Sunday, 3 May 2015

Tater Time

We've had some early potatoes growing in sacks in the garden for a few weeks now - I've been gradually filling the sacks to cover the growing shoots and protect them from frost, and we should have our first new potatoes by the end of the month. I've made three successional sowings, three weeks apart, to spread the harvest out.


But we've only just planted our maincrop potatoes on the allotment. As with seed-sowing, when I was new to growing I used to be anxious to get this job done as soon as we hit March, but these days I take a more relaxed attitude; it takes about two weeks for potato shoots to appear so they'll be arriving in mid-May and I suspect they'll be safe from frost by then.


Our three chosen varieties - Pentland Crown, King Edward and Sante - have been chitting on the bathroom windowsill for a good long time now, and all have healthy chits which should get them off to a good start. They have a full bed to themselves in our crop rotation - space for about 60 plants - and had we to remove a few forgotten carrots and parsnips, as well as quite a lot of dead nettle and chickweed, to clear the area. Then we raked some home-made compost over the whole lot, divided the bed into three, laid out the seed spuds in two double rows, and used trowels to plant them all 4-5 inches deep.


I'll be sure to hoe this bed over the next couple of weeks to get rid of any new weeds, and then in a few weeks time when all the shoots are up we'll earth them up, but otherwise we'll just leave the spuds to do their thing now until they die off again in August or September. Easy-peasy - just the way I like it :-)

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Seedlings Update

When I first started growing things, March was the month of frenzied seed-sowing, but now, having had a few years experience, I've chilled out a bit and a lot more happens in April. That way I don't have so much trouble looking after young plants and protecting them from frost, and plants don't get pot-bound and unhappy in their containers. So yes, with those digging and structural tasks out of the way, April has been largely about seed-sowing and caring for baby plants.

At home I have several trays of tomato, pepper, squash and cucumber plants to look after. They live outside on sunny days and all over the kitchen table and floor overnight. It's a bit of a chore but hardens the plants off thoroughly and allows them all the light they desire, and it's only for a few weeks.


The raised bed is looking great, full of salad veg seedlings including lettuce, mustard, spinach, watercress, komatsuna, kohlrabi, carrots, radish, turnips and spring onions - it'll be a salad bar all summer, and there'll be space for pepper plants here too. Despite my fears and the poor performance last year, I'm seeing no growth problems at all so far - hooray!


The plastic greenhouse is full of seedlings too; chard and perpetual spinach, kale and cauliflowers, dill, leaf celery, achillea, cerinthe, stock, snapdragons, cosmos and marigolds.


The cerinthe seedlings are so pretty!


On the plot, parsnips, beetroots and turnips have germinated and I gave them a good hoeing between the rows yesterday to keep the weeds down. Soon I'll sow swedes and calabrese in this bed too, and plant out young celeriac, leeks and cauliflowers.


The bindweed in this bed and our perennials bed is bad, but all I can do now is keep pulling it and hope it gives up eventually! You can see below there are a few gaps among the broad beans. Not sure why... But I think I'll resow them next time I'm down there - it's not too late! I'm a bit ashamed to say I forgot to put insect-proof mesh over my carrots again, having failed last year too. I couldn't bear to see the carrots split and deformed from carrot fly again, and carrot fly are no doubt laying eggs by now, especially thanks to this mild spell! So I've hoed out all the seedlings and will resow them in a new location at the weekend and put the mesh in place straight away!


We've sown the flower bed with hardy annuals now too (cornflowers, vipers bugloss, ammi majus, bupleurum), though loads of tiny weed seedlings are coming up too and it's going to be a job to know which seedlings to weed out and which to keep!

April has rushed by but I'm glad it's nearly May - the month of planting-out! By the end of May the house will be seedling-free again and I should be able to stop worrying about cold nights and spring hailstorms!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Busy, busy!

Winter and early spring are great times for gardeners to do all sorts of non-growing jobs, like developing new areas and working on paths or buildings. I had a long list of these this year, and a long session on the allotment on Monday finally allowed us to finish up all but one of them. Just in time I'd say - 'early spring' is most definitely over now we've hit April!

