Diggin’ Dirt

Main Crop PotatoesThe sun is out, the sky is blue, there’s not a cloud, to spoil the view, and I’m diggin’… diggin’ in the dirt.

Today I’ve mostly been planting the main crop spuds, so called because they’re the ‘main’ crop – the crop we’ll be eating for the majority of the year and over winter. We have Cara shown here, and then I added a row of good old King Edward, for roasting at Christmas 😀

Root VegThe the root veg went in – three rows of Boltardy beetroot, two rows of Gladiator F1 parsnip and two rows of Nero di Toscana kale.

The last one is from the Seed Cooperative, well worth checking out if you appreciate organic seeds and an approach to growing based on caring for the planet.

First Foray into the Allotment in 2021

And so it begins! So far this year has been great – not too much rain (after the very wet winter), and enough warmth on the back to make outside work pleasurable.

Spud Mountains

We’re getting into a great rhythm with the planting, despite last year being an odd one where so much extra was added to the workload and planting list. This year, with three less mouths to feed here at Merrybower, we’ve covered two growing strips to let them recuperate. The plots we knew we’d use, we add the waste from the poultry houses as a mulch for over winter. The worms and weather do their bit and we just then turn it over to create the tilth we need to plant in. You can see the first and second early potato rows quite obviously here – we popped in Accord as the first early variety, and Carlingford and International Kidney as the second earlies.

The Onion Patch – nothing much to see here, move along now

The onion patch is only identifiable by the clod hopper holes where I’ve tried to walk between the invisible rows of buried onion sets, and the scattered skins of onion and garlic sets. This year it’s enough Red Sun shallots for pickling, then the reliable Karmen red onions for salads and Sturon BC 20 for over winter use. Solent White garlic has always grown well here, even when, as now, it’s planted quite late. We can only hope for a decent growing season. At some point we’ll be adding Musselburgh leeks to this plot too, though I haven’t left much room!

Raise ’em high to deter the fly.

And then the raised bed. We usually put this over to salad crops – lettuce, radish, spinach, rocket and a few carrots. But we’ve realised that we get through an awful lot of carrots, so this is pretty much carrot paradise – full of Resistafly F1. Whilst I prefer the old varieties of veg, we do suffer badly here from carrot fly, to the point we’re not growing at ground level and we’re using resistant hybrids. Carrot fly don’t like to fly higher than 60cm (2ft), so a raised bed is ideal for them. the covering is to stop the spugs from dust bathing in the newly sown seed 😀 We have two new smaller raised beds nearer the house that we’ve sown pick and come again salad leaves. They were actually old pallet collars we used to store a top soil/compost mix in last year, and repurposed for growing veg.

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 🙂

Second Day of Decent Sun

Light Sussex

Following on from yesterday’s start on getting some sort of order into the outside, today was spent mowing and strimming, to make sure the electric fence surrounding the orchard and poultry was running at full capacity.

 

Marsh Daisies

The Marsh Daisy parent flock are happy in their current home, but the difference keeping chickens makes to the grass height is amazing! I know they eat grass, but the their paddock hardly needed cutting, whereas the one left fallow (where their children will eventually live) is over a foot in length!

Pilgrim geese – Dwt & Barty

Barty and Dwt have settled into couple-dom better than hoped. After Barty lost his soul mate last year, it seemed as though Dwt would never replace him. But this year she seems to finally have won him over and they’ve been doing the dirty. About once every two days she’s been leaving an egg in her nest, which she decided wouldn’t be in their house, but rather sandwiched behind a pallet we’d erected as a makeshift wind-shelter for them!

 

pear blossom

The mild air has come just in the nick of time for the pear trees, which had been holding out to blossom. All we can hope for now is a lack of frosts over the next few weeks, and if we’re lucky in that regard we should end up with a bumper pear crop. Look at this tree, that’s an incredible amount of blossom!

2018 spring patch panorama

There’s really nothing better than sitting back at the shed and admiring the end result of hard work. Aching back and limbs feel so more worthwhile when you can take a view in like this.

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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