Thursday, April 28

Things are on the up!

The seeds that we sowed directly in the ground on the plot are springing up – we have watered them well every time we visited the plot otherwise I think they would still be fast asleep under the soil.

The peas (sown 21st April) are germinating well so we just have to hope nothing fancies the shoots as a tasty treat.
The carrots (sown 9th April) are also germinating well – I risked popping my camera under the ‘carrot tent’ to take a quick photo.
And the parsnips (sown 8th April) are coming up too.
The trouble is all the watering has brought up the weed seedlings too and so it’s out with the hoe! The weeds growing around the carrots will have to be left until I risk the one big weeding. To cut down on the risk of carrot fly attack we only weed the carrots once whilst they are too small to compete with the weeds and then it’s every man (or should I say carrot) for itself.

I’m also really pleased to report that the aquilegia seeds sown on 12th April have been through for a few days now and are growing well. This is particularly pleasing as on the seed packet it warned that germination could take two or three months so the sudden appearance of seedlings was a pleasant surprise.
There are no signs of the cyclamen seeds germinating but I am being a realist here and don’t expect a successful outcome. It is more a case of I wonder if I can!

Obviously lots more seeds have been sown and germinated but I won’t bore you with a long list – a full list of April sowings can be found here for anyone who is interested.

I was going to keep this post just about seed germination but as I have whinged long and hard about our lack of broccoli I will digress and report that yesterday we noticed that two plants that survived the winter have decided to sprout one or two flower heads – one white and one purple – and when I say a few I mean JUST one or two but at least we should get a taster!
I have taken loads - I mean loads - of photos at the plot this week which can be viewed here if you have some time to spare

Bird Cam update:
Everything is still going to plan – the female is busy incubating for the latest video try the link on the sidebar but it is really more of the same and likely to remain that way for about another ten days. We've just got some exciting new kit so we can keep an even better eye on nest box activities - watch this space!

Saturday, April 23

Chocolate ladybirds and Easter eggs

I noticed this ladybird browsing aphids on one ot our apple trees. Don't you think it looks like half an Easter egg made from milk chocloate with white chocolate spots?

It was a bit difficult to get a really good photo as it was moving around quite quickly and the camera wanted to focus on anything but the ladybird but you can get the idea.

Looking at a ladybird chart I found that it is a cream spotted ladybird. The only others that look like it are found on conifers.

I have an article on ladybirds on my website here if you are interested.

As for Easter eggs our blue tits are building up their egg collection. We can only spot the eggs when the female first leaves the nest on a morning as she soon covers them. She seems to quite like the poodle wool that we popped out to see if the birds were interested in using it as nesting material. See our link on the sidebar for the latest nest cam videos.


Monday, April 18

Little house of sticks

I was like the second little pig this weekend - no I didn't eat too much - the second little pig built his house from sticks and that is what I did.

Well I didn't exactly build a house just made some adaptations to our carrot 'tent'.

Last year the 'tent' sagged in the middle when we watered the carrots which meant that the carrots in the middle got more of a deluge of water than the rest.

This year our 'tent' is higher which means that the enviromesh is more tightly stretched which helps but I decided to build a bamboo grid across the roof area to give more support and so far it seems to work. Well it did after one watering.

The enviromesh is only removed once - other than when we are harvesting - when the carrots have germinated (how's that for optimism?). When the seedlings are still fairly small we weed to cut down on competition but once the carrots are growing they can cope with the weeds and more harm is done weeding than leaving well alone. This strategy worked really well last year and as the bed is covered it doesn't look untidy. The less opportunity for the dreaded carrot fly to get in.

Unfortunately the enviromesh doesn't keep out slugs and they can devastate tiny seedlings crunching along entire rows so we do use some slug pellet protection. Again this is under the 'tent' so well away from any birds or animals.

The ground really is dry so we are watering the seed beds as often as we can to keep the compost covering moist.

Besides lots of weeding, tilling and watering we also managed to get a couple of varieties of peas planted. These were planted in shallow trenches which had been well watered. The seeds were then covered with compost and watered again and protected by some wire mesh. Hopefully this will give the emerging pea shoots some protection from clumsy animal paw prints (probably a fox) or birds. It won't protect from slugs or weevils though - there's always something that can break down your defences!
And just to show that we still have lots to do besides sowing and planting - this area still needs clearing. We left the dried sunflowers heads so the birds could browse them over winter.

Excitement on the bird box front - we now have three eggs in the nest - the little female blue tit is laying one egg each morning and then carefully covering them whilst she goes out feeding. See the latest video update by clicking the link on the sidebar.

Thursday, April 14

Going up!

Even though our garden isn’t very large we have quite a few trees. We like the height that they bring to the garden and the birds love them too.

Trees are always at their best in spring with beautiful blossom and fresh green (or even reddish brown) leaves.

