March 2018

27th March - Here we are, basking in temperatures in the high 20s, here in Tenerife. I worked really hard in the few days we were at home last week to try to keep up with our annual planting and sowing plan as far as possible... tomato seeds are now in the propagator, both the varietes for growing under cover and the blight resistant ones for the open ground. All seems a long way away right now... and I guess they actually are, to be honest!!! Not far from thoughts of course.

Sown on 21st March were: Orange Banana, Super Marmande, San Marzano, Black Cherry, Apero, Yellow Pear, Golden Sunrise, Oxheart, Ailsa Craig, Lanzarote Stripe ( seed saved from a local variety on a trip away. There is something similar here too, called "local") plus, for outdoor growing, Mountain Magic, Ferline and Crimson Crush

Back in England, temperatures look set to fall yet again. Most plants seem to be coping well enough though. Our rhubarb is growing its first juicy stems and  we may be able to pull some for Easter next weekend, all being well. A few of the most tender shoots seem to have a little frost damage but there are enough for some. I don't cover any to force them, as this weakens plants for the whole season, and stems in March or early April are plenty soon enough for us.

Looking at how close together the stems are, I think next Spring we may need to divide the roots up to give thme the best chance of cropping well. This one is an unknown variety from my Dad's garden, which produces very long green, red streaked stems: not the prettiest but very flavourful, and I would like to keep it at it's best if possible. It had a good mulch of grass clippings back last Autumn, which should help it through another season. It did manage 40 years in Dad's garden without any attention whatsoever, so it must be pretty tough, I reckon.

Before we left, I checked over the plot, where the remaining leeks were looking good... Leek & Potato Soup on our return, I suspect... and it reminded me that leeks are one of those crops that are sown before the previous crop is finished. 

These are this season's seedlings underway, currently in our frost free greenhouse at home. They are the same varieties as last year, as they performed well: Elefant, Bleu de Solaise and Porvite, plus some Bulgarian Giant to see how they get on. They will be planted out to follow first and second early potatoes around May/June time. With regular feeding them will be fine in this tray in the meanwhile, and will be able to be transferred outside fairly soon.

The very early Lincoln leeks sown in a pot back in late December are ready to plant out in the polytunnel as soon as we get home. They have about five leaves and are are the thickness of biro refills. Not grown these before and are hopeful of a crop around mid-September from these.

Spring flowers are still a delight, with our large camellia bush making the most of the spell of milder weather

And as I turned to take this photo, I spotted early flowers on the Flame of the Forest (Pieris japonica) behind it..... beautiful pinkish white bells that smell of Lily-of -the Valley when warmed by the sun... emphasis on the When.

As they can be damaged by frost, I hope they survive the forecast freezing weather. I was surprised to see these though, as they usually follow bright red new leaf growth... is this another oddity of Spring this year?

Once we get home later in the week, there will be an absolute frenzy of sowing and planting: maincrop peas, turnips, more beetroot and carrots, chard, sweetcorn, early french beans and chervil all need to be going in, as well as potatoes and onion sets out on the plots.

Before we left I did notice a few carrots had come through under the cloche in the polytunnel, as well as the first Swift potato shoots. I just hope the double protection of the tunnel and cloche keep them from being frost damaged. At least it is a beginnning to a season slow to get going this year.

That just leaves a photo to share from along the road here, of something we grow as a pot plant in the UK, Ficus benjamina, but here in Tenerife grows into trees, clipped into wonderfully architectural shapes. It was a beautiful sight in the early morning sunshine.

And last of all this week is to say a huge thank you to each and every one of you who have supprted me in my blogging venture over the past two years. With over 100, 000 views, it has blown me away.

I hope you continue to enjoy reading about our efforts to grow as much of our food as possible, and if it had helped you also want to grow something to eat, I am really glad

See you next Monday, back in England!

