Still a risk of frost

Well, well, well… who would have thought? A couple of weekends ago, we were treated to a lovely sunny spell and the promise of spring. This weekend it looked as though spring had well and truly scarpered, and we had snow!

It just goes to show how changeable the weather can be at this time of year: one warm weekend doesn’t mean a heat wave is on its way – we are in England, after all. Which is why if you do get any tender plants from the garden centre early in the year, remember they still need to be protected from frost if the temperature drops.

I am the most impatient person I know, and many a time I’ve dashed off to the nursery at the first sign of sun, returning laden with hanging basket plants and the like, only for the temperature to plummet and then lose the lot.

I was hoping to get some of my spuds planted out last weekend, but that plan was scuppered: the soil would have been too hard and cold for planting.

However, there are still a few jobs I can be getting on with this month:

Firstly I plan to have a good old tidy up and clear any leaves, early weeds and debris from the borders to make space for any spring bulbs and new growth that may be appearing. I’m also going to start my war on slugs early this year, and set beer traps near any emerging shoots that might take their fancy.

Some seeds can be sown direct in the ground during March – I may well cover the planting areas with a cloche or some polythene a week or so before planting, to warm the soil up before they go in.

Vegetables I can sow this month are beetroot, broad beans, early peas, Brussels sprouts, leeks, lettuce, radish, parsnips and early turnips.

My early peas were sown in an old grow bag and have been in the greenhouse over winter. I’m delighted to say that they have survived very well, the mice and slugs haven’t found them, and they will be transplanted to the garden in a couple of weeks’ time.

Douce Provence peas waiting to go into the garden

Douce Provence peas waiting to go into the garden

Tomatoes, pepper

s, courgettes, aubergines and cucumbers can be started off in the greenhouse or a warm windowsill.

I sowed some cauliflowers, leeks and onions a while back in the greenhouse and these are steadily popping up through the soil. I’ll space out the seedlings when they get big enough to handle, then when they are more manageable small plants they will go out into the veg patch. Anything that’s going from the greenhouse to outside will need to be hardened off. This just means I’ll acclimatise them to the outdoor temperature gradually by putting the pots outside during the day, and inside at night for a week or so before they go out.

Broccoli and cauliflower

Broccoli and cauliflower seedlings

Leek seedlings

Leek seedlings

I’m making the most of this ‘pottering’ time. Before long, spring will definitely have sprung and the real gardening work will begin.

The Hinckley Times – 13 March 2013

The Hinckley Times 14 March 2013

The Hinckley Times 14 March 2013

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The cabbage cull

It will soon be that time of the year when onion sets and garlic need to be planted. The onion sets are on order, and I’ll be splitting up a couple of the garlic bulbs grown this year, and planting their cloves. Onions and garlic can go in during autumn or spring, and after this year’s disaster, I was keen to get mine in as soon as possible, in the hope they’d get a good stronghold over winter.

I dug out the crop rotation plan, and discovered that they should be planted in the previous season’s brassica bed.

Slight problem there… the cabbages, broccoli and brussels are still whooping it up in there.

So this week I’ve had to make an important gardening decision. My dad used to say that if you’re umming and ahhing about something, write down the plusses and minuses on each side of a sheet of paper, and all should become clear. So off I went, and the list looked a bit like this:

The plus side:

  1. If we ignore the cauliflower disaster of a couple of weeks ago, brassicas are one of the few things that actually survive in my veg plot

The minus side:

  1. Yes, they grow, but it’s touch and go if we get a hearted-up cabbage or not, and only a handful of last year’s Brussels formed nutty balls: all the rest were like miniature baggy cabbages
  1. If there was a cabbage-only supermarket, my family would not be the first ones in the queue. Over the year, I’ve had to be pretty inventive with my culinary skills to get the stuff eaten
  1. The slugs in the garden may as well have their own bar tab, with the amount of beer that’s sloshing around in the slug pubs
  1. I could start off a caterpillar farm with the pickings from the patch

So there you have it. The cold, hard evidence. Brassicas have had their day, so I’ve decided to not grow as many next year. I’ll still plant a few, but not enough to be over-run with the stuff: just sufficient to eat now and again. With this new decisive air about me, I set about clearing some space in the brassica bed to make room for the onion sets that could arrive at any time. Anything that looked puny, holey, or had started forming flowers was swiftly whipped out, and only plants that actually looked edible were allowed to stay in.

The final nail in the cabbagy coffin happened in the week. A photo appeared on the OH’s Facebook page, depicting a slug on the grass, with an arrow behind him saying ‘cabbages’. “Hilarious!” I thought, “I wonder where he’s found that picture”. A closer look revealed the truth. The writing on the sign was his: he’d set the thing up. The message really could not be clearer…

 

It’s all kicking off down there

After what seems like months spent gazing into seed trays willing things to grow, I had a nice surprise at the weekend. Things seem to be finally getting the message, and indeed have begun to pop their heads up.

Early peas

Peas - positively romping away

The peas are romping away, which is a stroke of good luck as the ones in the guttering shrivelled and died. I wasn’t sure if you are supposed to water them during the cold weather: whatever I did, it appears not to have been the right thing… oh well, at least I’d employed stunt doubles :). I’ve also planted another tray of snap peas that should produce slightly later. So if I manage not to kill these, we should have peas well into the summer.

And that’s not all. Yes, I know they are small, but have a look at these bad boys:

Cabbages and brussels

Cabbages and brussels

Cabbages and brussels for the end of year crop (“Hurray!” I hear my family cry) … and ….

First sign of tomatoes

The very first tomatoes! Hopefully these little chaps can spur the other trays on, as there are still aubergines, cucumbers, peppers, courgettes and parsnips, together with some assorted trays of flowers, some purple sprouting broccoli and a trough of lettuce.

Did I buy a big enough greenhouse?…

Here today, plum tomorrow

Last weekend, the plum tree was laden with fruit, and we could see ourselves gorging on plum-related goodies all through the winter. However, nature had another plan.

Autumn nipped into the garden yesterday on the back of a strong wind, which whipped all the plums off the tree, into the shrubbery beneath.

A bit of grubbing around produced half a basket of almost edible fruit, which weren’t any good for the fruit bowl but I’ve stoned and frozen them and they are making their way into a smoothie near you.

The  little plastic greenhouse had also blown over… again, spreading my PSBs all over the place. I wonder if they have the kiss of death, as they are either being munched to within an inch of their life  by caterpillars, or are in a random heap on the patio.

I’ve discovered a design fault with these  greenhouses – three words:

They… are… rubbish… Roll on getting the garden sorted and my new greenhouse up and working.