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 🙂

Detailed Planting Plan

Who doesn’t like pictures in place of words! Below is our detailed planting plan, showing our various growing areas, and what we intend to plant in each this year 🙂

The Patch 2016b - Greenhouse 1Greenhouse 1

We’ve dug deep into the Italian ‘Franchi’ seed range again, for both our cucumbers and tomatoes. The very first year we had an amazing crop of Telegraph Improved cucumbers, but since then it’s been quite disappointing. I suspect we’ve neglected them in some way, or done something wrong, but this year I’m going for a different variety – a slightly spikey stumpy affair called Cetriolo Marketmore. It’s self pollinating, and is an early harvesting cuke – we’ll see how they do! And as far as tomotaoes go, we’re going with the variety we love to cook with, San Marzano. A great fleshy dollop of red goodness, whose flavour really does come out when cooked low and slow.

 

Greenhouse 2The Patch 2016b - Greenhouse 2

Next up, in the greenhouse sitting next to the last, is our other favourite Franchi tomato – Marmande, a juicy beef tomato that can compete with the best for the honour of fugly fruit. Continuing the Italian theme, we have Corno Rosso peppers – a long juicy sweet pepper, looking like a large chilli. We grew something similar the year before last and they were a great shape for stuffing with cream cheese! Then we have our basil, Italiano Classico, which we tend to grow a lot of as we dry it for overwinter use. And for another strong flavour, we’ve a couple of pots of ‘Calypso’ Coriander.

 

The Patch 2016b - Greenhouse 3Greenhouse 3

We (notice I never use the word ‘I’ when it’s a bad thing?) failed abysmally last year with the aubergines. In fact, we’ve only ever had one really good year, but I won’t stop trying! Last year was down to the same reason many things weren’t as good as they could be – we had a two week holiday – the first in a long time! And I can’t imagine doing it again! Whilst it was fun, it was painful to return, and I’d be perfectly happy spending two weeks of holiday pootling around the patch, and I know Suz feels the same. So this year we’re not doing that, and we’ll be able to keep a better eye on things, hopefully! In greenhouse 3 we’ve got eight pots of Black Beauty aubergines – so even with one fruit per plant we should have enough to make a few meals 😉

 

Raised BedThe Patch 2016b - Fruit Bed 1

We love our raised bed, it’s such an easy task to work and I can see more of these in the future. This year we’re going with pretty much the same as last, except the various lettuce are also from the Franchi range. Perhaps we should buy shares?! We’ve a bed of Appollo F1 spinach, it worked well last year for us, and a bed of pick and come again lettuce, Misticanza di Lattughe. We have a couple of lines of wild rocket, and twelve lettuce stations, using the colourful variety Misticanza Lattughe Croccanti – a red and green leafy lottery. We’ve also got our baby carrots, Chantenay type – Cascade F1, and a row of Ravanello Rapid Red 2 radish, which we plant quite frequently for successional sowing.

 

Fruit Bed 1The Patch 2016b - Fruit Bed 1

Not one we usually list in our yearly planting post, but this year, whilst waiting for the weeds to dissipate from the old, failed, raspberry bed, we’re going to make use of it by way of veg! I should add, the raspberries failed for two reasons – the site is really not well sheltered, and the ground tends to wetness in this corner; so much so that the raspberries died off and we almost lost one of the rhubarbs a few years ago in a particularly bad winter. The rhubarb survived, but we pulled what was left of the raspberries out two years ago and barrowed some soil in to raise the bed by a couple of inches. The soil has some nasties in it – nettles and docks mostly – so two or three years of veg growing will give us time to turn it a few times and prompt them to germinate, so we can duly nobble them. Smiler and Jay have their own areas here – Smiler’s growing onions to sell at the front, whilst Jay has gone for carrots for rabbits, bless! We’ll grow a bed of sunflowers, for bird seed, and a bed of carrots as the ground is hopefully clean enough to not suffer from carrot fly.

I’ve also made a note of the various currant bushes there – we have two each of black, red and white. It was rather remiss of me, but when we planted them out I didn’t make a note of the what went where – so I’ve filled the varieties in as best I can, and will have to identify those I’m unsure about by fruit.