 

 

If you'd like to read more about Harvest Monday, have a look here at Dave's hosted pages:

http://www.ourhappyacres.com/

and if you would like to contact me, you're very welcome, on:

info@alitttlebitofsunshine.co.uk

and I'll get back to you as soon as I can

20th March - Back to snowy Winter time, with the Spring Equinox being tomorrow. Things really are at sixes and sevens with the weather this year, with several inches of snow and sub-zero temperatures again, even in the daytime.{{{{deep sigh}}}} We shall just have to postpone planting until the soil warms again. Nature has a way of making good, so I guess things will catch up at some point. As the footprints showed, we had a few early morning visitors to our patio this morning. We put out lots of food for the birds in these harsh times, to ensure they can maintain a good body weight in preparation for the breeding season, and the pigeons clear up what is spilt. Fresh water is essential too, and can be a challenge in freezing weather. Our pond doesn't freeze right over as there is a running pipe recycling water, which keeps a section of the surface ice-free. The birds sit on the platform of plants and can access this open water to drink and bathe when they need to. It also provides a platform on which blackbirds can sit and gorge on tadpoles once the frog spawn hatches!

Some birds are easier to feed than others. The small garden birds thrive on seed mix, fat balls and peanuts, but the larger birds, including our Red Tailed Kites, also have to eat when food is scarce.They mainly feed on carrion, with mice, voles and other small mammals they can catch, as well as stealing food from crows and magpies in mid air, which is fascinating to watch.

We put out remains of chicken carcasses and meat trimmings on our garage roof, and several of our neighbours do the same in their gardens. On the allotment site the Kites quickly scoop up from the grass verge any mice or voles take from our snappy traps, and today I was treated to an acrobatic flying display as two KItes vied for the remains of a rabbit on the edge of the hedgerow on our plot site. They are so quick and agile I found it difficult to  get any clear photos. Their technique for picking up food from the ground is worth watching...

First, choose a line of flight to take advantage of wind direction and speed:

Then a quick drop and swoop, talons at the ready....

A twist of the tail, a turn of the wings, then up and away, to eat what was grabbed in dextrous talons, and circle round for another dive

We were away in the Midlands, last week, and a friend watered  the seedlings in the greenhouse, which are growing steadily (Thank you, Clive!) The crops in the polytunnel are also thriving, and as night time temperatures in there last week fell only 3°C, everything survived very nicely. Daytime temperatures inside are in the twenties, hence the slightly blurred photo here as the camera lens had fogged slightly

The Japanese Mustard Komatsuna has grown rapidly, and is putting up flowering shoots, and the Frilled Mustard is burgeoning too, growing faster than we can eat it right now, and there is plenty of Perpetual Spinach too.  Good issue to have though!

I cut some of the Kmatsuna, this morning to cook with our meatball and potato curry later this evening, and this is our only offering for Harvest Monday 

The crops growing out in the open are perfectly hardy, and can cope with a bit of snow and some chilly winds. Here is the garlic, planted last October, which is biding its time until the milder weather. I usually feed the garlic, Autumn planted shallots and onions around now, but with the soil so wet and cold, I'll leave it for a couple more weeks I think.

Most years, the first early potatoes are planted on or around St Patrick's Day (17th March) but this year that would have been just silly. 

I can just see that when the weather does eventually warm up, there will be an absolute frenzy of sowing and planting. April is always pretty busy, but this year I think I shall be working very hard to both catch up and keep up

It never ceases to amaze me how flowers flourish under a blanket of snow, then show themselves in glorious colour as soon as it starts to melt

  • Anemone De Caen self seeded last year, and we have several clumps of plants with bright red flower buds showing now, and a few that look as though they will be purple.

  • And every clump of hyacinths has a story to tell: they are planted out from bowls of bulbs given to us as gifts, once the flowers are finished, to flower again year on year

There is nothing else to report from this week. The snow has melted away during the day today, with melt water running off sheds and dripping frantically onto the ground, which, of course, is rapidly becoming even more saturated. 

