February 2019

25th FebruaryWarmest Winter Day in the UK ever! Temperatures here are unbelievable quite frankly, thanks to the warm air coming from the Caribbean. When you get 20C in Wales in February, you know things are unusual!!

The sunshine is inspiring me to start to get to grips with our back garden at home, which had become more Abi's domain than mine over the last few years, but after staring out of the kitchen window thinking how shabby it was all looking, there came the moment of realisation that the person who has to deal with it of course is me, so I thought I'd better make a start. The bonsai bench is now clean and tidy again, and with a tiny bit of pruning the trees are back in order once more

I have spent a long time thinking through how I can make the most of the area at the far end of the garden, and now have a list of plants for the bed which has Spring sunshine but is shaded in Summer by the fig tree and the Stellata Magnolia, and another list for the orchard of dwarf fruit trees, which is relaively sunny from February through to early November. A fair bit of weeding to do first but I feel more optimistic that it will be colourful and buzzing with insect life  as the year goes on

Harvest Monday has a "first" this week: Purple Sprouting Broccoli. The plants under cover are full of juicy shoots, and it is such a treat to be able to pick somealready. The plants outside are shoign no sign of any sort of shoots yet, whic makes these even more special. Steamed, toseed in a little melted butter with some crushed black pepper, and they were just perfect

There is another "first" harvest this week, one we have never ever had before: Sweetcorn shoots. The seeds were soaked overnight, sown into an inch of compost in a small tray and kept in the warm. As soon as there were signs of germination, the tray went into the dark cupboard under the stairs, to make sure they developed no chlorophyll and stayed bright yellow.

Our youngest granddaughter was thrilled to see how tall they had grown in 17 days. When you first start to chew them, they taste of that delicious juicy end of grass stalks that we have all pulled and eaten, but then as you chew for longer, the unmistaken taste of sweetcorn takes over. Amazing!

In the cold dark days of Winter, these would provide a real taste of Summer, so they will be on the list to grow when we have snow on the ground again. 

Then there are the Carrots. They are from a sowing in July, and are all sorts of sizes, as you can see. Goodness knows why, but they do at least taste sweet and are really good sliced finely int salad or in a slaw with some of the white cabbage from last week

The Red Dragon Winter Radishes are lasting very well in the ground, and make another addition to slaw or stir fry

Gradually preparations for the new growing season at the plot are moving forwards:

The shallots planted in pots and kept in the polytunnel over the Winter have grown good strong roots, so this week I planted them out on the plot. Although the weather is very mild right now, it is only February, and who knows what March will hold? Also the very clear skies that bring us sunshine during the day can mean frost at night. This morning, the grass was white with frost, and on the open exposed plot must have been very chilly

Because of this, I have put cloches over the plants for now, until they are properly hardened off, hoping that their growth will not be checked

The garlic Abi planted back in the Autumn is growing well

In the tunnels, everything needed watering today. The water butts are empty now,  so I had to lug cansful of water from the rainwater tanks outside, but it didn't take too long really. The Broad Beans are growing steadily, and are looking healthy.

I was asked by one of my plot neigbours if they will set beans when they are indoors. Broad Beans are self fertile, and so will form pods, although they do set a better crop if they are insect pollinated. Depending on the wind when the flowers are out, I might leave the doors open so bees can get in and out.

(The little red & white things are snappy traps to ensure minimal damage from mice)

The Perpetual Spinach is coming along. There are a couple of plants in the other tunnel that grew from seed set on plants last year, and these are very big, and have been providing leaves for a while now. These ones will catch up in the next few weeks and we might have a glut of spinach again!

The Daubenton's Kale and Five Star Perennial Cualiflower sown last week are up already. I shall be moving them out of the frost free greenhouse this week to the cooler polytunnel, so that they grow more sturdily. 

Once they have a pair of true leaves, I shall pot them on individually

The leeks have had a good germination rate, especially for relatively old seed. Thye straightening up well now. These will be going to the polytunnel soon too, as they do not need  the warmth of the greenhouse. 

