Monday, April 27, 2009

Never believe the forecast.

Well it's been a long hard weekend, not help by the expectation that most of it would be wiped out by heavy rain; at least according to both the Met Office and BBC last Wednesday and Thursday. So it was I took Friday off to ensure I got the bulk of the remainder of my potatoes in before the expected deluge.
Friday actually went quite well and after buying in this years stock of grow bags, and replenishing my stock of fish/blood/bone and chicken manure pellets, I made it down to the plot in the early afternoon. The afternoon passed far too quickly but I did manage to clean and dig over most of the section of my father-in-laws plot that I use, and get 3 20' rows of potatoes in, 2 of Rooster and 1 of Cara.
Saturday did actually see some rain, mainly in the early hours, and it was nearly 2:30 pm before I got to the plot; not because of the rain but due to shopping. With rain forecast I'd planned on taking a trip to B&Q to get the materials necessary to mount the new auto-vents in the greenhouse. As usual I came out with a few other bits and pieces I'd not intended to buy, although the new gate latch proved to be far inferior in quality to the one that broke.
I started by doing some much needed edging and weeding, before moving to dig over the end of bed 1, before moving the cages about in preporation for this seasons planting. This leaves me about 6' of bed 1 to dig over to complete this years digging, excluding the remaining 6' of bed 2. Whilst there my plot neighbour offered me some cauliflower seedlings, as she'd been offered 2 trays of 20 herself. As she found out "seedling" was not the correct description, young plants is more apt. I thanked her for her offered, and immediately began to work out where I was going to put them.
By Sunday lunchtime, having had to amuse myself planting up 5 tubs and a recycling bin worth of potatoes, whilst my wife went shopping at the local car boot, and walked our boisterous hound, I had a plan; one that required more digging.
I originally hadn't planned on using the bed that had the brussels in last year for brassica's but.... Anyway 2 hours later I'd dug and manured it, leveled it, given it a dose of lime, and put the cauliflowers in.
This just left digging the remaining section of my father-in-laws plot I started on Friday, so I could get another row of potatoes in, intersprersed with sowing the middle square bed on the plot with bumblebee flower mix, and sowing 4 short rows of carrots across the end of the incomplete long bed. This left just enough time after getting home to make up another batch of seed compost before dinner interrupted things.
It was therefore tonight, Monday, on returning home from work, before I could put it to use, sowing a tray of Scarlet Emperor (runner beans), a tray of Blue Lake (climbing french beans), and two HDSL seed selections, 10 each of Lazy Housewife and Bridgewater Beans - both climbing french beans.
Apart from planting the remaining potatoes, I've got enough Cara for another 25' row, jobs for the coming weekend include, planting out onions, possibly planting out cabbages, and pricking out seedlings. I might even get to a car boot and see if I can off load some of my tomato plants grown for the purpose.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Reoccurring Themes

Well after two busy weekends I was back on the plots this weekend. During one conversation yesterday, Richard asked me how I was doing. "I'm about 2 weeks behind" was may response. "That's what you always say" he replied. Well it's certainly been the pattern for the last couple of years, but maybe next year will be different.
Anyway, enough speculation, back to reality. This weekend was an attempt to catch up and get some crops in the ground, most notably this years potato crop.
I started on Saturday, on the Sunningdale plot, with a little tidying up and weeding, before completing the digging of the raised bed I'd started digging a month ago. Digging completed I leveled the bed, applied a dose of lime, then planted my early cabbages and calabrese.
After a quick lunch in the sunshine on the plot, I moved to the main task for the day. First up was moving the manure heap, but prior to that I had to sort the edging out and remove the docks, couch, bits of bind weed, odd volounteer, and self sown comfrey. Space cleared I moved the heap, before commencing on planting three rows of spuds, Maris Bard, Charlotte, and Estima. With the time now approaching 7 o'clock I just about had time to plant out my up-to-date onions, water both them and the cabbages, and make it home by 8, thoroughly exhausted.
My exhertions on Saturday meant that Sunday morning was a rather slow affair and it was early afternoon before I made it down to the Bracknell plot. My first task was to sort the onions from the weeds which seem to have run riot in the last three weeks. This took the best part of two hours minus half an hour for lunch. Then it was onto clearing the cabbages I'd left as spring greens which had used the last three weeks to run to seed. I small movement of soil from one end of the potato bed to the other meant I could level it a little better before getting in 2 26ft rows, one of Maris Piper and the other of Pink Fir Apple.
My attention then moved to planting this years onions. Having failed to bring a hoe with me, judicious use of both my small 12" rake and the landscaping rake, took care of the flourishing weed crop, allowing me to put in 6 rows of 12 onions. Once I work out how much room I need for this year french beans I can determine how many more I can squeeze in.
Despite the amount achieved I'm still miles behind, and the Bracknell plot in paticular is looking a little untidy. I did manage to get a couple of other jobs done on my return home. I managed to sow all my saved Daniels Defiance, another batch of brussel sprouts (as I can't seem to work out where all the previous ones have gone), and a batch of Kohlrabi.
Next weekend it's back to planting potatoes, until then it's time to work out where I'm going to put the mangetout.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lost for a title

