Monday, 26 April 2010

April showers?!

I think that you know that your outlook on life has really changed when you wake up one Sunday, after two weeks of glorious sunshine and unseasonably warm weather, to discover that it's tipping it down. When your first thought is 'rats - I can't get out and do that weeding but at least the plants are getting a drink' rather than 'rats - it's going to ruin my barbecue', then you've probably discovered the insanity that is gardening (and particularly that watering cans are heavier than they look after you've lugged them 80ft)!

Thanks to the sunshine we've really noticed new growth taking off this month - unfortunately this includes new growth on the weeds, which have got a little out of hand in some areas as we've been so busy concentrating on planting and sowing! I think I've now found my level with regards to weeding - I seem to be able to weed a small patch for a concentrated period as long as I then get to put something else straight in its place! All six of our raised beds are now in use, although they're by no means all full. I've organised them into different plant groupings so that I can follow a fairly standard crop rotation:

Bed1 (legumes)
Bed2 (brassicas)
Bed3 (roots)
Bed4 (potatoes)
Bed5 (onions)
Bed6 (experimental - this is the bed that we'll use each year to grow something different and it won't be part of the rotation - this year it's sweetcorn!)

WH got out his toolkit again and whipped up a lovely A-frame to support the peas and beans. It's sized to fit into one half of the raised bed and we'll probably make its partner this weekend (the idea being that two one-metre A-frames would be easier to store and move than one two-metre one; they're also handily hinged for storing flat - oh yes, a budding DIY-genius!)

I started the peas and beans off in the greenhouse in late March and a number were ready for planting out this weekend. I ran out of mini-cloches (aka bottle-ends) but the uncovered beans don't seem to be suffering too badly at the minute - fingers crossed... I had intended to remove them from their cardboard root trainers, but some of the roots had already started to grow into the cardboard, so I figured they'd just rot off in the soil and might provide some additional protection!
My amazing A-frame

A row of beans ready to climb it

I confess, I'm having a slight problem with my roots bed, in which I sowed some carrot and beetroot seed on 31st March, followed by some parsnip a few weeks ago. There is a half row of each, currently protected by some horticultural fleece. Unfortunately, the weed seedlings have also taken advantage of the covering to germinate madly too, including in my drills, so that it is currently pretty difficult to work out what is a weed and what is seed I've sown! The carrots are fairly easy (they sprout very thin green fronds), but I've no real idea what the beetroot or the parsnip should look like, so I'm going to have to let everything grow a little more before I can confidently take out what shouldn't be there!

The enviromesh is also working well over the brassicas bed, where kale and cabbage are sprouting. I popped in some radish seeds last weekend, and this crop should have matured before I need to put in the brussels sprouts (currently thriving in the greenhouse) and purple sprouting broccoli.

Can you see my kale?

The covering came off the onions bed this weekend as the shallots are now well-established. It is now protecting the sunflower seedlings and (hopefully) encouraging the sweetcorn seeds to germinate in my last bed.

Reaching for the skies - we should get a good crop from these!

And the sacked potatoes are also doing well - one bag is almost completely filled with compost now.

Let's hope that there are lots of tasty tubers in here!

Moving away from the veg plot itself, the salads which are in one of the existing brick-built raised beds nearer to the house are now well away - when I was watering this evening I realised that I'll probably need to thin the lettuces this weekend - our first crop of the year!

One of the rows of spinach - actually, this might need thinning too!

We planted a substantial amount of new fruit over the winter as bare-rooted plants and it's really pleasing to see them all start to grow. I've now started the training for both the sweet and the acid cherry trees, including pinching out their lovely flowers. This would have felt much worse if we hadn't just enjoyed the plum tree in full (if startlingly brief) bloom. Although the petals dropping from the plum seemed to coincide with the first flower buds opening on the apple trees, which are now heavily in flower. Really, it couldn't have been better if it had been orchestrated! We've some flowers on the strawberry plants, which have started to emerge over the sides of the hanging baskets and containers. The goji berry bushes are looking very healthy and the blackcurrant, although still in its 'two twig' form, is covered in both leaves and the beginnings of flower buds.

The plum blossom - it was literally the day after taking this picture that most of it disappeared!

One of the first flowers to open on the apple tree - the buds are a deep crimson colour before they open into these delicately pale pink blossoms.

The first strawberry flower - there are a handful now!