Our magnolia soulangiana tree has been the star of the show over the last week or so but sadly its spectacular phase is short lived and too soon we have a dense carpet of flower petals as the leaves take over and cast shade onto anything growing beneath the branches. When the magnolia is in full flower we have a good view of the flowers from some upstairs windows where we can look out into the canopy.

We were going to cut back some of the magnolia’s branches but this will have to wait as the blue tits in the nest box cam use the furthest reaching branch as an access route to the nest box. Maybe once the young leave the nest we may be able to deal with it. (The young - that’s optimistic – sort of counting my chickens - but the female is lining the nesting cup now so obviously she is intending laying eggs shortly).

We have two crab apple trees one is Malus Profusion which is strictly ornamental and the other is a John Downie that produces edible fruit. The Malus Profusion isn’t called Profusion for nothing as it has masses of red flowers which are followed by reddish brown leaves. It does produce crab apples but they are very small, hard and red not edible unless you are a bird.

John Downie has the usual coloured apple blossom and usually produces masses of edible crab apples which we have used to make crab apple jelly but to be honest we don’t really use them very much as we don’t really eat much crab apple jelly.

Behind our greenhouse we have a Conference pear tree and a couple of apple that we think are a Peasgood Nonsuch and a Bramley. Both of these started life as cordons growing with several other apple varieties up our boundary fence. Eventually they became infested with woolly aphid which didn’t seem to respond to treatment so we chopped them down leaving some stumps. Being behind the greenhouse we forgot all about them until we noticed lots of blossom above the greenhouse roof. So we now have the dubious bonus of fruit trees behind of greenhouse. It’s definitely a bonus having fruit trees in the garden but I say dubious as pears do sometimes fall off onto the greenhouse roof and break the glass.
A fairly new addition to our tree collection is a medlar. This was bought more for its decorative qualities but the fruit it produces is a novelty. It isn't very tall yet and will probably need pruning to keep it from becoming too large. We have used the medlars with various degrees of success to make medlar and apple jelly but the jury is out on whether or not we will repeat the experience this year.
We also had a tree that sort of isn’t a tree – I say ‘had’ because we are almost certain that it hasn’t survived last winter’s extreme conditions. It’s a real blow as each year we fretted about whether our tree fern had made it through winter. Each year its fronds have turned brown and died but each year it produced the beautiful new feathery fronds and grew taller. Even with its crown protected it seems last year was just too much for it.

Other trees that aren’t really trees that we think may not have made it through winter are our bananas. We had a little grove of banana plants as the plants kept producing babies. Each year the tops were cut down and straw was piled on the roots to protect from the cold but this year on removing the straw we found nothing but a mushy mess so we think our bananas lost the battle of winter too.
On the other hand our small palm tree Trachycarpus wagnerianus (or Trachy Waggy as I call it) has survived virtually unscathed with no protection at all. It’s not exactly a ‘tree’ yet but it’s getting there!
I should also mention or it may feel left out the nectarine planted in a pot by the greenhouse door but I have mentioned this before - still hoping the flowers were pollinated and we get a fruit!

Anyway I guess we’ll have to now think about what we plant in to replace our casualties!

By the way I am adding some pages to describe our garden in a bit more detail on my website - you can access the section using the Our Garden link at the top of the blog

Monday, April 11

We don't dig, dig dig!

The beautiful weather this week has meant that we have got lots done on the plot. (See Martyn's blog).

All the onion, garlic, elephant garlic and shallots that had been started off in pots in the greenhouse have been planted along with all the heat treated onion sets and any ordinary sets that were left over! If you are interested for more about planting onions sets and growing garlic follow the links.

We also have planted all our seed potatoes using our trowel method. It used to take forever and a day to plant all our seed potatoes when we went through the torture of digging trenches and on a very warm day like we had on Saturday we would have been flagging. But the nine varieties of seed potatoes were planted in no time. If you visit here there is a short video of our planting method.

As there was very little wind we sowed our parsnip seeds. Parsnip sowing and windy weather just don’t belong in the same place as anyone who has ever sown parsnips seed will agree. We always sow our seed in a shallow trench filled with dampened compost to give them a good start in our heavy clay soil and it seems to work well. I’ve described this method on my website here.

The wire mesh is just to give a bit of protection from animal paw prints.

In the same beds we sowed our carrot seeds using a very similar method to that used for parsnips and as usual we, (we here means Martyn – well I do help a little bit), construct a sort of enviromesh tent over them to protect against carrot fly. There’s more detail here.

The strawberry plants that were also waiting in the greenhouse have been planted into our new strawberry bed. They have been spaced well apart so that hopefully this will make weeding easier as I want to try and avoid the new strawberry patch becoming as clogged with weeds as the old beds. Some already have flowers which a bee was visiting even before I planted them.

One of the beds on the plot was very large so we decided to divide it up a bit and have made another path. The idea is that we will plant the Japanese Wineberry along the side of this path and maybe a thornless blackberry.

Some of the apples and blueberries have joined in the display of blossom. The alpine strawberries also have flowers. We noticed plenty of bee action when we were sitting having our coffee breaks. Let’s hope their work is effective as already petals are falling from the plums and gages just like confetti.

