Thursday, 31 May 2012

Gardening at Warp Speed!

 As you know, I've whinged endessly about our wet summer, autumn and cold spring.  So now that finally the sun is out and the temperatures are up, I have to start moving pretty fast.  We've been clearing the beds at warp speed and starting to plant almost immediately afterwards.  I bought some bedding plants for around my house at the weekend and picked up a couple of allotment plants as well.  Here are some bell peppers, which did surprisingly well last year despite our atrocious summer, so I bought a couple more and put them in the left over space at the end of the runner bean bed.  It's the first time in years I've planted runner beans directly into the soil, but it's warm enough now, so they went in a trench with horse manure at the bottom.
The potatoes, which suffered badly with the early frosts, have now recovered and doubled in size in a few days.  Since I took this photo they've doubled again, no doubt will put on more growth this weekend following today's rain.  I'll give them some more potato fertiliser this weekend.
Another purchase from the garden centre - 8 tomato plants, dwarf size as they do better at my latitude.  The ones at the front are Tumbler and they're already flowering.  The other 4 are Totem, I've grown both of these before successfully.  The advantage of getting plants grown by others is they are way ahead of anything I can do myself, grown under heated lamps.  It makes all the difference in our short growing season.
The garlic is doing particularly well although it does need weeding!  They're all the thickness of pencils now so I'm looking forward to another good crop, we're still eating last year's crop, which has kept very well.  In the last few days we've planted spinach, chard, courgettes, parsnip, cabbage, lettuce, spring onions, herbs and beetroot, in advance of today's rain, so we're moving on fast now.
Outside the house my pots are now looking less sparse.  I have three colours of poppies along here - blue, red (oriental) and the local wild yellow variety which seeds itself all over the place.  The daffodils and narcissi are now over (you can see a large pot of them behind the hosta) and in order to spare myself the sight of empty pots over the summer, I have planted nasturtium Tom Thumb in each daffodil/narcissus pot.  This will take over as the foliage dies back.
A final poscript on my starlings.  Three chicks were coaxed out of the nest last Thursday, though one decided he didn't like the outside world too much so headed back indoors on and off all day.  The other two were a little braver and balanced precariously on the telephone wires outside for a while.  But the next morning, at the insistence of their parents, the family was off into the fields.  I saw a small flock of starlings in the pastures nearby yesterday so I expect they're all there now!

So, for a very long holiday weekend, hope you manage to get lots of gardening done!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Ah, the Sun...

 I promised more pictures of my Himalayan Poppy in bloom, and here it is.  Flower no 4 is now out, and the plant has a lovely head of blooms.
I love this time of year, as the trees are all putting out various shades of green.  This conifer has lime green tips to its dark green foliage and looks spectacular.
On the allotment, the arrival of warmer weather (finally) has now meant we can get on with sowing.  Here the main crop of peas is going in.  I did plant some earlier, but it was still cold and only a few germinated, so this bed is going to be our main source of peas.

 I also planted out my windowsill-grown lettuces, parsley, coriander and spring onions, will sow some more in this bed soon.
 And that brings me to my first experiment for this year.  These are marrow seeds, which I saved from last year's fruits.  Normally I plant these in pots indoors, but because I have so many seeds decided to attempt to grow them outside under a cloche.  I've done the same with some pumpkins, to see how they do.  Of course, the big problem with these plantings is the slug population, which leads on to experiment 2.....
 I use composted cat litter (sawdust base) as a soil conditioner on my heavy clay soil.  I leave it for about 2 years so the worms and weather can get at it, it's been really useful.  But I have noticed that where clumps of it persist on the surface, the slugs can't travel across it, so I wondered if it would act as a slug repellant.  I therefore surrounded my plantings with a ring of fresh and dry cat litter.  We'll see if it works!
 At present my home is still hosting my annual starling guests under the roof. The parents are keen to get the youngsters out and are working like crazy to keep them fed.  The youngsters don't seem to want to leave.
 Here's one, squawking outside the hole.  I've been expecting them to go ever since the weather turned warmer, hope it will be tomorrow morning.  When they leave here the parents will spend a few days moving them gradually upwards to the moorland nearby, where an enormous starling creche/flock spends the summer months feeding before coming back to the valley for the winter.
The hawthorn is now flowering, so summer has arrived.  If you look carefully in the centre of this picture you can see a robin singing vigorously.

