Sunday, 27 February 2011

Another Rainy Sunday

This morning I was ready to get out and put the broad beans in, but once again it was raining, so I went off to the garden centre instead.

This week I finally planned out my sowing and jobs for the spring on my calendar, sorted through my seeds and discovered three things: (a) I had forgotten to order leek seeds, (b) I needed to get the broad beans this weekend in and (c) there is a hell of a lot to do right now!

So here are my purchases: at the back a couple of perennials - oriental poppy and delphinium, small plants to grow on. I only bought one delphinium because it will need protection from my large snail population, as may the poppy. So it's a bit of an experiment. I also bought another rosemary, to add to my herb collection. Other herbs - curly leaved parsley, coriander, caraway and basil seedlings. These are for inside the house until my outdoor ones are sown, though I can't grow basil outdoors here so these seedlings will grow on and then be transplanted into something bigger later. The caraway will go outside. I also got some dwarf sweet pea seedlings, which should be nice later in the spring.
My list of jobs on the allotment includes dosing the fruit trees and bushes with potash - I hope to be doing that this week. I also got some ammonia for the cabbages and at the front are two leek seed packets - one early and one late cropping.

As you may know from my previous post, I hate washing pots, but my purchase of these shiny new things had nothing to do with that, honest! I got two solid trays, each of which will hold two of the small seed trays or 5 of the modular trays in the picture, along with two propagator lids. I find the trays with my propagators too big for some sowings, so these will be much better, they will also do well with the geranium cuttings I plan to take soon. Along with a big bag of compost, I'm ready to get started!

UPDATE: I managed to get the broad beans in Monday lunchtime, despite the bitter cold - still at least it's a change from rain...

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

My Least Favourite Job

In a few weeks the new growing season will get going with a vengeance. So I really need to be getting ready and this means I have to tackle my Least Favourite Job.

I've no idea why I have such a phobia of it, it's important in order to grow healthy plants, but I really, really hate washing plant pots. Stupid, but there you have it - somehow I think there is always something better to do than this. Here's a sample collection of some pots I finally got around to this week - they've been creating an obstruction in the kitchen for a couple of weeks as the only way I can force myself to do it is to trip over them regularly.

I've now washed the plant pots left in the house, but still need to pick up the propagators and seed trays from the allotment and give them a do. How many more days for that?

So what's your least favourite gardening job?

Friday, 18 February 2011

For Mal

I thought I would just post this picture, following a little discussion on Mal's excellent allotment blog. He points out, quite rightly, that a lot of people who grow vegetables also make their own bread. So here's a picture of jerusalem artichoke soup and my small (1 lb) loaf, made of 4 parts organic white flour (which I bought in a 25 kilo sack) to 2 parts wholemeal spelt with some whole spelt grains thrown in for good measure. Delicious.

In the news yesterday there was mention that over 50% of the commercial purple sprouting broccoli crop has been wiped out by the winter weather. This makes me feel a lot better - as an amateur, you always think you've done something wrong, but the commercial growers have had a hard time too. For me, it is a disappointment but I feel for the farmers who have lost a lot of income as a result. It's soul destroying to look at rotting crops in the fields, let's hope we have an easier winter next time round.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Digging up the Jerusalem Artichokes

Today I decided it was time to dig up the rest of the artichokes - I'd already done one third, but it's almost the middle of February and before too long they'll start growing again. As you can see from the picture, there are a lot of artichokes this year, and I decided to be very thorough as during 2010 they decided to make a bid for world domination and started to escape the bed. So no corner or edge was left unturned. Of course, as I have heavy clay soil currently saturated with the deluges we've had over the last week, I'm now nursing a doozy of a sore back and am mightily glad the new bed I purchased last month came with an orthopaedic memory foam mattress - just heavenly!
Jerusalem Artichokes are easy to grow - my crop started from a dozen shop bought artichokes, and they're happy on clay soil. So I kept the big ones for cooking and replanted the small ones, 2-3 inches down. They really don't need any attention now - they seem to be satisfied with a top dressing of compost and the occasional weed removal.

It's nice to be able to eat vegetables from your own plot at this time of year; today I also picked some leeks and found a couple of forgotten parsnips.
And we have these to look forward to - last year's chard and spinach regrowing. I should be able to get a crop off these in a couple of weeks before whipping them out for a summer crop of something else.
My last job for today was to put a cloche on the spot where I'm planning to sow the broad beans at the end of the month. The variety I use is quite hardy, but pre-warmed soil really does help, especially after all the rain we've had in the last couple of weeks. I've had these cloches for years, they do last well and this one will stay in place until the broad beans are well above the soil.
And finally, here is one of the hyacinths I rescued from the boiler cupboard a few weeks ago. Despite a diet of absolute neglect and conditions exactly the opposite of what is normally required, they are flowering! No idea how, but I'm grateful.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Spring on the Way

The spring bulbs are growing, the roses are covered in little pink leaf buds, so now is the time I really want to get going in the garden. After a very cold spell, we have now been treated to gales and rain, so the soil isn't ready to work yet. Instead, I've started planning.

I may have mentioned before that I plant by the moon. No, this isn't some new age thing, but a method for improving yields and crop health. The basic principal is that the lunar cycle and its passage in front of various stars influence growth of plants. Sounds weird, but since I started using it in 2006 my yields have gone up. A proper scientific trial 4 or 5 years ago (featured on Gardeners World while it was still a programme for gardeners) found that sowing according to these principles did increase plant size, health and yields. In fact the sweet peas outpaced their non-lunar planted siblings by more than 2 flowers to 1.

In practice, what it means is that on certain days you sow or transplant root crops (carrot, beetroot, etc), other days leaf crops (lettuce, cabbage), flower crops (flowers, broccoli, cauliflower) and seed crops (tomatoes, beans and peas). While this method does not do away with the vagaries of the weather, in general it does result in increased germination, bigger plants and higher yields, in my experience.

If you're interested in this method, you're best to get a book to get started - they usually contain a calendar for the year. Being someone who likes to economise, I don't want to buy a new book each year, so I go to an online calendar to get the days and transcribe them onto a calendar. Here's the link, but be warned, it is in pigeon English and may not be easily understandable if you don't already know the method.
A couple of weeks ago my potatoes were still in deep hibernation. I took a peek at them this morning and discovered they were raring to go. So here they are, all laid out.

At the top we have Pentland Javelin, my favourite first early and I have 3 kilos of them. A delicious fluffy potato. On the right are two early maincrop, Desiree (top) and Cara (bottom). Both are slug and blight resistant, but I haven't grown Cara before so this will be an experiment. On the left is Cosmos, a second early which crops really well, is blight resistant and reasonably (but not completely) slug resistant.

This week, having transcribed the planting days onto my calendar, I'll go through my seed packets and plan sowings for the coming months. I never stick to it, but it does give me something to aim for!