Good End to the Weekend

Continuing on from yesterday, once the chickens had their weekly clean out it was back to sowing and planting. The potatoes  have sat on the windowsill for the last few weeks chitting – today was the day to drop the first earlies into a 6″ deep hole and cover over. For some bizarre reason, whilst tomatoes are my favourite vegetable to eat, potatoes are my favourite to harvest. I think it’s probably partially down to the fact that they were the first vegetable I harvested, and partially down to the wonder of plopping one spud in the ground, waiting, and a few months later getting back 10-20 spuds! Last year I managed some second earlies (Kestrel) and a maincrop (King Edwards). Kestral are delicious as they seem to retain some of their slightly firm, waxy texture even when stored for a month or more. Kind Edwards are good storers and the small amount we grew last year took us into December after storing. This year we’re planting Aran Pilot (first earlies), Kestrel (second earlies) and the main crop varieties are Desiree, King Edwards and Cara.

So the Aran Pilots were whisked off the windowsill and placed lovingly into their new home.

The next task was to start transforming half of the old veggie patch into the new salad patch, where we’ll grow things such as radish, lettuce and so on. Eventually I plan to add a small polytunnel to it, only about 9′ x 12′, to start plants off early, use as a seedbed and later to use for salad crops. Today I dug up the remaining leeks from last year and sowed Jolly Radish, Ravanello Radish, Salad Bowl Lettuce (lovely wrinky type), Balmoral Lettuce (an iceberg type) and Bordeaux Spinach. Job done for the weekend and a well deserved beer!

On a side note – we lost two chickens a few weeks ago so with only one remaining we had to get her some friends. The two new point-of-lay hens in the background next to Aggie, are Maud and Star, and are from Happy Hens in Etwall. They look gorgeous and no doubt will start laying soon! Little do they know that the very grass-bare patch they’re currently stood on will soon be regrassed, and their new home will be in the fresh and much larger paddock behind the garage. It’s going to be a happy day for them 😀

Sowing, Sowing, Sowing…

This weekend has been kept free for a while, knowing that it is one of the busiest for sowing and planting various things.

First thing to go in were the leek seeds:

Winter Atlanta (organic)
F1 Carlton

I know I’m meant to plop them in a seed bed, but last year I bought a large plant pot full of baby leeks and this worked ok when it came to separating them and planting them properly (when they’re the thickness of a pencil), so I sowed them in a couple of plant pots and a tray. They now reside in the (mini) greenhouse.

I also sowed in trays, Marigold (African- Double Mixed) and Nasturtium (Tom Thumb Mixed). These will both be planted as companion crops – the Marigolds will be planted next to the carrots to try and help prevent carrot fly from smelling out the juicy carrots – they also deter nematodes and whitefly, so I’ ve been told. The Nasturtium attract black fly so I’ll plant them next to the beans to attract any black fly that find their way towards my beans.

Cucumbers were also sown in trays of compost and now sit on the window sill with everything else! I went for Marketmore 76 from Mr Fothergill’s, which is supposedly prolific and, more importantly, can be grown on outside. For someone with a lack of a decent-sized greenhouse this is pretty important.

The only thing that went in the ground in the allotment was something that arrived in a small box from Dobies on Thursday – Jerusalem Artichokes. These guys grow to around 5′ high and you can keep them in the same place for a few years. I have to admit I’m not sure I’ve ever tried one, but I guess I soon will!

Ah – I knew there was something else! I potted on, into 3″ pots, the Alicante tomatoes that had finally developed their first set of true leaves a few days ago. On warm days I’m transporting them to the mini greenhouse, and at night time they’re ferried back inside again to the house. The care you give them, it’s no wonder they call the place where baby plants are grown ‘nurseries’.

Beans, Carrots & Parsnips

Last year was the first year I grew parsnip. On seeing the rather sorry-looking green foliage in their row my father-in-law enquired as to what I was growing there.

“Parsnips” I said proudly.

“Are you sure?” he questioned.

“Well, that’s what I sowed!”

“Doesn’t mean you’ve got anything growing under the surface.” he ended on.

Now ordinarily, when he says something like this I panic, as he’s usually right. So come last November, after the frosts had touched the parsnips (which makes them taste better), I decided to see exactly what it was that I had failed to grow. That night I took a bag containing two parsnips to my father-in-law – it weighed in at 2lb 6.75oz. My moment of glory 😛

Of course…this year will probably fail miserably, but that’s what I sowed today – a 30ft row of Hollow Crown parsnip.