 

Fruit Bed 2The Patch 2016b - Fruit Bed 2

Our rhubarb and gooseberry bed featured in a post not so long ago, showing the propogating of new gooseberry bushes, and how easy it is. Again, I’ve made a note here as to the varieties we have. I thought we’d planted different varieties of rhubarb, but can only find receipts for one type, so they must all be Timperley Early! As far as gooseberries go, we have Invicta, which has the largest and most prolific fruit of the three, then the two Hinnomaki bushes, one yellow, one red. The red one hasn’t been great in terms of fruit number, but they are delicious and sweet. The Invicta has suffered the most from gooseberry sawfly, which nematodes have done a decent job of killing off. Thinking about it, I’m guessing Mr and Mrs Blackbird are probably getting to the dessert gooseberry Hinnomaki Red before we do!

 

AllotmentThe Patch 2016b - Allotment

Finally we have the main allotment area – this year shrunk down to 30′ x 30′. The asparagus and artichoke beds are permanent, but the remaining seven are part of a rotation system. Essentially, each crop moves down one space from where it was last grown, and once it reaches the bottom of a column, it moves back to the top of the column to its left. The odd one is the pea and bean bed, which will move next year to where the potatoes are this year. Next year the potatoes will move down to where the onions currently are, the onions down to where the root veg are, and the root veg will move to where the squash are, and so on. This way the main manuring each autumn will be where the old onion patch was and where the potatoes will next be. The squash doesn’t mind two years on the same ground, so the fact that squash will grown on ground previously having corgettes on isn’t a bad thing, and the brassicas will always follow the nitrogen fixing peas and beans.  We’re hoping by cutting down on the allotment side of things this year will prepare us for a potentially busier fruit tree season!

Raised Bed

2016 raised bedJust a quick post to mention we’ve sown most of the raised bed, the planting list can be seen by clicking here.

For us, this is the *only* way to grow carrots – not one carrot fly has managed to infiltrate the 2′ walls and nobble our orangey roots to date. The cover, just cheap scaffolders netting bought in a huge roll, keeps the birds and cats away, though protects the slugs wonderfully 🙂

To elaborate, we built this raised bed out of decking boards, which are a decent thickness. It’s not lined at all, which hasn’t seemed to matter here, and is conveniently placed right next to the compost bins, when it needs topping up with the brown gold. The longer posts on the corners and sides give the net something to hold on to, and the net’s held in place by screws half-screwed in, so the net can be anchored by pushing it over a screw head. Simple does it!

Spring Time Shuffle & Update

The rains have subsided, the sun shows itself and we begin to shed the winter sleep from our eyes. Well, that’s not strictly true – a fortnight ago we started digging over the allotment – I tackled the last of the fruit tree pruning in the orchard whilst Suz dug over one of the vegetable beds and cleared the old strawberry patch which had started to deteriorate, having been in the ground for five years. Last Friday I dug over another vegetable bed and the rhubarbs whilst Suz pulled the remaining parsnips, carrots and beetroot, and weeded the artichokes, most of which have survived the mild winter! Jay got stuck into the first mow of the season, and Smiler prepared the raised bed. What a day! This was all on the only sunny day of the Easter weekend, but at least it gave us an excuse to take Saturday easy.

And then yesterday – the Sunday. The Little Orchard was looking quite sorry for itself – the occupation of the quarter acre by 20 chickens had taken its toll, the mole hills had become mole holes, the grass was quite short and it just looked grubby. I started to get the yearning to move them to cleaner ground a few weeks ago, but the time wasn’t right – but yesterday it was. It was a bit of a military exercise – Smiler and I got stuck into shifting electric fences – we’d done it before together and it was fun to get outside on a decent day.

