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.