29th February - Last Day of Meteorological Winter
There is an extra day this year as it is a Leap Year .. one extra day of Winter! Looking at the long range weather forecast, it seems that March is predicted to be very cold indeed,
with a real freeze across the country at the end of the month. Oh, deep joy! So much for me being able to move some plants out to the plot before then. The "real" first day of Spring I think of as being the Spring Equinox though, so another three
weeks of Winter still in front of us regardless.
Apparently all the signs are that there will be a mass of warm air developing over the Arctic, forcing cold air southwards to us, leading freezing conditions across the UK for about a fortnight,
just like we had in November 2010 and January 2013. I remember the chaos of those times, with people panic buying, no deliveries to shops for a few days and us being virtually housebound due to the deep snow. Our stored harvest saw us through
with plenty to eat, although we did have to bring the sacks of potatoes and onions indoors for a while as they would have frozen out in the garage. In my attempt to walk to work one day, I got trapped in a blizzard. Foolhardy to even have gone out. It was
awful. Older and wiser I would stay put now!
I have held off sowing chillis and aubergines for a month later than last year, so that when we are away at Easter there will not be large plants needing lots of watering etc in the greenhouse,
or even in the propagator indoors, because they would get lop-sided without daily attention. We try to plan our growing and holidays together to make it all fit.... and then there is the weather. I shall certainly be keeping the insulation
up in the greenhouse through into April!!
We did get masses done on the plots today: Plot 146 is good to go, with the front flower beds weeded too, and Plot 145 has the polytunnel area now covered and ground breaking has begun! Five hours of hard work
but well worth it!
28th February -- What do you make your paths out of?
We have been much busier outside this week, as it actually hasn't rained, and on a couple of days has even been quite mild. Plot 146 is clean and tidy, with
no areas left to weed except the giant cloche-thingy now, and the Autumn planted onion sets have decent dark green leaves all standing up and growing away well. It shows how wet it has been that moss was growing on the soil of the bed, and although I removed
as much as I could no doubt any tiny piece will regenerate, so I shall have to keep an eye on things and act quickly if it starts to look like it is coming back. It may have arrived along with grass cuttings from our lawn at home that went into the compost
I suppose. The shallots and garlic are thriving, although their leaves are looking a bit pale... time for a feed?
Talking of feed, the onion seedlings at home had a dose of seaweed juice last weekend, and already they are looking perkier. Roots
are beginning to grow out of the bottom of the modules and so the Bedfordshire Champions need potting on. I am a little worried that the 16 pots that this will lead to might make the staging a bit overcrowded. I am doing my best to get the Wizard
beans, Spring Onions and Sweetpeas hardened off but we have had some heavy frosts at night this week and so they have only been out during the day. It has meant that they have enough light though and are not too leggy. The newer leaves on the Wizard beans
are not crumpled from aphid attack, after the epidemic following our holiday, but I do still spot the occasional hopeful blighter to promptly squish. And of course there are all those egg boxes full of seed potatoes quietly chitting away in there.
Maybe they can go in the ground by the end of March? I always think that St Patrick's Day on 17th March sounds a good day to start with this, but on the other hand I don't want to have to worry the potato tops will get frosted. It is a balancing
act all round! Oh, I nearly forgot the Kent Blue peas that are starting to germinate: another modular tray to find a space for in the light.
It'll soon be time to put up the little plastic tomato blow-away at the end of the garden as their "half
way house" between the night time protection of the greenhouse and the total exposure of the plot. Fortunately the end of our garden is very sheltered and so the plastic construction has so far managed to stay on the ground during the last couple of Springtimes. It
is very useful indeed and well worth the few pounds it cost. Some plot holders at our site still insist on trying to utilise these unsecured outside ... and yes, they do indeed blow away, often quite some way away, too! I feel a bit sorry for them really.
Our new plot is slowly taking shape. Marking out the beds and paths, plus the space for the polytunnel and compost bins has been very useful, and has led to a few changes to the original plan. Moving a couple of ground pegs over by a metre or
so is much easier than trying to move a bed that is already part dug, for sure. It has also enabled us to keep the areas which will be covered for now all together, which will be much more straightforward to work with. All good.
Of course the thorny
question of what to make the paths out of came up. Grass paths would be lovely, wouldn't they? Or would they? All that cuttung and edging, the muddy trampling in wet weather...maybe not. How about trodden earth? Not on our clay soil, a recipe for a slippery
disaster. On Plot 146 the paths are landscape membrane overlaid with woodchip, which is topped up at least annually as it rots down to compost. Keeping on top of the weeds that grow in the paths is a long job and one which we are not keen to replicate.
And then there was a lightbulb moment, when I was reading How to Plan a Vegetable Garden (which I can highly recommend as a really interesting read all round)
Cover the paths in membrane but remove the part rotted woodchip every time before adding new chippings, and add this material to the compost heap or else dig it in to the adjoining bed if suitable. Now why didn't we think of that????? A no brainer
that will also get over the issue of the depth of the path building up and fallng onto the beds too. As we did not want to edge the beds with anything it had seemed a further problem, but no longer. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Lots of information out there, just have to find it!
