Wednesday, April 29

Take a bow

Monday, April 27

Just a load of rhubarb

Our crop of the moment is rhubarb.
The other day when we were watching Gardeners' World, Monty Don removed the forcing jar from his rhubarb to reveal some weak floppy stems of rhubarb. Now I know it is sacrilege for me to say this (living within the area renowned for growing forced rhubarb) but forced rhubarb has never appealed to me.

Maybe it is the fact that I have picked and eaten fresh rhubarb from the garden from childhood but forcing rhubarb seems wrong.

Fields around us are full of poor, unsuspecting plants building up their strength before being imprisoned in darkness.
Within the confines of windowless forcing sheds they strain to find light and grow pale and weak.
Photo from Google Earth
Eventually the plant's strength is exhausted and they die.

I have to admit that rhubarb forcing jar are very attractive ...

... but spare a thought for the poor plant languishing beneath the jar.

As for us we will enjoy our rhubarb from plants that can feel the sun (well sometimes) on their leaves and the wind (more likely) blowing between their stems.

Our happy plants repay us year after year with ...

So what did we make with these gorgeous sticks of loveliness pulled (you pull rhubarb rather than cut or pick it)?

Rhubarb and custard for Sunday dinner and probably a rhubarb sauce to accompany a pork steak on Monday. We even had some with our morning porridge.

Try getting all that from just two sticks of forced rhubarb.

Saturday, April 25

The plot so far

We've been making the most of the good weather and like the bees we have been busy on the plot. So what have we been doing?

We have planted most of the potatoes - royal we here as Martyn has planted all of the potatoes so far this year. Just another bed left to plant up. The last lot will be under weed control fabric. Whether under fabric or not our seed potatoes are planted using a trowel - just dig a hole and drop the tuber in. I've given more detail on this web page. We achieve a good harvest this way without ending up with a strained back and it is much quicker which is important as we plant quite a few potatoes.
Just behind the potato bed in the photo above is our second strawberry bed. I posted about planting up the first bed here. This wasn't our intended location but the strawberries needed to get out of their pots and the bed intended for them was still too claggy to plant so a change of plan was needed. We gardeners have to be flexible.
Just next to the wheelbarrow in the photo above is planted our first row of peas. These were sown generously to allow for non-germination and hungry wildlife. Seeds I planted in a trough in the greenhouse with the intention of growing pea shoots have been rootled though and carried off, presumably by hungry mice. The peas on the plot have just started to poke through so we have popped some twigs over the bed to try and deter the wood pigeons. A twiggy framework will be added before the peas grow much more.
Behind the peas above is the bed containing our first lot of brassicas, bought as plug plants from Marshalls. Usually we grow these under netting to protect against birds and butterflies but this year we are trying a lightweight mesh in an attempt to keep the plants clean of whitefly which is especially off putting when it infests broccoli and cauliflower. I wonder whether there is any correlation between the sea of oilseed rape that surround us these days and the increase in the whitefly population?

Also under mesh we have sown our carrot and parsnip seeds. This time to protect from carrot fly. Martyn posted about this here. I have also described our carrot growing technique on this web page. The mesh will stay in place until late autumn although I will have to stick my head inside the mesh tent to pull out any weeds that sneak through the gaps in the fabric.
The parsnip seeds are really covered just to prevent the wildlife and any cats from stamping on, or dust bathing in, the soil and disturbing the seeds. More about our parsnip growing method is here.
In the bed alongside the carrots are the autumn planted onions and garlic which are growing well. I know in some parts of the country these too have to be grown under mesh so I wonder how long we will escape the ravages of onion pests.

We - this time the royal we refers to me -have planted up two beds of onions and shallots. All the shallots were started in modules. Some onions were planted singly in modules, some in groups of three sets to a module and some sets planted straight in the ground. Hopefully this will give us onions in a range of sizes.
Finally the first batch of broad beans have been planted. These were started in modules with two seeds popped in each module, In most cases both seeds germinated and so each hole technically contains two plants masquerading as one.
No doubt the weevils are rubbing their antennae together with glee.

