Thursday, April 22, 2010

All work and not much play

It is a curse of good weather that you just never seem to have enough time for everything, which often leads to not having enough time for anything. This is perhaps exacerbated more so than normal in April when the garden, and the veg plot in particular, needs a lot of attention, yet the evenings just aren’t quite long enough yet. That is not to say, of course, that we aren’t enjoying our time. We had a wonderful visit to the self-sufficiency show in Belvedere – a bit smaller than expected perhaps, but a wonderful array of experts, speakers and workshops against the stunning backdrop of the grounds to enjoy.

With the weekend lost to such and similar extravagances, it fell to the evenings to get some bits and pieces done in the garden. First up we took some steps to address our compost problem with the purchase of a Lidl compost bin. The old compost heap still hasn’t been fully dismantled and moved yet – a job we’re planning for the coming weekend. However, we located this small bin next the house, so it should be handy for the kitchen scraps. The other bins will probably be located a bit further away out of sight (and smell). The old compost heap did donate a couple of bags of worm-laden material to get this new one going.

The old compost heap also donated a further two bags of lovely, well-rotted compost for the bean bed. After settling in on the bed for a couple of days, this was forked into the top few inches of the soil there, and the first planting of the year (and (small fanfare please), indeed, the garden) were made in the shape of the Broad Beans, which had pretty much outgrown the greenhouse, let alone the toilet paper tubes they’ve been living in for the past couple of months. They're being kept under cover to harden off for the next few days (we had a bit of a frost here the last couple of nights), but are probably strong enough to survive without protection after the weekend (when they'll have to be staked). The peas will be following soon, possibly this weekend (or possibly not, depending upon how we get on with the old compost heap). Let’s just hope that that accursed good weather lasts a little bit longer.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

In with the old; in with the new.

There's no two ways about it, the greenhouse is now full. We've tried to moderate our sowing as much as we can, but there simply is no room left at all. The Broad Beans should have been planted out weeks ago, and similarly with the peas. At least their bed is now dug, and the cover means that they can harden-off once they've been planted out. True, we still have to get the bed finally prepared, but that's an evenings work, and the planting out shouldn't take much longer. Of more immediate concern now are the Summer Cabbages. These should be in the cold frame hardening off. The cold frame is here, but we've yet to site it (a matter of some debate at the present time), and put down a bed of sand for the plants to sit on. After that's sorted out, there's just the small matter of building a frame for their deep, raised bed (or should that be raised, deep bed?), double digging it and finding some more compost to get some organic matter into it for the cabbages and other brassicas to feed on while they grow. In reality, we're going to have to feed the brassicas over the summer to get anything like a decent crop - the soil is just too poor and organic matter just too scarce.

The reason the greenhouse is full is due to us catching up with our sowing. In lieu of new seed arriving, we chucked a good chunk of our old seed into trays and pots to see what will happen. These sowings included Turnip (Tipperary), Brussels Sprout (Balbriggan), Calabrese (Sprouting Broccoli), Spinach (America), Pea (Robinson), Runner Beans (Enorma and White Emergo), a dwarf French Bean (Burpees Stringless) and three Courgettes (All Green Bush, Black Beauty and Golden Dawn III F1).

Having failed with our old tomato seed last month, we couldn't resist sowing some of the new arrivals in the form of Brandywine, Gardener's Delight and Harbinger - a bit late for this year perhaps (recommended sowing time for them is January to March), but what the hell - may as well give them a go. Of course, just as the new seed arrived, the old seed we had sown a few weeks back, that had steadfastly refused to do anything, suddenly germinated. Not a complaint really - it's nice to know that the Falstaff Brussels Sprouts (the reddish ones in the foreground)and Perpetual Spinach Leaf Beet (the weedy ones in the back tray) will be on the menu later in the year. Of course, it would also be nice to know that they will have a bed to be planted in when the time comes - they will, they will, they must, they must...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bean there, dug that!

The good weather has meant a busy time for us at home and work, and the blog has fallen behind a little. Finally, finally managed to finish off digging the first raised veg bed. No time to rest on our laurels though. This will be our bed for peas and beans, which are currently out-growing the greenhouse! However, the bed is still very low in organic matter, so we’re going to raid out old compost heap during the week to try and get a few bags of that precious black gold onto the surface of the bed. If all goes well, we hope to be planting it up next week.

