Thursday 26 February 2009

The spring rush!

Reading and writing about gardening, despite weather in the way; wildlife station

I was already enjoying the thought of another whole weekend outside in decent weather but the forecast goes:

  • Saturday: Grey Cloud
  • Sunday: Light Rain

so I have to prepare myself for more miserable weather and less allotment than expected. Maybe there's still time for the weather to change...

Last night I had some time for reading, and I learned that chalky soil - with lumps of white chalk and flint like mine - agrees with grapevines, so maybe the plants are not dead after all, but only sleeping (very hard indeed by the look of it). Rosemary thrives on chalk as well, it seems.

Reading about soil improvers has reminded me that I need to sort my compost heap, which appeared in pictures some time ago showing that it is not really a compost heap, more... just a heap, and an ever growing one to boot! I could dig a trench and bury the material. It seems that peas would appreciate being planted on such a trench, after a couple of months from closing it up.

Or I could go back to my idea of getting pallets and build one like some other people on site. I must say that there are quite a few pallets thrown away at the garden centre that I could make use of, but my husband is not keen to carry them in the car... I should ask if they would take some home for me... but then I would also need to go to the council and ask for the key to the private drive to the allotment etc. so I tend to just dismiss the thought. The other day there was a skip on the road to the allotment with big wood cages that looked perfect: I wish I had the cheek to go and ask if I could take them... for recycling purposes, what else?

Anyway, talking of pallets, I have finally got round to taking a picture of the wildlife station I found on the Garden Organic magazine a while ago and that fascinated me at first sight. Here it is, compared to what I started last week (on the right).

I have a hedgehog box and a bird nesting box, and a couple of pallets, one of which I wrecked and which I started filling with brick fragments I scavenged around, and some twigs. I need to take with me a gorilla bar to pull apart the other pallet to put on top, and then fill the whole structure with - it appears - mainly hollow stuff.

What I have done so far felt really satisfying because that bit of my allotment behind the shed used to be just a grubby mound of soil; now, instead, it looks nice and tidy and will be put to good use :) This is in addition to the lacewing box and ladybird tower that were already there, and for which I have to find some attractant I had bought and seem to have lost somewhere in the shed...

Time to have dinner now: this is the fourth post since Saturday, my mind seems to be now all set on gardening, flexing her muscles (metaphorically speaking) for the spring rush!

Tuesday 24 February 2009

To do list

Space management, to do list for next weekend

This week I am starting to feel restless for staying away from the allotment so many days in a row: but it is still 35 days before long days and British Summer Time!

Is this hobby getting a bit out of hand?!? This winter has seemed more miserable than the ones before... and I seem to have so many things to do. This weekend went very fast as I spent it all outside - I realise now I did not look for recipes as I had planned! And already I know I won't be able to do any gardening the week after this one. Not ideal as the seedlings need watering, now.

My to do list for next week has cleaning the greenhouse at the top: I bought a citrus-based disinfectant to kill any bacteria that might be left from last year's tomato blight, but forgot to take a sponge with me last week. This is important as I have already planted tomatoes seeds and I want to give them a good chance to thrive at least at the start. Sponge ready in my allotment bag. Tick.

Then I have to find a place for all the Corrado onions I got for free with my seed orders. It sounds a bit exaggerated to find it difficult to find space in an allotment that is around 100 m2 for two people only, but what with the crop rotation, the time it takes for a crop to mature, the flower patches to attract insects, soft fruit, the greenhouse, the pond and the 200 or so types of seeds I have collected in the end I really find it difficult! So this is still a no-tick for now.

And jokes apart, with the 4 year crop rotation I can use a patch for the same crop family only after four years, and last year I seemed to grow mostly vegetables from a couple of families (A and B in my plan) so now I find I am left with a minority of beds for A and B this year... I will have to dig a bit more. In the meantime, I am experimenting with making the most of space with layering and companion planting. Last week I planted salad on the margins of the shallot patch. Let's see how it goes.

And it's already time to take the primroses and cowslips out of the polythene bag and leave them outside for the next month to get the lower temperatures they need to germinate.

Time for bed now, and not a vegetable one (I may need to excuse myself for the pun here...).

Sunday 22 February 2009

Papillonaceae and ...

