April 2018

16th April - Spring is Sprung at last!! After a long, cold and very wet start, Spring is well and truly here, and things are starting to grow again. Flowers are everywhere, and new harvests are here for Harvest Monday:

Radishes - Cherry Belle from the polytunnel, perfectly round and red, crisp, crunchy and peppery. A wonderful addition to salads. 

Spring Onions - Winter Hardy White Lisbon, again from the polytunnel, planted out before Christmas and now bulking up to a size ready to enjoy. Salads, including potato salad are really enhanced by their clean flavour

We have also had pickings of Perpetual Spinach and Curly Kale, both as young, tender leaves for salad

Since our return from a few days in Wales, there has been a flurry of activity. Tomato seedlings have been pricked out and potted up, and always, there seemed to be rather a lot of these, but homes have been found already for the surplus (Thank goodness) so I don't mind growing them on for a little bit longer. 

It is worth taking a little care over to plant tomato seedlings as deep as is practical, even right up to their seed leaves, as they then grow roots from along the buried stem, making for a stronger plant in the end. 

Here is a quick run down of what is currently in the frost free greenhouse, which is getting fuller by the day:

  • Aubergine & Chillies

  • Sweetcorn

  • Peas & Sugar Snaps

  • Dwarf French beans

  • Rocket, Basil & Celery Leaf

  • Tiger Nuts

  • One courgette

  • Tomatoes

  • Oca & Pelargonium cuttings

  • Spring Onions

  • Leeks

  • Yacon & Cannas

Euphorbia Diamond Frost was a discovery for us last year, and its dainty flowers gave us a lovely display for many months. I cut it back hard in the Autumn and it has grown back to be already covered in flowers again. It'll be coming out of the greenhouse soon, to pride of place on the garden table once more

We like it so much I sent for five rooted cuttings, which are looking very healthy. Next Autumn I shall try to take some of my own to overwinter in the greenhouse

As plants move out, space will be created for new sowings, such as the runner beans and climbing french beans. I am pretty well keeping up now with The Plan, and it acts as an "aide memoire" so that I can check I haven't missed anything

Direct sown on #146 are now:

Parsnips - Vulcan, The Student and Duchess. Afer last year's dismal germination I have sown them much more thickly, with a view to thinning as and when it is needed (Or if, perhaps I should say)

Radishes: Sparkler, sown with the parsnips to act as a row marker and give us more food from the same space

Carrots: Sweet Candle and Nantes 5

I also dug over the bed where the runner beans will go, and raked in lime to where the cabbages, cauliflowers and calabrese will be set out. These plants are in the garden at home in 3 ins pots, with the plan of growing them on to a good size before planting them out, hoping that this, together with the extra lime, will deter club root, which seems to have become an issue on this plot in the last couple of years.

The Autumn planted onions on #146 have been weeded, and amongst them are a lot of candytuft seedlings, which I shall resite somewhere more appropriate. I have already moved calendula seedlings from the carrot bed to beds further up the plot. Seems silly to pull them out when they can provide such beautifl flowers in a few weeks' time.

I do need to sow seeds of other flowers we are planned to grow this year. Perhaps the warmer weather will help them get off to a good start, but they are not going to grow in their packets!

This time last year, pear blossom was nearly over and the apples were in full flower, but this year.... pear trees are just beginning to open their blossom, and apple blossom is still tightly furled. On the plus side, there are a lot of insects about now, which can pollinate the flowers

Our youngest pear tree bore three pears last year, so this season, with the help of the bees, there may be a few more

New flowers in the garden this week include yellow Erythronium "Pagoda", which is building up into a good sized clump form the tiny plant we started with, having just one flowering stem, three years ago

Some new daffodils bought last year, planted with pansies in one of our stone troughs by the back door, is a splash of colour now. Surprisingly, the sparrows have not yet started eating the yellow pansies, which are usually one of their favourites.

To finish this week, is a photo of the quietest residents of Machynlleth in Wales. They looked completely engrossed and made me smile

I shall be back next Monday to share the progress we make during the week towards harvesting and eating this season's crops. Always unpredictable, but always with something to enjoy

Thank you for reading again, and for the kind comments, which are of course very much appreciated

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

9th April - Harvests in earnest this week! Despite the rain, the weather has warmed up, and Harvest Monday is good to go......

Rhubarb: the first picking of the year. The rain has made the stems long and succulent, and the resulting Rhubarb Crumble was delicious

Curly Kale: The remaining three plants have spent the Winter semi-protected under the fine mesh of the Brassica bed, and have perfect unspoilt leaves. A huge bagful cooked down to just enough for four of us to have with Sunday dinner, anointed with butter and black pepper, it was a real treat

Leeks (of course!) : which, together with the first harvest of Wild Garlic leaves, made a well-flavoured cheesy bake

and a handful of sage and some thyme were cooked alongside the chicken

 

 

And there have also been generous amounts of Mustard Greens, to go in with slow cooked beef curry, and this evening's Bubble & Squeak patties cooked by our daughter. Still plenty left for next week, too. This has been growing in the polytunnel since last Autumn and has really earned its place on the list of vegetables to grow again.