Hope the weather is as good where you are!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Slow Progress

 With a dry day, it was time to get started cutting the grass.  Didn't get much done before the battery gave out, the grass was quite long and the first cut is hard work.  But it's less of a jungle to wade through!
The soft fruits are already set, the apples are next and Katy is blooming well, as are all the apple trees. 
 I'm particularly pleased with this Spartan, which has been in two years now.  Some of the blossoms got a bit frostbitten, as did the potatoes again, but the weather overall is warmer so we can really get going with the vegetables now.  Today I aimed to dig over the bed destined for the parsnips, but it was very wet and heavy, so I modified my plan to dig over half.  Then, when my back started to protest, I decided one-third would be sufficient!
 Here are the broad beans, they've been out from the cloche for a week now and they're coming on well, even if their leaves are a bit frilly at the edges due to the efforts of the pea & bean weevil.  They don't do any real harm so I leave them be.  You may notice that the plants at the back of the bed are shorter than those at the front, it's not just perspective!  There's a hedge on the left which divides me from the next plot and this does block the sun a bit, particularly early in the year.  So the plants which got more of the sun, hence warmer soil and more light have done better.  But they will even up as the sun is now getting round the back too.
This was a nice surpise today - the first Himalayan Poppy has opened, not fully yet but it's getting there.  I put a stake in the pot to stop the stems flopping about too much in the gusty breeze and positioned it right by the door so I can admire it!  It and the oriental poppy are flowering early, it must have been the warm March we had which gave them a boost.  I can guarantee more photos of this beautiful flower will follow!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Chilly Winds

Very strange weather this spring, warm in March, freezing in April.  This scene looks idyllic, but at the time I took this picture (Saturday) it was blowing a gale and felt only just above freezing!  The poor lambs must have been chilly. Earlier in the week we had a lot of rain so it was both too wet and too cold to do any work on the vegetable plot.

The broad beans were and are still hunkered down under their cloche, but the weather has warmed up quite a bit now so I might let them out of here at the weekend.  They are now very close to the roof of the cloche, I've never had them covered up quite so long but they seem to be happy under there.
The gooseberries have flowered and set fruit...
as have the redcurrants.  They didn't seem to mind the wind, unlike my new shed which had a side panel blow out the day after I visited.  So we had to go and fix the shed earlier this week, either a screw had dropped out or (more likely) I had missed one when assembling the wretched thing.  No real damage done, all fixed now.  One other plot holder wasn't so lucky, a bad gust blew out every single pane of glass in a large greenhouse!  Nightmare.
You can see the effect of April's cold on this potato.  It's been nipped by frost.  I covered all the shoots up with soil to prevent further damage and the weather does now seem to be warming up a bit.
Apologies for the skew-wiff picture, but it was difficult to get a clear view of this plum blossom.  Some of the blossom got hit by our last hard frost, but fortunately it seems to be flowering over a long period this year, so we'll still have plums.
And the apples are just about to start - here's Katy.
 The rhubarb is massive, and I was able to pick some of this.
If you look in the centre of this picture you'll see what seems to be a stone.  It's not, it's actually a hare, the first I've ever seen in this area.  By the time I got my camera ready it had spotted me and crouched down, ears flat along its back in this horse paddock.  Good to know hares are making a come back here.
And here's my first crop of the year - lots of rhubarb and spinach/chard.  I leave the spinach and chard in the ground over winter so I can get another crop off it before I clear it away for whatever is going in that ground next.  Picking this stuff was challenging though, the gusty wind whipped the plastic bag round in my hand and deposited the leaves on the ground.  I found most of them, picked a few more and weighed down the bag with the rhubarb.

On my windowsill, the seeds are germinating well.  I'm really hoping I can get back to the plot this weekend, so much to do!