March 2019

18th March - Is Spring Really Here at Last? After what seems like weeks of hammering rain and howling winds, today was a more seasonal mix of sunshine and showers.  Before I talk about what I have managed to achieve, let's have a look at Harvest Monday for this week.

Just take a look at the photo above, where Rhubarb, Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Leeks and Winter Radish are still the usual suspects, very welcome ones of course.

But there is Wild Garlic now by the handful, wonderful as a last minure addition to stir fry, or as part of a stuffing for a yeasted loaf

Perpetual Spinach plants are now large enough to provide huge handsful of leaves, which are so good added to curries: tonight's chicken & potato curry was certainly enhanced by it, whilst the small leaves give an added freshness to salads

And here are also the very last harvest of Brussels Sprouts. I have never been able to pick them this late in their season before. Crispus is supposed to be an early-cropping variety, but these plants have just kept growing sprouts. These last ones were slightly pale in colour but even so, they tasted very good

 

 

The last harvest this week is perhaps a little unexpected for this time in the year: Chillies. These are dried ones, from the plants I kept in the greenhouse over the Winter, not with the intention of trying to get them to flower again next Summer, but to allow the chillies to dry fully. I didn't have space indoors at the time, due to our decorating work, and as you can see, drying them on the plants worked very well indeed, preserving their colour nicely

Most of them will be reduced to dried chilli flakes and then shared with family and friends, bu the very tiny ones, Hungarian Peach, will be stored in an airtight jar and used whole. They are very spicy, so will need to be used with caution

On the Plots this week:

Until today, most of what happened was cogitation, as in winds strong enough to sweep you off your feet, there is little that could be sensibly achieved, but today I woke up to the strange silence of no rain and no wind, so...... off to the plots I went, in such a hurry I forgot to pick up the First Early Seed Potatoes!

I did however carefully weed their bed-to-be, and tickle in a few good handsful of seaweed meal, ready for their arrival tomorrow. The way the weeds are suddenly spinging up, I think the soil must now be warm enough for them to grow

The Garlic and Autumn-planted Onion sets are growing too. Members of the Allium family really don't enjoy sharing their root space with other plants, so I pulled out all the weeds and gave their soil a seaweed feed too. I have not used this for onions or garlic before, but its slow acting properties should boost the beneficial soil bacteria at the very least.

 

 

 

The warmer temperatures have enocuraged more flowers to open, especially in the sheltered area of #146. I always plant out hyacinth bulbs once they have flowered indoors, and they have really thrived in the corner of flower bed by the seating area, flowering every Spring, and their scent reaches you when you sit for a little rest. 

I saw the first comma Butterfly of the year feeding from them this afternoon... such a shame my camera was still in the car

At the other end of the plot, under the plum tree, is a large patch of Muscari. This can become a bit of a thug planted in a flower bed, but here, growing in the woodchip mulch, they can spread to show themselves at the perfumed best, and the bees adore them

The violas, a real bargain before Christmas, at 50p for the whole tray, have opened their pretty little faces to the sunshine. With regualr deadheading and the occasional feed from next month, these should carry on for most of the Summer.

In the Polytunnels this week

Last week I sowed seeds for early carrots in a large box, and left this on the top of the wooden staging, quite close to the wall of the tunnel. Too close, I soon realised, because the strong winds rocked the tunnel so much that the box was edged across the staging and the whole lot all overbalanced. On the plus side, there was no real damage, just a huge pile of compost on the path, with staging lying across it all.

I shall resow, this time in a grid pattern rather than rows, as it will make better use of the valuable space in that box.

The war against mice goes on, and this week they decided to chew off stalks from some of the parsley plants, about 3cm from the crown of the plant. It did give me a clue as to the best position for the snappy traps though

 

One task I shall need to do fairly soon is to replace the insect mesh covering the side windows/vents on the older tunnel. The original material has rotted, leaving gaping holes in the sides of the tunnel. Right now it is less important because the crops growing inside do not need warmth to thrive just protection from the worst of the weather. I have plenty of fine netting, but I shall be needing  alot of velcro, and at the moment  I am unsure how to attach it onto the tunnel itself, over the top of the existing layer (which I can't remove). Gorilla glue?

As there are twelve of these on one tunnel, it may take some time!!