Lots more photos - well at least all the ones off the phone from the weekend before last. Been a bit of a polaver to get them downloaded mine and I had to borrow the mother-in-laws vista laptop to download them.

I'll start with the series covering the planting of the asparagus. So from top down we have, the view of the last 5 feet of the bed prior to addition of manure and replacement of a couple of inches of topsoil prior to the creation of the planting ridges, seen in the second photo.
Ridges created the next step is to actually plant the Asparagus. Picture 3 is one of the plants in its pots, and picture 4 is the same plant knocked out. Whilst not brilliant it does demonstrate how healthy and pot bound the plants are.

Next on the list is the crown after it's had it's root teased out, in planting position on the ridge, followed by the bed ready for covering. By this point it had started sleeting so I'd put the phone away somewhere dry, so the picture of the filled in bed is actually the second photo I took that afternoon, and shows the bed as I'd left it the previous week.

This photo also shows the edge of the new improved supports for the bean and pea frame, which is better seen in the next photo. Having now done this to one of the frames I've decided I'm going to have to do the same to the other one, as I nearly managed to knock it over when completing the remainder of the asparagus bed at the weekend. It's amazing how time just seems to vanish, and the 4 hours I spent at the plot just vanished, and all I managed was to dig out the last 3 feet of the bed, constuct the bed end, level the soil to the base of the sides, add the manure, add a couple of inches of soil, create the planting ridges, plant 6 asparagus, and top the bed off. Still it's one job complete, next on the list is this years potatoes.
The last picture in the series is a shot of half the plot, taken from the same position as the ones last year. If you want to see the changes then the original post showing the pictures is here. The covered bed closest to the foreground is the half dug bed refered to in the post a few weeks ago, and the covered bed on the far left is the one where the brussels are going this year. The one of the right of this one is the bed with this year crop of onions and garlic in, and the middle bed in the foreground is the one with the winter onions in.

Actually looking back at the photo's now reminds me I actually managed to get something else done that day, as the remnants of last years brussel crop are now gone, and the pigeons have destroyed the head of one of the two plants I left in as it was running to seed. I was going to pull it but it has a second stem much lower down which is untouched so hopefully this will produce seed, assuming it's not been destroyed by this weeks frosts.

Okay, I don't know about you but I've lost the thread, so I'll just have to pick up on Sunday's activities. Having fixed a few remaining things on the car, I'd managed to replace both brake front brake calipers on Friday without too much trauma, I trolled down to the Bracknell plot with the aim of not doing alot, well specifically with the aim of treating bed 3 with Armillatox ready for the onions which are doing their best to out grow the modules they're sown in.

Having treated the bed, and spent a certain amount of time conversing with some of my neighbours on the site, I decided I might as well get on and do a little digging. All prepared to start on that last 6 feet of bed 2 I realised that one of the mats I'd put down last year to suppress the couch was covered with several inches of soil. Actually it was considerably more as I found out as I started working my way through it removing couch root and the odd bit of bind weed. With the soil pile rising I shifted a load of it one bed 1 which has settled more than a little since last year, and is a little low in places. So is the top end of bed 2 but I'll correct that when I pull the remaining spring greens out for the potatoes to go in in a couple of weeks.