The sunshine has encouraged lots of flowers into bloom. These little violas came from the bargain basement section of a garden centre, but have grown slowly and steadily through the cold months to burst into clusters of perfect little flowers. I shall keep deadheading them and they should carry on flowering for weeks, right into the Summer

The crocuses that grow in our lawn at home are always reliable. The very early golden yellow ones have given way now to these beautiful purple ones. In order to foil the squirrels, which seem to have unerring ability to find and dig up crocus corms, Abi took up a thick slice of turf and planted the corms down a further few inches before replacing the grass. Hey presto! Crocuses that are deep enough down to elude squirrel detection.

This week's blog began with a photograph of the robin that sits and sings by our site gate, deteminedly seeing off rivals for this prime spot. On our plot, another robin has his territory. Both are waiting for a mate to join them, and start nest building. Last year a robin family made their nest in our wood store, so I am hoping we shall have them close at hand again this year.

It is not only birds that are getting ready for the new season: amphibians are too. OUr pond at home already has several frogs bobbing about, but when I looked at our little pond on the plot, there was hardly any open water to be seen becasue the plants had completely covered it. 

An hour of work, and this is what it then looked like... frog-ready!

This has felt a more optimistic blog-writing this week, with lots to look forward to in the cycle of the seasons. 

A big thank you for all the messages of understanding, condolence and encouragement. It does make a difference to how I feel about carrying on with this weekly diary, and it has been good to know so many people enjoy reading it, and have taken the time to contact me with supportive words

Next week I hope to have lifted the lid on the seed box once more, and get more sowings underway

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you'd like to read more about Harvest Monday, hosted by Dave, have a look at

www.ourhappyacres.com/

 

My contact email is

info@alittlebitofsunshine.co.uk

 and I shall reply as soon as I can

18th February 2019 - Life Has To Go On At the Plots. Our family had some heartbreaking news in mid-January: our beloved Abi, who was husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, cousin, and friend to many, suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. He touched so many lives, and his loss will take a very long time to come to terms with. Life will never be the same, but it does go on, however hard it may be.

It seems a little surreal sitting writing this first ever blog entry alone, without him here by my side making suggestions, reminding me what to include and enjoying the photographs once they are published, but I decided I do want to continue to document growing on the plots and using our harvests: the year is already moving forward at some pace, and growing of course continues to happen. So deep breath, and here we go.....

... with a rather shaky Harvest Monday. The relatively heavy snowfall last month squashed the fine mesh down onto the Cabbage heads, damaging the outer leaves. I had to cut them all and bring them home so that they didn't rot.

As you can see, they were fine inside, good dense heads, perfect for a Winter Slaw or light steaming. There were five of them, and although they do store well in a cool frost free place, I gave four to other people, as with just one of me in the house, I wasn't sure I'd get through them before they deteriorated. 

These are a club root resistant variety called KIlaton, which I have grown now for the past two years... it is on the list for this coming season too, although slightly fewer in number this time of course

I have also cut plenty of Flat Leaf Parsley, pulled up Leeks and Winter Radish, and cut Brussels Sprouts, all without taking a single photo. I must try to get back into the habit of recording harvests again

The new season is underway however, and the leek seeds sown on 2nd February are germinating, pking up their tenuous little green elbows above ground. I have sown three different varieties to span a long harvesting period: Porvite, Elefant and Northen Lights. The Porvite seed was three years out of date, but I decided to give it a chance... there are a few seedlings now, so I am glad I did. I love the way the leaves of Northern Lights purple up in the cold weather; it always looks so cheerful against the snow, and of course Elefant grows huge thick stems, as you might guess from the name. When yu see the grass-like seedlings, it is always hard to believe how large they will ultimately be

The seed potatoes are sitting in egg boxes in the frost free greenhouse, silently chitting away. They have nice dark-coloured chits, short and stout, just right. Earlier in the week I managed to dissuade a friend from keeping her potatoes in the dark until she wanted them to chit, as potatoes respond to the dark by growing long, pale shoots which are easily damaged when it some to planting time. Please don't do this to yours!

