Sunday, 30 January 2011

plenty to do...

Another dry but cold day and plenty to do around the garden. Just because we can’t sow or plant much yet doesn’t mean we should be sitting around. Over the last few days I've been able to get the top beds prepared for their new occupants! The lower beds get a bit less sun so I can’t normally start on them for a week or two later. I checked the soil pH all over the plot and it is a bit on the alkaline side so I’ll have to try and make it a little more acidic. Adding sulphur is probably the easiest solution and I’ll get that done this next week if the weather holds. Digging-in decomposed pine needles is another method but unfortunately there are no coniferous woods around here. Anyway, that's more of a long-term solution and I need a quick fix.

I spent some time this afternoon riddling compost to get some nice fine stuff for the containers. I put it through a sieve with a quarter-inch mesh and the bigger stuff that's left goes as a mulch around fruit bushes, etc. To the half-barrow of compost I added one bucketful of mole-hill soil, one bucketful of cheap growbag material, some vermiculite and a scoop of bonemeal. When mixed this gives a light, open growing medium with a pH of about 6.5 which is ideal for most of my container crops. The base material can be adjusted to suit various vegetable types by adding fertilizer at the potting stage.
For instance, carrots and parsnips get the basic mix with some sharp sand added but most other crops get blood, fish and bone meal with additional liquid feeds through the growing season.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

cheap seeds and sowing

Popped into Lidl today and got some of their 29p a packet veg seeds. I don’t need any more seeds but at that price what’s a man supposed to do? Anyway, I found a few varieties that I hadn’t heard of so I can try something new this year. One was a very flat-looking onion ‘Roja de Niort’ and I’m curious to see how it performs as I usually grow maincrop onions from sets.

In the afternoon I dug a load of compost into the area where I intend to grow climbing beans. They like a fertile and water-retentive soil so it’s best to add as much organic matter as you can.

The desire to get sowing is becoming hard to resist. I've contained my enthusiasm so far by restricting myself to sprouting seeds and have mustard, cress and salad rape on the go. Not very exciting but they do spice-up an egg sandwich!

If it stays reasonably mild I'll get some onion and leek seeds away in the greenhouse. A pot full of spring onion seeds that I put in last November have shown their heads although the germination rate is poor. Hardly surprising considering the severe frosts we had in December.

Monday, 24 January 2011

turned out nice again...

Another gloriously sunny winters day and an absolute joy to be working in the garden. Things are much drier than a week ago although the soil isn’t really workable yet. I didn’t let that put me off though, and got on with a lot of jobs that needed doing.

First off was to continue widening the main plot by nine inches. I know it doesn’t sound much but on the length of the plot that extra could give me another 20 or 30 pounds of food! Previously I’d cut back and lowered a privet hedge to allow more light to the plot but I can’t get too close or the hedge roots will start to draw water and nutrients from the veg. After removing the turf I dug out about six inches deep then broke up the heavy soil with a fork before throwing in a good helping of compost and raking back the topsoil.

Next job was to relocate a load of raspberry canes. The space they had occupied is now needed for vegetable production and there are some odd corners of the garden where the rasps should thrive. As with the plot widening, each planting hole received a shovel of compost and I also added a handful of bonemeal to each one. I’m not bothered about getting a crop this year as there’s plenty of other fruit, especially the strawberries which I’ve increased for this year.

A bit more tidying up and pot sorting in the greenhouse before finally I washed and scrubbed a batch of large containers in readiness for this year’s crops. Because I grow both tomatoes and potatoes in containers I make sure they are properly cleaned so as to minimise any possibility of disease transfer.

Thursday, 20 January 2011


Potato order from JBA arrived today. I think I’ve got too many again and I’ll end up planting some in the compost heap and flower beds like I did last year!!

I like to try different varieties every year and this time have gone for Lady Christl, Nicola, Carlingford and Maris Peer in addition to the old favourites Charlotte. I’m also going to risk some maincrops and have opted for Harlequin and Maris Piper. There was no blight in this area last year so I’m hoping for similar weather and a succesful maincrop.

Last year, as an experiment, I grew some of the crop in plastic flower buckets just to see if it would work. The answer is yes it did and I was surprised at the yields although I wouldn’t want to grow a maincrop variety because of the limited space available in the container. Additionally, it turned out to be the most economic use of garden space as the plants grow upwards instead of spreading out and can be spaced much more closely.

First I drew out a trench with a draw hoe then half-filled it with well-rotted compost. Then I arranged the empty flower buckets with their bases cut out on top of the compost and back-filled the trench and around the buckets with the original soil. This anchors the buckets and stops them blowing away. A couple of inches of compost with a sprinkle of BFB in each bucket made a bed for each chitted seed potato which was then planted and covered with more compost. Subsequent ‘earthing-up’ was done with the same material mixed with grass clippings. My reason for using this was that it is quite light and will allow plenty of room for the tubers to develop.  It may be possible to use ordinary soil but as mine is a rather heavy I didn’t want to impede the tuber development.

Feeding was done with my home-made seaweed concoction but any general purpose feed would probably do.

The varieties I chose were Dunluce, Charlotte and Kestrel and yields averaged just over 2lbs or 1kg per bucket with one seed potato.

There are several advantages that I can see for this method. To harvest them simply tip out the bucket and the potatoes come out very clean, with no digging. You are unlikely to get volunteers springing up next year. They are less likely to suffer pest damage and you can actually get as good, if not better yield in a given area than using traditional spacing. This applies to earlies and would not be efficient for maincrop as they require much more room to expand.

I hope the pictures are self explanatory. The third one is the yield of charlotte from one tub.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

what a busy boy....