Having excavated the matting I set about digging, but managed only a couple of rows as the soil under the matting was just that bit too wet and heavy to crumble nicely off the fork.
With time not yet pressing I turned my attention to bed 1 which is in severe need of weeding in places. Why is it that they grow considerably better than the spring cabbages you carefully nurture, which have done nothing except fail and die over the winter.
I'd made a start on the weeding a couple of weeks ago, and managed to complete another 4 feet. It's still a bit of a mess in sections, but so is the half of bed 3 that has the over-wintering onions in. I really must find time to get down there and weed it.
With the arm of the clock now passing half past four I headed home. There were a couple of other jobs I wanted to get done. The first of these was to replace the window openers in the greenhouse. However, like the door wheels, the standard replacements available don't fit. This means, that in addition to the new sliding door rail I need, I'm also going to have to get 4 pieces of aluminium angle and make mounting brackets to fit the new openers too before I can have automatic ventilation in the greenhouse again.
Abandoning this task I set about getting the first of this years potatoes in the ground and getting the next batches sown in tubs. In all I've now sown 1 9ft row of Mayan Gold, 2 9ft rows of Maris Bard, 1 dustbin and 1 potatoe bucket of Mayan Gold, and 1 dustbin of Maris Bard. Since both dustbins are sown with identical soil mixes it will be a useful comparison, to see if last years results hold true.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pictures - Not at an Exhibition

Okay, so I've managed to take a few pictures of the Bracknell plot. I've also managed to take a number of the Sunningdale plot, but having forgotten the camera yesterday I had to use my phone. Now all I've got to do is work out how to get them from the phone on to the computer - no Bluetooth, no Infrared, and no Tariff to send them.
So we'll start with one from the top corner of the plot, much the same perspective as the one in the February 2007 post. In the immediate foreground are my impressive (Not) array of spring cabbages which have done nothing over winter except die, and appear to be continuing in the same vein. Just behind these on the right hand side, standing on its edge are one of my cages - a freecycle give-away from a couple of years ago. I moved it later onto bed three, behind the one in the foreground in the next picture.

In all three of these pictures you can see my "drying" bin at the far end of bed 2. I ended the day by moving it to just left of the foreground of picture 2, at the top left corner of the plot. This clears the last 6' of bed 2, which should mean that I can get it dug in time to get this years potatoes in.

Picture 3 is the reverse angle of picture 1. In both pictures 2 and 3 you should be able to see bed 2 just before I finished installing the new 12' side sections and leveling it to just before the drying bin was.
Due to a blown head gasket on the car, and having to have the head skimmed as a result, I'd dug the last 3 feet on Thursday, which enabled me to get the sides installed to day. I also used the time to re-attach the lid on the drying bin, after the winter wind snapped it from its plastic fixings. The bin is supposed to dry out everything in it since it's divided halfway up by a heavy steel wire mesh, which means it should get really hot inside with the sun on it. This means that I should then be able to compost the crispy fried couch roots that are currently filling it.
My enforced time off from work also meant I was able to get into the greenhouse on Friday and prick out my tomato, cucumber, and courgette seedlings. As usually I have far too many tomatoes, especially the Alicante and Supa Roma. In the end I pricked out 24 Alicante, 20 Supa Roma, and all 16 of the Black Russian.
Pricking these out meant I was able to sow a few more batches of seeds, more Defender - I only had 3 of the first batch germinate, some squash, Telegraph for in the greenhouse, melons, early sprouts, more greyhound, and some more cauliflower- again because I only had a few germinate the first time. All this means more pricking out in a few weeks, but I'll need to do both the sweet and chilli peppers next weekend, assuming I can get the brakes on the car done without any hitches.
I also sowed a few bathes of peas, both sweet and edible. Given last years record with the edibles and the age of the seed, I'm not overly hopeful of much germinating, even having sown 4 peas per cell. I shall leave sowing my heritage peas and beans for a few weeks yet.
Well, that covers everything, except the Sunningdale plot, which was Saturday afternoons work. I've now all bar completed the asparagus bed, and once I can get the photo's off the phone I'll post them so you can see how I've done it and the state of the crowns in their pots. I now need to dig the last 30 inches before I can complete the bed and put the last 6 crowns in. This leaves me with 20 crowns which I'm selling off at £0.50 per crown or 5 for £2.00. Unfortunately as they're pot grown and sprouting they need to go in really quick and are only available for local collection. Click the link if you're local and interested - Asparagus Sales
Apart from almost finishing the asparagus bed I also installed the last but one retaining plank, that divides the high side of the plot from the low side. I've just got one more short section to do, before needing to make a few more decisions about "levels" across various sections of the plot.
As part of the installation process I also weeded to top end of the pea/bean trench and have come to the conclusion I need to install retaining vertical scaffold poles on that section of the frame as well. Thankfully I do have 2 more, although they're not in brilliant condition. Hopefully they'll suffice.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Cold and Wet