2016 spring move pilgrim geeseWe managed to move the geese from the Big Orchard to the Hay Quarter, where they will have half that quarter acre. We are only making half as much hay this year, partly down to the fact that we have too many animals and need the ground, and also because we have other projects kicking from summer through to harvest that will soak time up. We are finally, hopefully, extending the kitchen, so we can get more than two people in it at a time, and will no longer have to chop apples up outside, press them on the dining table and transfer them to the kitchen to bottle! Which brings me to the other reason harvest time will be busy – apples! I expect a larger crop this year, and it would be good to give more attention to that side of things properly, without shoe-horning it in between hay making and vegetable growing. Again, with the kitchen being dismantled and the apple trees taking over, we have decided to grow only one third of the vegetables we normally do, as we won’t have anywhere to really prep or cook it this summer. We can, however, freeze a lot and eat much of it in salads, but next year we can begin again with renewed vigour, knowing we’ll have a kitchen table for the first time ever! As a plus point, moving the geese to the hay quarter will also give it    some much needed fertiliser – once the hay has been cut later in the year we’ll move them to the other half I imagine, or give them free roaming over the whole quarter acre.

2016 spring move light sussex bantamsWith the geese out of the Big Orchard, we moved the majority of the chickens in, as the geese hadn’t made much of a mess of the quatrer acre. We separated the chickens, the Light Sussex bantams were all put together, with William the Cock and his ladies having their own fenced off area. I suspect it was a bit of a relief for William – there were far too many ladies for him to control, and anarchy had reigned, with egg-eating having begun. We suspected the rescue Warrens had started it, as some are laying soft shells, but it had spread. So now he can control his five ladies, and they’re not competing for space with the huge hens.

2016 spring move june suzColin the Light Sussex cock was separated and placed with the four Light Sussex hens, and they have all moved down to the Chicken Paddock at the back of the house where we can keep an eye on them. They’re the potential parents of the next generation, so we’ll start collecting their eggs for incubation in two weeks, once he’s had time to do his business! We also put Jackie the possible-Light-Sussex-but-not-quite-sure rescue in with them, as the other hybrids were pecking her!

2016 spring move ducksThe ducks have all been annexed in the Banty Paddock, which has weld mesh fencing, to keep them contained! Once the vegetables in the allotment have grown to a duck-proof size, we can let them in there to clear slugs and snails, but at the moment I just don’t trust them!

2016 spring move hybridsAnd that left the remaining big hybrid hens – a motley crew if ever there was one! They are also in the Big Orchard, next to the bantams, so they’ll have some decent shade in the summer under the fruit trees.

As far as the egg-eating goes, the shuffle around seems to have helped somewhat – they’re in a new place so any egg-snaffling through boredom has been nobbled. And we’ve also trialled a roll away nest box in one of the Omlet Cubes, which seems to have worked. It was a simple affair, produced as an insert for the Chick Box. Some of the hens took to it straight away, but as one fills the double nest box of the Cube, it’s meant a queue from some ladies, or some just drop their egg down the side as they try and squeeze in. To help matters we’ve ordered two Chick Boxes, complete with the roll away nest box inserts, and we’ll place one in each of the Cubes. I think we can fit two in, but the floor space would suffer, so we’ll see how we go. I could always make a nest box holder that sits separately to the Cubes, if needed.

And that’s where we’re at! This morning we let them all out, and June came over from the farm next door to let us know they’d tried our cider and were still alive, which is a good thing, I think!

Save

Planting Plan 2015

As our experience grows, our Patch planting plan gets more detailed. This year we’ve expanded to three greenhouses, and it would be rude not to make use of them all. The new raised bed last year was great, especially for the carrots which were most definitely carrot-fly-free – turns out the little critters really are too lazy to fly that extra foot off the ground for dinner! However, I’ve decided to create a more accurate and detailed planting plan, including spacings, for this year. Is there any such thing as senile OCD?

So, I give you the Merrybower Patch Planting Plans for 2015…(drum roll please):

PS the grid scale is 1ft

Greenhouse No.1 Plan 2015Greenhouse No.1

This sees only two tomato varieties, both from the Franchi seed collection of Italy. Marmande is one of our favourites – an ugly beef tomato with the tastiest, juiciest flesh, wrapped in a skin so delicate you can hardly tell it’s there when biting into one! We’re also trying out a different plum tomato, for cooking with. Last year’s Roma VF were great, but these San Marzano 2 are meant to be brilliant of or passata, and I have fond memories of the smell of slowly simmering tomatoes from childhood in Naples. Pure heaven!

