Putting the beds to bed

With the nights drawing in, the weather getting chillier, and the simple fact that I’m a bit of a fair-weather gardener, I’ve started to wind down the garden for winter.

The onion sets have already thrown up some green shoots, and I’ll plant garlic next month – so these should be well established by spring.

All that’s left growing in the beds now are leeks and celery, which I’ll harvest for as long as I can. I’ve tidied up the other areas, and I’ll cover any bare patches of soil up until spring. Last year I planted green manure to grow through the cold months. This should have protected the soil, stopped all the nutrients being washed away, and provided me with some lovely nitrogen-rich plants to dig in once spring arrived. Slight problem with that idea: the manure germinated and grew, I let the chickens out, and they promptly scoffed the lot. So this year I’m covering the bare soil up.

Chicken having a scratch in the vegetable patch

Chicken having a scratch in the vegetable patch

Onto each bed has gone a good layer of comfrey, a generous helping of hen house scrapings and the contents of the compost bins.  I’ve then put strips of old carpet on the very top. I’m hoping that the organic stuff will rot down and nourish the soil ready for next year’s crops. Not only that, but the carpet should help warm the soil up earlier, giving me a head start. Well… that’s the plan…

The last of the chillies and tomatoes have been ripening in the greenhouse, and the benches are looking decidedly bare now. I’ve used the space to sow some trays of broad beans and early peas in there, and will plant them out as soon as winter is over. You can sow the seeds straight into the garden to grow through winter, but last year most of mine got whipped out and eaten by mice: hopefully being under cover will offer a bit more protection.

Earthed up leeks

Earthed up leeks

Having said that, the broad beans I cut down earlier in the year have actually sprouted again, and the jury is out regarding their fate. Some gardeners have informed me that these plants are never likely to be top croppers. Others say they will be better as they will be more established. I’ve decided to leave them alone and see what happens: if all fails I have my reserves growing in the greenhouse.

The last job of the year will be to dig up, trim the foliage, and store the runner bean plants in a cool dark place – apparently they should regrow next year.

So with the garden tidied and some of next year’s crops taken care of, there’s nothing left to do but hang up my trusty trowel and retreat to the warmth of the house.

From there, I can keep a gentle eye on the garden, with a glass of something yummy, whilst flicking through the seed catalogue for next year’s goodies.

My perfect idea of winter gardening…

This one appeared in The Hinckley Times on 31 October 2013

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

Spring

Just nipped down to the greenhouse, and it’s 29 degrees in there today… woo hoo… spring is on its way!

In addition, the following is happening…

Onions transplanted to give them more space

Onions transplanted to give them more space

Douce Provence peas waiting to go into the garden

Douce Provence peas waiting to go into the garden

 

Leeks popping through

Leeks popping through

Broad beans are up!

Broad beans are up!

I’m back

Yoo hoo! Yes, I’m speaking to you… yes, and you too…

After a bit of a lull in the old blogosphere, I’ve finally found the time and the inclination to put fingers to keyboard and ‘ahem’ bash one out.

I’ve had a rest from The Hinckley Times articles over Christmas, as even I can’t bobble on continually about ‘it’s a bit nippy out’. But you know what? After the bleak dreary nights, where all you want to do is light a fire and get your PJs on, I do believe that spring may really be around that corner.

Only the other morning, I looked out to see blackbirds blatantly flirting…nay.. near on cavorting… in the garden, and a blue tit was definitely having a good old nosey in the bird box.

And so, on to the vegetable plot. The garlic and onions I planted at the back end of last year have survived the snow, and healthy new shoots are pushing up through the ground. The broad beans were doing marvellously, right up until the point I let the chickens out for a run around the garden. In amongst all that green stuff they could have found to eat, they happily chomped through the entire crop of beans and left me with nowt but spindly stalks.

No matter, I’ve planted up two varieties of replacements in the greenhouse. Bunyard’s Exhibition as they did well last year, and a heritage variety I’m trying for the first time: Dreadnought. It’ll be interesting to see which are the top croppers. They are all planted in empty toilet rolls, as apparently when it’s time to plant them out, the whole thing goes in. The tube will rot away in the soil, and the roots won’t get any unnecessary disruption. Happy times.

I’ve also planted aubergines, chillis, broccoli, leeks and onions. There was a slight seed-related mishap, whereby a good few of them got wet due to a leak in the shed roof. So I don’t actually know if any will pop up, but for the moment they have the benefit of the doubt. I pop down to the greenhouse every day, peer encouragingly into all the pots, and give them all a ‘come on old chaps’ kind of pep talk.

If nothing startling happens, I may resort to buying seedlings from the garden centre. That’s not cheating is it? Please tell me it’s not…

This one’s for you Edgar 😉

Autumn onion sets

An exciting moment in my gardening calendar happened in the week. My onion sets were delivered.

