Sunday, 23 January 2011

First Planting, First Disaster and First Harvest of 2011

I like to get the garlic in the ground in January - I don't do autumn sowings as the soil is too cold and wet here. This year I ordered 6 bulbs, having run out of garlic due to Other Half's compulsion to use garlic in everything he cooks. He points out that Jamie Oliver uses lots of garlic too - boy, that man has a lot to answer for! I reply that I've calculated he uses £3-4 worth of olive oil and garlic in everything he makes, but he can afford to. For those of us who are not rich TV chefs, we have to make do with a little less. Anyway, having given up onions this year I dedicated the space to increasing the garlic crop. Six bulbs translated into 115 cloves, which, if they all grow, should give us enough garlic to see us through to summer 2012 when the early Spanish garlic arrives in the shops.

The garlic I planted (you can just see some of the cloves in their holes in the photo) is Picardy Wight, which by the name probably has some connection with the Isle of Wight, a major garlic growing area in the UK.

So on to the first disaster of the year. Last year I lost some of the purple sprouting broccoli plants due to the weather. This winter I carefully brushed snow off the plants in an attempt to prevent the same thing happening again. Clearly this tactic didn't work - it seems that the freeze damaged the plants, the wet weather that followed introduced bacteria and rot set in.
Here's one of the dead plants (I think), showing the extent of the collapse. I trimmed the damaged leaves off the plants and will leave them for the rest of the week before removing the plants which are definitely dead - some of them look bad but are showing signs of life so I'll wait a few more days. I reckon that I've lost about half the crop, but we're due to have a dry spell now so some of them should perk up a bit, based on my experience last year.
To finish on a more upbeat note, here's my first harvest of this year - leeks and jerusalem artichokes. The leeks are late winter ones as I like to have something to look forward to after Christmas, they're still growing so will get bigger now as the days get longer.

It's nice to get the first plants in the ground and make a start on the new season. Hope you are doing the same, wherever you are.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

First seed delivery of the year

No gardening this week, first we had more snow, now lots of rain so I can't do much outside. Instead, it was time to peruse my first seed deliveries of the year. My first small packet was a collection of three carrot fly resistant varieties of carrots to cover the whole growing season, some spring onions and the red lobelia which I discovered back in September and just have to grow this year. This batch of seed came from Thompson & Morgan, plus some garlic bulbs which arrived this morning.
Most of my seeds come from Chase Organics, including the seed potatoes as you can see above. The potatoes will stay in their box in the cool hall for a couple more weeks before I start to chit them. The seeds are sitting in the kitchen now - my next job is to draft my sowing and planting calendar for the year - I never stick to it but it does give me something to aim at.

I also got a plastic sieve - it's supposed to be for soil, but my Other Half plans to use it to sieve the weeds, extracting as much soil as possible and leaving it weed free with minimum effort on his part. A rather good idea I think.
And finally I had a surprise. Last week my boiler broke down and I had no hot water. So I called out "the man" and took the opportunity to clear out the boiler cupboard thingy and give it a good spring clean. It seems that last year I grew some hyacinths, then when they had finished put them in the boiler cupboard for some unknown reason. I discovered that despite being in bone dry compost in a warm place, they had started to grow again - they soon stopped due to the dryness and lack of light. I have no idea if they will flower, but I've been watering them and they're now good and green. Plants really are amazing things.

By the way, boiler fixed and hot water now on tap again, thankfully!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

First Gardening of 2011

So, after what was officially the coldest December for 120 years, today it was time to go and see the damage. These sprouting broccoli plants look a bit sad; the heavy and fast-falling snow followed by a prolonged freeze has bent a lot of the leaf stalks. I'm not too concerned; they put on really good growth last autumn and the flower buds are already formed, so we should have a good crop anyway.
These sprouts are a little pathetic, but they're the only sprouts we've ever managed to produce, so I'm happy. I only grew them because I had some seed left from previous attempts and a bit of space - our soil and conditions really aren't right for sprouts, so I won't be growing them again.
The leeks survived well under their blanket of snow and should be ready for picking next month.
I opened up the pile of horse manure which I accumulated over the winter 2009-10 to check it was ready, and here it is - lovely stuff. It surprises me how many people put fresh horse manure on their veg plots, but they were at it again today. Fresh horse manure will burn plants, it needs to be rotted down for a year until it's good and black.
And so today was time for the first gardening job of the year - manuring the rhubarb. It's always the first plant to get going in January and if you look hard at this photo, you can see a few buds pushing through the soil. Rhubarb loves horse manure and so I'm quite generous with it. Yum, yum, can't wait to eat it in a few months! I don't force my rhubarb, just leave it to grow naturally.
Someone (not me) left out a pair of gardening gloves on our last visit and tried to suggest I had left them out to be snowed on and deep frozen. Stiff as a board, as you can see. I gently pointed out that I never wear those gloves as they are too small, and it might be down to the mystery person who also left the shed padlock out and unattached to the shed a few weeks earlier. She graciously conceded the point and put it down to a "senior" moment!
This is my water butt, the water is now thawed round the outside but still frozen inside, as you can see by the frozen leaves in the top! The ground is still a bit frozen in places, we live in a bit of a frost pocket.
This week I've been doing my seed order and planning this year's growing. Apart from the fruit and herbs, I rotate everything every year. The four main crops; cucurbits, brassicas, potatoes and peas, move anti-clockwise to the next large area in sequence each year. The other crops move among the smaller beds. The only big changes in my plans for this year are that I've dropped onions and replaced them with carrots. We tried carrots ten years ago, but struggled with the soil conditions and carrot fly. The soil is much improved since then, and so I'm hopeful we can grow carrots this year. I'm looking at barriers for the carrot fly since companion planting was hopeless. So lots to do and lots of gardening catalogues to peruse...