Vole tunnels were under the plastic covers on the beds

That is the end of this week's harvests proper, although I did pick a very large bunch of Japanese Spinach, which had started flowering, for our daughter's chickens, who fell on it with great enthusiasm... hardly lasted any time at all! Seemed only fair, as we ate some of their eggs with our Bubble & Squeak, to give them a treat too.

It has been a busy week all round, as with a couple of dry and reasonably sunny days, I was able to dig out more woodchip-compost from paths on #146 and add it to beds on #145 for planting potatoes and onion sets

Second Early Potatoes: Kestrel & Maris Peer, with some extra Charlottes

Maincrop Potatoes: Ambo, Inca Bella, Pink Gypsy, Juliette & Kondor

Onions: Early Fen, Rumba & Red Fen

These three beds have been covered all Winter with black plastic, and the soil was dry enough to work; voles had clearly been living under the plastic though! Lots of barrowsful of compost were incorporated to help break up the clay a bit further, and some Blood, Fish & Bone added  extra nutrients. Masses of worms in the compost, mainly endogeic Green Worms, (which make horizontal burrows that help aerate the soil) although these were a pinkish blue variant. Good to see them.

The end result looks very neat and purposeful, so fingers crossed that everything now grows away well now

On #146 the main path and one of the side paths are now completely dug out, and since I took this picture, re-covered with fresh woodchippings, making for a safe walking surface again. It is a bit odd having "steps" in the paths though, between the old and new areas, so I'll need to make sure I look where I am going

The Globo Onion plants and Lincoln Leeks are now planted out in the polytunnel. The onion leaves flopped a little bit, but I anticipate new leaves will grow up straight. These leeks are a very early maturing variety, and I hope they are alright grown under cover like this. I have never grown these before, so it is a bit of an experiment.

I have opened some of the side vents in the tunnel now: as soon as the sun shines, the temperature rockets, and this certainly seems to have helped keep things cooler

  • Newly planted Globo Onions, sown at the end of December in deep trays

  • Bulgaarse-Reutzen-Lincoln Leeks are not fully hardy and should mature by September

Lettuce seedlings

Back at home in the greenhouse, the peas and french beans sown last week are just beginning to germinate, and the tomato seedlings now have their first set of proper leaves and are ready to pot on. 

The small chilli plants are recovering from the aphid attack and starting to grow again, thank goodness. Some of their leaves are distorted, but new ones are looking fine and I hope they will eventually produce good bushy plants. I shall be keeping a very careful eye on them for sure

The Black Seeded Simpson Lettuces are almost large enough to eat, even though they are still in their modules. There is not space to plant them in the polytunnel border, so they will have to go outside once this spell of very wet weather is over. If I put them out now, though, the rain will batter the delicate leaves.

Sunshine encouraged lots of insects out from their Winter quarters, and it was good to see several butterflies: Brimsstone, Orange Tip and Small Tortoiseshells, along with various bees and beetles.

Here are a few of our visitors this week. Most are very welcome, but the first Lily Beetle of the year means we need to be eagled eyed to avoid them almost destroying our lilies and fritillary plants over the coming months

  • Seven-spot Ladybird

  • Dark Edged Beefly

  • Large Bee Fly

  • Young Nursery Web Spider

  • Frog tadpoles

  • Lily Beetle

So far the fritillaries remain unscathed

The last photograph today is one that sums up the feeling that Spring is truly here, even though it is mainly still raining and for many people the ground is so wet they cannot yet sow a single seed: an Early Bumble Bee on cherry blossom. This tree always flowers so early that inevitably its blossom is damaged by frost, so it has so far never produced a single cherry. It is is however very pretty, and it enticed this bee to feed from it for over quarter of an hour. You could almost see it smiling!

I hope the coming week goes well for you all, and that we have a little more of that elusive sunshine to dry the soggy soil, after the wetttest March and beginning of April on record.

Thank you for reading this week's blog: I shall be back next Monday, hoping having had a few drier days. Who knows?

 

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

2nd April - Allotments are saturated. After our week away I was looking forward to some time on the plot, planting out onion sets and seed potatoes, but NO.... rain of biblical proportions put paid to that plan alright. A couple of quick trips to check all was well was all I could manage, and from the state of the ground there has been a lot of rain in our absence too. Some plots have standing water, and it made me glad we opted for slightly raised beds, and have covered those which were resting back last Autumn, as at least we don't have puddles

Harvest Monday does show some rather nice leeks though, once the liquid mud had been washed off them. No sign of flower stalks inside them yet, thank goodness. These ones are Elefant, and I am glad we decided to grow them again this year, if they stand that well. These ones went into a dish of Parmesan Cheesey Leeks  (Recipes 2017- March) for Easter Sunday's meal, together with cabbage and French beans from our stores, to add to some purchased veggies and a very nice piece of roast beef, cooked in honey and ginger, with rosemary and cider. 

