't be ready to go out for a couple of weeks. These marrows were planted in a mixture of horse manure and home-made compost. I spent quite a bit of time yesterday preparing beds for planting, with the addition of lots of compost so we can get the courgettes and cucumbers out as soon as they are ready. I generally put the horse manure directly in the planting hole as it is so precious.
The parsnips have germinated well this year and it should be a good crop this winter. It's hit and miss with these things, mostly down to the weather I think.
This is last year's perpetual spinach - I moved three plants which survived the winter to another bed so they can go to seed and save me the bother of buying seed next year.
This is this year's sowing of perpetual spinach, coming on well now we have had rain. I love spinach, now just on its own but in vegetable stews and other dishes, so have prepared the second half of this bed for the next sowing. I've given up on "normal" spinach as it always bolts for me, whereas with this variety I do get some good leaves before it goes.
This chard is another plant I will let go to seed - it planted itself last year in the bed where my broad beans are now. I often have nomadic spinach and chard plants appearing, so I keep my eye on them and leave them where I can or re-plant them elsewhere if they're in the way. My first sowing of chard didn't germinate too well, so I'm planning a second sowing which I hope will be more successful.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Out and About (or Sheep with a Helmet)

Yesterday we had several hours of steady rain, the first in weeks, which is definitely good for the garden, but means I didn't get out to do any work; no doubt everything is growing fast now. So here are some local scenes instead. The cattle are back in the lower field by the river - they're young animals, so were quite curious as we passed by.
I've never noticed this big patch of wild garlic before, but it must have been there a long time and I just missed it. The wild garlic is flowering in the woodland right now.
The fields being left for hay are also ablaze with buttercups, cuckoo flowers (see previous post) and occasional other gems too.
And the hawthorn is starting to bloom, patchily for now - we can expect 3-4 weeks of flowers as the hawthorns take their turn. The trees generally are at their best now, with their new leaves in different shades of green. That is always hard to catch on a photo, but the trees behind this hawthorn are showing it well.
Hawthorn is so common, many people don't notice that the flowers are actually very beautiful, with pink anthers inside a white flower. The blossom is late this year, by about 2 weeks due to the cold spring.
By now you're probably wondering why the alternative title for this post is "sheep with a helmet". Here's why. I noticed this little chap from a distance, thought his face and head were unusually dark for this breed of sheep so had a closer look. Then I realised his head was a funny shape - if you look closely you'll see. So have you realised what that is? Yes, he was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time when his mother felt the call of nature, and crapped right on his head. She seemed completely unconcerned at this turn of events, and he was unphased too. I thought it would drop off as it dried, or he would rub it off on the wall or a fence post, but I passed him again yesterday and he was happily grazing with his dung helmet still fully attached. I've never seen anything quite like it!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Emergency Planting

I decided to go have a look at everything yesterday, planning to do a little gentle hoeing of the broad beans, a bit of watering, that kind of thing. When I opened the shed, these monsters greeted me - the runner beans, which were tiny things 2 days ago, had suddenly shot upwards and downwards (you can see the roots poking out of their toilet roll pots). So they had to go in the ground - ground which wasn't quite ready yet. So I quickly pulled out the weeds in the bed, grabbed some nice wet horse manure from the pile and popped them in with plenty of water. I still haven't weeded the broad beans; best laid plans...
In the flower garden, my pink geraniums are in full flow, though the lack of rain means I'm going to have to start watering here now.
And the spanish bluebells are lovely - these started from one plant, they're in terrible soil but seem to like it!
Sadly, this lilac isn't in my garden but nearby. I love the scent and beautiful flowers at this time of year.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

What a difference a week makes!