And I'm not refering to the weather, I'm refering to the state I found myself in at two thirty this afternoon, having spent three quarters of an hour getting the asparagus planting finished. It's one thing to have a waterproof coat with integral hood, but unless you've waterproof trousers as well, the water just pours off the jacket onto your jeans and into your boots.
Having watched the BBC weather forecast online before I'd left for the plot this lunchtime I'd hoped we were going to escape, and allow me to plant the first 13 feet of the bed, and if possible prepare and plant the last 5 feet. The turn of the weather with 5 feet left to plant put paid to the last, and I planted those 5 feet in a contineous combination of light and heavy sleet showers.
The upside, if there is one, is that I'd fprgotten to take the camera with me, so it didn't get drenched. I had wanted to photograph the bed before I started planting it, and to photograph some of the crowns as I knocked them out of their pots, teased their roots out, and laid them on their ridges, before carefully covering with soil. In some cases it was very carefully as some of the crowns already had 8" spears, and virtually all had several spears of at least 1" in length. I must try and remember when I next get down there to prepare and plant the remaining 5 feet of edged bed. I still can't make up my mind wether to make the bed the full 21 feet in length I'd originally planned.
Now today's planting was made possible by yesterday's leg work, installing the sides of the bed, moving 12 feet worth of soil to the last 5 feet of the bed and the small clear area beyond, raking out the manure down the 13 feet length of the bed exposed, putting back 2" of the soil, and creating the three ridges on which to plant the asparagus down the length of the bed. If that wasn't enough I decided to start on digging over the last but one of the raised beds, the last one still having sprouts growing in it. I managed to dig and manure half the bed, before failing light, falling temperatures, and depleting energy reserves caused me to call it a rapidly aproaching night.
Anyway back to today. Having dried out, put on dry clothes, and fed my face, I trundled out to the greenhouse to continue with the seasons planting. One of the primary reasons for wanting to get the asparagus in, apart from the obvious that it was sprouting left, right, and centre, was to clear some space in the cold frame in order to harden off the onions which are also doing likewise.
In fact it seems everything is doing it's best to get the better of me. I've had to take the peppers and tomatoes out of the propagators to stop them getting to leggy, which of course means I'm left with space. In turn moving the onions means I've space in the greenhouse. So into the propagator has gone more tomatoes, momenymaker and gartenperle this time, marketmore (outdoor cucumber), and defender (courgette). Into the second propagator, that's the one my mother-in-law gave me which works perfectly, went greyhound, primo, and bedfordshire fillbasket (brussel sprouts).
Seeds sown, it was then time to prickout the broccoli (olympia) and the first batch of greyhound, which as a consequence revealed how few of the All-Year-Round cauliflower have actually germinated. I'm going to have to find some time to sow some more.
Well that's it for this week. I'll try harder and see if I can get some pictures, most likely not next week though as I've an appointment with a copse that needs the attention of the 2-stroke deathwatch beetle.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Overdoing it