After last nights's blizzard on the way home, which made driving conditions nerve wracking, it seems strange to see it all gone so quickly. Strange, but to be honest, good. Snow here feels wrong somehow at this time in the year

These two tree stumps are probably my most posted images, as I often lay produce on them to photograph, but they are not often seen with these neat, perfect little cushions of snow. I hope you like them!

Do check out Harvest Monday links from other people through the link below. Many are from the US and are different from what we grow here: interesting.

If you'd like to read more about Harvest Monday, have a look here at Dave's hosted pages:

http://www.ourhappyacres.com/

and if you would like to contact me, you're very welcome, on:

info@alitttlebitofsunshine.co.uk

and I'll get back to you as soon as I can

12th March - A bumblebee at last! Usually there have been numerous slightly sleepy bumblebees around before now, but I think the unseasonally cold weather at the start of the month has put them off. I was so pleased to spot this fat, healthy looking queen feeding from the current crocuses in our lawn, the large stripy ones

 

Harvest Monday begins (and ends) with two stalwarts: Leeks, Japanese Komatsuna and Perpetual Spinach

  • These are the last of the leeks on #146, although there are plenty more on the other plot

  • These leaves made an exceptionally tasty bread: Spinach & Poppyseed with Garlic (Recipes 2018)

Now that the leeks are out of that bed, I have dug it over, added some Blood, Fish & Bone and covered part of it with two large cloches. The plan is twofold: to warm the soil prior to sowing carrot seed, and for the weed seeds to germinate so I can clean the bed before the carrot seed go in. Usually I am in a tearing hurry to get that early sowing of carrots in the ground, but this year, with the bonus of being able to sow in the polytunnel, I can afford to wait a little longer.

I also worked on the Broad Bean bed, and after hardening off the seedlings, planted them in nice neat rows. I removed the remains of the actual seed bean, to try to reduce the chance of mice chewing through the stems to carry these off. The already infamous chilli powder was sprinkled round them and three snappy traps installed too. The green netting cover is to give the little plants a modicum of protection from cold winds until their roots get going, and prevent pigeons from eating the nice fresh green leaves. 

Honestly, sometimes I wonder that we get any crops to maturity, the lengths necessary to keep pests from getting there first!!

  • Red Epicure matured earlier than the Wizard Field Beans last year, which lengthened the harvest period nicely

  • The mesh tunnel also prevented the seedlings from being beaten down by torrential rain last night

Sweet peas picked last August

Now that the sweetpea plants are hardened off too, they are sitting on the table in our seating area in their deep pots. I mixed four packets of seed together and sowed them four to each pot right back at the start of February. Some germinated very quickly and were pinched out once they had two pairs of proper leaves, but others only started into growth last week. The ones that were first up are nice bushy plants already.

The plan is to grow them up wigwams of pea sticks, one on #146 at the end of the carrot bed, and one on #145 at the end of the pea bed, hoping for a really good display of flowers and plenty to cut to take home too. They are a real favourite of ours, with their iconic perfume, so I plan to sow a second batch towards the end of April to extend the flowering season into the Autumn. They need regular feeding and watering, as well as deadheading, to keep plants producing flowers, but I hope this succession of plants will also help keep up production

It was a bit too wet and windy to put up the wigwams, but the plants have enough root space in the pots to manage for a week or two longer

Last season our beetroot crop was nothing short of disastrous, with almost all the roots chewed by rodents, so this year the early crop planted out in the polytunnel, from module-sown seeds has a dressing of chilli powder. Will this help? Time will tell. 