The rosemary bushes are in full flower now, and are providing an early meal to any passing bees, as well as looking pretty

For pudding, we had a version of Bread-and-Butter Pudding made with hot cross buns, which was very enjoyable, as well as being quick and easy to make (Recipes 2018)

Chitting?

I optimistically brought the first earlies through to the bench by the front door today, ready for their journey down to the plots, which of course didn't quite happen. They look a little bit tatty, but have good fat healthy chits, unlike this poor fellow that was languishing at the back of the vegetable basket

Having all the potatoes in the greenhouse at this time in the year is causing a real issue with space. As I couldn't work at the plots today, I spent a happy couple of hours in the greenhouse at home, to the sound of rain pelting on the glass. Having already organised the seeds according to the Sowing and Planting Plan, I could just pick up what I needed instead of spending ages searching through the seed tins. Fantastic!

So now, in modules in the greenhouse, are:

- Peas - Hurst Greenshaft, Terrain and Boddington's Soup Pea

- Sugar Snap: Magnolia Tendril and Quartz

Every year we have grown tall peas, and some of the have been excellent croppers, but on a site as windy as ours, keeping their supports upright always proves a headache, so this year we have shorter varieties and will align the wire mesh supports with the prevailing wind rather than being sideways on like a sail. Sounds a good plan, so fingers crossed it works

-Sweetcorn - Swift

I was going to chit these on damp paper, but it seemed a bit of a faff, as sweetcorn usually just germinates, so they went straight into deepish pots

- Courgette - Parthenon

This is a variety that doesn't need pollinating so is ideal for growing in the polytunnel for an early crop. One plant will be enough as there will be an outdoor crop to come as well

- Dwarf French Beans - Speedy

I grew these in pots a few years ago and they were  prolific under cover. The 5 ins pots were a bit small for them though, so these ones will go into the ground in the polytunnel, when the mustard greens finish

- Basil Sweet Green and Salad Rocket

Sown very thinly in modules, which can be planted out as little clumps of plants when they are big enough

- Celery Leaf

Not grown this before but the idea of celery flavoured leaves was very tempting. The seeds are incredibly small, and were sown sparingly into modules, covered with vermiculite and then put in the propagator. Had a bit of a surprise when I read the seed packet as apparently these are biennials that grow to around a metre tall, not celery-height plants as I had imagined. Hmmmm, a rethink needed as to where they will be planted out.....

The Autumn-planted shallots are growing away, but the leaves are looking very yellow, instead of healthy green, so I gave them a feed of Blood, Fish & Bone last Saturday, when the rain stopped for half an hour. 

The persistant rain, and the snow melt, may have washed nutrinets downwards, away from the roots, so when the weataher allows, I shall feed the onions and garlic too. If this doesn't help, then Sulphate of Ammonia might help, as it will provide an essential building block for chlorophyll, and helps the leaves to green up properly and be more efficient

 

Wild Garlic Leaves

There is "seasonal special" almost ready to harvest: Wild Garlic. This spreads like mad and now we have is springing up on the other side of the path as well, so I shall try to transfer some of these single leaf baby plants to a shady spot on the other plot, so we have another colony. 

The white allium flowers are very pretty, as well as being edible, so it earns its skeep on more thna one front

I shall have to dig out recipes from last year, as well as see if I can find any new ones. All suggestions are welcome!

Another new arrival are the golden flowers of Forsythia. There are several bushes in amongst the hedgerow adjoining our site gate. which are certainly eye catching, and we would love to have some by our own plots to add to our "insect friendy" plants in Spring  

I took four hardwood cuttings last year, three of which have taken and have fresh new leaf growth showing: two of these will be planted along our boundary, and the third is going to our daughter, to plant in the hedge along the side of the garden.

The primroses, gifted to us by a friend two seasons back, have now made large clumps, and their pale flowers shine out from under bushes and alongside the shed. 

This week, to end, here is a photograph I took in Tenerife, of a tree, Schinus molle, called the Pink Peppercorn Tree, which is planted as a street tree in frost free countries. I think it originated in Peru. 

It is not related to the actual pepper plant, which is a climbing vine, but produces hard berries than can be ground in the same way as black peppercorns, with have a fruity, peppery flavour. They are grown as a crop in some areas, needing both a male and female tree to produce fruit. Not our own harvest but one I thought you might be interested to see, nonetheless.

In the coming week, let's hope the rain lets up a bit, so that those of us in the UK can get on with outside planting

I'll be back next week so you can see how we are getting on.

PS I have marked Sow & Plant 2018  which crops have been sown etc so it can be followed more easily. Hope that helps!

OOoh, forgot to say that at long last, a Tiger Nut shoot has appeared. Just the one, but it is better than none. Boy, are they taking their time.

 

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