It's been another busy weekend of digging, and I'm now feeling more than slightly the worse for wear. Progress has been good though, even if the Bracknell plot hadn't dried out as much as I hoped.
I managed a couple of hours on Saturday, breaking up the clods I'd dug out and left last weekend. I also managed to dig another 3 feet, although with it deing soggy on one edge I've left another dozen large clods to dry out.
Sunday afternoon saw me back on the Sunningdale plot, where finishing the remaining 8 feet for the Asparagus bed seems to have been about 3 feet too far. At least now I'm in a position to install the timbers. Once done I can move the soil to the top end, level and manure the bottom of the bed, then start planting. Maybe next week then.
In addition to finishing the digging I also managed to install the second scaffold pole which will hopefully prevent a repeat of last years collapse, should we get another windy August.
It was then a case of returning home to plant more of this years crops. This week it was the turn of the tomatoes, with Black Russian, Allicante, and Supa Roma, finding their way into the propagator. I've also acquired a second propagator from my mother-in-law. The problem is I don't know wether it works or not. It's been lying around for some time so may be well past its use buy date. I've got it on test at the moment so I'll know if it works in a couple of days.
Apart from the digging I've managed to get a few other jobs done around the garden. The first was to denail the remaineder of the joists I bought last summer, primarily as I need two for the asparagus bed and two for bed 2 on the Bracknell plot. Next on the list was to wash the super 7 propagator trays. Having made up the jeyes solution I also took the opportunity to commence washing a number of the flower pots that have spent the last year lurking about the garden.
The other major job was cutting the Autumn raspberries down to the ground in preporation for this season. I'd cut them down to 3 feet in late November, mainly to give the birds some cover during the winter without having the rasperries blown over. Having finished the rasperries, and since I had the secataurs to hand I decided to prune the roses. At least now I won't have to find time to do it later.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Well February is renowned for false springs and then last week has seen it live up to its reputation. The warm days and lack of precipitation have enabled the plots to dry and the sunny warm weekend weather have enabled me to stress my back with two two hour digging sessions.
Saturday was the warmer day and saw me in the greenhouse to start with. I have to say it was actually too hot in there and I suspect that both of my automatic openers have given up the ghost. Whilst the onions, leeks, and cabbage seedlings planted 4 and 3 weeks ago are enjoying the warmth - a little too much perhaps, it has led to a few other problems. My lilies which are overwintered in pots in there are all starting to grow, and the asparagus, which was put in there to keep it away from the frost is also doing likewise; not a good sign as I'm at least 3 weeks away from having the bed ready - more on that a little later. I've therefore had to improvise another cold frame and move it all outside again, where hopefully the cooler temperatures will hold it back.
The other reason for being in the greenhouse was to repot two of the Aloe Vera, and to pot up the surviving Fuschia cuttings - shame I haven't a clue what variety they are.
Lunch over and done with I made my way down to the Bracknell plot. First job of the day was to finish bed number 3. On the way I stopped off in Wickes and brought myself a new rake. I've been looking around for a while. Whilst my standard 12" garden rake is okay, it's not really up to leveling large areas. Having looked around the Wickes Builders Landscaping rake seemed to be the best value for money, and at 30" wide it certainly makes life a lot easier. My only gripe is that the handle is a little too short. I'm over 6' and an extra 12" in the length of the handle would make it more comfortable to use.
Bed 3 finished, as far as I'm able until the over-wintered onions finish in June, I moved to sorting out bed 2 below the cabbages. The main reason for doing this was that the soil level had dropped since the bed was created last year, and I needed to clear a little more space to enable me to keep digging. Soil redistributed I moved to dig a further section of the bed that until now has been covered with heavy duty matting of the sort found in children's play grounds. The council had dumped a load on the site this time last year, and most of the plot holders took the opportunity to acquire some. As I progressed down the bed I noted that whilst where the bed had been uncovered the soil was actually drier than that that had been covered. The matting was now working against me. Having dug out another 3 foot stretch, most of it remaining as 9" square sods laid along the top of the bed, I called it a day. My final act was to remove the next section of matting in the hope that we don't get deluged again in the week and it will have dried to a more workable state for next weekend.
Sunday saw my return to the Sunningdale plot, principally to make some progress on the asparagus bed. First job was to sort out the scaffold poles supporting the runner bean frame. I'd had to hastily put two angled poles in place last August to stop them all from being blown down a second time. Both of these poles were resting with one end in the middle of where the asparagus bed will be. Having removed both poles I repositioned one vertically at the end, marked the position of the foot, removed it, dug a 9" square hole 3' deep, dropped a load of pea shingle in the bottom, replaced the pole, refilled it tamping it down, then scattered the remaining shingle on top. I'll give it a couple of weeks to all settle in properly then do the other pole at the other end. Hopefully these will provide enough resistance to stop the beans and peas from being blown down again this year.
After weeding the 3 foot section of the bed I'd done in the middle of last year, I shifted what was left of last years manure pile to this point. I was a little disappointed that it hadn't rotted more. Perhaps covering it with the carpet to stop it drying out had actually stopped it from getting wet enough.
Manure pile moved I cracked on with the digging, getting about 7 foot done. The problem I can now see is that, I'm going to have to pile a lot of soil somewhere whilst I create the bed. The crowns need to be planted on ridges, the top of the ridge being about 2" down from the final soil height and each ridge being about 4" high. After the crowns are planted then the soil can be replaced filling the bed. This means to create the beds I'm going to have to move a 4" depth of soil across a 4' wide by 21' long bed somewhere else, create the bed, then move it back again.
I'm now considering digging enough of the bed to get the next timbers in, which will add 15' to the length of the bed, moving the soil to the undug end, planting the first 15 feet, coving this, then sorting out the remaining 6 feet. Time and weather will I think dictate the outcome.
To round things off I planted the first of this years potatoes, well actually the left overs from last years late planting, and a few self-chitted leftovers from last years early crop. I haven't actually got a clue as to what variety any of them are. We'll find out in about 16 weeks.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Perennially Racing Time