We finally finished digging over what was previously our strawberry bed, which will be our flower patch this year and hopefully bring looooads more beneficial insects to the plot, as well as giving us flowers to cut and give away. I planted out the corncockle, calendula and clary sage I raised at home over winter, and I'll sow lots more here in a couple of weeks...


We've also planted up the herb patch round the pond and fruit trees. The focus here isn't on culinary herbs, as they're much more useful grown at home where you can grab them easily as you need them, but on flowering perennial herbs for insects and some herbs which I'd like to try drying for tea - lemon balm, camomile and peppermint. I've also popped a few perennial and self-sowing flowers in; some poached egg plant and primroses, an oriental poppy and an echinops. Maybe I should call it my 'companion plants patch' instead of my herb patch.


There's still a bit of work to do to get rid of the last of the grass in that corner by the pond... But it's so good to have this area looking nice again after it got swamped with grass and then we mulched it with manky cardboard over winter!


When we moved our compost bins last summer, there was a lot of good compost in the bottom that we just couldn't use at the time, so it's been heaped up in the place where the compost bins were ever since - we even grew our beans late last summer on the temporary raised bed it created...


...but now we've levelled the ground and moved the pile to this year's potato bed, where it will help build the soil. Our greenhouse will go in this spot this year. I hope the people on the next plot sort out their compost pile soon - it's a bit of a battle to stop it falling onto our plot, and there are brambles growing in it which keep finding their way into this bed.


While we were on the plot I also took the opportunity to sow some more seeds: I scattered some dill and parsley seeds in some carefully-chosen corners, and sowed beetroots, turnips and parsnips in rows in our roots bed, a foot apart, and covered with sieved compost.

 

Do you like my new plant labels? They look a bit industrial, but I was desperate to find something that would last for years, instead of perishing in the sun or rotting in the rain or just getting kicked about and lost in the dirt, and I hope these are the answer. They're from Amazon - I tried to find another supplier but couldn't - by a company called GardenMate. The permanent marker is supposed to last all season, and I'll be able to clean it off with a solvent cleaner to reuse them. That's the theory, anyway...

I'm happy that we have some broad beans on the plot at last, after a bit of a battle against mice eating the seeds! These were actually sown at home in a big seed tray at the beginning of March, and planted out this week. There are a few more sown direct here too, and covered with the same mesh to try to keep the rodents off this time. I have half a feeling I'm going to go down there and find little holes chewed right through the netting one of these days!


At home, I've sown lots more seeds, including celery, basil, dill, perpetual spinach, pea shoots and some more flowers; sunflowers, achillea and cerinthe. After a manic March, I think I've just about caught up with myself. The only things remaining are to clear and dig over the old asparagus bed, which is small and shouldn't take too long, and plant out my poor sweet peas which are getting desperate for some space and some support! Poor things!


I'm glad it's April now and the weather must warm up a bit more soon. I feel like I've got a bit of a holiday coming up over the long Easter weekend, and I'll probably get stuck into some more sowing: courgettes, squashes, brassicas and beans are next, as well as the bulk of the flower patch, getting the greenhouse sorted - and it'll be time to plant potatoes before we know it!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

The Importance of Edges

When I started out with an allotment, I wish someone had told me the importance of edges. I thought we could just dig the plot over and it would be dug, and grass free - I see some others doing this in pictures online, digging over neat square beds amidst grass paths, and sometimes it seems to work for them. It doesn't work for us. The grass on the paths moves in so fast and so vigorously it's a constant, time-consuming battle to keep it back. It swamps everything. Even the low raised beds we put so much time and effort into a few years ago didn't help - couchgrass roots went right through the plywood, and could easily get underneath a thin barrier like this!
Pretty, but pretty useless.