Crop updates, new bed, "nature reserve"

The salad mix is growing really fast, no sign of any other seedling, but I planted quite a few new things

  • shallot Vigarmor
  • salad Lollo Rosso
  • celery Victoria
  • sweet peas (5 varieties, leftovers from last year)
  • tomato San Marzano
  • chamomile (lawn)

  • pea Twinkle (last year it did nothing, so I have to monitor)
  • broadbeans Express

in the new bed I finished!

I am very happy with the new bed, it has come out nicely and I am sure the beans will be growing well as the soil is very rich and crumbly: looked very healthy. Let's hope the holly is going soon, I will mention this to him when I see my neighbour next time.

Today it was really deserted, only me at the allotment, not even Geoff around that I could see.

Anyway, after finishing my bed and planting seeds, I also decided to clean up a little at the back of the shed and start off my "nature reserve", with a wildlife station similar to the one I saw in Garden Organic magazine back in November.

I also took off my fleece tent, in the end it was no use at all, I could have used the fleece on the artichokes instead.

Primroses and papillonaceae

Crop updates, acting on plan

It was a sunny day so I spent the whole of it gardening. The snow has finally gone, so it was time to inspect how the different plants were faring.

Gloom on the artichoke patch: most of them have rotted - I was so looking forward to eating artichokes this year. Anyway, it is my fault: I should have been more careful and covered them in autumn.

The strawberries are doing mostly well, except the ones I planted last: they might still be rooting though. The vines have been looking very dead all winter, and they look no better now. Leeks are as happy as they could be: my supply will not run short quickly. And the primroses around the pond that I 'de-clumped' before the snow set in, are doing extremely well.

Inside the greenhouse, the Winter Gem salad I transplanted in pots last week is still alive, although there is no considerable change in appearances. I was pleased to see, though, that the salad mix has sprouted already. I gave a little watering booster and then left it, as I have something major to do outside.

In fact, my bed plan tells me there is not enough space for peas and beans this year, so I need a new bed and the only space to put it in is the lawn at the top of the allotment (the dotted line at the top in my plan).

It is a bit of a shady position but I hope my new neighbour will help by chopping the holly on the boundary: he has only half a plot, at the top, so he doesn't have much of a chance of growing vegs unless he gets more sun himself - I think there's some good motive there.

Anyway, I digged most of the bed and I am going now to do the rest.

Tuesday 17 February 2009

Thou shalt not waste

Reflections on prices and wartime slogans

Tonight I went to Waitrose - it must have been a while - and I was a little bit shocked by how much I spent.

Be it because of the credit crunch, the strong Euro, oil prices, general lack of sustainability of our way of living, or all of those things together, I think it will be good to make the most of the allotment this year.

The UK rethoric is rediscovering wartime slogans against waste and follies. I will join in, referencing a fantastic poster from the 'Dig for Victory' campaign, one that is so very appropriate to today's situation.

I'm going to start doing my duty next weekend: I will look for recipes to use up all the onions and potatoes from last year that are starting to go bad...

Saturday 14 February 2009

How do you get salad seedlings to grow into proper heads?

Mid-winter crop updates

It was good to go back after two weeks and the weather was also decent enough. Understandably not many people around, only Geoff and me: a usual winter weekend.

While outside it is still pretty much frozen, the greenhouse thermometer recorded -5 to 30 degree centigrades since the last time I was there. However, nothing has really changed: no sign of either mushrooms or the chitted potatoes I planted in there a while ago, so I decided to put the space to a better use by trying to plant over the potatoes with quick crops.

As the Winter Gem salad seedlings were still the same size as a month ago, I decided that the only chance they might have to grow was transplanting, so I put them in pots. Plus, I have planted the remaining seeds on half the potatoes' bed and the other half of the bed I have planted with Rapa Bianca Lodigiana - white turnips from Lodi, the nearest biggish town to my family's in Italy.

There are several vegetables that can be planted in February, so I have washed some pot trays I got for free at Homebase last year (they throw them away, but seem to work very well for this purpose!) and planted chilli and aubergine, with some hollyhock seeds I got from a plant some three years ago, which are a bit old so they might not germinate.

I suspect there will be a lot more to do next week around the allotment and the garden at home, as I am expecting a few deliveries from my online orders!