Now, this news may not be on the top of everyone’s ‘exciting things to happen list’, but it’s up there with the best of mine.

Onions can be raised either from sets (little onions) or from seed. Sets can go in during the autumn or spring, depending on the variety, and seeds tend to be planted in the spring. The delivery of my autumn onion sets signifies for me the close of one year’s gardening, and the opening up of the next one. This means I can conveniently forget all about the stuff that didn’t do so well last year, and instead look forward to all the lovely success stories I can regale, sorry, bore my family and friends with next year.

As this season’s onions were not the best, I’m hedging my bets and trying out all possible methods of growing them: sets in the autumn, followed by seeds in the spring. First up, the sets delivered last week – which incidentally, should now be available in garden centres too.

Taking advantage of the gorgeous weather at the weekend, I dashed off down the garden with my bag of ‘Electric Red’ sets and raked over an area of last year’s brassica bed. When the soil looked half decent, I set about the planting. In no time at all, the entire pack was popped in, root end down, wispy end up, with about 15cm between each bulb, and just deep enough that the wispy bit’s still in view. To give them the best possible start, I even sprinkled a couple of handfuls of fish and bone meal around the plants, in the hope the rain would deliver this through the soil at some point.

A quick furtle around in the shed produced a couple of garlic bulbs grown last year. Splitting off each of the cloves, these were soon poked into the soil, in much the same way. All that was left to do now was to keep the birds off them while they get established. Birds think the bits sticking out are tasty treats just for them, and it’s not uncommon to find tiny onions strewn all over the place where they’ve pulled them out. Once the green shoots appear, they become less appealing.

So, I rigged up a couple of canes on each end of the bed, tied string between, and hung a couple of old CDs along the length: I tend to save the free ones that sometimes come with the Sunday papers.

Unless our birds are closet Cliff Richard fans, our onions should be safe.

Article as appeared in The Hinckley Times

Heritage

So, imagine the scene. There I am, minding my own business, having a wander around our local garden centre, when the sign slapped me around the face like a wet fish.

HALF PRICE SEEDS

My head knew perfectly well that there must be nigh on 100 packets of seeds in the shed, plus the ones I’m drying out, and there is no way on earth I have enough soil to put them all in.

My heart said, “Don’t listen to him… Just have a little look”.

So over I trotted with all good intentions of doing just that, and began scanning the packets. Mentally I was ticking them off my imaginary list and I was happy that indeed, I did already own a selection of veg vast enough to stock a small shop – providing they grew.

Then I spotted them. Like an oasis in the desert my beady eyes feasted upon a packet of Thompson and Morgan heritage seeds. These were different, I reasoned. I knew I definitely didn’t have any of these.  A quick rummage produced two more packets and without further ado I was now the proud owner of some Dreadnought broad beans, some Selma Zebra climbing beans and some Rouge Long de Florence onions. I allowed myself a moment of nostalgia, imagining a hazy image of me in my grandmother’s day, picking beans and onions to my heart’s content.

I have no idea what they grow or taste like, but everyone says that old fashioned veg tastes fantastic. Watch this space… I’ll let you know…

Holiday

After a lovely couple of weeks swanning around in southern Italy, I was itching to see how the veg plot had progressed in my absence. I meandered off down the garden to have a quick poke about down there this morning. Meandered… did you hear that?  The holiday must have done me good: I’ve learnt another speed other than ‘bombing around’.

First port of call was the greenhouse, and I have to say, that everything is going swimmingly in there. We are going to be inundated with tomatoes any time soon, have four decent sized aubergines growing, and the chilli and pepper plants are festooned with flowers and fruits.

Oh, and we have a melon that’s now about the size of a fist, and four or five cucumbers coming along. Our holiday garden-sitters have done us proud!

Peering outside, I noted that the courgette plants were also romping along. I planted them in the side of the raised strawberry bed, in the hope that they would trail over the sides. Not so – they are happily covering all the strawberries, so I think I’ll give them a patch of their own next year.

A wander over to the veg plot told rather a different story.  The wettest summer my garden can remember has done the runner beans no favours. There are a few paltry beans dangling on puny plants, but no flowers to speak of.  I even planted stunt doubles before I went away, in the hope that if we got a late summer, there would still be beans-a-plenty. Not one of them has popped up, so it looks like all the time and effort digging the bean trench, making the wigwams and planting the beans has been in vain. They are now officially ‘has-beans’.