The blackcurrant bush

The grapevines did a particularly excellent impression of being dead sticks for such a long time that we were starting to get concerned, but they've all sprung into life now and already have some pretty impressive leaves.

On the floral front, we've had a lovely display of tulips that is now starting to go over - we've got a whole load of seeds to plant in their place (including cornflowers, Californian poppies and some night-scented stocks). I got the tulip bulbs from the market, which was definitely a bargain, but:

a) I didn't think I'd bought any double-flowered varieties

and b) I didn't think I'd bought any pink ones!

Our hazel obelisk is now ready for it's sweet peas, which are currently growing in the greenhouse and we've started to pot-out some of the herbs we bought over Easter to dot around the gravelled area.

And finally, the story from the greenhouse is one of mixed success. Whilst the NASA tomatoes I got WH for Christmas are doing well and were potted on at the weekend, quite a few of the seedlings are succumbing to damping-off. I think that we probably panicked over the last two weeks when temperatures in the greenhouse soared and were overzealous with the watering can (damping-off is a fungal infection that is thought to be caused by poor ventilation and over watering). It could also be because I've sowed seed too thickly and haven't been pricking out fast enough. Either way, we've lost quite a number of the peppers (chilli and sweet) and a number of the tomatoes are going the same way (although not all the varieties seem to be as susceptible). Never mind - at least I've got my handmade potting table to use if I have to start over on anything!

NASA tomatoes (unknown variety) - they had a shaky start but are 'stellar' performers now

My potting table

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

My very own greenhouse

I love my greenhouse.

Ok - so it's rickety and every remaining glass pane is in danger of falling out and smashing spectacularly. Yes - we've had to spend a surprising amount of money on perspex to fill the holes. And yes - we've finally given up and just started to plug the gaps with bubble wrap fixed to the frame with gaffer tape. But it is still a great (albeit apparently a non-conventionally sized) space for starting off seedlings!

Over the Easter break I was able to get my shiny new staging set up (by which I mean I started trying to put it together, got confused, then left it for someone else to do...!) and it is already groaning under the weight of seed trays and plant pots.

My pre-ordered copy of A year with James Wong arrived over Easter so, armed with a fairly long list, I purchased both plants and packets of seeds for a range of standard herbs.

Already at the seedling stage in the greenhouse we have chilli peppers, sweet peppers, tomatoes (Roma and Costoluto Fiorentino), peas (Hurst Green Shaft), sweet peas (Antique Fantasy Mixed) and broad beans (Bunyards Exhibition). They've now been joined by seed trays containing more tomato varieties (Garden Pearl and Gardener's Delight), leeks (Musselbrough Improved), brussels sprouts (Trafalgar) and a collection of herbs (chives, borage, feverfew, sweet marjoram, echinacea and pot marigolds).

Who needs fancy plastic root trainers? Not my peas and beans!

Same mistake as last year with the first batch of sown seeds - no labels! These could be sweet peppers, or they could be chilli peppers....

Out in the beds, the shallots are coming up nicely and all of the sets are now in. The autumn-planted garlic, despite looking a little ragged around the edges after being buried in snow, has now shot up. Last week I sowed half a row each of my carrots (Early Nantes) and beetroot (Chioggia). Usually I just chuck stuff in, but for the carrots I did dig quite a deep drill, which I part re-filled with sharp sand and compost, before sowing. Given how stony our soil is, I suspect that a round-rooted variety would perhaps have been more sensible, but we'll see! The potato sacks have all been filled, and the earlier sowings are already throwing up shoots and have had additional compost added twice. My long plastic cloche arrived late last week, so our salad bed is now in action too, with sowings of spring onion (Shimonita and Lilia), chard (Bright Lights), lettuce (little gem and sonette) and spinach. These will be joined by some rocket and mixed salad leaves this weekend.

The cloche covers most of the bed and is protecting the salad sowings. I also sprinkled some French marigold seeds in the gap to add colour, reduce weeds and act as 'sacrifice' for insects.

We also finished the most recent bit of landscaping under the pergola, which is now de-weeded and has been gravelled over. We even had time to go shopping for some 'accessories' - a lovely woven hazel obelisk has taken pride of place and will act as an excellent support for the sweet peas later in the season - hubby's now finished installing this 'garden sculpture', complete with inventive solution to round-planting. See