Busy Sunday

The spring weather continues to be glorious, and as the earth warms up, more seeds can be sown and indoor growers transplanted to outdoors.

Today we began with the task of potting on. Vegetable growing is a continuous production line; plants needing a long growing season, such as aubergine, begin inside in a warm place in the house. They then shift to a greenhouse as the weather picks up, and some stay in the greenhouse. Hardier species will move outside, and some just like being outside from the start of their little productive lives.

Brassicas are one of our hardiest. This year we have cheated and bought plugs from a market garden friend we know (big shout out to Martin at Sharps Growers in Kings Newton). Sharps produce them by the thousands, and when we only need 2 to 7 of a vegetable type, it isn’t even cost-effective to buy the seed packets! Another job is to keep the pesky pigeons from our luscious baby leaves, and so I delved into ‘the barn’ (a shed), and pulled out pieces of the fruit cage we lost to a heavy snow drop a few years ago. Someone stupidly left the top mesh in place and the snow can do quite a bit of damage with its weight! I salvaged enough straight uprights and beams to make a 10ft square walk-in netted cage – possibly the poshest cabbage patch in all of South Derbyshire! In there we have seven spring pointy cabbage, five brussels sprouts, two winter savoy cabbage, three round summer cabbage, six calabrese and six cauliflowers. Rather than staggered planting, we harvest things like the cauliflower at the same time and freeze in bulk.

The it was on to the second sowing of carrots, thirty feet of Robila, and a block of Velvet Queen sunflowers. This variety of sunflower are stunning, with a deep crimson petal – they should look stunning!

Nearer the house, an old belfast sink was requisitioned and repurposed as a pick-and-come-again mixed salad planter, just outside the kitchen doors.

Then the greenhouses were emptied of the winter-crud and refilled with 6 Ruthje tomato plants – a great eating variety apparently, 7 San Marzano plum-type cooking tomatoes, and 6 Arola cucumbers.

All in all, quite a productive day!

Beetroot & Sweetcorn

Asides from lots of mowing and general tidying up, the beetroot (Boltardy) and sweetcorn (Ashworth) were the only things that went into the ground today! Mind you – it *is* looking a lot tidier isn’t it!

Another Odd-Job Day…

…I love those days where there’s no pressure to anything in particular, because you know full well that there’s always a list of things to complete.

As the weather’s warming up, it seemed like an opportune time to get the good old squash going, so in we popped the squash, to start in the house, and eventually move to the greenhouse, then outside under cloche until we’re so very sure that Jack Frost won’t visit.

Our squash choices consist of:

  • Tonda Padana – our favourite, great for Suz’s Lemon Yellow Squash Pie.
  • Butternut Waltham – we do like a roasted butternut soup.
  • Green Kuri – never tried it before, but keen to give it a whirl!

And then we have some Cocozelle von Tripolis courgette, Boltardy beetroot, and Tall Utah celery. I suspect I won’t get around to the beetroot as that will be sown directly in to the allotment, whereas the rest we’re starting from seed.

Next up is the cucumbers – nicely potted on and in to their final position in a greenhouse. We keep them separate to the tomato greenhouse as they like a slightly humid atmosphere, as do aubergines.

Whilst the tomatoes are looking a little leggy, we’ll try and check their growth by hardening them off to greenhouse temperatures. Soon they’ll be potted on into their own greenhouse.

Then on to mulching the currant bushes – we have two of each colour – black, red and white. Any berries that fall off can pop up as new plants, so we mulch to help prevent that, to keep the weeds in check, and to preserve soil moisture.

And finally, the Marsh Daisy chicks are four weeks old and feathering up nicely! This is their first trip outside, where we’ve moved them to a new Green Frog Design coop which will be their home for a while. Indeed, for those that stay with us, their home forever!

Things are Popping Up After the Late Start to Spring!

Blauwschokkers Pole Peas

Blauwschokkers Pole Peas

After the late start to spring, with the ground finally un-soggified, Suz and I took the day off to make use of the sunshine and get the patch into some sort of order. There’s a list of post-winter jobs that still need doing – the grass had its first cut on Saturday, electric fence lines were strimmed, grassless soil was rotovated, seeded and rollered, and Colin the Light Sussex cock was popped in with his nieces to do his job. Coops were shuffled,

De-weeding strawberry runners

De-weeding strawberry runners

Eddie the cock was moved from his into his aunts’ paddock, which leaves a coop spare for the Marsh Daisy chicks that are currently just under two weeks old. Sunday continued the work, and the bantams were moved onto fresh grass.

Today, whilst I had the easy job of sowing the seed in the raised bed, Suz had the unenviable task of weeding errant strawberry runners from under the current bushes, then weeding the future beds of the sunflowers and sweet corn. Horrendous job!

