After a wet winter following a wet summer, we are way behind on the allotment. It's rare for us to have fine days at the weekend, but Saturday was sunny if a bit chilly, so it was time to make a start. One month ago we prepared the broad bean bed with some manure and then covered it with a cloche. Yesterday I decided to get the beans in. The cloche has done its job, the soil is drier and warmer underneath than outside it, although still very wet.
I use a dibber to make holes and then just drop the beans in. I don't try to get them a particular way up, just throw them in any old how, it doesn't seem to make a difference. It's the variety that's all important - I used to use Aquadulce Claudia, and got 80-90% germination. A couple of years ago I switched to Superaquadulce, which was reputed to have better germination in colder, wetter soils, and now I get 99.9% germination.
I sowed two double rows of these, with the seeds 15cm apart and the double row spaced about 60cm apart. This means I can reach all the plants from the edge of the bed without standing on the soil, but will also have a path down the middle for later in the year to make weeding and harvesting easier. I grow them under a cloche for as long as I can - normally until the soil becomes a bit too dry. But this year the soil is so very wet, I think they will be happy under here until they reach the top of the cloche and need more room. There's a bit of space left under the cloche at the end of the bed so I think I'll do an early sowing of peas in this warm soil soon.
Next was the garlic - I bought 6 bulbs of Picardy Wight, which did very well for us last year and looks to become our favourite garlic. This yielded 61 individual cloves, plus 2 slightly mouldy ones which I threw away. I asked Mum to plant the garlic, and got told that she needed specific instructions on the task. So I started "Well, you put the flat end downwards and the pointy end up". She practically snorted "I know that, I'm not stupid". Clearly I was teaching my mother to suck eggs. "So what do you need to know then?" "How far apart and how far down to plant them" she replied. "Don't you remember how far apart they grew last year? And you have done this before." "I know", she said, "but I'm only the Under Gardener, not the Head Gardener and I don't need to retain that information for next year. That's your job." That's me told, then.
So after due instructions, 15cm apart and a few centimetres down, here is the Under Gardener making holes for the garlic. The dibber is good because when you pull it out, some soil always trickles down into the hole, creating a nice loose cushion of soil at the bottom for the broad beans and garlic to be easily able to get their roots in. Once all the holes have seeds/cloves in, we rake over the soil to fill them up loosely.
As you can see from the picture of the garlic and this one of the rhubarb bed, the weeds have become rampant in the months we have been unable to work the soil. My plan for this year has placed the early crops at the edges of beds so that we can reach the soil without stepping on it. Compaction on a wet clay soil is never a good thing and takes months to rectify once the damage is done. The rhubarb is growing already, so I will need to weed and manure this bed soon.
For any readers in the south and east of England suffering from drought, this is how wet it is here. This should be a path, but it has become a stream. Once again we have had rain this morning, think I may need to buy some more cloches to protect my crops this year...
After what has felt like the longest, wettest and darkest winter in years, the end is in sight. The snowdrops are poking their heads up, the snow is melting, the garlic and potatoes have arrived and I'm itching to get outside. I can't remember an autumn/winter when I've been unable to get onto the plot for two months, so here's hoping that's the last really cold spell - onwards and upwards!