Last year I planted a mixture of tulip bulbs to use as cut flowers and I picked my first bunch. The only trouble is that the sun has brought all the flowers out at the same time so it looks as though we will have to enjoy the rest on the plot.

To temper this with some bad news - the mouse has been raiding the greenhouse again!
Update on our blue tit nest:
The nest is now progressing very quickly and as soon as I can edit the video I'll post it on the web page that can be accessed from the sidebar.

Latest videos are now available


Tuesday, April 5

Here's hoping for a fruity year ahead!

My last post described how all the fruit bushes and trees seem to be either budding or flowering and inviting me to anticipate a bountiful fruit harvest. Well just to add to this - you may remember the fruit plants that I had from Victoriana Nurseries which have been growing in the greenhouse until such a time as we can plant them out.

We think we have decided where on the plot the Japanese Wineberry and Cobnut will be planted but as yet we are undecided on whether to plant the kiwi Issai on the plot or in the garden. For now the plants have been moved out of the greenhouse. All three plants are growing really well but my attention was caught by the kiwi. Firstly the leaves look nothing like the leaves of the kiwis growing on the plot but more importantly I spotted some tiny flower buds.

Unlike the kiwis on the plot this one should be self fertile so we shouldn't have the pollination issue that we had last year with the plot kiwis. Only one of the plants flowered meaning no pollination could take place. Issai is described as hardy and should flower in June which should avoid the frost. I wonder whether keeping the plant in the greenhouse will lead to it flowering earlier - if so I will throw some fleece over the plant if frost is forecast.

Just imagine if we manage to harvest a nectarine and a kiwi! I've looked back and our nectarine is Fantasia bought from Thompson and Morgan

After pruning the blackberry bush and yet again having to battle with vicious thorns I've also decided that I'd like to plant a thornless variety so does anyone have a recommendation. It needs to be fairly vigorous and have gorgeous berries.

By the way in case you are interested in using them Victoriana is offering a 10% discount to anyone buying from them using a link from any of our websites or blogs.

Tomato and flower seeds are germinating quickly under the Growing Light. They do tend to lean slightly into the centre of the 'garden' but I don't think (I hope) that this isn't a problem.

Our bird box with the web cam is still occupied and nest building is still going on - one bird which I think will be the female is in and out all day now. The male peeks in occasionally and has paid one visit to check things out but I don't think the male has much involvement in nest building. The latest snippets are available from the link on the side bar. 

Saturday, April 2

WANTED: Dead or alive - mouse with coriander breath!

We already have masses of cyclamen hederifolium in the garden and on the plot. We started with just a couple of plants one white and one pink which have cross- pollinated and self sown everywhere to the extent that some have had to be weeded out and others given away. The corms of some have grown to the size of dinner plates. In spite of its attempts at mass domination I can’t help loving them. The leaves are as attractive as the flowers. Hederifolium flowers around August/September time.

When we visited Dunham Massey last March we noticed a cyclamen called Coum flowering and I fancied growing some in our garden. I hadn’t seen this variety for sale as a plant anywhere and so bought some seeds. (Then guess what I saw for sale in a local nursery this year - yes cyclamen coum?) Anyway I am now faced with the challenge of raising some plants from seed. I bought some indoor flowering cyclamen seed - Lazer - too.
The instructions on one packet said to soak the seed in tepid water for 24 hours before sowing. How you keep the water tepid for 24 hours is anyone’s guess. Anyway I duly soaked both lots of seed (separately of course). It was a bit tricky getting the wet seed from my fingers to the compost but once sown I placed the quarter trays in plastic bags to keep the compost moist. I am warned it could take up to 2 months for the seeds to germinate – that is if they germinate as I can’t help thinking that I may not be quite as successful at propagating cyclamen as the plants themselves seem to be (or maybe I should credit the ants that are supposed to spread the seed). Time will tell. Anyone had any success with cyclamen seed?

In the greenhouse the perennials that I bought from Hayloft as bare young plants all seem to be growing – WHEW!
But not everything in the greenhouse is rosy – as Martyn mentioned on his blog something has been feasting on some of our seedlings. Not only has something nibbled the tops of the last lot of cabbage seedlings leaving just stems but it has also nibbled the tops of the young coriander. We suspect a mouse so any mouse with breath smelling of coriander will be severely dealt with!
One bit of excitement is that the nectarine that we bought last year has flower buds! It’s planted in a large pot just outside the garden greenhouse where we will keep a very, very close eye on it and cover it with fleece if any frost is forecast. Just one nectarine fruit, however tiny will be considered to be a triumph!
And the flowers are now opening!

Lots of other fruit bushes and trees are on flower or in bud on the plot!
I have completed my March diary on my website – this is a day by day account of everything we do on the plot and in the garden. If you want to read it it’s here.

Also a list of when everything is being sown and harvested from March this year is being listed from the Sow, Grow & Harvest link at the top of the blog