Tuesday, 19 May 2015

In The Garden This Week

Sowing for the village plant sale

Every year in the village hall or neuadd as they say in Welsh they hold a plant sale to raise funds for the upkeep and running of the hall. Living only two doors away we often see events happening in there and when possible pop or head in for a look around. At last years sale we had been out for the day and just caught the end of it so there wasn't much left to buy.

We regularly receive a newsletter full of the latest gossip from the surrounding villages, the latest edition was advertising on the front cover for plants to sell. As anyone who grows their own knows you always end up with a surplus of seeds at the end of the year so to pot up a few for a good cause seemed like a great idea.

Rather than go for something plain I've sown some French beans named purple queen and a couple of trays of sugarsnap peas called Sugar bon. On top of this every year my herb garden is taken over with wild strawberries. The plants in the sun are already flowering however a lot of the runners have spread into shady areas so these won't do so well. So far I've potted up twelve plants, they are shallow rooted and pull up easily. I think I could pot up at least another fifty without effecting my harvest, by midsummer I'm sure they'll be carpeting the floor again.

Monday, 18 May 2015

A Slow Start

After the fantastic weather throughout April, May has been a mixed month so far. By the time it did eventually rain in April the garden was in real need of it, there is only so much a watering can or hose pipe can make up for. Regardless of the lack of rain the early sun really gave a lot of plants a great start. My aim this year was to sow as much directly into the soil as possible rather than in seed trays or pots and April's weather was ideal for this.

Parsnip seeds were sown in rows with a catch crop of radish mixed amongst them, beans and peas went in at the bottom of the canes and carrots seeds were accompanied by spring onions in a specially prepared bed. Various types of salad leave have been successionally sown since the beginning of March and the potatoes and onions weren't far behind them. Of course all of these and more went directly into the soil rather than onto a windowsill or the dining table where I would have been able to keep an eye on them.

The results have been mixed really. The potatoes got caught by a late frost and for a time had me worried that they would never recover, they have and they now appear to be the star performers. The radishes were going strong for about four weeks until suddenly the ducks decided that they do actually like them and ate the whole lot whilst I was in work. They seem to have left the parsnips alone though which is a bit of blessing as they do take a while to get going.

An impulse buy at the garden centre saw me come home with some summer cabbage seedlings, these have gone out with the extra protection of netting whilst they settle in. I find that when transplanting it takes a week or two for the roots to adapt at which stage there will be no growth at all. If the plants can be protected during these early days when they are most susceptible to damage then they will really shoot up in the weeks that follow.

The beans and peas haven't lived up to last years high standards, this has prompted me to buy new varieties of each which I hope will do better. The runner beans never did germinate and only about fifty percent of the peas ever came through. These have now been surrounded by a load more directly sown seed so who knows I may end up with more than I think if they all come through, fingers crossed.

Meanwhile inside there have been highs and lows. It is essential living up here for me to get any warmer climate loving crops such as courgettes, squashes and corn started off inside so when they do eventually go outside they are good and strong. It also gives me a longer growing season, last year my first butternut squashes appeared around the end of September when there was no chance that there was enough sun left in the days for them to mature. Some dwarf french beans, another first for me, managed to escape my notice and seemed to shoot up overnight. I've put them outside for now but they'll likely end up on the compost heap and I'll start again with these.

It won't be long and I'll have my first meal from the salad bed, hopefully accompanied by some broad beans. For the moment everything appears to be standing still but all that will change once the sun begins to shine again, everything will shoot up around me and we'll be eating from the garden every day again.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

A Runner bean trench

I'm always looking for new ideas on how I can improve what I grow. There's always plenty of advice and inspiration about, some bright new ideas and some age old tricks that your grandparents might have used.

One that I haven't heard of prior to this year is a runner bean trench. The principle being that instead of adding your moisture retentive waste to the compost heap you bury it all in a trench where you are going to plant your runner beans. It makes sense really, beans love and need moisture particularly when coming into flower, the buried waste will provide them with this and over time release nutrients into the soil and more importantly feed the plant.

Perhaps I should explain further as to why I'm paying so much attention to my runner beans this year. Last years were perfectly fine however they all came at once and frozen runner beans just aren't as good as fresh. The season was fairly short and they went stringy quite quickly, maybe my fault for not harvesting them as young as I could of certainly something I'll aim to do this year. Also I had intended to enter these beans into the local village show, one in particular was looking hot favorite for the longest runner bean until the chickens got loose and pecked the end off. This has prompted me to invest in a pack of just ten seeds of a variety called 'Stenner' at a price you would normally pay for two hundred seeds. It sounds obsessive I know and I questioned myself when I bought them but if that's what it takes to at least get one entry into the show this year it'll be worth it.

Rumour has it that the beans should be massaged from a young age to ensure that they are perfectly straight. Now that does sound a step too far but don't be surprised if you find me hidden amongst a runner bean bush come midsummer.

Anyway having  recently combined two compost heaps to free up a site to start another I had plenty of material that could go into the trench. If your more organised than me you wont have put your runner beans canes up yet hindering your access to dig the trench. I was a bit keen a few weeks ago and after a particularly rough couple of weeks with the weather I was desperate to add some structure to the garden. Pulling a few canes aside I dug a trench about a foot deep and and put about six inches of half rotted material form the compost heap. This was mainly straw, kitchen waste and cardboard.

You can just see the broad beans in background starting to shoot up. These were started off on the windowsill and planted out about three weeks ago. I added a few organic chicken manure pellets to the trench and back-filled it with the soil I had originally taken out. This year I have eighteen canes so planted two beans either side of the first six canes. The rest will go in successionally throughout the coming weeks. This used up the rest of last years seeds so in addition to the show stoppers I 'll have to get another pack. Three varieties is a good thing though, it's part of the reason that we grow our own so that we can taste things that you just can't buy. I probably won't buy last years seeds again they were okay but I just felt they could be improved on in flavour so now I'm looking forward to finding a new variety to try.