I whipped them all out and weeded and dug the area. A quick check of the crop rotation plan tells me that brassicas are next up in that bed. The family will be pleased. There is nothing in the world they like better than a nice cabbage 🙂

The wet weather hasn’t done the onion bed any favours either.  The weed fairy had obviously paid us a visit whilst we were away, and the onions were difficult to spot in amongst them. If they haven’t rotted away, the leaves have started to go brown and wilt over, which tells me that they’ve done growing and need to come out. These were soon whipped out too, and I weeded and dug over the patch ready for next year’s crop of potatoes. Some of them came out not much bigger than when they went in, and I have to admit I’ve probably had bigger ones on a salad, but nonetheless I’m sure we will find a use for them. They’re currently drying out on the edge of the decking and will be winging their way towards a French Onion Soup very shortly…

Even more onions… and a couple of carrots

Who’d have thought…the sunshine we had on order finally turned up! Just a short while ago the plants were learning to snorkel… now they are on a full-on package holiday in the Med.

Everything is going bonkers in the garden: the beans are romping up the canes, the peas are starting to pod, and I’m delighted to report that for the first time ever, I have cabbages that aren’t turning into leafy trees, but are actually beginning to heart up. Happy times.

We’re not harvesting much apart from lettuce at the moment (the purple sprouting broccoli (PSB) has finished so that got whipped out last weekend), but I’m confident that in no time at all we’ll be spoilt for choice.

You may recall a while back that I’d slightly over done the onion order. I’d omitted to add that shortly after, 100 more arrived in the post. I was going to keep them quiet, and put them in the seed drawer in the hope they’d keep through summer, for autumn planting. No such luck – a quick check at the weekend revealed some were starting to sprout.

It was evident that they had to go in, so that was the task at the weekend. Perusing the onion bed, it was already pretty packed.  However, clearing some weeds produced a few crafty spots in amongst the existing plants.

Casting aside the lovely neat rows, 100 red onions were duly popped in, willy nilly around the bed. Hardly any are planted up together, but I reasoned that if you turn up late for a party, you can’t be too precious who you sit with.

Next job was to plant out the carrots. Of the various rows of seeds I’ve sown, a grand sum of about ten carrots have survived. A couple of weeks ago I made paper pots and sowed some seeds in them, thinking I’d be able to move them to their final positions without disturbing the roots too much – I could plant the whole caboodle: paper pot, complete with soil and plants.

However, I hadn’t banked on the paper pots actually welding themselves to the side of the plastic crate they were in, so it was a bit hit and miss which ones came complete with pot, and which ones didn’t. No matter now though, they are all in, so I’ll just have to wait and see what happens. A few more rows of carrots went in around them, just to try their chances. They’ve all gone in the space created when the PSB came out. The crop rotation’s gone a bit to pot, as they’re supposed to go in the ‘roots and onions’ bed…err… I think not…

This one appeared in the Hinckley Times on 31 May 2012

Budge up, brassicas

This week, we have mostly been eating cabbage.

Now, this isn’t some new faddy diet or detox plan, but merely a practical solution to the conundrum that is crop rotation.

In an attempt to be ahead of the game this year, I dug out my four- year plan to see what needed to be planted where. Vegetables should be planted in groups of their own kind, in a different bed each year. The theory behind this is that some plants will leave good stuff behind in the soil, which the next crop needs, and some plants will suck some of the nutrients out of the soil, which the next crop can happily do without. And by rotating crops around, you can help prevent some plant diseases. I’m sure it gets much more scientific than that, but that’s all the detail I need to know – I just keep the map safe.

Apparently this is the law of the land:
Year one: brassicas ie cabbages,  brussels, kale and chard
Year two: roots and onions
Year three:  potatoes
Year four: legumes (peas and beans to you and I) – then back to brassicas in Year five.

I have a very slight spanner to throw into the works. At the first sign of spring, I’m meant to be planting onions into the bed where the brassicas were last year. How am I supposed to do that when the bed is still chock a block with leafy offerings?

Well, I say that… true, there are plenty of plants in there, but I have to admit none of them will win any prizes in the looks department.

The cabbages failed to heart up, the brussels didn’t form little nutty balls, and the red cabbage leaves are about the size of a small child’s hand. But they all need to be gone as soon as the weather warms up, to make way for the onions.

As I’d spent a good part of the summer picking caterpillars off them, I was loathe to throw them away just for not being pretty. I decided that there was no option. We were going to have to unite as a family, ‘man up’ to the challenge, and eat the lot. It’s taken a bit of creative licence to get it all from garden to table, but by Jove, I think we’ve nearly cracked it.

Every meal has come with a side order of cabbage or kale (sometimes both). Shredded cabbage goes well in a stir fry, baggy brussels are actually not all that bad sliced and steamed, and I’ve even been making sprout and potato soup.

The local wind conditions have been changeable, to say the least.

(Featured in The Hinckley Times: 16 February 2012)