What a busy boy I’ve been today! We’ve had one of those lovely winter days with blue sky, sunshine and no wind - perfect for getting things done in the garden. I started this morning by cutting down one of the apple trees. It was a sad, mis-shapen thing and never bore more than a handful of fruit. It was an early variety and probably quite unsuited to growing this far north so I’ll put something more appropriate in its place.  The smaller twigs will go through the shredder and the bigger stuff will go on the fire after drying for a year or so.

Next job was to empty one of the compost ‘daleks’. It had some lovely crumbly stuff in it which, after bagging, has given me about 140 litres of humus-rich goodness for the container grown veg. I still have the other dalek and a big open heap to dig into and then there’s the leaf mould frame and about 400 litres of fine sieved compost bagged up from last year. My dream of compost self-sufficiency is finally realized!!

Decanted three gallons of seaweed tea from a big drum into smaller bottles. It doesn’t half stink when you stir it up. The rotted seaweed will be composted then I’ll get another lot under way. Six gallons should see me through the season but I can always make more if I have to.

Pottered about and did some general tidying up before the last job of the day which was severing a layered blackcurrant branch from its parent and moving to a prepared hole. The layering method is probably the easiest way to propagate currants and you get a bush much faster than from a cutting.
the layered shoot still attached to parent
removed from parent and with a healthy root ball ready to go into prepared hole
I pegged this one down last spring and after less than a year I have a well-rooted bush with half a dozen good branches.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011


Decided to reorganize part of the soft fruit bed and move a few things around to make it easier to access the various bushes. Imagine my surprise when I discovered half a dozen good-sized Charlotte potatoes which I’d overlooked last year. I remember sticking a few seed potatoes in last June after I’d cleared some weeds and I thought I’d lifted them all but I must have missed one plant. Had the potatoes for tea and they were lovely. No slug damage whatsoever and in perfect condition despite the severe frosts.

Don’t you just love nice surprises.

Friday, 14 January 2011

springing back to life!

Temperatures in the south-facing greenhouse have been well up this last few days and some of the plants that looked very sad a week ago are now springing back into life.
Lollo rossa lettuce has plenty of fresh new growth and is great for picking the odd leaf to put into a sandwich.
All the swiss chard growing outside has been ravaged by the frosts but one container of September-sown plants under glass is greening-up nicely. Yesterday I lifted celeriac, turnips and leeks and these have gone into a hearty winter soup.

The desire to get sowing has finally got the better of me and I sowed some cress and salad rape on damp kitchen towel to give me some sproutings to use as a sandwich garnish. This is one way to get fresh produce right throughout the year and is so quick and easy even children can be encouraged to get involved.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

tidying up

A tidying up day today. The ground is sodden but there are still things that can be done around the garden. I had hoped that some of the greens would have survived the harsh weather but calabrese and cabbage are just a mushy mess so I’ve pulled the roots and disposed of them. Swiss chard has mostly blackened and died but at least the leeks are looking healthy. They’re all I’ve got left on the plot apart from a few small turnips so my plan to defeat the hungry gap has been thwarted again. Good job I’ve still got plenty of stuff in the freezer.

sad calabrese
Two new fruit trees I planted last spring have not done as well as expected so I worked some bone meal into the top few inches of soil around them. Hopefully this will encourage root growth. I also did some pruning on the a couple of the mature apples and added the twigs to my ‘hedgehog hotel’. This is a pile of stuff at the bottom of the garden which offers a home to all manner of creatures during the winter and which will go through the shredder once the warm weather comes and my little friends can survive in the open. As well as the hedgehogs we have a healthy frog population which helps keep down the slugs.

In the afternoon I collected a couple of sacks of seaweed to add to the compost heaps. I have a lot of nicely rotted compost ready to incorporate into the soil as soon it dries out a little then I can start the whole process over again. I noticed while out that there are some piles of wood ash from the cutting and burning of gorse on the marsh. I’ll collect some next time I’m out as it’s a valuable source of potash for the soil.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

getting ready

The weather has been a little milder lately and my fingers are itching to get sowing some seeds. Still too early up here as I don’t have a propagator or grow lights so I’ve had to content myself with sorting seed packets and making yet more plans.

In town today I just had to buy a couple of small packs of seed potatoes. That’s seven varieties I’ve now got to try for this year. I think that growing your own is more a disease than a hobby!! There should be a hotline you can call whenever you feel the urge to buy more seeds and a caring voice will bring you back down to earth and try to convince you that you should spend your time doing something sensible like stamp collecting.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

a new season starts

Wilko’s are clearing their shelves of the Christmas stuff and are putting out the seed packets. I like to think this is a signal that the new growing season has arrived and we should all be thinking about what we are going to plant this year. I’ve sorted out my seeds and drawn up various plans but I expect life, the weather and everything will interefere and throw an enormous spanner in the works. I make plans every year and every year the same thing happens, so why do I bother? Well, I guess it gives me something to do on the long dark nights and it does make me think about my garden rather than just putting things in haphazardly and expecting them to flourish.

The days are starting to lengthen but there is still plenty of time for some severe weather so I’ll resist the temptation to sow anything just yet. Last year I tried tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers sown in January on what I thought was a warm windowsill and I lost the lot. The March sowings thrived, so without heated propagators or suchlike it’s not worth the bother of early sowings in this part of the world.

I’m going to try and get some very early potatoes this year by growing them in pots in the greenhouse and will give details of my progress as the year unfolds. Last year my first pick was on 29th May but I think I can beat that by a couple of weeks as long as we don’t get a very cold spring.