Added to that I also sowed half of our broad beans – Imperial Green Longpod, with the rest going in next month. If we’d started earlier we could have sown some in February, but then February was so cold and frozen it would have been impossible to plant them!

Also went in one third of the carrots – F1 Maestro – supposedly carrot fly resistant, which I’ll believe when I see it. The first year we had perfect carrots, and I’d unwittingly planted them with companion plants – onions and garlic. Last year we ended up with carrot fly but managed to salvage some of them. Although we’d also sown the onions next to them, we’d put more carrots in than the previous year and I think the balance just wasn’t right. This year I’d heard of old timers earthing up their carrots in early May to confuse the first round of carrot fly that arrives. If they can’t get to the tops of the carrots, so the theory goes, then they can’t lay their eggs close enough to the carrot. We’ll see what happens…

Today I’ve Mostly Been Planting Peas

With a couple of hours to spare in the day you have grand visions of everything getting sowed and a well-deserved beer sat waiting at the end of it. The truth is that it never seems to go that smoothly; the soil needed raking over to a flat level after digging the grass and weeds in the day before. That then meant plucking random weeds and grass growth out of the soil and piling up the many, many, many flint pebbles we have. After two hours of preparing a bed, I managed to sow a quarter of our peas – 5ft, of Hurst Green Shaft peas. Result. I’ll sow the other quarters in April, May and June for a longer cropping period.

Planting in Earnest

The sun gods had seen fit to shine down on Merrybower this morning, Suz was out for the day and I had a day of garden ahead of me. There was a time when the prospect of a day of gardening would have filled me with dread, but whether it’s an age thing, a change of outlook thing or just the fact that I can relate to growing things we can eat, it’s turned out to be a hobby of worth. In fact it’s turning more into a way of life!

Yesterday a trip to Swarkestone Nursery, one of the few remaining Market Gardening families of South Derbyshire, with Penny (our flat coated retreiver cross working cocker spaniel puppy) brought me back with pea netting and bamboo canes for mangetout (snap peas) to grow up. The last two years has seen me using locally foraged crack willow for canes, but its habit of taking root easily and the fact it cracks quite easily (hence the name I guess!) means I’ve plumped for bamboo, against my better judgement. Once the hedgerow is planted I’ll have a hazel tree to coppice but that’s a few years away yet.

So up went all the pea nets I’ll need this year and I sowed one of them today, and will stagger the other two sowings every 6 weeks to get some overlap (early May and mid June). I also planted all of our onion and shallot sets, plus garlic cloves and onion seed. So far most of my seeds and sets are from Dobies of Devon unless otherwise stated – other sources are the usual gifts and fellow gardeners donating :)).

Varieties planted are:

I wanted to get round to sowing more peas and some broad beans but they’ll have to wait until during the week, assuming I get some time from work to get out there 🙂 The weather’s perfect though – nice and dry and the soil is starting to get less claggy – about time! The Merrybower winds are brisk though – my bouffant is coming along nicely 😛

My Poor Back

Fantastic day out on the patch. Not only did I manage to dig the rest of the second vegetable plot over but I also dug over the remaining grass edging strip and sowed more grass seed. The only digging left now is the fruit patch but that can wait for a week or so.

Next door, Gary’s started finishing off his workshop cladding so here are some pics of how things look now, before he starts on their patch. Exciting times!

And another picture for posterity of the rear of ours, before the changes begin. To be honest, nothing drastic is happening here – the chicken coop and static run (it’s the thing with the large green plastic sheet over it to stop the winds) will be moved from the right-hand side of the rear of the garage to this side, facing us. The chooks will then have the piece of ground in the foreground in which to graze – this will be split into two so we can alternate the ground. I’ll also add some moveable wigwam affairs made from crack willow for shelter and ‘things of interest’ that chickens like to cluster around. I may even add some low level bushes such as lavender for more shelter and decent bug-hiding places. Bit like hide and seek for the chooks.