The Detroit Crimson 2 and Boldor germinated well, as did the free seeds of Subeto, but the Bono had zero plants come up. Maybe the seed was too old to still be viable. I still had more little clumps of seedlings than fitted in the area set aside for them, so the remaining ones went in alongside the flat leafed parsely. As the plants grow, they push each other apart enough to swell to edible-sized roots that can be harvested over a period of weeks

I know a rat visited the tunnel last night, as it chewed a hole through the back door. It was pouring with rain this morning, so I had to dry all the sides before I could repair the hole with a layer of tape inside and out, with ... yes, you've guessed it... a sprinkling of chilli powder where the walls meet the ground. Interestingly, Mr/Mrs Rat had eaten nothing inside, not dug any holes, which may have been due to chilli powder dressing around everything.

Allotment neighbours are already making quips about us growing chili flavoured peas etc, but in reality they are all waiting to see the effectiveness of my efforts. So am I!!

 

At home in the greenhouse, the new season's leek plants are all up in four rows in their large tray, and are looking good. I fed them today, as well as the early leeks, the onion plants and all the chillies, peppers and aubergines.

The annual invasion of aphids has begun, with some of the chillies quite badly affected. I have gently squidged as many as I could, but I need to keep an eye so that is doesn't turn into an epidemic.

Another annual invasion has also begun, this one much more welcome: frogs are laying frogspawn in the garden pond. They have loved the rain, and this year there is upwards of thirtyfive or so blobs in the water. Although the fish in the pond eat most of the tadpoles, ably helped by the local blackbirds, enough must survive, to increase the local population of frogs.

Last year i transferred some spawn to the allotment pond, and we had a lot of small frogs around the vegetable beds, but these are not yet old enough to breed, so this year another large blob was taken down to the plot pond. Our youngest grand daughter was more than happy to help with this, and will no doubt enjoy watching this new brood of tadpoles develop as the weeks go by

The daffodils are now in full bloom, and even in the rain give cheerful splashes of golden yellow in the garden, and the pots by the front door, which bring a smile to our faces whenever we arrive back home

And at long last the catkins on the Twisted Hazel tree are out. I read this week that these trees don't set nuts, beacuse the pollen from the male catkins is sterile. Interesting, as we have had several nuts on this tree over the years, even though there are no other hazel trees nearby

To end this week's blog is a picture of a bird that has been almost absent from our garden for several years now: a starling. This male sits on the chimney pot singing away with its strange creaky whistles and squeaks, every morning for an hour or so, even in the rain. There have been some birds feeding on the roof of our garage, and a small flock flying in the evenings too as they get ready to roost

I don't think these are birds that have migrated from northern climes, as they are giving every sign of preparing to breed.. good to see them here again.

I shall be back next Monday, with updates on how things are growing, and what else might have been sown. 

Thank you for reading this week's epistle, which I hope you have enjoyed

Happy growing, one and all!

If you'd like to read more about Harvest Monday, have a look here at Dave's hosted pages:

http://www.ourhappyacres.com/

and if you would like to contact me, you're very welcome, on:

info@alitttlebitofsunshine.co.uk

and I'll get back to you as soon as I can

5th March - Snowed under!! This week has been a very snowy one across the UK, and even though in this area we had less snow than most, the sub zero temperatures 24 hours a day put paid to any plans to sow or plant anything. The 1st March was the coldest day here in Reading since records began, with -3.5°C at mid day, which coupled with the freezing east winds meant an ambient temperature of -12°C. I know that others were worse off, but for us it all came as rather a shock, as Winters here are usually quite mild. We mainly stayed indoors as the roads and footpaths were treacherous, with a quick daily visit to the greenhouse at the end of the garden

I took this photo of crocuses on our lawn when it had been sowing for a while, little realising they woud soon disppear under nearly six inches of snow! They are of course made to cope with the cold, and today are as perky as ever

Some plants survive sub zero temperatures by collapsing downwards their sap changes consistency as it contains  a kind of anti-freeze, but they soon adjust again once the warmer days arrive, to stand up straight again.

