Sowing & Watering

I believe it’s been about 4 weeks since we last had decent rain – in fact I think it’s been 4 weeks since we had any rain at all. Scary. So today, whilst I was meant to be digging out pathways in the garden, I noticed that some of the veggies down the patch were beginning to suffer from a lack of water. Before you know it, Suz, I and the children are down there sowing, weeding and watering – amazing how you can get carried away.

Reading back, I now realise I said we’d be sowing some Kestrel F1 beetroot later this year, as a decent storage beetroot to complement the early Cylindra variety we’ve already sown. I forgot, and we’ve just sown another 10′ of Cylindra…doh! With the spring cabbage almost ready to start pulling up, we’ll probably pop some Kestrel F1 in there.

The first row of Prinz Robin radish were also pulled up yesterday – those that were sown in the same row as the parsnips. As the parsnips were being de-weeded, now that they’re a decent size, it made sense to pull the radish and so, today, more of the same variety were squeezed in at the end of an onion row.

The Chantenay Red Cored 2 carrots were also de-weeded today, though not quite large enough to thin. A second 10′ row of the same were added, to stagger the harvest. Again, we could do with another row at some stage, but no idea where we can fit it! I’m sure we’ll find somewhere.

And continuing on a tradition started a few years ago, Jay and Smiler planted their pumpkin seeds this year on a compost heap. We’re a good 6 weeks earlier than last year doing this, so hopefully we’ll get a better crop (though we couldn’t get through the last lot!).

Other potential victims of the lack of water are the trees, so Suz spent an hour and a half watering the baby fruit trees, something we need to do until their root system is decent enough to tap into the water flowing under our feet in the valley.

Last, but by no means least, we have found another taker for our orchard fruit once it’s available, in three years’ time. A local dairy farm that began to make their own ice cream two years ago have shown an interest, especially in the plums and cherries. Apparently it’s practically impossible to source local fruit, so we could be on to something here! They also said that strawberries and raspberries are hard to come by as well, as the only local strawberry grower is not interested in supplying fruit and only serve the pick your own market. Hmm…cogs are turning…watch this space. Merrybower Fruit Growers might be something on the horizon 😉

New Potato Patch & Gaz’s Patch

A glut of chitted potatoes (yes, some fool ordered too many) meant that the bed originally intended for fruit and then covered over to kill off weeds was partially brought back into service to plant a row of King Edward potatoes. After a year of covering the soil is lovely and crumbly. A couple of pieces of twitch were still hanging on in, but it looked decent enough to start using – well, the 6′ patch that was uncovered looks decent.

Gaz and Liz’s (and now Polly’s as well) patch is looking extremely neat this year…I never thought I’d be envious of another man’s bean canes, but there, I’ve said it 😛

Photo Update

Just a few pics of how the patch is looking now, after several weeks of hard work by all the family.

Brassicas!

Up to and including this year we’ve bought our brassicas as small plants, rather than grow them from seed ourselves. It was a way of lowering ourselves into the grow-your-own pool slowly, as there’s so much to learn and do! This year is the same, but we’re still learning, and things just seem to have run so much easier this year. The weather’s helped – plenty of fine days to work the ground and sow stuff, followed by timely rain. There’s less to do to the land in the patch – weeds have been nobbled in the grass quite well by continual mowing and grazing last year. The fences are in, the trees planted, bushes in, a water supply is in; a rhythm to the patch is becoming audible.

So today I popped into the local nursery to buy the brassicas we need. We have a line of spring cabbage already in from last year, and to this we’ve added the following:

  • Brussel Sprouts – Millennium F1 (lates) – harvest January-March, recommended for deep freezing.
  • Brussel Sprouts – Helemus F1 (mid) – harvest February-March – of Polish origin.
  • Cabbage – Destiny F1 (summer) – harvest mid-season.
  • Cabbage (Savoy) – Clarissa F1 (winter) – crops late July – mid September.
  • Cabbage (Red) – Integro F1 (winter) – harvest August-September, suitable for medium long storage.
  • Cauliflower – Raleigh F1 – harvest July-October, long harvest period.
  • Cauliflower – Tetris F1 – harvest July-mid September.
  • Broccoli – Claret (purple sprouting) – harvest late March-late May.
  • Broccoli – Monterey F1 – harvest June-November.

Sowing and Hoeing in Earnest

Strawberry patch

We’re discovering that this is one of the busiest times of the year – the ground is warming up, the sun is out and literally everything is bursting into life. The lambs are bouncing around the paddock, the snap peas and beans planted a few weeks ago are popping up, the sweetcorn on the children’s windowsills have grown about 2″ in less than a week and the weeds…well, let’s just say they’re doing fine.

Asparagus bed

The mulching idea on several areas of the patch seems to be working – manure on the strawberries, grass cuttings on the asparagus, home-made compost on the spring cabbage and winter onions. But the bits of naked earth are a prime target for anything unwanted to

Winter Onions

try and take root – we seem to have nobbled the chickweed quite well from last year – nowhere near as much at the moment. Likewise with the Shepherd’s Purse, though the wild pansies seem to be quite tenacious. So this weekend has seen a lot of hoeing, but it’s been quite easy as we’ve all been doing it regularly and the soil is quite crumbly now.

Garlic

Life in the allium patch is running amok – the garlic is shooting nicely – well, one variety of them, the other is still sleepy. The shallots have their familiar fluffy tops on them where the multitude of stems are visible from one shallot. They always remind me of a muppet hairdo at this stage. A few onions have been uprooted by a ne’er-do’well – probably one of a feathery persuasion.