It's a battlefield out there and our defence spending increases year on year.

By the way since taking these photos the plot has been strimmed and beds edged.

Wednesday, April 22

Pear blossom and tulips

Tuesday, April 21

Strawberry beds are not forever.

Some of you rightly guessed that the fruit to which I was going to devote its own post was the strawberry. 

Our existing strawberry bed was planted up in 2011 and has served us well but all good things come to an end and the expected lifespan of a strawberry plant is about three years. Last year productivity was down and some plants were rather weak looking.
As you can see above - photo taken last June - growth was variable. The plants on the left made reasonable growth but then again they haven't been a particularly heavy cropper. 

In October last year the bed looked like this:
This year the bed looks as bad, distinctly miserable, confirming our decision to start a new bed.
A suitable bed was chosen - its one that we know is affected with brassica club root which shouldn't affect the strawberries. The next step was to select and order some strawberry plants. After much deliberation we ordered ten plants of each of the following varieties: Cambridge Favourite, Cupid, Elsantad, Fenella, Royal Sovereign, Malwina, Marshmello and Vibrant. At the time I queried whether  the bed would hold eighty plants and Martyn said of course it would. I deferred to his better judgement as after all he is an engineer and they know about calculating quantities.

The plants arrived in February:
When new strawberry plants arrive they don't look very promising - in fact a friend who we ordered plants for along with ours thought that his were dead. From experience we were sure that the plants would pick up and planted them in pots to grow on. Interestingly the variety that fared the worst was Elsanta - the one favoured by commercial growers. A couple of the plants died and some others haven't yet put on much growth as shown by the plants on the far right.
The bed on the plot was prepared, the soil tilled, fertiliser applied and then - of course - covered with weed control fabric. The fabric was mulched with wood chippings and was ready for planting up.
The plants were spaced at about 48cm (about 18") giving plenty of space for air to circulate. This was the same distance as we used in our old bed and seemed about right. A cross was cut in the fabric through which to plant.
So far the first bed has been planted up. Did you notice the word first? As it happened calculating the number of strawberry plants that will fit into a given area isn't quite the same as calculating how much building material is required to construct a bridge.
The new plants already have some flowers so maybe if we don't have any frosty weather we will have some early strawberries.
A second area now needs to be prepared in which to plant the rest of the plants.

You can't have too many strawberries can you?

Friday, April 17

Fruity business

This is really to provide a snapshot of the state of out plot fruit as of Tuesday this week. Things are moving quickly as some fruit trees are playing catch up and other just carrying on with their normal timetable.

The plums and greengages are particularly late to flower this year. As it is one tree was pruned quite hard last year and as a consequence had no blossom on the pruned branches.

At this rate trees that blossom at differing time could all flower together and produce a spectacular display.

The thornless blackberry - Loch Ness and the very thorny tay berry are just leafing up. The tayberry will produce fruit first although Lock Ness does fruit early for a blackberry.
The cane fruit is leafing well now. Above is the purple raspberry - Glencoe. This produces canes more like a blackberry than a raspberry.

The autumn fruiting raspberries have been cut down and tidied. I removed at least three large bucket loads of bindweed root from around them. This is a real nuisance and no doubt there will be plenty left to regrow and attempt to strangle the raspberries come summer.

The summer fruiting canes were newly planted last year. All but the odd cane have made it and we are hoping for a decent harvest of summer raspberries this year.
Some fruits such as the jostaberry, gooseberry and currants have quite insignificant looking flowers but the bees just love them. The jostaberries in particular are loaded with flowers this year. Unfortunately the wood pigeons are partial to their fruit and also damage some branches when they land. Netting which may help isn't really an option.

Honeyberry flowers are quite attractive but the bushes are fairly new and haven't produced much yet. Rumour had it that they could be a disappointment. Blueberries too have attractive flowers but the only disappointment here is that they don't usually provide a decent crop..
The vines are just beginning to break. They were the source of another disappointment last year. Lots of bunches of grapes were produced which were growing well until the poor August weather slowed things down and consequently the grapes stopped growing.