Greenhouse No.2 Plan 2015Greenhouse No.2

As this is the greenhouse with the potting bench in, we stick to cucumbers on the floor to the left, our tried and tested Telegraph Improved, and on the bench, once all seedlings have been transplanted outdoors, we’ll have sweet peppers (a non-descript variety as we’re using a lot of left-over seeds from last year this year), and a lot of basil, which we dry and use over the year. We’ll also pop a couple of coriander plants in too, as we have tonnes of seed from a couple of years ago!

Greenhouse No.3 Plan 2015Greenhouse No.3

This is a simple one – six Black Beauty aubergine plants. I’ve struggled for two years with aubergines, too cold I think is the biggest problem, and not enough growing space. Now they’ll have their own greenhouse, so they’d better not complain!

Raised Bed Plan 2015Raised Bed

This is essentially our outdoor salad bed. As last year, we have Royal Chantenay 3 carrots, an early variety but one we were still picking in December and they were HUGE! We’ll sow thinly between the carrot rows Sparkler 3 radish – I’m not a huge fan of radish, I can’t get excited about them, but if anyone has any suggestions please do let me know! Then we have a bed of pick and come again Appollo spinach, a bed of pick and come again Mist. di Lattughe lettuce, two rows of wild rocket and a couple of rows of traditional lettuce – Lobjoits Green Cos and Webbs Wonderful.

Main Vegetable Beds

Vegetable Beds Plan 2015Then we come to our main source of back pain and delight, a bitter sweet relationship if ever there was one.

Starting from the left we have our asparagus bed, which is seeing a small expansion in the number of plants. Of the original 12 only six remain – the wet winter a couple of years ago killed some off. This year we’re building the soil level up and raising four ridges, similar to potato ridges. We’re then getting 36 plants in, spaced tighter but within recommended distances. Then we have our sunflowers – Giant Single this year, although I suspect we’ll have some self-setters from seed dropped over winter by clumsy birds! Then we have French Bonita mixed Marigolds, once matured we’ll plant these around th the allotment as companion plants. And finally we have Nasturtiums – I haven’t bothered buying any as these definitely self-seed!

Our squash/root bed sees some old and new friends this year. Incredible F1 sweetcorn has proved reliable over a few years now so deserves to be in there. As do the Butternut Rugosa and Tonda Padana, a butternut and winter squash from the he Franchi range. We finished the stored Rugosa two weeks ago, early March, and we still have one more Tonda Padana on the shelf! We’re not bothering with traditional pumpkins this year as two years on the trot have been disastrous. Instead, once again we turn to the Franchi range for some Berrettia Piacentina winter squash – lovely blue/green squash with an orange flesh. Two types of courgette this year, from the same range; the UFO-shaped Custard White and the dark Nero di Milano. I like the Franchi range as they’re heritage varieties with some fantastic flavours. Finally, the roots are old friends – Flyaway carrots, Hollow Crown parsnips (old variety with a lot of of taste), and Boltardy beetroot.

The main contingent of the allium bed are Stur BC onions, a good storer. Then we have Karmen red onions, another decent storer, Picasso shallots for pickling, Christo garlic, which we haven’t tried before, and White Lisbon spring onions. For variety we have one row divided between Groene Pascal celery, Monarch celeriac and Helenor swedes. Lastly, one row of Lyon Prizetaker leeks.

The spud patch is easy and simple this year – 1st earlies are Swift, the earliest variety. 2nd earlies are Charlotte, lovely waxy texture. Main crops are King Edwards, and Valour, the latter being a great all rounder boiler, masher, roaster, baker.

The legume patch – we’ve decided we quite like any plant that grows to meet your hands, rather than make you bend to pick it! To this end we have two wigwams a each of Enorma runner beans, and do Sultana climbing French beans.  For the broadbeans we have the familiar Masterpiece Green Longpod, and peas we have two rows of Kelvedon Wonder, an early sweet variety, and one row of Onward main crop.

Finally the brassicas. Funky pointy Romanesco Precoce winter/spring cauliflowers, reliable All the Year Round summer cauliflowers, Green Magic F1 broccolli, Evesham Special brussels sprout, January King 3 winter savoy cabbage, Golden Acre Primo III summer/autumn cabbage and Offenham 2 – Flower of Spring spring cabbage.