20th February - On more step along the road to Spring ...
Temperatures this week have varied enormously, from -4°C early some mornings with an accompanying
frost - I think the strawberry plants will have enjoyed that - to a cloudy 13°C. Still getting rain from time to time though. This morning I have the Wizard beans, onions and sweet peas sitting outside in the garden, although they will returning to
the safety of the greenhouse before it gets dark: the start of that daily task of carrying trays out and in to the greenhouse morning and evening for the next two or three months. Not the same trays obviously, as further along the onions and beans wil be planted
out and their space used by aubergines, tomatoes and courgettes etc
On the note of tomatoes: my daughter gave me some small tomato plants for my recent birthday - Golden Sunrise and Black Opal. They are tucked up in the greenhouse right now but as they
are only in 2cm modules will soon need to be potted on. I don't usually have tomatoes this early in the year so I shall be interested to see how these perform compared with ones I shall be soon be sowing
The seed potatoes arrived this week, and were
duly unpacked and laid in their egg boxes to chit. There is a wide variation in their size, so this year I shall cut some of the larger ones into two with chits on each half. The idea is that the stems resulting from these chits will be less
congested and lead to larger potatoes. Not sure if it is true, but there is only one way to find out. I shall leave some of the big ones whole to act as a modest "control". Having a bit more space to play with is certainly helpful! The varieties we are
growing this year are:
First Early: Casablanca
Second Early : Bonnie & Wilja
Maincrop: Amour, Ambo & Maxine
On the same day, the Allotment-chat Pass the Parcel arrived, packed tightly with all sorts of goodies I had never
heard of. I took out quite a few packets, and put in lots in. Luckily I managed to get the box closed again. This is such a great way of sharing self saved seeds, as well as those we shall never use but are still in date.
had vowed never to grow achocha again, but the Giant Bolivian version has swayed me into giving them a go, Turkish Orange Aubergines sound irresistable and some squashes with "naked" seeds ie without a hull so easier to eat, were added to my stash: Lady Godiva
and Kakai, plus a tiny one called Munchkin with bright pink seeds. These sound ideal for growing up arches with that achocha. Tall purple podded peas also somehow found ther way in... such a sucker for peas, me! I already have those Parsley Peas
to try, which are described as virtually self supporting. I must make sure the pigeons cannot get to them this year: last year the early peas never gave us much because the pigeons decimated the shoots as they grew above their little framework of twiggy
sicks. Nets it'll be for sure this time!! The Parcel's next stop is Glasgow. It will travel hundreds of miles before resting for the Summer with the Keeper of the Parcel.
With help from my six year old granddaughter, 18 Kent Blue peas were carefully
sown on Wednesday, two to a 9cm module,. The plan is for the plants to grow in our mini-tunnel at the allotment and give us an early crop of mangetout. Some Golden Indian Mangetout seeds will be joining them - I shall sow these this afternoon.
The Jolant leeks I sowed at the end of last month are straightening up now, but there is nothing from the Autumn Mammoths. Maybe the seed was too old. I reckon the one that did make an appearance is actually a Jolant that jumped into the other side
of the tray! I shall get some fresh seed and resow. There is plenty of time.
Must remember to get the chilli seeds out.. time to clear the kitchen windowsill for the propagator to take up residence
16th February - Family tree planting!!
Sooooo grateful for a few days without rain, even if the highest day-time temperature has been 5°C. The early crocuses in the lawn at home opened in the sun like golden jewels, and a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly sat soaking up the warmth outside
the greenhouse door yesterday. At the plot however, the wind was arctic and the ice on the water in the bath was a reminder that it is still really Winter.
We paced out where the two new pear trees could best go, and decided on the most
suitable place to move the dwarf apple tree to. With help from our daughter-in-law we started to dig. Surprisingly the ground was not too hard or sticky and there is a good two feet of top soil before getting to the gravel pan, which is excellent.
That dwarf apple tree fought back determinedly and it took three of us to get it out of the ground. Lots of the roots were damaged in the process so we had our fingers crossed when it was re-planted. Hopefully it will grow new feeder roots when the
soil warms up. Upright, it is about 7 feet tall and a pretty good shape too. Let's hope it survives. Given how hard the roots on the new pear trees we bought had been pruned back, it may have a better chance than we first thought: time will tell.
cleared a large area around the trunk of each tree, taking out mats of nettle and couch grass roots. It is going to be hard going to clear the whole orchard area ... really glad that the other end of the plot seems less "nettley". Recent advice on planting
trees is to dig a larger hole that you think you need, and not add any manure or fertiliser to the soil as you back fill. This apparently encourages the tree to send out roots further afield in search of nutrients, rather than just rely on what is
in the immediately surrounding soil. The trees were firmly staked against the prevailing wind, as previously planted trees had grown at a 60° angle and we would really like these to stay upright.