P.S. This week we watched the last episode of Victorian Farm on BBC2. I will miss it. I learned a few things - for example that with water, soap and elder leaves you can make an insecticide for black fly and that comfrey, tallow fat and beeswax make an ointment for animal sores. I wish I could live a little bit more like that...

Friday 13 February 2009

Hope long days come soon...

... for the good of my health and wealth! Or, gardening-related addictions.

I came home tonight and I was really tired, so I went on T&M website for some relaxing online shopping therapy.

While filling my shopping basket with all sort of exciting plants, I decided to have a look at my orders database for a quick check and I realised I was doing it again, for the third time: I am ordering the same plant over again! I have ended up with 16 plants of jasmine to arrive in the next couple of weeks!

I mean, this shows that I am consistent in my choices - which is good, but also that my memory is totally gone - which is really bad for someone who used to remember all birthdays and telephone numbers of all her friends by heart! Besides, not incospicuously, it shows that I am spending too much time on my sofa trying to relax!!

If days were long enough, I would be going to my allotment and use up those plants instead of accumulating them.

I have had enough of winter!

Sunday 8 February 2009

Death to all slugs

Nothing worth discussing

Weather is still miserable and the snow has not thawed yet: it is quite dangerously slippery so I did not venture to the allotment.

A pity though this is as it should be seed planting time, if I was at all inclined to look at the brigh side, I should think that all this freezing must have done away with a few slugs!

I am here on the sofa, surrounded by a few of my gardening books: there is always something to learn, but cannot bring myself to plan in any detail. Feel very lazy.

Tuesday 3 February 2009

Beds plan for 2009

I mentioned a while ago that I would draw a map of the plot to plan my planting for this year: I drew it a while ago, and I have been loosely using it to plan space first for potatoes (when they seemed too many for the plot) and now for group B (beans and onions) for which I have the most seeds by far.

Here it is, finally scanned:

Somehow I needed to make it on paper. And I think I have not yet grasped exactly what would be the best way to maintain the whole planning and measuring system (this is real management consultant speak, isn't it?!): I think I need to have everything with me all the time so that every spare moment I can use to reflect on what to do, and this means having:
  • bed plan/map (this drawing)
  • crop rotation leaflet (A,B,C,D being the rotation groups, and X outside rotation)
  • database of stock (indicating plant family and planting time)

in my office bag, at the allotment and at home. A diary may help: got one for my desk in the office, but I am promoting it to a wider role in my life time-management efforts (alongside my Palm, Google and my LN calendar).

Oh mine, it is just Tuesday and I am so tired that I feel nauseous and faint. I wish it was summer and I could go and spend time on the allotment, in touch with the earth, surrounded by greenery, relaxing...

... but it is not summer and I should be planning how to get the most out of it when it comes!!!

My boss (bless her, a pretty amazing woman she is - with all she has on her mind, and despite travelling around most of the time, she has the energy to remind herself of my hobbies) brought in a packet of tomato seeds for me. I was thinking of that on the train, and it dawned on me (not a piece of news really) that I have far too many seeds, and that I do not want to waste them. Still, I have not really figured out succession planting. However, I should be ok with coldframes to initiate germination at any time, which may help.

Well, you see from the rambling structure of this post that I had better go to sleep now and philosophising about gardening some other time. Nite!

British weather (for British gardeners)

Crop updates, vagaries of the weather

I popped into the allotment on Sunday morning but did not last a whole hour: it was freezing cold, do not remember ever feeling so cold out there before!

No sign of mushrooms whatsoever, my salad sprouts are still there: green, not wilted but neither grown visibly - not sure what to do with them... will they ever grow further?

There was a feeling of spring, buds looked fat, ready to unfold and open up. I spotted what I thought was a bright pink piece of plastic, but when I went to pick it up I realised it was a rhubarb leaf proudly emerging from the manure.

The primroses around the pond are also doing very well, you can see the yellow of the flowers breaking out of the buds' skin. I planted some seeds: primroses and cowslips as well. They need to go through a period of warmth followed by cold, so I covered them with a plastic bag and some fleece, and I will check them in a month or so before putting them out.

I ran home straight afterwards: my extremities a bit numb and the skin on my face feeling like cardboard. There was a good reason for all that cold: snow was on its way again - an unusual early February Monday in southern England!