Back at home

The greenhouse was looking very overcrowded already, so the seed potatoes chitting on their egg trays are now indoors on the desk, the onion sets are on a tray under the staging, and all the pots of cuttings are out where I can see them. I set up the big trays too, giving  a bit more bench space

The seedlings of Daubenton's Perennial Kale and Five Star Perennial Cauliflower are now potted on individually, and spend the days outside in a shaltered spot and nights in a tray on the kitchen floor. Once they are properly hardened off they can go inot the cold frame on the plot

Having cleared some space, I had a bit of a blitz on seed sowing, and now, in modules or pots in the greenhouse are seeds of: 

White Lisbon & Purplette Spring Onions

Kent Blue & Indian Golden Podded Mangetout

Speedy & Purple Queen Dwarf French Beans

Cobra & Cosse de Violette Climbing French Beans

Little Gem Lettuce

Lodero Red Cabbage

Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli... remember I said it takes almost a year from sowing to cropping?

And in the propagator on the kitchen windowsill are, Tomatoes:

Cyril's Choice, San Marzano, Super Marmande, Apero, Oxheart, Country Taste, Black Cherry, all to grow in the tunnel, and Tumbling Tiger for some hanging baskets

Plus Gogorez Peppers and two seeds of Parthenon Courgette, one of which germinated in a record three days! The other pepper plants are now in the greenhouse, as they don't need that high heat any longer

I also sowed some flower seeds: Thunbergia Orange, and Grandpa Ott Ipomoea, which is a rich purple, hoping to grow these together up some supports, probably at the plots.

Verbena bonariensis and Foxglove plants have been transferred from the plots to the garden, in amongst the fruit trees, It is gradually coming together

The Magnolia stellata tree, which we thought was unlikely to survive a move two years ago, is now showing off some very atttactive flowers, which, for the first time, are the pale pink colour it was atually bought as... it has resolutely been white until now!

 

 

I'd like to thank everyone who is sponsoring our son on his bike ride next weekend. Him and Abi had planned to do this together, to support the British Heart Foundation, and he has decided to carry on with this in memory of his Dad.

People's generosity means that this cause, which Abi supported all his adult life through blood donations, (now followed also by our Daughter-in-Law now) will benefit financially through this event... 40 miles of cycling.  Let's hope the winds stay away!

By next Monday I hope to have potatoes and onion sets planted, more flower seeds sown and to have made a start on the new asparagus bed, weather, of course, permitting

 

 

www.ourhappyacres.com/

 

My contact email is

info@alittlebitofsunshine.co.uk

 Comments and suggestions are most welcome, and I shall reply as soon as I can

11th March - Kindness of Friends and Neighbours, is not usually the way I'd begin a blog about growing my own fruit and vegetables and such-like related matters, but following Abi's passing many of them have been so supportive. Today, a little tree was planted on the corner opposite our house, in Abi's memory. Our road has no other trees, and so it is even more special.We chose an early flowering, purple leaved cherry tree, as it will not grow so large it damages anyone's house or the roadway, but will be in flower each year on Abi's birthday. Nearly all the flowers have been blown off it by the strong winds around at the moment, but it looked pretty for a while and will do again every year. So thank you for your kindness... you know who you are!! If we can bear the cold, we might go out and christen it later in the week, and share a little drop of something appropriate

The freezing cold winds, the regular hailstorms and torrential rain this week have not really been conducive to working outdoors, so other than fixing up flapping fence panels, securing flying pots and netting that tried to escape, not much has been achieved

Harvest Monday is a tad repetitive, but at this time in the year I am grateful for fresh vegetables

The Rhubarb is of course taller than last week, and poached, then topped with plain yoghourt and squidge of honey, it was just delicious.

Leeks have been heeled in, and so are very easy to take out when needed. They make a good addition to soup base, as well as gently braised in butter as an accompaniment to a meat pie or grilled chicken

Purple Sprouting Broccoli keeps coming, which, as it is one of my favourite vegetables, I am very happy about. Several people have now told me they think theirs is not going to produce any spears and are thinking of pulling up the plants... hold fire there, folks! Mine is an early variety, (Rudolph I think) and the plants growing outside have only just started producing spears, so if yours is still looking like it isn't doing anything much, give it at least another 2 to 3 weeks. It is a crop that takes around 10 months to grow to maturity, so after waiting this length of time please don't let impatience rob you of such a worthwhile crop. I usually follow PSB and Sprout plants with Squashes, which won't be needing planting out until May at the soonest, so there is no rush to clear the bed

And then there are the incredible Winter Radishes: Chinese Red Dragon. If ever there has been an under rated vegetable, this is it! Sown in the soil in the polytunnel in early Autumn, they have grown steadily to give large, succulent and versatile roots, with no hint of being fibrous or too spicy. This particular one surprised me by having white flesh rather than the purple of others, but in a salad or stir fry it has been great! From the picture you can't really see the size of this root... it is around 6cm across at its widest point.