The two pear trees look really tiny
next to to the others, but they will grow. Our little orchard now has these two pears, a cooking apple, an eating apple and a damson on Plot 145, and two further eating apples next door right by the boundary. As the cooking apple may be a Bramley's
Seedling, these other trees will help with pollination if needed. There are also three cherry trees, two in the fruit cage, a plum, a greengage and another dwarf apple next door on Plot 146. We have some small fruit trees at home too -
two pears, three apples, a fig and a plum - let's hope they all flower and fruit well for us for many years.
13th February - The Plan hits the paper aka Virtual Gardening
Here is the plan!! It might change as we go along
of course but as I said before, it is good to have an outline at least. Hand drawing helps me embed the overall picture much more easily than CAD versions, so here it is, coloured pencil and all!!
This does feel a bit like virtual gardening though ...
I wish it would stop raining so we can actually go and do some real work. At least we are organised I suppose.
Along the boundary with our other plot - to the left - are the compost bins, a long, narrow fruit bed, a space through which we shall
make a gateway between the two plots, and a mini tunnel. Access to this fruit bed from the other side will be much easier now!
Crop rotation is sorted too. I try to keep Brassicas away from the potatoes where possible. Brassicas like
lime, whereas limy soil seems to encourage scabby potatoes.There is a school of thought that lime is more effective the year after it is added to the soil, so we add lime after the potatoes are lifted in the Autumn, and Brassicas are planted in it two years
later.This year, Plot 146 will have anything that needs to be sown or planted early as the new plot will take a few weeks to have any ground ready for use at all.
Potatoes (BFB on planting, chicken manure pellets after earthing up, lime on lifting)
Peas and Beans (compost & chicken manure pellets before planting - kitchen waste trench during Winter prior to planting)
Brassicas, including turnips (manure before planting, chicken manure pellets mid-season, maybe twice; compost mulch after harvesting)
Squashes & courgetttes (additional compost mulch on planting, with BFB and whatever else I have to hand --greedy lot they are!)
Onions & Roots (Onions only -- chicken manure pellets before planting; Epsom salts mid season; manure on lifting. Roots -BFB two or three weeks before sowing)
11th February - What a difference a week (away)
While we were away last week, things grew apace in the greenhouse, including the greenfly!! Some of the leaves of the Wizard beans are distorted and there are insects visible on the stems too. What a nuisance! I have
made a start on squashing them, but there are always some that get away so I shall have to be vigilant from now on.
The Jolant and Pot leeks sown on 30th Janaury are showing their little green elbows above the compost, and the onion sets planted in
modules have shoots over 10cm long already. I think it might be too warm for them in the greenhouse so they will be going out now so their growth hardens up a bit. No sign of the Autumn Mammoths yet, but I am resisting furtling as they must surely be alright
There is a forest of sweet pea seedlings too. Once they have a couple of sets of proper leaves grown I can pinch them back, but they don't need to be inside now they have germinated.. far too warm for them.
Lots of time to discuss
plans for the new plot while we were sitting in the sunshine last week. Big decisions were made about the shape and layout of the growing areas and what we can realisitically tackle this year, whilst maintaining our existing plot to a decent level of productivity
at the same time and occasionally have time to go home too! We drew out a plan to try to keep us focussed, with a broad timescale as whoever knows what the weather will do? Looking at a huge area of weeds is a bit daunting, so having a "bit at a time"
to deal with might help. So, the plan is to .....
- Keep the gate where it is, at the top end; repair the fence at the bottom end and clear out the sheds; paint the wooden shed with preservative (green to match the one on Plot 146)
area around the sheds themselves will be membrane with woodchip, for easy access to the water tank behind the metal one.
- Compost bins will be sited at the top end: there is capacity on our current plot to begin with, so no rush there. The
pallets from the middle of the plot can be used to make new ones when we need a break from digging.
- Polytunnel to run along the boundary of the neighbouring plot, but not this Spring. Its space will be covered for now. This has been
a BIG decision, not just because of the costs involved but also the siting of it to avoid casting a huge shadow over either of our plots or our neighbour's plot: it will run roughly North- South. The position really needed to be agreed first, and other growing
areas planned around it. Let's hope we have this right! If we can get it in place this Autumn that will be amazing. There will be a 50 cm flower bed adjoining the doors at each end and the long side facing into the plot. Hopefully that will protect the edges
of the cover where they meet the ground so they don't accidentally get strimmed!!
- The areas to the side and the front of the tunnel will each be divided into four equal sized growing beds, giving us eight in total. On Plot 146 the beds are
edged with wood, which is now starting to rot, so these ones will be "lazy beds" instead. Not sure how we can avoid woodchip from the main paths from falling into them and hope this becomes clearer when we are actually digging the sides, or someone suggests
a workable idea. We currently have beds in sets of four and this has really helped with planning crop rotation, so we are using the same principle again here with two sets of four larger beds, which can have temporary membrane paths added where needed
to save walking on the soil itself and getting muddy. Have to see how that works. We shall start digging where the lower set of beds will be, and cover the top area. (We usually use black plastic well weighted down, but green manure s another option to
consider) That will give us four beds to work with this Spring, weather permitting.
- The fruit trees already there are at the top end of the plot so our two new pear trees (Doyenne du Comice & Concorde) will join them next week.