Sunday, April 29, 2007

Not a Bad Weekend

After three weeks I've finally managed to spend a weekend gardening, attempting to catchup on some of those necessary jobs for the growing season which is just about upon us.
First on the list was to prick out the remainder of the sweetcorn. I'd saved the seed last year and thrown a handful into 3 margarine tubs. I'd not expected much to germinate but about 95% did leaving me with 75 seedlings to pot on. I only need about 30 for my 3 sisters bed.
Next were the 90 leeks, that I'd ordered from Dobies. I don't actually recall ordering 90 but that's what they sent me. All of these went into recycled vending machine cups. They actually make good second stage flower pots. They're about 1.5" at the base and 2" at the top and about 3" deep. The sides are also ribbed like roottrainers forcing the development of a good root ball. The leeks will go out on the allotment in about 4 weeks - assuming I've managed to get the bed dug by then.
Then it was onto the tree seedlings - I lost count of the number of beech saplings then didn't bother to count the oak saplings but I used the best part of two builders barrows of soil/compost mix to pot them into 2L pots.
With it being too hot in the greenhouse I moved outside to sort the bean frame out, first burying the 4" soil pipe I'd extracted from the allotment down its center. This means I can now stick a hose in one end of the pipe and leave it to water itself without any evaporation problems, as the water disappears directly into the compost layer 3" down. By the time I'd finished the frame it was still to hot to plant the beans so I went back into the greenhouse to pot on the 15 greyhound into 1.5L pots. They should have good enough root balls to go out on my parents-in-laws allotment in about 3 weeks, when I can try the anti-club root mix the blind guy used on Carol Kleins Grow Your own Veg. Having placed these outside and covered with a net to keep the pigeons off I headed inside to start dinner before returning outside to start planting those beans. I've had mixed fortune in the past with germinating runners but this was seed I'd saved last year and had 31 out of 32 germinate - problem is the frame only has 30 poles. Like last year I'm going to double plant and the second batch, planted 3 weeks later have almost caught up - trouble is I'm not sure which are the french climbers and which are the runners as both trays were planted at the same time and I forgot to label them.
I'd intended to go to the allotment Sunday but with temperatures rising I decide to leave it till later and try and catch up on a few more jobs - which always take longer than expected. First up was to remove the flower pots from the water butt of Jeyes fluid that they've been soaking in for the last 6 weeks - just one of those things I haven't got around to. These were the last of the pots I'd acquired either from Freecycle or from Colin at work. They were also supposed to be the last that needed sterilising but typing this reminds me I have a load of seed trays that need doing.
I then decided to start fixing the milk bottle frames. Where I'd attached them to the brackets last year I'd only used a single screw, and the battens being softwood had twisted as a result. I'd therefore decide that bolting them with two bolts at each end would be better. It was at this point I discovered that the bolts I had were two short and a trip to B&Q was necessary to acquire ones of suitable length.
I'd promised to take some closeup pictures so you can see how its all put together. The first is some of last years bottles on their batten. Now I cut the base on these so they're hinged on the non-handle side, although John says to cut them with the hinge on the handle side. To be honest the bottom flaps are more trouble than they're worth so I'm dispensing with them this year - I'll let you know if this makes any difference.
When you're preparing the battens to support the bottles they need to be a tight fit through the handle - even so with 4 litre bottles you may still have to secure the bottle to the batten through the handle. I haven't done so yet but if I do I'll add a photo later. For short spans - up to about 4 feet softwood battens are ok, but longer than that they bend and twist severely under the weight of the bottles so you need to use hardwood - a lesson I've learnt from last year. The row of 4 litre bottles - I thing there are about 20 in total is 78 inches post to post. The batten is about 65mm wide and 23mm thick, with the corners chamfered off. As you can see from the photo all I have to do now is fill them with compost. I'm adding a 5" pot of 30/70 mix perlite/vermiculite to a 2 gallon bucket of fresh compost/used compost mixed 50/50 this year. I'm adding 1 scoop of fish, blood, and bone to this, and 10 5ml spoons of slow release fertiliser. This should improve on last years results - which weren't that bad; but I'm still very much on a learning curve with this growing method.