The cover is a (very slightly) modified one from Lidl. Our old veg beds were the same size as this one – the size dictated by the old garden. Imagine our delight to discover that not only did these greenhouses fit perfectly width-wise (four feet) when we originally got one, but also that two of them were exactly the same length (twelve feet). Although nothing is planted in the bed yet, the cover is on to try and warm up the soil. Underneath, it is being regularly watered and part of it is covered in cardboard to try to get the worms really going! Not sure if that will work, but we’re desperate to try anything that may speed up the readiness of this bed.

They say the simplest things in life are often the best and that one can get most joy from simple pleasures. The seed ordered from Brown Envelope Seeds arrived last week (only taking a couple of days to arrive). There is always excitement at the arrival of new seed: the prospect of it growing and anticipation of eating it. Certainly the packets look very nice – photos of the plants inside and hints, tips and information on how to grow them. The first of these will be sown soon and we’ll let you know how we get on.

Finally, just to remind everyone about the Self-sufficiency weekend at Belvedere House and Gardens this weekend (17th – 18th April). We haven’t been before but are thoroughly looking forward to it. Not sure which day we’ll go, and yes, we are tempted to go on both by the look of the programme. We’ll let you know how we get on.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A long and (mostly) lost weekend

Driving winds, rain and waterlogged soil rather curbed our ability to do much outside over the long Easter weekend. The lack of a completed bed is starting to become a bit of a worry for the peas and, especially, the broad beans, but what can you do about the weather except complain? Better weather is forecast for later this week, and one good evening should see the first bed dug and levelled. After this, it’ll be a fire-fighting action to get as much organic compost incorporated into the top few inches of the soil before we finally get something planted out.

Fortunately, the summer cabbages sown at the end of February have been a bit slower to grow than the beans, and were only ready for pricking out this weekend. Interestingly, the seeds sown together in the tray (right of picture) performed substantially better than those in the modules (on the left). This, coupled with the struggle in getting the seedlings out of the modules, suggests that trays will be the way to go for the rest of this season’s brassicas. A total of 48 cabbage seedlings were potted up (in three-inch pots, planted up to the level of their bottom leaves - thanks for the advice Peggy (

Somewhat disheartened by the poor (i.e. nil) germination of some of the seeds sown so far (which is basically due to the fact that they have been kicking around in the seed box for quite some time and are well out of date), purchasing some new seeds seemed to be required (and the prospect of choosing varieties from the various catalogues is always enjoyable with the rain hammering on the window). We plumped for Brown Envelope Seeds ( which have a nice-looking catalogue of seeds, and are very easy to order from. A couple of tomato varieties in addition to some broccoli, kale and spinach to fill the brassica bed and a runner bean which just looked lovely filled out the order, and we look forward to seeing how these do. In the meantime, we’ll probably bust ourselves over the next few days with sowing the remaining seed just to see how they do (if they do anything at all!) and trying to get that last two-feet of bed dug.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Signs of spring?

With a very unusual inch-plus of snow falling during the week, coupled with a fair bit of rain (which isn’t particularly unusual), we’ve pretty much kept out of the garden this week. It’s too wet to dig, although we could (and probably should) have sown some more seed – maybe the long weekend will provide more opportunities. However, the break in the work has allowed us to catch up a bit with the garden - strolling around with a cup of tea to see what's around.

The first welcome sight was the frog spawn in the pond. We’re delighted that there is already something of a pond here, and that the frogs already know where it is. Despite worries that the frogs had struggled to endure the very cold winter (which were reinforced by the lack of frog spawn until 11 March) we were relieved when the tally of clumps rose to around 18, and look forward to the first tadpoles later this month.

The first flowers of the year – some daffodils appearing through the now rather thick grass in the “orchard” are also a happy sight. We can only presume there are no snowdrops: despite it being an apparently good year everywhere else, none were on show here. This will have to be remedied next year – flowers are always a welcome sight after winter and early bulbs, such as snowdrops, daffs and crocuses always bring on the cheer of a spring and summer not too far away.

With such a cold start to the year, and a busy few weeks for us getting settled in, we’ve somewhat taken our eye off the other residents that already lived here. However, a Fallow Deer stag strolling through the garden one evening was a magical experience (somewhat tempered by the potential impact on the veg plot), and there are signs that a Pine Marten at the very least passes through. Many of the resident birds, including Starling, Pied Wagtail, Blackbird, Robin and Blue and Great Tit look like they are thinking about nesting somewhere around and the first summer visitor of the year, a Chiffchaff, was singing last weekend. Typically, recording for the breeding season for the Bird Atlas ( only started yesterday, so hopefully Mr. Chiffchaff will lift our spirits again this weekend. Perhaps then, despite the weather suggesting otherwise, spring is here for some of us.