That’s about it! We just have to plant them now!

The First Sowing Outside!

It had to start sometime, so those old stalwarts of the frost, carrots, were the first in. The new and improved raised bed is put to action with two 10′ rows of Royal Chantenay 3 carrots sown – nice baby carrots. And it’s also the first time I get to use my one of my Christmas presents from Suz – local pebbles with the names of the veg written on it, and then varnished. Best pressie ever!2014 Carrots 2014 Carrots Pebble Marker

Finally, the year begins!

The day was empty, Suz was out to her regular ballet show, leaving Jay, Smiler and myself to while away some time. The sun was truly out, clear skies, no wind – perfect weather! We started out with sowing seeds -for greenhouse raising in the short term we sowed:

  • All the Year Round cauliflowers – 33 plugs
  • Coriander, 2 x 10″ pots (seeds saved from Smiler’s plants from last year)
  • Mammoth Leeks – 1 x 10″ pot

And propagators, to be sat on a windowsill inside, we sowed:

  • Shirley F1 tomatoes – 10 of those in a propagator
  • Improved Telegraph cucumbers – 12 in one propagator.

Then it was down the patch to sow a couple of raised beds with Lobjoit cos lettuce and Chantenay Red Core 2 carrots – last year the raised beds were free of carrot fly, so we’ll sow a couple of raised beds of these this year.

Tomorrow, if all goes well, it’ll be potatoes, onions, shallots and garlic that will go in. It’s a late start, but hopefully not too late!

Everyone in the Orchard

2012 Everyone in the Orchard

Just a quick video of Suz, Jay, Smiler and Penny in the orchard, from a distance. As the camera pans around you can see the sheep we’ve borrowed to keep the grass down, the base for ‘The Barn’ laid ready (it’s a shed, in reality, but I have delusions of grandeur), then the slabs lain on weed supressing fabric between the raspberries and currants. This is mainly because it was a pain to mow inside the fruit cage, and it will help us keep weeds down as we now have clearly defined edges to mulch to. The entire fruit cage has been shift 2 feet so it now covers the strawberries (sorry Mr and Mrs Blackbird). There is no hardcore under the slabs – everything in the patch is done so that at any stage it can all be lifted and shifted, with nothing put down permanent. If this quarter ever needs to be put to grass again then we can move the entire lot to another place.

Greenhouse & Raised Beds

In times of inclement weather, retiring to the warm safety of the greenhouse is prudent. This is the first year we’ve had the luxurious ability to grow early under glass, and I can now see the attraction, especially on days where the elements are doing their utmost in getting you inside. So, armed with a cuppa, I sowed All the Year Round cauliflowers into plug trays (pilched from Jackson Growers down at Swarkestone)…

20120423-095339.jpg
…two varieties of cucumbers – one gherkin (Beth Alpha) for pickling and one crazy Italian type (Carosello Tondo di Manduria) resembling a miniature water melon, the same aubergines, Violetta Lunga 2, as last year…

20120423-095353.jpg
…and Dolce di Bergamo sweet peppers.

20120423-095402.jpg

Braving the aforementioned elements (manly, I know), I pelted down to the raised beds and quickly sowed 9 feet of carrots (Chantenay Red Cored 2) in one 3′ square bed…

20120423-095409.jpg
and Mixed Salad Leaves in another bed.

20120423-095416.jpg
The beds stand at 2.5′ tall, so I’m hoping that the carrot fly struggles to get to these, though I’ll believe it when I see it! The salad leaves’ bed has had chicken wire lain over the top to prevent the ridiculously large number of house sparrows from decimating them before we even see them! This year we’ve counted 9 nests being built around our house alone. Last year we counted just over 50 birds at one time around the feeders after the second hatching, the year before we counted half that, and the year before half again. If all nests hatch 4 offspring then we’re looking at 90 birds after the first hatching – so my guess is after two broods we should be over the 100 birds mark. The new hedgerow we’ve planted down the acre field should help them once it starts producing, but that’s a few years off yet.