Raised bed

Raised bed

Continuing to use our organic seed from the Seed Co-operative, we sowed in the raised bed the following:

  • Butterflay (spinach)
  • Greens and Salads (lettuce leaves mix)
  • Wild Rocket
  • Merveille des Quatre Saisons (butter head lettuce)
  • French Breakfast 2 (radish)
  • Miranda (carrot)
Red Sun shallots

Red Sun shallots

Witkiem broad beans

Witkiem broad beans

The sowings from a few weeks ago have broken the ground after the last few days of sun, and the weeds are still tiny and easily hoed, too easy! Spring has definitely sprung into action 🙂

Forced rhubarb

Rhubarb & Potatoes

Organic potatoes

Organic potatoes

The ground is dry! We can dig it without danger of becoming mired, stranded with only one welly intact! So in went the potatoes – all organic from Bridgend Garden Centre.

Varieties are:

  • Colleen (first earlies)
  • Milva (second earlies)
  • Ambo (main crop)
  • Sante (main crop)
  • Linda (main crop)

This is the first year we haven’t planted our favourite main crops – Valor (a good all rounder) and King Edwards (our favourite roaster). We’ll have to test the three main crops above to see if any come close!

Forced rhubarb

Forced rhubarb

Another great result was our forced rhubarb. After watching it being constantly nobbled by the odd frost, we popped a couple of spare compost bins over them, leaving the lids off. Then we dropped straw from the ducks inside, through the open tops, to help keep some warmth in. The results were amazing, as you can see – four feet high rhubarb stalks!

Sowing Continues

Better late than never I guess. For most of these it’s an okay time – but again we’re late with the aubergines, which should have been sown 6 weeks ago!

Today we sowed the contents of the greenhouse:

  • Red Basil
  • Aubergine (Zora)
  • Tomato (San Marzano)
  • Tomato (Ruthje)
  • Pepper (Sweet Chocolate)
  • Cucumber (Arola)

Then for outside we started:

  • Celerica (Monarch)
  • Leek (Musselburgh)

Below you can see the seed potatoes all chitting along nicely. Once the ground has dried out (again) we’ll get those in. They’re also a week or two late, but it’s been so boggy once more, it’s best to wait a few days for it to dry out.

Again, all the seeds were from the Seed Co-operative – supporting the UK’s independent seed suppliers, and organic to boot!

First Plantings of the Year

The snow has gone!! Oops – did I say that out loud? Should never tempt fate!

But it was true, and this weekend was a great weekend to get stuck in to planting and sowing things we’d had tucked away in the garage and seed box until a suitable time happened along.

The first things were the strawberries, all bought from Pomona Fruits. To try and stagger the picking season somewhat, we planted six Vibrant early season (developed by East Malling Research), six Elegance mid season and eighteen Fenella late season. They’re all British varieties and good croppers, providing some useful pollen for the bees.

Next came the preparation of the main crop beds. Last autumn saw us build the soil up by about 8″, soil from the foundations of the new kitchen we’ve built out of necessity – the original being far too small for a growing family who cook a lot of their own food. The soil height is welcome and will help the drainage where we grow veg. To bolster the unknown nutrient level, we added a good layer of well-rotted manure and then a layer of leaf mulch from the orchard. This was all then covered to encourage the worms to dig it in for us over winter and to prevent the weeds from kicking in. As you can see, the worms dug in most of the covering and the grassy weeds have been killed off nicely. All it took was twenty minutes pulling out tap root weeds followed by a quick rotovate to help finish the job, making the ground pliable enough for planting and sowing.

The following day, Sunday, we planted all of our onion and garlic sets, and parsnips and beans. All of these could have gone in the ground earlier if the snow and cold hadn’t been so vociferous! As it is, we work with what we have and they are at least all now where they should be.

The seeds had arrived a few weeks ago, from the Seed Co-operative – the UK’s community owned seed company. By supporting them it helps keep old seed varieties in the hands of the public, and out of the greedy mitts of the big agrochem companies. They are also organic, meaning less strain on the environment all round.

In the photograph to the left (that’s what the beds looked like after rotovating), the foreground has had three rows of Aromata parsnips sown. On the back left there’s a wigwam of Blauschokkers climbing peas, and two short rows of Witkiem broad beans. As you can see from the makeshift guards, pigeons are our biggest problem at this time of year, and I’m determined that I won’t be sowing a second lot to replace the first lot! At the back on the right is the onion bed, where we’ve planted:

  • Red Sun shallots – for cooking and pickling.
  • Karmen onion sets – a great salad onion which stores quite well.
  • Picko Bello onion sets – a white onion for cooking, which we’ve never tried before!
  • Solent White garlic – another old favourite.

This leaves two rows spare for the leeks to end up filling.

I’d call that a successful weekend! Whilst Bunny was busy revising for her exams, Smiler helped out  and cleared the old strawberry bed of grass and weeds, ready to fill with edible pollinator flowers, and also cleared the paths to the patch of fallen winter leaves. He also shifted the pile of hedge and tree clippings to make sure the hedgehog wasn’t hibernating under it, before we burned it into a pile of useful ash.

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Planting Plan 2018 – What’s Going Where

The layout for this year’s planting plan. We run a 5-year rotation, but with the new smaller allotment having seven different 10′ x 10′ beds, it’s changed to a 7-year rotation!