Having erected the row of 4litre bottles, which will get sown with carrots, and parsnips - this years trial veg, I headed off to the allotment - the time now approaching 17:30 and the temperature starting to wane. Some people think I'm a little insane but no so insane as to try digging a weed infested in the heat of the afternoon sun - especially as it felt more like June than the end of April.
I managed to get another couple of feet done, before giving the potatoes their second soaking in as many days. Normally I wouldn't water potatoes but they're in a raised bed and we haven't any any significant rain in 6 weeks so they need it. It's interesting to note the difference in growth rates of the different varieties. Most of my potatoes went in with in 3 days of one another, the chitted Maris Bard (first earlies) first then the main crop Maris Peer and Pink Fir Apple. Now the Maris Bard, on the plot at home - trench planted, are only just starting to show through, as are the Pink Fir Apple, but the Maris Peer are a good 4" through in most cases - there are a couple that are lagging- and I shall have to earth these up next weekend. The Charlottes and the remainder of the Fir Apple didn't go in till last weekend, the result of having to do DIY and then change the steering box on the wife's Landrover.
Hopefully next weekend I shall get some more digging done - otherwise I'm going to be looking for space for 90 leeks.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Full Steam Ahead

Ok I'll start by apologizing for not making Friday's post, but then that was down to the weather. I did manage a couple of hours digging on my parents-in-law's allotment before the rain moved in pretty much on schedule with the weather forecast for once.

Saturday, whilst not brilliant was at least dry and I managed another hour before having to dash home so my son could make it to a birthday outing for one of his friends. At this stage I'm about half way down half of this years potato bed.

After this Saturday turned into a bit of a marathon. I'd aquired three plasterers baths from freecycle and had decided that they'd make suitable instant beds for my allotment. Having drilled drainage holes in one I needed to sort out some soil for the center section so I can sow carrots in about three weeks - they'd grow better in my light soil than the clay loan of the allotment, although that would be better for the onions and for water retention. The soil was going to come from last years bean trench, but that meant sorting it out for this year, which would solve another problem, all my compost bins were full.

Using one of the baths as storage I emptied half the bed, then set about emptying the first of the compost bins. Anyway I managed to refil about 2/3 of the bed before the bin was exhausted of usable compost - not bad since the bed is 2 feet wide, 12 feet long and I'd taken out the soil to 10" deep, refilling with 5" of compost then 2" of manure, 2" of compost, then 3" of soil. Having exhausted the first bin I moved to the second, only to discover that the weeds I chucked in there last year hadn't composted completely. Having turned it all and mixed in 60 litres of fresh manure, to help the process I returned to finishing the bean trench. With no usable compost I had to improvise. Mixing manure with semi-composted saw dust I shoved this into the bottom of the trench, then covered it with the contents of one of last years growbags, before replacing the top soil.

Trench done and with excess soil moved to the veg bed, I started on the first earlies. By the time I'd finished the light was beginning to fade and the temperature was reminding me that we were still in March.

Sunday dawned a much brighter day, which meant my wife was off the the car boot. Having dropped the kids off with their grandmother, I returned home to collect the plumbers bath, soil, onions, potatoes, and necessary tools before heading down the allotment.

Whilst I could have just dropped the bath, fillled it with soil, and then planted, this would have left the underlying problem - all that couch and bindweed root. Of course having decided on the digging course of action, things didn't go as quickly as I'd hoped but after an hour or so the ground was cleared and I could fill the bath and plant the outer ring of onions.

Filling the bath also solved my other problem the excess soil from the first raised bed, enabling me to plant the whole 32 feet length with one row of each of my two main crop, Maris Piper and Pink Fir Apple.

By the time I made it home it was 2:30pm and the "couple of hours" the kids were to have been at Granny's had turned into nearly four, well past my grace period.
Having retrieved the monsters and managed some lunch I set about tidying up from the weekends activities. This lead me to taking the photo of the pots I'd promised for Friday's post.

I've left out the dustbin and standard potato bin, the sort that you can get from most major suppliers such as Dobies. The rest are a representative selection of my choice for pots. You'll notice a couple of interesting items.

Firstly there is the green growpot, behind the 2 litre milk carton, and its recycled alternative, the Nescafe coffee tin. With a grow pot you plant your tomatoe/ cucumber/ melon/ courgette in the middle and water via the outer ring. The Nescafe tins works similarly. You cut out the bottom, plant in the middle and then apply the bulk of the water to the growbag. This forces the plant to put down long water roots into the growbag, whilst keeping the shorter feeding roots in the tin. If you're using growbags I highly reccomend this method.

As I've mentioned the milk cartons I deal with those next. I'll try and post a few more pictures this year, but if you want a sneak preview you'll have to look at last years blogs to see how they're used. The 4 litre ones are great for carrots and the 2 litre ones for lettuce.

The rest of the pots are nothing special other than they are all 10" or more deep. Photos taken and with the palletes "out" I decide to rebuild my leaf mold compost heap, a job I'd been meaning to do for a few weeks. Keeping it in a lidded bin was allowing the top to dry too much so I needed to replace it with an "open" bin. By the time I'd finished it was getting late again so you'll have to wait till next time for a photo.

To finish off this week I've a couple of other photo's. The first is of this years garlic. I'm really pleased with it after last years no show.

The second is a plant we have in our front garden that I've never been able to identify, not that I've tried particularly hard. If you know what it is I'd appreciate knowing. Since I'm away for Easter I'll see you the weekend after next.