Last year I planted half a dozen Swift seed potatoes in the polytunnel at the end of February, with the added protection of a cloche, and this gave us a lovely early crop of new potatoes iat the start of May. This year I am trying another variety, which I bought at the local Potato Day: Ulster Prince, recommended as being resistant to drought. Under cover growing conditions can err on the dry side, so this sounds ideal. Four tubers have duly been planted six inches deep. I look forward to seeing the shoots emerge in a couple of weeks or so

Daubenton's Kale

Usually by now I have chilli plants growing, at around their first true-leaf stage, almost ready to pot on .  his year however our daughter is growing enough for me to have a good selection (Thank you, Miriam!) so the propagator is still under the desk. I shall have to sow some swwet peppers seeds this week though, or they will start fruit production a little later than I'd like, so it'll be out on the windowsill very soon

I have however, sown some seeds of two plants new to me: Daubenton's Kale and Five Star Perennial Cauliflower, both in pots in the greenhouse

Nine Star Perennial Cauliflower

The seeds are not often available for sale, so I am very grateful to a dear friend who sent me these as a birthday present. There is a small group of growers working to re-establish  these and other perennial vegetables, which are so useful to permaculture systems, so they may sson be more readily available

They each grow at least a metre high and if not allowed to flower, can last for about five years. Interestingly, even if they are allowed to flower, they produce a relatively small amount of viable seed.  I am looking forward to being able to crop from these... quite some way off yet, I know! I shall have to re-organise the planting plan to accommodate these large brassicas, which, assuming i can grow them properly, could be in the same place for several years.  I wonder if they will need protection from pigeons and butterflies? 

This time in the year the Citrus plants get their Spring overhaul, as without fail, the tiny scale insects have multiplied during the Winter and their exudant makes the leaves sticky. A wipe down with methylated spirit soaked cotton wool will soon sort them out. The treesW will also get another dose of winter feed, which will help them grow away strongly again

I bought a new little tree last week... I could hear Abi's voice in my head saying he would buy it for me if I'd like it... reduced from £45 to £10, and it was hard to see why. It is a Mandarin, with lots of fruit on it, mainly green when I brought it home but already they are ripening to a decent orange colour. It is living by the front door until the scale insects are dealt with, for fear they will transfer themselves to it. Interestingly, it has quite different leaves to the other citrus plants, being small and very dark green> it has no new flower buds forming however, so a feed will be needed as Spring arrives to encourage it along a bit

The Calamondin Orange flowers all year round, and there are always developing green fruit and a good sprinkling of bright orange ones too

I also  have a  Lemon Tree, which I cut back hard in the Summer to try to re-shape it, and this resulted in a lot of fresh growth low down on the old woody trunk, which is good to see. Hopefully I shall be able to remove further bare branches next Summer. That new growth should flower this year, and hopefully there will be le,ons to harvest again. These are full sized ones and take a very long tme to mature and fully ripen

The Lime tree, which is about 18 montsh old, is ready for repotting in the Spring, and I am hoping to add a Meyers Lemon tree or two as well, by planting some pips from fruit that came home with me from Goa. Miriam's are already growing roots, so the seeds are viable, which is good to know

The flowers of all cirtus are strongly scented, and it is a real lift in the depths of the Winter when they fill the kitchen with their sweet perfume.  

ONce the frosts are over, all the trees will be moved back outside again, to a sheltered spot which they seem to like, shaded from the mid day sun at the height of Summer

These small irises (Histrioides sp) are thriving at the plot,  flowering  unfailingly year after year. Their buds withstood the snow, to open as a glorious splash of colour in the sunshine. I leave them in this trough and plant annuals over the top of the bulbs, allowing the foiage to die down in its own time. 

Next week I shall show you what we have growing in the polytunnels now and talk more about seed sowing.

PS The fine mesh from the brassica beds has been washed and dried, and folded back up, safely in the shed ready to use again when needed

I hope all is well for you

If you'd like to read more about Harvest Monday, hosted by Dave, have a look at

www.ourhappyacres.com/

 

My contact email is

info@alittlebitofsunshine.co.uk

 and I shall reply as soon as I can