Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Horse Manure - Lovely Stuff!

 As the weather is warming slowly, I need to get on with preparing beds for planting as the long winter has got me behind.  Horse manure is a wonderful soil conditioner, but not in this fresh state!  I have known inexperienced gardeners put this straight on their beds, but that is a really bad idea...
 ... what you need is this, composted for a year, it rots down into dark black Gardeners Gold, full of earthy goodness.
 I've been rough digging some beds, now I have dumped some manure on top, ready for the final weeding and soil prep.  This bed has some weeds around the edges and particularly at the top, which is a problematic area needing to be tackled this year.  This is going to be the new strawberry bed, it's a sunny spot with light soil so should be good for them.  I've also roughly prepared the potato bed and manured the pea and bean bed, so I feel like I'm getting on nicely now.  My Under Gardener (my Mum) does the final weeding as (a) she's good at it, (b)  she finds digging too hard and (c) she says she's rubbish at planting and sowing (some truth in that!) so she does the final soil prep for me.
 Elsewhere, the purple sprouting broccoli is recovering from its wood pigeon attack.

 I have sowed summer cabbage, lettuce, spinach and chard this week, all under cloches for protection.
And the soft fruit is almost ready to flower - here's a gooseberry flower teasing me.  Just need some more warm weather now to bring everything on.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Story of a Shed and a Giant Rabbit

 So today I opened the shed door to find rather more daylight inside the shed than I expected.  Clue: the gap you can see in the shed here is not the door!  We have very gusty winds and part of my plot is a bit exposed to them, so it looks like a particularly ambitious gust found its way in under the door and decided to leave by the side of the shed.  The plastic panels are not particularly hard to refit though I now need to buy a large quantity of adhesive to make the fix final.  At least it's not a greenhouse - someone here a couple of years ago had their entire greenhouse lifted and dropped in bad weather, breaking every single pane of glass!
 Despite the weather, the garlic has emerged, though the broad beans show no sign as yet.  The temperature is a full 10 degrees centigrade warmer than a week ago, so everything is now starting to grow, including the weeds - lots to do now.
 As an example of what the wind can do, here is one of my old cloches.  It was really on its last legs, I put it over the broccoli to protect it from woodpigeons, but it has been completely shredded.
 We got a couple of new cloches this year  - if you live in northern climes on wet, clay soil these are indispensable.  This one is warming up the ground for some summer cabbage, plus I am hoping to do the first sowing of lettuce along the edge.
 The rhubarb is now growing well but it is very late this year, this kind of growth  would be expected in March, not April.
 Likewise the fruit is a long way behind, this is the Katy apple tree and while you can see the buds they are a long way from flowering.
And here are some pathetic leeks I dug up today.  Leeks are not one of my strong points, and with last year's low light levels due to the constant rain, they are rather thin and weedy.  Still, they do taste good anyway, it's just there isn't much substance to them.

Anyway, the allotment was all a-twitter today about a GIANT RABBIT spotted eating the grass on the path near my plot (ok, I made up the bit about it being giant, from all accounts it was an ordinary sized field rabbit).  This is the first rabbit ever seen here and there is much concern.  I hope the rabbit was just passing through on a spring jaunt to somewhere else, because the plot holders seem to have murderous intent...

Friday, 12 April 2013

It's Getting Warmer...

 Winter is slowly releasing its grip and spring is approaching, we've had no frost for the last couple of nights and the snow on the hills is finally melting away.
 These grape hyacinths which have been growing in (very) slow motion for weeks, are starting to show some life now.
 The crocuses are very late this year, normally they're over and done by now.
 The first primrose, but this flower illustrates the problem we have been having; if you look carefully you can see it is covered with dust.  We have not had any rain for weeks, despite the snow, and the soil everywhere has dried out.  Add to that the cold arctic wind, we have not only had a dustbowl effect, but...
the combination of the wind and the dryness has damaged the tips of the plants.  I have never had to water plants in April before, most unusual.  The grass in the fields is dead and brown, only now after yesterday's first showers are the green shoots starting to show through, and it is most unusual to see farmers feeding their animals hay in April. Hopefully this is just a small setback and next week's much warmer temperatures will see our gardening year commence in earnest.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Will This Winter Ever End?

It's the first day of April and this morning we had another light dusting of snow, the tops of the hills are still encrusted with last week's blizzard and people are still walking by my house in full arctic gear.  I am wondering if spring will ever come?

The woodpigeons are certainly hungry, in the last couple of weeks they have decimated my purple sprouting broccoli, though happily they have left the purple sprouting bits alone so I have put these plants under cloches to protect them.  The crop will be very late this year, I think.  Given the weather forecast suggests cold weather for a couple more weeks, if we have any broccoli by the end of April we'll be doing well.
 Given the extremely cold temperatures, there is little that can be done on the vegetable plot.  I did manage to do my winter pruning - here are the autumn raspberries, cut down to size.
 The bitterly cold arctic wind makes working outside for any length of time unpleasant and since the soil is so cold there is no point planting much - I did put in my broad beans today as I had warmed the soil up with a cloche for a few weeks, and they are a very hardy variety.  But I planted them a full month later than I normally do, it's the latest ever.
 A bit of tidying round the plot, this is today's haul of rubbish chucked over the wall into the raspberry bed.  Lovely.
 In addition to the raspberries, I also pruned the apples where necessary and then moved on to the currants and gooseberries.  Last spring was very wet so I didn't get the pruning done properly then, and I needed to do some serious thinning of branches in here.  I removed some old wood from the redcurrants, then thinned the centre to reduce the crowding.  You are supposed to reduce the branches to improve the size and quality of the fruit, but in all honesty the redcurrants are always good, so I have thinned the bush in the centre and round the edges where the branches were dropping onto the ground with the weight of the fruit.  I'll have another look at it once it has fruited this year and see if more needs to come out.
This is the whitecurrant bush, which was also spreading onto the path next to the bed.  I've taken this back quite severely in places but tried not to take too much old wood out  - it took years to fruit so I don't want to discourage it!  I took similar action with the gooseberries, taking out some old wood, crossing branches and removing some at the edge where they get in the way of the path.  A mulch of compost, potash and some leaf compost and they are ready to get going.

I suspect that when it does finally get warmer, everything will need doing at once so I'm going to make an effort to do some more jobs this week to prepare.  Hope it's warmer where you are!