In comparision, the Mooli sown alongside made skinny roots and are now running to seed, and the Red Dragons sown outdoors were a much brighter shocking pink in colour, but smaller in size, as well as not standing well in the Winter snow

  • Two quarters of Crown Prince Squash

  • Seed from one quarter, before roasting

There was also another little harvest, which technically was brought home last Autumn: Squash Seeds. These are always worth considering for roasting, especially when they are big and fat like these ones, which are from a Crown Prince Squash.

These squashes keep very well indeed, mainly as their skins are so hard, so hard in fact I had to ask my Son-in-Law to cut this one into quarters for me, and I then roasted chunks with the skin still on, as I had little chance of peeling it while it was raw!

The flesh is very versatile, and so far has been added to spicy dhall, and one quarter made into soup by my neighbour Theresa, who enjoyed the flavour more than that of the orange pumpkins grown on their plot last year and so has put in a request for some of these this year instead

That is the end of this week's harvest

On the Plots this week:

There is an old country saying that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Well, point taken: we have had plenty of lion-like behaviour from the roaring wind this month now thank you, together with the accompanying rain and hailstones. 

It can change over to lamb-like gentleness as soon as it likes, as it is really difficult to wrestle with taking the big covers off beds in order to get them ready for planting, in high winds and pouring rain. The ground is still pretty cold too, and although some weeds are growing, there is not that rash of weed seeds germinating that indicates the soil is warm enough to sow anything directly

The shallots are continuing to grow though, with the added protection of large cloches, well weighted down by bricks to ensure they stay put. I added some seaweed meal to the soil before I planted these out, so they will have plenty to keep them going until next month I think. They will need watering though, which will be interesting moving the cloches and keeping them from blowing away while I do this. Maybe we shall get a few hours of calmness soon..let's hope so!

If you look at the crown of the leaves where they come out of the top of the bulbs, it does look as though they have split to make individual new shallots, which is promising

In the Polytunnels this week

The strong winds certainly rock the tunnels about, and I have had to secure the hinged doors very securely to make sure they stay closed. I have kept the vents along the sides open though, to allow the wind to go through them, rather than  get in through small gaps and then cause the covers to balloon up. Another storm is on the way... Storm Gareth... so let's hope this systems continues to be effective! 

The early carrots are now sown. not as early as last year, but earlier than they would be sown outside. I filled the big polystyrene box with a mixture of compost made from sterilsed recycled green waste, loam from mole hills that I over the past few months, and had taken the stones out from, vermiculite, and some seaweed meal. I have only sown two rows rather than three, probably too thickly but I can alway gently pull out any excess plants: Early Nantes 5. Last year I kept the carrots grown like this for the Show, but this year I am not going to attempt to enter so many classes, so will probably eat most of these as soon as they start to be ready. This variety is suited to early sowing, so fingers crossed there are signs of life in a couple of weeks' time

And the Snappy Traps total is now up to 33

 

 

In the Greenhouse this week

I have to confess that I have done very little except move things about from time to time. The Stuttgart Onion sets are sitting quietly in their dry tray, looking as though they would like to be in the ground. I did read somewhere... can't remember where, my have been the RHS Magazine... that Spring planted Onions sets do not respond well to being badly frosted and are then inclined to bolt. I am therefore not rushing to plant these in the ground, which remember, is still cold anyway. I might start some off in pots though and keep them in one of the polytunnels, with fleece over them if the weather is forecast to be very chilly.

I have held off from sowing mangetout seeds as I need to sort what is in the greenhouse to make sure there is enough space for everyhting in turn.

The Sweet Pepper seedlings in the propagator will need to move down to the greenhouse soon, and at the moment things are a bit of a jumble. At least a good sort out is a job I can do during cold, wet and windy weather!