Courgette & Squash stations

We’re also trying something new this year when it comes to the courgettes (F1 Zucchini) and butternut squash (F1 Cobnut) – left overs from last year. Holes are being dug for each plant, and in the base some well-rotted manure is being added. Then the soil is replaced, forming a little tummock for each plant to sit upon.

Courgette tummocks

No idea why it works as this stage, but all of the books and websites I’ve been reading suggest doing this so here goes! We must remember to mulch around the base of the plants once they’ve been planted. At the moment all of the squash and courgettes are sitting in the mini greenhouse in their own 3″ pots. There’s no denying that the finished mounds look tidy.

Asparagus

On a final note, up until a few days ago we had one asparagus in the asparagus bed. This is one of the most exciting veggies for me personally. I love them…Suz loves them…so imagine our disappointment when only one showed up! Then, when another came up, the original disappeared! I’m guessing an unwanted visitor must have nibbled it, but today we found about 8 spears waiting for us – one of them about 14″ tall! Most were still quite tiny, and I’m not sure if we should pick them this year – but in the most appropriate words of Young Frankenstein – “It’s alive!!”

This weekend also saw the grass cut in the whole patch for the first time, more mulching around the bases of the orchard trees, and the first pruning of the plum and cherry trees. We also mowed one of the headlands, where many Shepherd’s Purse flowers were happily growing. I’m not sure if mowing at this time will kill any wanted flowers that may be there, but the cutting is an attempt to let some light into any wanted flowers that may be struggling to see any light. We’ll soon see if this has worked.

Last but not least, we sowed the first row of beetroot – Cylindra. We’ve not tried this variety before, but I hear it’s good as a salad variety. We’ll sow the F1 Kestrel variety that we sowed last year later in the year, for storage.

 

Pruning Plums & Cherries

Title says it all really – the weather has been dry enough and is forecast to be sunny into the weekend. The bushes were topped at 80cm, the half standards at 1.2m. That’s it – nuff said, move along now, nothing to see here.

Early Potatoes, Chillies & Headland Flowers

Another good day in the patch. We all trooped down, the sun decided to make an appearance, and for a short while you could almost convince yourself that winter was over. The first and second early potatoes (Epicure and Kestrel) were dropped into their waiting 6″ deep holes – spaced 12″ apart in rows 18″ from each other. As they start to show in a few weeks we’ll mound the earth over the tips to protect them from any frosts we might get.

An awful lot of hoeing was also done – after last year suffering some consequence of perhaps not enough, I’m determined to keep on top of the weeds at this time of year. So the potato patch was hoed thoroughly before planting the seed potatoes, the legume patch got a good seeing to as well, as did the brassica patch.

The Jerusalem Artichokes are already popping their heads above the parapet, but whilst they’re still quite short, we sowed some lettuce between the rows – Balmoral (a type of iceberg variety) and a Salad Lettuce, pick as it grows type.  The radish in the parsnip row are already growing, and the snap peas, peas and broad beans are starting to show.

Whilst Jay was planting the potatoes that have been on her windowsill for the last 6 weeks, Suz and Smiler dug the remaining parsnips up from last year’s crop. They managed to fill a barrow full with about 15 parsnisps – they are giants! We had 2 between four of us for our evening meal in a parsnip soup, which also used our own leeks, onions and garlic, and cheese and yoghurt added. It tasted fantastic, really welcome after working outside all day.

Some twitch was also dug out from around two of the orchard trees. They look like isolated events, but the fact that twitch was present means it was in the field before we sowed the grass, so a beady eye is needed.

The last thing to do was to sow into large 6″ pots the chilli seeds. We’ve used the remainder of last year’s packets – Peperone Dolce di Bergamo and Pimientos de Padron. Again, these are in the mini greenhouse for now but will be moved to the main greenhouse soon. The sweetcorn that was in the mini greenhouse have been moved to Jay and Smiler’s windowsills now that their potatoes have gone into the ground.

Jay also grabbed her wild flower books to try and find out what sort of flowers were showing themselves in the headland where we’d sown the wildflower mix. It turns out that the flowers present are nothing to do with the mix, but were already in the soil. We have:

Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) – is not native to the UK, but comes from Eastern Europe and Asia Minor. In Shanghai it is commonly used as food, where they stir-fry it with rice cakes and other ingredients, or as part of the filling in wontons. Herbally, it is primarily used to stop vaginal bleeding, an action which may be attributable to the common parasitic fungus found with it.

Red Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) –  a prominent source of pollen for bees in March/April when bees need the pollen as protein to build up their nest. Young plants have edible tops and leaves, good in salads or in stirfry as a spring vegetable.

Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) – a good source of nectar for solitary bees, it is a common flower in woodland, hedgerows and gardens and in the past was used in herbal medicine to treat coughs and catarrh, and as blood tonic.

Common Chickweed (Stellaria media) – is edible and nutritious, and is used as a leaf vegetable, often raw in salads. It is an annual plant, native to Europe, and often eaten by chickens (hence the name). It is also called chickenwort, craches, maruns and winterweed.

Wild Pansy (Viola tricolor) – also known as Heartsease, is common to Europe, and grows as an annual or short-lived perrenial. In the past it has been recommended as a treatment for epilepsy, asthma and eczema, and has also been used in the treatment of chest complaints such as bronchitis and whooping cough. It is also a diuretic, leading to its use in treating rheumatism and cystitis.

Heartsease was a staple in medieval gardens, and was once believed to be a potent love charm. Its flowers are an old remedy for heart disease, and an infusion of the herb was reputedly the cure for a broken heart. Heartsease contains salicylates and rutin, both of which are anti-inflammatories, and may explain the herb’s ability to calm skin inflammation.