After last Tuesday's deluge, we had one months rainfall in about 12 hours, the plots were remarkably workable all things considered.
Saturday saw me on the Bracknell plot primarily progressing raised bed 3 with the aim of being able to progress raised bed 2; they're the far left and middle beds respectively from previous posts. I cleared through all the spits I'd previously moved, and then cleared a load more off the rubber matting on bed 2. The fact that 30% of it was still frozen didn't particularly help matters. With a section of bed 2 now accessible I started digging working away from the top section currently in use by the remainder of last years late cabbages, now running to spring greens. I managed a couple of feet before the action of my own feet on the wet clay put a stop to digging.
A phone call from my wife at this point also gave me reason to stop. Prior to making my way to the plot I'd responded to an offer on freecycle of home made compost; it's all very well encouraging people to recycle and compost providing they can use it. In this lady's case she wasn't much of a gardener and after 2 and a half years here compost bins were completely full. Anyway the upshot of the phone call was that the compost was available, all I had to do was to go and get it. So bags and spade duly in hand, that's what I did.
The standard problem with emptying compost bins, if you don't have an empty bin to transfer the top half of the bin you want to empty into, is that you can excavate about 25% of the compost from the bottom of the bin before the whole lot drops into the hole you've just created, curtailing excavations. Having created some space in bin 1, I was able to move about 25% of the contents of bin 2 into bin one, enabling me to excavate more from bin 2 before it's contents gave way. Total extracted, about 180 litres of compost. It wasn't bad, the usual odd flower pot, plastic bag, avacardo skin and stone, broken piece of stick etc. Future extractions, yes I've signed my self up to empty the bins once or twice a year, should be better, benefiting from the action of the poo from her chickens and absence of eggshells, the latter of which are now crushed and fed back to the chickens.
One thing emptying the bins did show up was the need for me to fix the tire on the wheel barrow. It's a job I've been meaning to do for a while having become completely exasperated by continually having to pump it up. I'd acquired another tire on a wheel of a different design some months ago off another knackered barrow which had suffered the fate of most barrows, it had lost its bowl; it having parted company as the metal where it is riveted or bolted to the frame rusts and degrades - which reminds me, I need somebody to weld mine up before it to suffers a similar fate.
So late Sunday morning I set about swapping the tire. Problem one was undoing the machine screws that retain one of the wheel bearings. Why don't companies that make wheel barrows use bolts? At least then when the head gets covered in concrete its easy to chip of and get a wrench onto, rather than trying to have to chip enough of a slot back into the machine screw head to hold it with a screw driver. Machine screws removed I encountered problem 2, in exactly which tool box, yes I have several, had I put the two tire levers. These were another acquisition I made several years ago, one of those "They'll come in handy at some point" acquisitions.
Anyway after half an hour of turning the workshop upside down I located them and set about swapping the tires. This turned out to be no problem at all, but has demonstrated that the inner tube on the old tire most likely has a puncture, which I'll repair just as soon as I get around to getting a repair kit; sometime next year then.
Next on the list was seed sowing. The Up-To-Date, Pandora, and Greyhound sown 3 weeks ago are all now of a size where they no longer need to be on the propagator, giving me three slots for more seeds. Taking up the slack therefore are All-Year-Round (Cauliflower), a red onion of unknown variety curtosy of Lidls, and the remainder of the Olympia (Brocolli). Hope fully they'll all germinate nicely and enable me to get an early crop of brassica's in the ground in April again.
With lunch on hold whilst the bread defrosted, I decided to get the visit to the Bracknell plot to deposit half of the compost out of the way.
As is the way of things I ended doing slightly more than I had intended but both of the "kids" beds are now weeded and cleaned, and the raspberry/strawberry/artichoke bed (last not by design) is more presentable.
Bed 3 is also now virtually complete after I was able to dig through the dried and thawed spits moved yesterday. Bed 2 is also a little closer to being clear as I moved a further load of spits across onto bed 3. Weather permitting I'll be able to get to these this weekend.
Following a long lunch, and via a detour to get diesel, it was down to the Sunningdale plot to plant the garlic which had arrived with the seed potatoes on Wednesday. I'd unbagged the potatoes yesterday morning and laid them all out in seed trays in the workshop to chit. Garlic planted I set about tidying the 3 4ft square beds in the middle of the plot, distributing the remainder of the compost amongst them. Last on the list was liming the bed I'd dug and manured 2 weeks ago. This technically goes against the grain, but as the manure is dug in 6" down the two won't interact, but the lime will lower the ph for the brassicas and the manure will provide the sustenance the soil needs.
With the light starting to fade, I was tempted to start digging over the remaining "vacent" bed but in the end thought better of it. It was as I was contemplating this that I considered I was doing reasonably well this year, then remembered I still have the asparagus bed to do, all 21 feet of it, and the other half of bed 2 on the Bracknell plot, thats another 18 feet, but this time of pristine undug couch grass ridden clay, and all before the end of March.
May be next year I won't be racing time.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Apres Snow