These hellebores looked done for 48 hours ago, but now they are as showy as ever! They are self sown seedlings, two of which grew right next to each other, which is why the flowers in the clump are not all the same colour

I had to make some adjustments to that recently completed Sowing & Planting Plan, but today I managed to catch up a bit. The Indian Golden and Kent Blue Mangetout are now planted out in the polytunnel next to their supporting net, and the two early varieties of pea plants, Hatif d'Annonay and Hurst Greenshaft, are also in, with apple tree prunings from a few weeks back making useful "pea sticks"

The cloches I put over the soil meant it stayed relatively warm, certainly warm enough to sow carrot seed, so a short row of Nantes 5 seed tape, with two rows of Early Scarlet Horn went in this afternoon, this last scattered to each make a strip about 10 cm wide, which hopefully will not need much thinning. They are a short pointed  carrot that hopefully will mature by mid-May.

The flat leaf parsley (in the foreground) is growing well, and I am looking forward to pickings soon. I do miss fresh parsley: the plan to have it during the Winter was foiled by the voles and mice of course. I have picked the remains of the pea seeds off the plants I set out today, and sprinkled plenty of chilli powder around them too, as well as refreshing the peanut butter in the snap traps, so fingers crossed that the beasts do not feast on the tender stems of either the peas or the parsley

Harvests have been a bit tricky his week, and so there is little to share for Harvest Monday. Mustard Greens and Perpetual Spinach, plus some leeks I managed to lever out of the ground, are all we have had. Leek & Potato soup went down well while the view from the window was thick snow swirling past. No photos taken though... ooops!

The Leek seeds sown two weeks ago  in the greenhouse are starting to poke their elbows up: Porvite are the first to show and I am hopeful that others will follow in the next few days. These are the earliest to mature so I guess that is why they are fastest to germinate.

 

The begonia tubers, also in the greenhouse, are starting to grow little shoots, which is the sign they need potting up. These give us a tremendous display in hanging baskets and large pots in the Summer, but they end up with vine weevil larvae eating away at them every year. I have tried by best to winkle these out from the tubers with a pin, and just hope there are none left in any of them, as I certainly don't want any in the greenhouse, thank you very much! They are such a pest, eating roots away below the surface of the soil with no sign of their presence until the whole plant collapses and comes away from the soil.

All the new dahlia tubers have arrived, been unpacked and laid in trays... it'll soon be time for them to stir back into growth too, and have a little spray of water to keep them going. They came from Anglia Bulbs, and I am very pleased with the quality of them, for such a modest price. It will be a bit of a challenge to fit them all in, but well worth it. I daresay photos will follow in mid-Summer.

And that is really all there is this week, apart from saying that the leek seeds sown two weeks ago are starting to poke up little green elbows.. Porvite are the first to make an appearance, which I guess is because they are an earlier maturing variety so have to get going quickly

 

 

So to finish, I'm sharing this picture of Iris reticulata flowers in a bowl at the end of the garden, just beautiful with a scattering of raindrop diamonds. They are supposed to be mixed varieties, so maybe other colours will appear at a later date. Hope so!

I shall be back next Monday, and look forward to your comments.

PS For the readers who are worried they are behind with sowing, please bear in mind that:

- we have the luxury of a heated greenhouse, so plants such as chillies can move there from the propagator and receive enough light to grow healthily

- some of the crops we have already sown are destined to be grown in the unheated polytunnel, which protects them from the worst of the weather, especially cold winds and freezing rain

- we live in the milder South of England, so our last frost date will be earlier than further North, so shall be able to plant out tender crops soonercthan in colder areas

- Chilli and Aubergine plants tend to be available in Garden Centres and Nurseries later in the year, and really they are the only ones that need a longer growing season than a late March or April sowing would provide

All of which means that if you have sown nothing yet, don't worry... there is plenty of time yet!

 

If you'd like to read more about Harvest Monday, have a look here at Dave's hosted pages:

http://www.ourhappyacres.com/

and if you would like to contact me, you're very welcome, on:

info@alitttlebitofsunshine.co.uk

and I'll get back to you as soon as I can