Greenhouse planting

Last weekend I was all geared up for a wriggle round the garden and looking forward to a fair bit of pottering and pruning. However, the weather had other plans. A glance out of the window told me that rain was back with a vengeance.

No matter though… earlier in the week, the other half had returned home brandishing gifts for me. Not flowers or chocolates – even better than that… an assortment of chilli seeds. Seeing that any outdoor jobs were well and truly scuppered, I trotted off down to the greenhouse for a planting session instead.

As well as the chilli seeds, I also sowed some peppers, courgettes, tomatoes and cucumbers. I’ve also sown a couple of trays of flowers to pad out the borders later in the year: larkspur, petunias and nicotiana.

In between the rain, there were a couple of sunny spells and it was amazing to see the temperature soar in the greenhouse from 14 to 25 degrees in just a matter of minutes. It will soon be time to remove the bubble wrap that’s insulating it, but I think I’ll wait until the end of April when the risk of frost should be much less.

There is further evidence (although sometimes it doesn’t feel like it) that the days are indeed getting longer. Mildred and Maud have finally got their act into gear, and for the first time this year we collected an egg from each of our chickens. True, they were a bit of an odd shape, but still they signify the start of the laying season. It’ll be cakes and quiche all round before you know it…

After the marathon planting session, the greenhouse bench is now chock a block with potential offerings, and I’m now spilling over onto the floor space. The leeks and onions are slowly but surely showing their heads, and the broad beans are positively bursting through the soil, looking healthy and strong.

Beans in toilet roll tubes

Beans in toilet roll tubes

I’ll wait until the beans are a nice manageable size, and indeed the soil outside dries out a bit before planting them into the vegetable plot. The spot I have earmarked for them is a relatively high bit of the garden, so should drain off and warm up over the next couple of weeks or so.

However, the middle part of the veg plot is currently still under water. Sitting on clay and having continual wet weather does not a good combination make. As we lost so many plants last year due to boggy soil, this year we have decided to install raised beds.

The other half has been rootling round on the t’interweb for some likely materials, and will be ordering some packs of pre-treated timber gravel boards very shortly. When they arrive, we’ll be after a long enough dry spell to construct them.

The Hinckley Times 21 March 2013

The Hinckley Times 21 March 2013

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The greenhouse casualty

There’s no easy way to break this sad news, so I will just come out and say it like it is. We’ve had a death in the greenhouse.

Let me explain…

Earlier in the summer, I bought a melon plant from our local ‘cheap and cheerful’ garden centre. It was a complete impulse buy, and being only 50p, it jumped into my trolley all by itself. It sat on the corner of the greenhouse staging, and soon began winding itself around the canes I’d provided, and popped out quite a few yellow flowers. On returning from our summer holiday, we were delighted to find that it had actually gone the whole hog and produced a melon. True, it was only about the size of a tennis ball, but it was healthy and strong, and we had high hopes for it.

To make sure it didn’t get too heavy for the plant, I’d carefully put it in a net bag (which originally had oranges in), and hung this from a hook on the greenhouse frame.

A couple of weeks ago, to my utter dismay, I discovered that the leaves were not looking as perky as they once did. Over the next couple of days, one by one, they shrivelled up and died, and I was left with no choice but to cut my losses and harvest the fruit. Although tiny, it was perfectly formed, perfectly ripe, and tasted blooming delicious!

Turning my attention to the cucumbers, these appeared to be suffering the same fate. Out of the three I planted in a grow bag, two had shot off and scrambled up the canes swiftly becoming fine specimens and bearing fruit. One had always been the runt of the litter, and had seemed to take ages to become established. That seems to have changed now, as the first two are slowly dying, and runty is looking strong and healthy, but has still never produced any cucumbers.

I can only think that even with the regular doses of comfrey tea the melon and cucumber plants have sucked the last drop of any kind of nutrient out of the soil, and are now saying, “blow that… it’s time for a rest”. I’m wondering if perhaps less plants in the grow bag, or indeed a larger pot for the melon would have made all the difference.

Next year I’m going to try out a new idea. I’m planning to cut the bottoms off a couple of large pots and cut a pot-sized circle in the top of the grow bag. Apparently, you then position the pot on top of the hole, fill it with soil, and ‘Voila!’ the growing space is doubled. According to the stuff I’ve read, this also helps with keeping the plants nice and moist. With any luck, the plants will stay healthier for just a little bit longer, and we’ll be enjoying cucumbers way into the autumn.

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After the rain

After yesterday’s rain completely stopped play for lots of gardeners and Jubilee parties, I thought I’d take a few pics this morning. Everything is bouncing along, and hopefully before long I’ll be smugly spoilt for choice at what to pick for dinner.

The spuds are doing well – I’ve run into a slight hitch with the old earthing up business. My rows were a bit haphazard, so I think I may run out of earthing up soil very shortly. Not to worry though – the ones in the tyres seem to be OK. There are three varieties in this bed – International Kidney, Cara and some random ones I found sprouting in a bag in the pantry. It will be interesting to see what I end up with…

Three varieties and the tyre planter to the left

Three varieties and the tyre planter to the left

The rasberries at the back of the bed seem happy enough too – must remember to dig out the netting when the fruit starts appearing. Last year I was beaten to it by the birds.

The brassica bed is romping along, and for the first time ever I have cabbages that haven’t shot off into the sky, but have stayed low, and are actually forming… wait for it… hearts!

I’ve pinched the tops off the broad beans, as I read that it helps stop the blackfly. The runner beans have their first flowers, which I’m sure the tree bees will sniff out in no time at all… We actually ate our first crop of peas yesterday. Picked, podded and steamed, they were delicious. We did have to ration them out though, as a basket of pods produced about a spoonful of peas.

Broad, runner and borlotti beans… in that order

The plants in the greenhouse are also coming along. We have one sickly cucumber who seems to be the runt of the litter, but seems to be perking up a bit now. The tomatoes have flowers, and I’ve been busily picking out the bit that grows in the ‘v’ between the stems. Apparently it’s better for them – I normally start off well then lose interest and they all go a bit mad.

‘Curly’ the runty cucumber is third from the right…

Mr G and his enormous cucumber

Mr G and his enormous cucumber Edit Blog Entry

Mr G served in the second world war, is a stalwart of the community, and I am convinced he invented the double-entendre. His mind is way more agile than his body, but nontheless he’s still a keen gardener and we have had many produce-related banters in the past.

My husband announced last night that Mr G had a cucumber for me, and we decided to cycle down to collect it, calling in for chips on the way home. I dug out the rucksack and off we went.

Spotting Mr G at the bottom of his garden, I hollered “Mr G – show us your enormous cucumber!” With a cheeky smile, he ushered me into the lean-to and proudly presented me with… two cucumber plants. For some reason I was expecting the finished article

The logistics of carrying two plants and a bag of chips on a bicycle soon became apparent, so the plants went into the side pocket. What a sight I must have looked cycling up the high street with two plants trailing behind.

Before we left Mr G’s, I heard a phrase I will probably never hear again in my life. Mrs G joined us in the garden, and talk turned from vegetables to vets. Out of the blue, Mrs G announced, “my doctor should have been a vet… he’s a bit heavy handed!” The mind boggles….