Saturday, 25 February 2012

they're off...

The first pea shoots of the season have poked their heads above the compost!

pea shoot
I sowed these in a container in the greenhouse twelve days ago, along with some broad beans in another tub which have yet to appear. Because we like fresh peas so much I’ll be making small successional sowings every couple of weeks over the next few months. Just being able to walk down the garden path and pick fresh peas to pop straight into your mouth on a summer's day is quite magical. I know, I'm easily pleased!

A couple of weeks ago I covered part of the plot with black plastic. There are two reasons for this: firstly it warms up the soil by a couple of degrees and secondly allows weed seeds to germinate. These can then be easily dealt with before they become a nuisance among the crops.

Into the slightly warmer soil I planted twenty onion sets (setton) and risked small sowings of carrot (Amsterdam 3-sprint) and radish (French Breakfast). I’ve fleeced them over to give a little more protection but the onions shouldn’t really need it. And talking of onions, I now have over 100 sets planted and I've yet to start on those growing from seed. It's a good job we like onions.

Rhubarb stalks are now about six inches (15cm) high and I noticed the blackcurrant buds are swelling nicely. All of the fruit trees and bushes got a good sprinkle of wood ash today and I’m now looking forward to bumper crops again.
blackcurrant buds
Because of the amount of overwintered salad crops I put in last year I'm running out of space in the greenhouse. I suppose I'll have to ditch some of it to make way for the new stuff. The spring onions and AYR lettuce will probably survive outside as long as we don't get any really hard frosts and I am getting a bit sick of lettuce leaves anyway. I try not to buy fresh produce out of season but it does limit what's available at this time of year. Still, not long to wait now and then we'll be spoilt for choice.

Monday, 20 February 2012

first spuds planted and tomatoes sown

Temperatures are set to be mild all week with no risk of frosts so I put half a dozen Lady Christl potatoes in grow sacks in the greenhouse and sowed some spring onions in pots. Also decided to chance some tomatoes and peppers in the propagator but the main sowings will not be till next month. As usual I’ll be trying new varieties of tomatoes this year in my ongoing effort to find the ones with the best taste and which are happy with my growing conditions. I can’t see the point of struggling to grow something you like the taste of and conversely persisting with a variety you don’t care for.

The alpine strawberry seeds have now germinated and they are incredibly small. They'll have to get much bigger before I can think of transplanting them to their own little pots.
tiny alpine strawberry seedlings
After leaving school I worked in forestry for  a few years and have always had a 'thing' for trees. Over the years I've grown quite a lot from seed, including this very slow-growing pine from the Andes of south America.
This little specimen is actually about fifteen years old and little more than a foot high. I brought it with me in a pot when we moved house but unfortunately I can't remember the variety.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

compost mixing

Today, with the help of my son, I managed to lift off one of the compost bins to get at what was inside. The stuff was so tightly packed that it took us about ten minutes of rocking and banging before we could slide the thing up and out of the way. This is what a naked dalek looks like :)

As you can see, apart from some semi-rotted material at the top, this is really rich crumbly goodness and will be mixed with other ingredients to form the potting compost for my containers.

Being in a compost frame of mind I also dug into one of the leaf mould cages.

Looking good, but when I got right into it there was hardly any visible leaf structure at all. Just what the garden doctor ordered!

good quality leaf mould
With all that material to go at I spent the afternoon mixing up various potting composts. The one for carrots and parsnips is finely sieved and has added sand but I just use fairly rough stuff for the potato containers. Roll on spring!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

things are improving!!

Temperatures reached the dizzy heights of 5˚C this afternoon so I could contain my impatience no longer and attacked the compost heap to fill four containers ready for the first crops of peas and broad beans. Said containers are now in the greenhouse to warm up a bit before I sow the seeds. Even with a February sowing it’s usually mid June before I get a harvest. This year I'm going to try and get a good succession of broad bean pickings like I do with the peas. Trouble is with limited space it's difficult to get enough of everything.

As I was digging my cheeky little friend popped in for a free meal.

Before this cold spell started the chives had poked their heads up but since then the outside plants have just sulked. One clump I brought into the greenhouse is now big enough to start harvesting. Amazing what a difference a bit of shelter makes.

greenhouse chives
It's not much but chives are always the first of the new year's crops to be picked. Overwintered salad stuff doesn't count because that was really last year's crop.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

spuds and chips

Another sharp frost last night and, although the ground is still frozen, the temperature in the greenhouse reached 14˚C by mid afternoon. Perfect for pottering so I sowed another tray of leeks to go in the propagator, some AYR lettuce and more mustard and cress for the kitchen windowsill. If you are going to sow sprouting seeds don’t waste your money on those little packets you buy in the shops but go for bulk buys, it’s much cheaper. I get my sprouting seeds in 100g bags but you can get larger quantities from some suppliers.

My first crop of broad beans each year is usually from seed sown in containers in the greenhouse. These are kept in the warm and gradually acclimatized as spring comes. Trouble is at the moment my compost heap is frozen solid so I dug down into the centre where it was fine. With two tubs filled and warming in the greenhouse I’ll be ready to sow the seed in about a week.

Finally my seed potato order arrived from JBA and all the bags look fine. The only trouble is I’ve run out of chitting space. Most window sills are taken up with seed trays as once they're germinated and poking their heads up I take them out of the propagator to get them used to cooler conditions. Still too cold to leave them overnight in the unheated greenhouse though.

It was so nice in the sun we had a run out to Silloth for fish and chips. Here's a pic of a gull trying to stare us into sharing our chance.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

sowing and chitting

I sowed some alpine strawberry seeds today. The packet had been in the freezer for a couple of weeks as the seeds need a prolonged cold spell to break their dormancy. They are very small so my normal practice of sowing seeds individually went by the board as I just scattered them on the surface of damp compost. They shouldn’t need much heat to get them to germinate but they are a first for me so it's a case of wait and see.

The idea with the alpine strawberries is to use them as ground cover around the currant and gooseberry bushes. If I’m going to have ground cover plants I might as well have something I can eat!

All of my onion and leeks trays in the propagator are now showing strong germination which is good as I really need the space for other early crops. A sowing of AYR cauliflower is first on the list then the first of the summer cabbages, to be followed later in the month with the first sowings of tomatoes and peppers. I've lost some of the early sowings in previous years but the gentle heat of the propagator should solve that problem.

My potato order from JBA has been delayed as they won’t send them out during hard frosts so I picked up a bag of Lady Christl in town which I now have chitting in the spare bedroom. These will be the first of the first earlies and will go in containers in the greenhouse to give us a crop from early May....fingers crossed.

Today's pic shows the snow-covered north-western fells near Cockermouth. Very pretty but I'm glad I don't have to do my gardening up there.