After the trauma of the hard frost, my potatoes have now recovered well - you can see the dead brown leaves atop the nice new foliage. I reckon they're a week behind where they were before the frost. Growth this week has been extraordinary across the vegetable plot, as we suddenly got good temperatures.
The strawberries are now flowering - a few weeks ago they were just a scattering of leaves on the ground, now they're growing bigger by the day. Looks like a good crop again.
These broad beans have doubled in size this week, undeterred by the pea/bean weevil which has been taking bites out of them. This week I've spent most of my gardening time weeding, but as you can see, didn't get as far as the broad beans! Instead I've been weeding the spinach and chard bed now the seeds have all germinated.
And the peas are going crazy, growing by 3-4 centimetres every day. One of my neighbours has copied my stringing technique - she saw it from over the wall and so asked to have a look. Like me, she hates pea netting and wanted something different, so this will be a good trial as she doesn't grow tall peas like me.
Behind those peas, the second sowing is coming through nicely now, though with frilly leaves thanks to those pesky weevils. The only problem we have now is the lack of rain - normally our climate is damp and our soils full of clay. But this winter and spring we have had lower rainfall than usual, and none for a couple of weeks now. This is causing problems for gardeners and farmers, with insufficient grass growth in the fields for the animals. So they're having to supplement the feed with hay or root vegetables (for the sheep).
So yesterday, for the first time in years, we had to water the fruit trees as they were looking a little sad - most of my apple trees are extremely dwarfing and so don't have the root system to withstand prolonged dryness. This picture is of the Blenheim Orange, which is actually a larger tree - I was pleased to see it flowering, at the same time as my new Spartan tree, which I bought earlier this year as a companion pollinator. The Blenheim Orange has not yet produced any fruit, despite being 6 years old, so I'm crossing fingers that this will be my lucky year...
Another job I did yesterday morning before the sun got too hot was plant out these beetroot. You're supposed to plant beetroot directly in the soil, not transplant, but in the normally damp northwest you can lose a lot if the weather turns - I lost my whole sowing last year. So this year I decided to hedge my bets and start them in the shed. I planted the seed individually, 4 or 5 to each pot, then yesterday tipped the whole lot out and carefully separated them, with compost attached to the roots. Where two were growing together, I planted them together so as not to upset them. I have done this before with success, but never a whole planting like this, so this is another one for crossed fingers!
While it will be some time before we get serious crops, we have been able to start picking the radish (Rudoph) - delicious!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Bluebell Day

Every year I talk a walk through the bluebell wood nearby, risking life and limb on treacherously steep slopes to bring you pictures of a classic English flower. Here is this year's offering - these photos were taken in superfine detail and are best viewed by clicking on them.

The flowers are just starting, but the scent is heavenly. Elsewhere, Lesser Celandines cover the banks in yellow flowers (below).
The bluebell wood looks entirely natural in these pictures, but looks are deceiving. A small triangle of land was cut off between the railway line (built in the 19th century) and the river. The upper stretches contain the bluebells, the lower area contained a mill which was demolished 40 years ago or so. Like much of the area round here, it has been colonised by Himalayan Balsam (which is just visible in some pictures) and Japanese Knotweed.
However, the bluebells carry on regardless. In a month this area will be dark under a dense canopy of trees.
I came across these forget-me-nots, one of my favourite flowers and really beautiful close up.

And here you can see the bracken, which is also a major plant in this woodland. It's really hard to capture bluebells in photos, they're such delicate things, so I recommend a visit to a bluebell wood if you can. Of course, that may be difficult for some of my American readers, sorry!

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Frost Damage

A depressing sight - frost damaged potatoes (click on the picture for a closer look). Strangely, the one at the bottom has survived intact but it is a rarity - most of the other plants have been frostbitten. I did earth them up before the hard frost we had midweek, so you can see green shoots underneath the brown bits. Normally we would be eating our potatoes in July, but I doubt it this year - the cold will slow them down. In ten years of growing potatoes here, I have never had frost damage this severe.
Likewise, I have been growing tender plants in the shed for years, with no problems. But this year even the shed must have got too cold at night, you can see I have lost some pumpkins (bottom of picture) and one marrow (almost out of shot at top). I've brought these into the house and as I kept some seed back for emergencies, I'll resow this week. The courgettes and cucumbers should have been out in their little greenhouse this week, but are still sitting inside as it's even too cold during the day, never mind at night.
Still, it's not all doom and gloom. Under a cloche I started spinach, chard and radish a few weeks ago. You can see the spinach seedlings top right in this photo, but also there are self-seeded sage plants bottom and left, and even (I think), self-seeded nigella in there. My sage plants suffered under the winter snow and I cut them back yesterday, to new shoots appearing at the base, but it's good to know I have lots of spares. Once it's warm enough to take the cloche off this bed I'll pot up the interlopers and move them elsewhere.
And here's another cautionary tale. We are often told to use up seed quickly, as seed kept over a year deteriorates. This tray contains lettuce "Salad Bowl" - on the left side was seed from a packet I opened last year and kept, on the right fresh seed opened this year. As you can see, the old seed germinated poorly. So I won't try that again. This lettuce will grow on indoors until the weather warms up.
Back to the cloche - here are some of the radishes, almost big enough to eat, though I just can't bring myself to want to eat salad yet, given the temperatures outside!
Finally, here is my Katy apple, now in full bloom and it looks like another good crop this year. The plums are all set now, as are the currants and gooseberries, so let's just hope for a long, warm summer after all this cold.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - May 2010

The cherry blossom is at its best right now, it will fall off next week, so best to get a snap while I can. What I love about it at this time is the contrast between the pink flowers and bronze new leaves - the leaves quickly turn to a green colour, but at this time the colour combination is gorgeous.
Being a bad gardener, this is another narcissus whose label I have lost, but it's a tiny flat flower, a couple of centimetres across and is the last narcissus to bloom. I've had it in a pot by the house for about 10 years, and it just keeps coming up every year.
And finally, woodruff - not at its best yet, it's just starting to flower. Tiny white flowers held above rosette leaves. You can see how tiny by the greenfly at bottom right!