 

I might not have done all that much in the greenhouse this week, but at every opportunity I have been out in the garden, getting the little orchard area ready to plant the Foxglove and Verbena bonariensis plants waiting at the plots. The Arum pictum Italicum has spread dramatically in the past two years, and  are beginning to encroach on this area from their space under the Lilac tree: some will be dug out to give to my daughter, and the plain green plants will be weeded out. Their spikes of orange berries give a good display in the Autumn, but the plain green leaves look less atttractive than the variegated ones, so out they will come.

There is a constant battle with ivy in the garden, as it is rooted next door but likes to climb among the plants here, including covering the ground if I let it. When taking it off the sides of the arbour, I realised that several planks of the roof had come loose, helped no doubt by the wind, so I nailed these all back down and hopefully they will now stay securely in place for a while longer. The arbour has had little solar powered white Moroccan-style lanterns inside it for many years, but last year these stopped working, despite Abi's best effort to fix them up. I was so disappointed not to be able to find any new ones, but this week I spotted some in an on-line shop and now the arbour is resplendent once more.

To end this week, I'd like to share the glorious sight that greets us all at the allotment sites gate. The huge Plum tree is in flower, as always, incredibly early, which of course means often there are few plums, but it does look pretty!

 

And this is the Forsythia along the hedgerow just inside the gate. The golden flowers lift your spirits whether in the rain or against a glorious blue sky. One of the cuttings I took last year is planted by the gate of Plot 146, and has a small spray of blossom lalready:  I am looking forward to the day it can put on a display to rival its parent!

I hope the wild weather has not caused you any significant issues, and will be back again next Monday.

www.ourhappyacres.com/

 

My contact email is

info@alittlebitofsunshine.co.uk

 comments and suggestions are most welcome, and I shall reply as soon as I can

 

 

4th March - Longer Days and My Goodness, Are They Busy!! This month is when things really speed up, with beds to prepare for outdoor sowings, the propagator always full, whilst ongoing late season crops are still being harvested. 

There are signs of Spring everywhere. I always look forward to the arrival of the frogs in the garden pond; yesterday it rained almost all day and all night,, and that triggered a croaking, splashing frenzy, with 16 blobs of frog spawn in the garden pond this morning, and I am sure there will be more to come. 

 

Here are the offerings for this week's Harvest Monday. To begin, there is the"first" Rhubarb. This is not forced, it just grows quickly and is always early. I decided this morning to cut some stems for a little Crumble this evening, and I am sure Rhubarb muffins will soon be coming along again, and Rhubarb & Ginger Gin is also on the iist, as always

And another "first" follows: Wild Garlic Greens. This is one of my favourite Spring vegetables, with its sudden appearance and fresh flavour. I find it best either raw or barely cooked: these leaves were chopped and added to a stir fry right at the end of cooking, adding a lovely burst of extra flavour

I was surprised at how deep the bulbs are under the ground. I dug a few up for a friend, and they were at least 12-15 cm down. Some plants have contracting roots, to pull their developing bulbs down well below the surface so that they can survive a dry Summer while they are dormant, and I would think Wild Garlic is one of these.

The stir fry also contained Purple Sproutng Broccoli, Carrots, Leeks and Winter Radish

A tip to keep Leeks in Good Condition

Leeks are still hanging on in there, but will soon be growing flower stalks, which makes the inside of the barrel very hard. If you are like me and have little freezer space available, a way of making them last a litle longer in edible condition is to heel them in.

Dig a V-shaped trench about 20cm deep in an area where you will not be growing anything for the next few weeks, dig up the leeks, lay them against one sloping side of the trench and bury them half way up their length using the soil you dug out. This stops them growing and but keep them fresh, so you can use them as you need

I have only ever done this when we have had long period of freezing weather, to make sure I can get leeks to eat when the ground is too hard to dig, but John Harrison, from Allotment Gardening, told me that heeling leeks in like this is helpful now as well. I shall be doing this with mine in the coming week, as there still a fair few growing. Thanks for the tip John!

The final harvest this week is fresh herbs: Flat leafed Parsley to garnish Roast Vegetable Soup, Rosemary to cook with roast potatoes, Thyme to add to this week's soda bread and Bay to add depth of flavour to dhall

Herbs of all kinds are really worth the small space they take up, as they are so expensive to buy in the supermarket, and in such small quantities too. It is so good to be able to gather whatever you fancy from the garden or plot. I am looking forward to the first mint of the season!