Well its the 1st of February and their forecasting heavy snow for tonight and tomorrow; the Met Office have even issued an "Extreme" weather warning. Now according to the forecast we could get between 2 and 5 cm of snow or even as much as 15cm, for those of you not bilingual thats 3/4" to 2" or upto 6". Now to my mind that's not heavy snow, 2 to 3 feet would be heavy snow. Neither is it extreme weather; a 24 hour blizzard with 40mph winds, 8-12 feet of snow and temperatures of between -15 and -10 would be extreme weather. How badly the country falls apart due to a little snow the next 48 hours will tell.
Snow forecast aside, I've managed to get quite a bit done this weekend, despite the non-arrival of this years seed potatoes, onion sets, and more importantly garlic.
Saturday afternoon saw me on the Sunningdale plot, which had dried quite considerably since last weekend. I managed to dig through two of the 10ft x 4ft beds, manuring one as I went - I chose not to manure the shallot/garlic bed resorting to a liberal dosing of fish/blood/bone, growmore, and pelleted chicken maure. Beds dug I set about planting this years shallot and garlic crops, most of which had been given to me by a friend who gave up her plot due to emigrating to Cumbria or yorkshire or some other place North; she's not actually decided yet.
Anyway the donation of garlic, shallots, and onion sets, all of which should have been planted in October/November has enabled me to get started. I put in three rows of shallots in total, one row of Jermor, one row of Golden Gourment (I actually bought these), and one row of whatever variety it is I've grown for the last 2 years from the year befores leftovers. I was also able to pick through the 3 Germidor garlic bulbs and plant only the biggest cloves, giving me nearly 2 rows. I'm going to have to squash my own Solent White in when it arrives.
Today saw a foray to the Bracknell plot. I wasn't really expecting to be able to do a great deal, what with the week's rain and last night's frost, however conditions turned out to be considerably better than I expected. I therefore managed to complete the woodwork of the righthand most of the three main raised beds, and clear the bulk of the spoil heap made when I cleared the first bed 2 years ago. The downside of this though, is that I'm going to have a major plague of horseradish thongs as its roots were everywhere, and although there were at least half a dozen plants in the heap only one was of decent enough size to bring home in the hope of turning into horse radish sauce - all I need to do now is find a decent recipe.
Apart from clearing the bulk of the heap, and digging through the soil along side that section of the bed, I also cleared the pile of sods I'd extracted off bed 2 last November, and then extracted a further pile with a view to letting to forecast frost a snow do their worst on the now exposed couch grass roots.
Further progress as ever at this time of year is very much weather dependent.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

And so it begins....

It's now the end of the third week in January and for me at least this years season has started, albeit slowly at present.
One third of the garden plot has been dug, mainly to turn in the remained of the manure I got last weekend. Primarily the manure was for the greenhouse, to refil the beds with some goodness; and as the manure was steaming warm and barely 3 weeks old it should do the job nicely.
The section of the garden plot dug will take this years first earlies, and knowing my soil there will be little evidence I manured it when I come to plant in about 8 weeks time ... boy doesn't time fly.
I also cleared the brassica's from the beds on the Sunningdale plot, but the soil was just to saturated to warrent digging it at this time. That's one of the dig differences between all threee of my veg plots. My garden plot I can dig as soon as the surface water is gone without noticing a huge difference in texture or effort. The Sunningdale plot requires a week or so to dry, depending on the time of year, although it's somewhat flooded at the moment, and my plot is at the "top" end of the site. Digging the last of my father-in-laws potatoes out this afternoon was a slurping experience.
My Bracknell plot I avoid at this time of year, it's heavy clay means, that even with the raised beds I shall have to wait until the middle to end of March before I can do much. Having said that I did foray down their last weekend to dig out the Jerusalem artichokes, and returned with half a 40litre full. Some are already spoken for but as we don't like them I shall have to find a home for the remainder. Hoepefully I got them all out this time.
In the greenhouse I've started this years sowings with onions and leeks. If I had more space in the propogator then I'd be able to sow more varieties early, and as I haven't I've had to limit myself to the remainder of the Mammoth onion seed, the remainder of last years HDSL pick up-to-date , another onion, pandora, which if I remember is a late leek, one head from the leeks which flowered this year, the problem being I'm not sure which variety it is, and lastly the first of this year's sowing of greyhound, which is a pointy summer cabbage.
I sowed them this time last year as an experiment, and they produced a better and earlier crop than the Excel brought as plug plant from Marshal's. Given my Olympia (calabrese) also did better then Marshal's variety, and the cauliflowers were a disaster, I shall not be buying plugs again.
Now I have to count the weeks until I can free up the propagator and make the next sowings. In the mean time I have plenty of digging to be permitting.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Reflections on a New Season