More Digging

A quick post to say I’ve dug over a half of the second vegetable plot this afternoon. Tomorrow the rest of the plot will be dug and Sunday, sun willing, I’ll be setting more onion sets and sowing peas. Can’t wait! The sowing that is – the digging is just a necessary evil 😛

Oh – and for the record – it didn’t rain last night, but it *did* rain today – yay! Never thought I’d be glad to see rain! Mind you – it’s not often father-in-law gets things wrong. Scrub that – he never gets things wrong…

Sidetracked…

I had a few hours to kill (well – we never have hours to kill here, before they even begin to look free something pops up to kill them for you!) so I figured I’d get around to more digging – I’ve done so much the last few days I’m beginning to feel like a mole. Of course, getting to the allotment I see neat piles of chickweed and pebbles piled around the place left from the previous dig so they get moved to tidy the place up. When we drilled the grass seed in the acre we left, rather cleverly I thought, the piece that would become our allotment. Not so cleverly, the surveyor measured it slightly wrong, so the piece we left as earth was out along one length by 3 feet. I kept walking over this to get to the allotment beds, but a rising panic today meant I ended up digging this 80′ x 4′ strip pver, treading it down, and sowing grass seed before lightly harrowing it. My father-in-law said that March was a good month to sow grass seed, and preferably the day before it rains, so with the forecast being light rain tonight I figured it was do or die. It had better rain is all I can say…

Tomatoes & Chillis

Whilst digging and parsnip sowing were put on hold due to the ground being exceedingly claggy, there was still time to sow a few seedlings in propogators. This year is the first time we’re trying chillis, brought back from Devon by my parents – my dad’s a sucker for chillis, and Suz wanted to have a bash at them.

I adore tomatoes and this will be the third year I’ll be trying to grow the darned things. As we don’t yet own a greenhouse worth talking about (we have a small one that can fit a couple of grow bags in), the first year saw us with about 80 tomato plants outside. I hadn’t realised that pretty much every tomato seed you sow will sprout a plant, and being the sort that hates wasting anything, I gave about 40 away and planetd the rest. It was also the year that blight was rampant and before we knew it we were eating green tomato soup by the gallon before they all rotted away. Mind you – Suz has now perfected her green tomato soup recipe which will probably find its way on to here sometime. Last year the tomatoes succumbed to greenfly early on which meant we lost about 2 weeks of growth. They arrived, but much later than we’d hoped and therefore the crop was eaten in record time. This is the year of the tomato though, I have a feeling.

I treated the chilli seeds in the same way I treated the tomato seeds. I put about an inch of potting compost in a propogator, dibbed my finger in to make a shallow indent, and dropped a single seed in each dent. I then lightly brushed compost over the seeds, sprinkled vermiculite over the whole lot so it just covered the  soil, then sprayed the whole thing liberally. On goes the lid and it’s moved to an east-facing window until something happens. If you get a lot of sun where the propogator is placed then remove the plastic lid as it may get too warm inside for the seeds to germinate – the lid is there to retain moisture and to keep the temperature up where it needs to be, around 18C. You need to keep the compost damp, but not sodden, so a regular misting seems to do the trick.

Digging over the patch

So the promised sun didn’t materialise, but then does it ever? It was still warm enough to don wellies and scoot the barrow over to the new veggie patch in Acre Field (the default name seems to be sticking, how original…). We already have potatoes chitting on a window sill in the house, and have been for about a week now – ready for an Easter Sunday planting session as the old boys always do. You need 6 weeks to allow them to chit properly. Today’s task was to dig over one of the two 30′ square vegetable patches and plant around 100 shallots. Tomorrow’s labour of love is to dig the second 30′ square vegetable patch over and sow parsnip seed – something we should have done a few weeks ago if we’d owned a spare ice axe to dig through the ground.

The digging over of the patch also gave us ample opportunity to rid the area of larger stones, and to de-weed the little blighters that have popped up – mostly chickweed but also some groundsel and wild pansies. Single ones we hoed out, those more prolific we turned over with a spade to bury them as a cheap green manure, as we were advised to do by farmer John.

We’ve got two 30′ rows of shallots, bought from the local allotment society, and planted them 6″ apart, in rows 1′ apart, and placed just below the surface, using the most useful tool I own – a piece of dowling, lovingly hand-crafted, that fulfills the jobs of a spacing ruler, a string holder and a dibber. Each bulb will sprout around 8-10 bulbs which means we’ll be eating a lot of pickled onions!

As is getting the norm each time we dig here, we also unearthed some pottery, what looks like a couple of sherds of Midlands Purple Ware which was made and used between AD1450-1600, and a piece of flint that looks suspiciously like the base of an arrow head – which will make it either Paleolthic or Mesolithic. These are to add to the other 20 pieces we’ve already piled up from this 30′ square piece of land! If only we could find some Anglo Saxon gold 🙂