So that's the pretty flowers - tomorrow I'll post the horror pics of frost damaged plants (sniff) from my vegetable garden.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Toilet Rolls and Apple Blossom

A strange title for a blog post, so here's why - toilet roll tubes are just perfect for planting runner beans. I fill them about 3/4 of the way up, place a bean on top, water, top off with more compost and water again. Unconventional pots, but effective as they allow the beans to send down good roots and I can plant the whole thing in the ground later without disturbing the roots.
The runner beans will be going in this bed, behind the peas - you can just see the area of ground partially cleared today by my Other Half who is lurking in the background. For a few years I have wondered on the best way to support the peas - you can buy nets for them to climb but I always find them a nuisance. Firstly, there are always peas which hang their fruit behind the net where you can't get at it; secondly the pea shoots and grass later in the season tend to grow through the net and you end up spending hours picking out the mess. So this year I decided on a different technique: I ran string around the bottom of the canes which makes the structure more stable anyway, then ran string from the top of the canes to the bottom, anchoring it on the bottom string, then back up to the top, etc., until I got to the end of the structure. So I ended up with a loose lattice which should be easier to manage than a solid net (I hope - will see how it goes). The peas are growing well and are now looking for something to climb, so by the end of the week they should be on the way up.
Staying with the beans theme, here are the broad beans, freed from their weedy prison. The messy area to the left contains the last purple sprouting broccoli plants; we've never eaten this vegetable so late in the year, but it's still going. Apart from a bit of nibbling from pea/bean weevil, these beans are looking good but again, late to get going.
On to the fruit now; we have masses of currants and gooseberries set now, and the trees are now starting to show. This is apple Katy; I love blossom at this stage, with the deep pink buds and the paler flowers contrasting.
And this is the new Spartan tree, which I planted a couple of months ago. It has flower buds ready to burst, but a different colour and shape to Katy. I bought this as a companion tree to the Blenheim Orange; BO tends to be a biennial flowerer and I couldn't see any buds recently so expected it wouldn't flower this year. However, this morning I spotted one cluster of buds so I live in hope.
And this is the Victoria Plum - not as much blossom as last year, but I pruned it very late due to the wet summer so that may be why. Still, a lot of the plums have set now so I'm looking forward to summer.
The wild flowers are now coming out too - this is Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine Pratensis), which you can find in a lot of the fields round here. It sprinkles a white/lilac colour across the landscape, very pretty.

The weather is still cold, and some of my potatoes have a little frost damage to the leaves, so all my tender plants are staying inside for now. Let's hope it gets a little warmer by the end of the week. Happy gardening.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

This picture shows the second of my two vegetable plots. In the foreground are the strawberries, which I have weeded and mulched this week. When I took on this second plot, the only structures visible were the two beds after the strawberries, and they were weed-ridden. The rest of the plot was a jungle of tall weeds. This week, we finally finished reclaiming the plot - there are still corners to tidy up but the bulk of the work is done. Because it was so neglected, weeds tended to recolonise cleared areas quickly, growing in from the edges. So over the winter we have been using paving slabs to create barriers to bed edges which will prevent weeds and slugs getting in. My Other Half has worked valiantly this weekend, digging out the ends of the two beds nearest the camera, laying a new path and finishing the edging for the bed furthest away. He says he's knackered now and I'm giving him the day off tomorrow, how generous am I?

There's still plenty of weeding to do, and possibly we could reclaim a bit more land, but for now it's done, seven years on. For anyone planning to take over a derelict piece of land, my advice is to be prepared for lots of weeding - hand weeding is the only way. I did try weedkiller and black plastic, which helped a bit but there's no substitute for a fork and spade.

The derelict plot already had overgrown raspberries, which I split and moved a couple of years ago - they rejuvenated well, surprisingly. It now has one plum tree, four apple trees, six beds for vegetables, lots of rhubarb, artichokes, two herb beds and lots of paths, none of which were there seven years ago. Hard work, but very satisfying.

Things are growing in the shed - here are the cucumbers, courgettes, marrows and pumpkins, which are all pushing on. Today it's bitterly cold, so these are staying snug and warm indoors for now.
And here are the beetroot - 100% germination for these. I'll grow them on in the shed until they get big enough to plant outdoors. Today I sowed more spinach and chard in the gaps in the rows I started a few weeks ago; earlier this week I also got the parsnips in. I also started cabbage, sprouts, and leeks; late this year, but the weather is really very cold for May. A few years ago I started to sow them outdoors as we had a series of warm springs, but this year I have reverted to starting more seeds in the shed to get them off to a good start. The only things left to do now are purple sprouting broccoli, runner beans, a second sowing of peas and a second sowing of lettuce.

So we're pretty much up to date with our sowing now, just more weeding to do. Now for a rest...