The Allotment

Briefly, the rotation works like this. The top-right bed – this year the nitrogen fixing beans and peas – will drop down a bed next year, so will end up where the current potatoes are. The potatoes will in turn drop down to where the roots are (they’re last in line as they don’t like fresh manure, so the manure will have depleted by the time they get planted). The roots will move to the top of the middle column and the middle column beds will all shuffle one down too. The last middle column  bed (sweetcorn and corgettes) will move sideways into the estranged middle bed of the left had column where there are currently brassicas. The artichokes and asparagus are permanent beds so will not move. The brassicas will then move to where the current potatoes are, and the whole thing will cycle once more. This gives us almost enough of what we need, although we’ll be short of potatoes.

The Currant Patch

The six currant bushes are permanent, but in front of them we’ll be planting a row of nectar producing flowers, to help with pollinating insects and predatory insects, such as lacewings.

Behind the current bushes we’ll have a section for sunflowers, predominantly for the bees but once flowered the birds can make use of the seeds. Then we’ll also have a bed of carrots, as this is new soil and less prone to carrot fly. We will also establish a new strawberry bed – at last!

The Raised Bed

At the bottom of the path, this is the first planted bed to pass, so we add the pick and come again produce – spinach, mixed leaves lettuce and rocket. Then we’ll also have some full lettuce and carrots, with radish making use of the little pockets of space.

The Rhubarb & Gooseberry Patch

This one is a bit of a struggle as it’s becoming blighted by twitch – couch grass. We can’t remove it without spraying, which we won’t do, or by digging the patch up. My thought is to struggle on as best we can for the time being, but think about creating a new rhubarb and gooseberry patch somewhere clean. We can self-root the gooseberries so we know what we’re getting, and don’t have to buy any more. The rhubarb we could risk digging up, halving and replanting, but we’d have to make sure no twitch carried through to the new patch.

Greenhouse No.1

This will be the tomato greenhouse – one variety of eating and one variety of cooking. Heaven knows we could probably triple this number and still get through them all!

The San Marzano we’ve grown a few times, and are horrible eaten raw. However, when cooked into a ragu, they are absolutely gorgeous, and remind me of childhood smells from Naples.

Greenhouse No.2

Our more humid greenhouse, we’ll water the ground in here to help the cucumbers grow – they like it humid.

We’ll also grow on the potting bench – the peppers don’t seem to mind the same treatment, and the basil and coriander will only start in the greenhouse. Once they’re established and the risk of frost has passed, we’ll move them outside, leaving the potting bench free once more to start more seedlings – possibly lettuce.

Greenhouse No.3

This is the vegetable we struggle with growing more than any other. One year in four it’s been successful, the rest fell fowl to not enough water (last time we go away on holiday mid-growing season!), ants, and cold. However, we will persevere, and this year we’ll start earlier with them so they have a fighting chance. This is also the greenhouse that needs a good clean before the season starts!

And that’s it! The varieties are all labelled in the planting plan images, and all are either from Stormy Hall seeds, now part of the Seed Co-Operative, or from seeds we’ve saved ourselves.

Beans and Peas

2016 beans and peas patchCrikey, these smaller veggie beds are so much easier to prepre and plant up! In a little more than an hour I’d de-weeded the beans and peas bed, mainly of last year’s sprouting sunflower seeds, and sown the three varieties of seeds we’re growing there this year.

In the ever-lasting battle against the slugs, we’re growing up wigwams for the beans, and we’ve two wigwams set aside for Sultana, a favourite climbing French bean. French beans became a staple favourite quickly here at Merrybower as they don’t suffer from the stringiness problem kidney beans tend to, and are great hot or cold in salads. We’ve also managed to track down a climbing pea! Every year our peas get nobbled by slugs, and being low down they end up as unsightly bushes wanting to fall over in the winds. However, I’ve managed to track down a variety called ‘Victorian Colossal Climbing’, which can grow to 6-8 feet high! They’re an ‘Alderman’ pea, but Victoriana Nurseries in Kent have apparenty been selecting seeds from their Alderman line for over fifty years, to create an upright vigourous pea plant for those of us who don’t really like bending to pick peas.

And where would we be without our broad beans – we love ’em! Baby broad beans lightly cooked in butter, on toast with sliced up streaky bacon – yum! This year we’re growing Suprifin – a white broad bean we’ve not grown before. Usually we go for Scorpio, but they had none in, so we bought these! We really do need to start saving more of our own seeds!

My Stick

2016 my stickOne thing I really couldn’t do without is ‘my stick’. A few years ago I found a nice piece of holly wood, and whittled a really simple 4.5ft stick from it, with notches every foot, and a few inch notches near the base. When it comes time to plant out, some twine, two small sticks and ‘my stick’ are pulled out and put to use – it’s so much simpler than guessing.

2016 root patchToday I sowed 30ft of beetroot, 30ft of parsnips, 10ft of celeriac and 10ft of swede – the varieties of which can be seen in this post. When it comes to beetroot, I’ve found with the F1 hybrids the germination rate is so good I just add two seeds every 4 inches, and it saves thinning out once they’ve sprouted.

Then I sat back in the shade and waited for them to grow 🙂