Bees feed greedily from flowers of Rosemary at the time in the year. All the plants I have are grown from cuttings of one original I bought years ago, but there are several different varieties with either pink or white flowers, upright or cascading habits and sliightly different flavours too. My Son-in -Law told me that some of the cuttings he has are from a ginger Rosemary, which sounds interesting ....

On the Plots this week

The shed under the canopy now has some nice smart guttering. I know it sounds odd to put guttering on a shed that is under a canopy, but unfortunately the canopy leaks quite heavily, and rain runs through, down the shed roof and soaks everything around. Now the water is channelled into water butts: much better! I am grateful to Colin, ably encouraged by his wfe Chris, who turned up with lots of tools and did an excellent job, including putting up a new bird box too.. thank you to both of you!

I have weeded the long flower bed in front of the seating area, cutting back the old fennel stems and removing as much of the mat of nettle roots as possible. Summer Iris corms are now planted,  along with a new dwarf pear tree, to match the dwarf apple at the other end of the bed, and a yellow bush rose too. Abi always liked the yellow one outside our front window, so I reckoned he would have liked another one right in front of where people sit. The white delphinium plant has lost of fresh little shoots, and I am thinking of adding a blue one too.

The brassica cage that Abi built stood up to the might of Storm Freya, and the plants inside were unscathed, thanks to their solid stakes

The Purple Sprouting Broccoli is the shortest I have ever seen, but it now has shoots ready to cut, so let's just be glad of that. In previous years it has reached the top of the netting, so whether this dwarf character is due to me sowing the seed rather later than usual and then the drought conditions of last Summer I shall never know. It does seem odd though as I am so used to have big, rumbustious plants by now. 

Maybe next year there will be Five Star Perennial Cauliflower under the cage instead. Let's hope so!

The Brussels Sprout plants still have lots of sprouts to harvest, and I noticed today that the top of the stems is beginning to elongate, so if I am going to eat any of those tops it'll need to be soon before they start to flower. Mind you, I do quite like the flavour of the flower stalks before the buds start to open, a bit like skinny broccoli, so I shall probably leave a couple to grow on

In the Polytunnels this week:

The snappy traps are proving their worth, with at least one mouse per day, sometimes more. This is greatly reducing the damage to crops, which has to be a good thing, 

The sweetpea plants are growing quickly now and need tying in at regular intervals. I am really looking forward to them flowering, as their scent should be enhanced by the warmth of the tunnel. I plan to grow a few climbing french beans alongside them. The dwarf beans were prolific under cover last year, so I am hoping a climbing variety will also thrive. It is a wee bit early to sow them, as night time temperatures will be quite low for a while yet

There is a big problem at the moment though... the netting that covers the ventilators has virtually disintegrated, so I shall have to attach some panels of enviromesh-style netting to the main cover somehow. , and I am not too sure what sort of adhesive to use to ensure the plastic of the cover itself is not compromised. Maybe the manufacturer will be abe to give me some advice  There are 24 "windows" to deal with, so will be a major task that I am not looking forward to

In the Greenhouse this week:

The Five Star Perennial Cauliflower and Daubentons' Kale now have proper leaves, so it will soon be time to pot them on.  There is a strnge looking seedling that looks as though it lacks chlorophyll: no idea why this should have happened, but it won't grow very well if it doesn't develop some soon

 

And the Hot Lips Sage, which I only took under cover because it is in a pot and I wasn't too sure if it would stand a hard Winter, has burst into flower. I am thinking of pruning it right back to help it develop a more bushy structure, but it does seem such a shame to chop off the flowers!

 

Out in the Garden, the catkins on the Twisted Hazel are the longest I ever remember them being. They are always produced much later than those on wild Hazel, which have turned a paale fawn colour now. I love their old name of Lambs' Tails, and as they wobble in the breeze you can easily see how this came about

 

I am part of the way through the great seed sort for the Sowing Plan, really late this year I know, but I shall get there in time for seeds to be in the soil to germinate at the right time ,,, she says hopefully.....

...and maybe by next week some of the planned jobs on the plots may also be done... the bed for the first early potatoes needs preparing, the carrots need to be sown in their deep box, early Peas and Mangetout, Lettuce, Spring Onions sown in modules, Radishes in the polytunnel soil, and so on. I'll do my best!

www.ourhappyacres.com/

 

My contact email is

info@alittlebitofsunshine.co.uk

 comments and suggestions are most welcome, and i\ shall reply as soon as I can