Thursday, 19 April 2007

April showers?

Tonight I am nursing a foot covered in nettle stings. That's the last time I go gardening in flip flops until the last of the weeds are gone!

I haven't written for a long time because progress has felt so slow - the weather has been ridiculously hot for April and digging has been really hard; not just because of the extra sweat, sunburn and dehydration (not to mention the lethargy caused by sizzling sunshine and the lure of a cold cider...), but the ground is rock solid in places and when you do manage to dig it up half of it blows away, it's so dry! But thinking about it now, there is quite a lot to report, so here I go.

My strawberry plants finally arrived in the post so we planted them straight away (in the patch that was meant for lettuces, but there's no harm in shuffling them along).

It was a special offer from Fothergill's; six plants each of Mae, Florence and Flamenco strawberries, which all fruit at different times to give us a constant crop for four or five months! I was careful to label which ones were which, having already begun to regret not labelling the early and maincrop potatoes, or marking where my parsnip rows are... We bought a bucket of fish, blood and bone and raked some into the soil in accordance with the strawberry instructions. The tiny plants looked pretty sorry for themselves at first, but today they seem to be settling in nicely.
The asparagus is doing well too; I was worried about one of the plants which didn't seem to be doing anything at all, but today I spotted the very first tiny purple shoot poking up. The rest of the plants are growing really quickly, and most have three or four shoots already.

The pond has developed a lot of scum and algae, on the surface and on the liner, so I haven't put any tadpoles in yet but bought some barley straw, which is supposed to help keep the water clear due to some chemical it releases as it decomposes in the water. Realising there was no shade at all for any wildlife in the pond, I bought a few more plants as well; an oxygenating grass that lives at the bottom but should grow right up to the surface (and mum says frogs love it!), another marginal plant with little white flowers (can't remember what it's called right now... Mazus something...), which I couldn't resist just because it was so pretty, and a gorgeous orange water lily, which will take a while to grow up to the surface but will be well worth it (well it better, for £15!). I also carefully constructed a pile of rocks on the edge of the pond with spaces underneath for frogs and things to hide in. (Not terribly cosy at the moment, but when there are a few plants growing round it it will be.) I also put a couple of big rocks in the shallow end of the pond to help things climb in and out.

Despite the dry conditions, we have managed to dig one more square of new ground (me and Dave, my very good friend - and boss!) and today Eddie and I prepared it for planting beans and peas. We have no manure or compost to make the soil any more bean-friendly, so a sprinkling of fish, blood and bone had to do, and we marked the patch out and built two trellises out of bamboo canes. There's a pair of canes every six inches for intensive planting - that's 72 canes altogether!

One set is 8ft high for runner beans and climbing Borlotto and Purple King french beans, and the other set is 6ft for mangetout and sugar-snap peas, which don't grow quite as high (and to make use of the shorter canes we already had from our garden last year). There are also two 1ft strips for bush beans Delinel (a green french bean which did really well for us last year) and Canadian Wonder, which is a red kidney-type bean we'll dry for the winter along with the Borlotto. I'm pleasantly surprised at how sturdy the finished trellises are, although I'm thinking of putting in some kind of diagonal brace to stop the side-to-side wobble. I'm a bit worried, too, about the very narrow path between the two trellises - it'll be a real squeeze to harvest the beans once the plants are full size! I should have made it bigger really, but space is short and I really enjoyed the beans we grew last year so I want to squeeze as many in as possible. I'm supposed to grow companion plants coriander, marigolds and borage here too, but at the moment it doesn't look like there'll be room!

In the onion patch we're having a bit of weed trouble; thousands upon thousands of tiny annual seeds have sprouted over the whole patch. I can't just hoe because I'll disturb the parsnip and red onion seeds, and they're growing so fast they'll take over if I leave them, so I have no choice but to pull them all up by hand.

Every time I go down there I spend a while carefully weeding but it takes ages, and when I go back there seem to be just as many there again! They're coming up here and there in other patches too, but nothing like the amount in the onion patch - we must have dug it over at just the wrong time so they had the perfect conditions. Never mind; I shall triumph, and if I get rid of them all this year without them seeding, they won't be a problem next year.

SO, jobs for next week will be planting (and underplanting with herbs) the beans and peas, and digging the lettuce patch (which I've moved three times now to make way for more urgent things!). The seedlings are really taking over the kitchen now; some kind of plastic greenhouse is a must for next year, if not before. I've ordered some Nemaslug to guard against the dreaded slugs so I'll be using that as soon as it arrives, and then maybe I'll feel safe enough to plant a few seedlings out!

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