Well as usual I'm behind, the recent old snap having helped none.
My Bracknell plot is still much as I left it in November, bed 3 still incomplete, and bed 2 still requiring half to be dug and cleared of couch grass and bind weed before this years potatoes can go in. I've also yet to manure any of it or finish digging out the winter crops or this years crop of Jerusalem Artichokes, grown from those I missed when digging them all out last year.
My Sunningdale plot fares better, although this has progressed little since the beginning of December. The potato plot is covered in 4" of manure, and has been for about 6 weeks now. This is also true of the area I used last year on my father-in-laws plot. However I still haven't managed to get all his potatoes dug out. I think there's about half a row of what I believe may be Maris Piper - not sure what state these are going to be in now though.
What I really need to get done is the asparagus bed - the manure is all piled up waiting and the plants are enjoying their sojourn in the greenhouse and/or cold frame, although most are showing little inclination to wanting to die back. Still they don't need to go in until late March, like the potatoes, so I'm going to be fire-fighting again then I think.
Having just check last years entry for January I'm already late in sowing this years leeks, onions, and cabbage from seed, although considering the prolonged cold snap we've just had I'm inclined to think not. I'll see what the weather does though this week and weekend before deciding whether to sow then or not.
The cold snap did enable me to get one job partially done - concreting in the deep bed in the greenhouse. I should have really done this when I built the foundation, but didn't, hoping the silver birch in next doors garden wouldn't cause a problem. But after 4 years of having the bed invaded by its roots and the failure of the paving slabs to make much difference I've given in. The bed was dug out to 16" below floor level, shuttered, and a 2-3" wall and floor of concrete poured to completely enclose it. I've refilled it with soil to floor level, but as the soil is completely dead I now need to put a good 6" of manure into the bed before completing the refill. Hopefully this will regenerate it's fertility and allow me to grow anything other than silver birch roots in it.
In other respects I'm more organized. I've 95% of the seeds I need for this year, and having ordered onion sets, garlic, and shallots, have just been given a load by a friend. Most of these are autumn planting varieties that should have gone in in October, but I'm going to put them in anyway. Nothing ventured is nothing gained and they wont keep till next October.
I've also changed my potato regime slightly this year. I'm only growing one early variety, and one second early as a second early. All the rest will be grown as maincrop. As usual my early is Maris Bard, with Charlottes my choice as 2nd early - mainly because I like them and they do well both in the ground and in tubs. My maincrops are therefore Maris Piper, Cara, Estima, and Rooster. This is the first year of growing the latter so I'll be interested to see both how it does and what it's like. I'm also going to plant a row of Pink Fir Apple from this year's left over.
One of my trials last year was Mayan Gold in a tub, from 3 potatoes I was given. Having been really impressed with them, even though I harvested them a little early, I'm going to grow them again this year, mainly in tubs, despite the fact that they're more expensive than most other seed potatoes. If you're interested in growing these then you'll need to order them from Alan Romans.
Away from the allotment I've managed to get a few other things done. I've re-potted a number of the cacti that needed doing including my mother-in-laws-tongue. This had gotten to the state where it was distorting the pot it was in, not bad considering that when I got it 2 years ago, whilst collecting some other freecycle goods, it was in severe need of some tlc. So my one mother-in-laws-tongue has now become 9, and given that to buy any one of these would cost between £1.99 and £25 in a garden center I think I've done quite well out of the deal. I don't have a picture of mine I'm afraid so I'll have to make do with a link to a library picture for those of you not familiar with the variety, Mother-in-laws-tongue.
On a completely different note, if any of you are interested in dragons, have a passing interest in role-playing games, and have some time to waste, I've been playing an on-line game for a while now. It's called Dragon Hearts, takes a little getting used to and is far more complex than it first appears. If you're interested click on the following link - dragon hearts. If you decide to play and want help or guidance then my Dragon Name is Pyrocantaes - just click on my name in either players on-line, chat, or send an email to ID 11549.
For those of you who may want to try something along a gardening theme why not try MoleHill Empire.
Both of these games are free, other than at the expense of time.