Rabbits and Raspberries

I’ve mentioned we’ve turned half of the old veggie patch into a seed bed and somewhere for salad veg, but I’d neglected to mention that the other half is going to be a new home for a couple of pet rabbits. So the Easter weekend’s first job was to build a new partition fence, leaving enough space for a gate I’m reusing from the chicken run once  they move to the paddock. We’ve also found a good supplier of chicken wire and weld mesh locally, at Pukka Pens, in Stanton by Bridge. The only thing left to do is to buy the turf and lay it. The cabbages in the foreground were casualties, the rest will follow soon…<sniff>

Last spring I planted 5 autumn fruiting raspberry canes in the border to the side of the now-rabbit-run, and 10 summer fruiting canes. I’d also tried to construct a wire support structure using locally scavenged crack willow, but as I’ve now found out, crack willow cracks and snaps. Didn’t really need to be a genius to figure that out I guess. So having been faced with droopy raspberries every time we come home (do you know how disturbing  that is?), I made it my second job this weekend to do something better for my soft fruit. The result is 3 x 8 foot posts dug 2 foot into the ground, with support posts and wire tensioned between. I also have enough materials to build another 30′ stretch in the new vegetable patch once I get the fruit netting in place. Is it possible to get sick of raspberries?

For those who don’t know, autumn fruiting raspberries fruit on the current year’s growth – so after they fruited the previous autumn you should have cut them right back, and the new growth the following spring will bear fruit. Summer fruiting raspberries differ in that they fruit on last year’s growth – so you don’t cut back the new growth of the previous year as that’s where the fruit will be the following year, but you *do* cut back any growth that has already bourne fruit. Simples. The shot to the right shows summer-fruiting rasberry canes that grew last year. You’ll likely get too many canes popping  up so cut out all but the strongest 2-4 and tie them to the wires. The wires need to be spaced at 2, 4 and 6 feet from the ground. We’ve also pinched out the tips of these raspberries to encourage side growth.

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.