The kiwi vine, that I forgot to take a photo of, is producing leaves. I wonder whether the male kiwi will deign to flower this year and give us some chance of fruit. 

Many people compare the start of their rhubarb harvest with ours and wonder why we are picking much earlier than they are. The photo below shows just how varieties can make a huge difference. The earliest variety is far more advance than the others.
One fruit that didn't disappoint last year was the quince. The fruit stopped growing in August but it is a late cropping fruit which picked up again in late summer and went on to produce a bumper crop.

As I said this is just a snapshot in time and no doubt on my next plot visit things will have moved on a pace - at least I hope that will be the case.

Can you guess which of our fruits I haven't mentioned - it's one that will have a post all to itself.

Wednesday, April 15

Snake's head fritillary

Monday, April 13

Final Pickings

The lovely weather last week meant that we managed some long afternoons on the allotment as well as in the garden. We almost were tempted to think that spring had finally arrived and the bad weather was behind us. Then over the weekend the weather took a turn for the worse and the strong winds were back to batter any young plants that we managed to get planted.

As well as planting it was a chance to tidy and also clear beds. We cleared the bed containing the remains of our leek harvest.
Our final harvest of last season's leeks coincides with the sowing of this season's leek seeds.

The bed containing a few remaining carrots was also cleared and provided us with a few remaining jumbo roots.
I also managed to pick a few daffodils that have been filling our living room with a beautiful perfume.

Other than a few red cabbages our last season's harvest of fresh vegetables has come to an end. Fortunately we have quite a lot of vegetables in the freezer to keep us going until we can start harvesting this season's crops.

At least the poor weekend weather has meant that I have caught up with my computer work and my summary March gardening diary is now complete here and my April entries are up to date!

Sunday, April 12

What a difference a week makes - vegetables,

The huge improvement in the weather over the last few days has meant that our gardening has emerged from the doldrums.

Having had the empty beds covered with weed control fabric has meant that weeding hasn't been a major issue but it does mean that beds can take longer to dry out. A benefit in a dry summer but not so much in a wet spring. So the weed control has been peeled back from some beds to aid more effective drying so that the beds can be cultivated.

The poor weather and soil conditions has meant that some things have had planting out on the plot delayed. 

Onions and shallots planted in modules have been waiting patiently and at last the first batch has been planted out. I'm hoping that these will pick up as although the shallots are fine the onions look a little battered. Having said that if these had been planted out earlier they would have been battered by wind anyway.
Two beds each containing two varieties of potatoes - Casablana and Foremost -  have been planted. One bed has been planted up using the trowel method and earthed up.
In the other bed the potatoes were planted through holes in weed control fabric. When the shoots emerge these will be protected under straw until the risk of frosts has passed.
The idea is that the earthed up potatoes will be harvested first as it is easier to dig individual plants for early helpings using this method. The covered potatoes will be dug all at once.

We bought early brassica plants from Marshalls - which have been growing on in the cold-frame. These have been covered with some lightweight mesh to form a floating cloche which will hopefully keep the white butterflies that were sniffing around and the wood pigeons at bay. Martyn's post gives more details of this.
We've also sown our first lot of peas. We are very generous in the amount of seeds that we sow on the grounds that we can afford for some to either not germinate or be eaten by hungry wild life.
Waiting in the cold-frame are more onions and shallots and some broad beans. Hopefully these will soon join the other vegetables already planted in the plot.

Seed update:
If you are interested our full list of the seeds that we bought this year is here (also accessible from the tabs at the top of the blog page. Each month we also describe the seeds that have been sown and what has been planted out and the crops that have been harvested. I also write a monthly summary diary but unfortunately due to a computer blow-up this is a bit behind at the moment.

A late addition to our original seed list has been provided by Marshall Seeds who emailed to ask if we were interested in trialling some of the seeds new to their list. Of course we were.
It looks like we will have plenty squash this year. We'll also have plenty of tomatoes as we had already added Masotka to our collection after quite a few of you sang its praises. As for courgettes - so what's new? -Doesn't everyone have a glut of courgettes? I'll share how the seeds perform with you as the season progresses.