When we divided our plot up with paths that the grass couldn't penetrate we hit on something; the grass couldn't get past one of these paths. By dividing grassy areas from cleared ones, we finally kept some places grass-free. Hurrah! We also began digging small trenches along the sides of the plot, alongside the grassy paths, about six inches deep and six inches across, and this too slowed the grass down enough to concentrate on doing other things during the growing season! The trenches need some maintenance a couple of times a year (and we do occasionally fall in them!), but they do the job. Woohoo!

So we've been maintaining our borders this week - the cheap weedproof membrane we used for our paths first time round was obviously not made to last and grass was starting to creep through in places - a situation that was bound to only get worse if left.

 

We invested in some heavy duty woven groundcover fabric, and with the paths already in place, it was a simple enough matter to move the bricks aside, lay the new fabric over the existing woodchip, replace the bricks and top up with more woodchip. The council delivers woodchip to our site regularly for things like this, which is really handy.


One day... one day I will eradicate all couchgrass from our plot!

Friday, 27 March 2015

Sowathon!

March has been a busy month for many reasons, and I've been way behind with seed-sowing for the new season, but in the last week I've squeezed in a few hours in the garden and taken the opportunity to catch up!


This time last week was the spring equinox, when the days become longer than the nights again (hurrah!), and it seemed like a good time to sow my tomato seeds. I potted up all the pepper, chilli and aubergine plants from the propagator - they're looking big and healthy and have been spending daytimes out in the plastic greenhouse (pic above) - and I sowed five varieties of tomatoes in their place: Amish Paste (a good cooking tomato, but tasty sliced as well), Dr Carolyn (delicious heritage variety!), Angelle (my favourite, from seeds saved from supermarket toms), Skykomish (a blight-resistant variety) and Indigo Rose (the 'black tomato', super-high in antioxidants). They all popped up in just four days and are growing away on the windowsill now. The electric propagator is a real help in getting warmth-loving seeds to germinate!


They look a bit leggy - I guess we've had some gloomy days lately - but they'll catch up with themselves and I'll plant them deep when I pot them up.

We spent a couple of hours topping up the big raised bed in the garden, with the last half-bag of the compost we bought for the purpose last year, plus a layer of new multi-purpose compost. I treated the bed with sulphur before sowing to try to begin lowering its high pH (see previous post), but I decided it might be overcautious to limit what I sow in it this year - after all, growth did seem to improve quite a lot during the course of last season, and the layer of fresh compost should help a bit too - so I'm trying a bigger variety of veg in it than I originally planned. It won't take long to see whether they grow well or not, and I can always resow something else later... The bed already contains some parsley, chives, garlic and perpetual spinach from last year, and I filled up the rest of the space with rows of carrots, turnips, lettuce, spring onions, komatsuna, watercress, spinach, kohlrabi, radishes and mustard.


I also sowed some more celeriac seeds. I had been hardening off my young celeriac plants, but then I read somewhere that if celeriac gets too cold in its first spring it can think it's in its second year, and go to flower rather than producing a good root. Last year's celeriac didn't actually go to flower, but it was a terrible failure and I wondered if my early-hardening-off could possibly be why... So this new set of seedlings will be coddled indoors until the temperatures are higher out there, and we'll see if it makes a difference!


The corner garden bed needed a good clear-up - it had quite a few weeds, last year's bean poles and old bean and pea plants, and some honeysuckle and snowberry invading fast. Once tidied, I sowed some peas and mangetout against the fence, and scattered mint leaves and chopped up dry mint stems over them to keep the mice away - it works a treat!

 

Finally, I sowed some chard, leaf celery and flowers (cerinthe and achillea) in cells in the plastic greenhouse, and planted some early 'Accent' potatoes in sacks. The potato shoots could be harmed by frost after they appear, so I'll need to keep an eye on them and keep earthing them up or throw fleece over them on cold nights. I've got six of these bags so I'll sow two more in two weeks, and two more two weeks later, to spread out my harvest a bit.


I'm nearly caught-up but there's still plenty more to do, and it'll be April in just a few days... In fact, I'd better get back out there!
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