Sunday, 25 April 2010

Planting out

As I am not very good at potting on, and I have a bit of time pressure, I went for the planting out option.

I started with celery, possibly the tiniest seedlings. It feels like yesterday that I was doing this before, but it is actually over a year: it did work - except that I got a ridiculous crop from leaving the celery thirsty over the summer - then I left it in the soil over winter as I had no time to pick it... but three plants are still alive now so I will give it another go.

Transplanting tens of tiny celery seedlings gives you plenty of time for thinking (I think it took me a good couple of hours) - read: it is quite boring, so to make it more interesting, I mentally registered all the steps to write about it. Here you go, my...

Step by step planting out process

Seedlings are ready to transplant when the first couple of true leaves are out; these may come after the cotyledons or seed leaves, which in several species is the first pair to emerge out of the compost (they look different from the others). Celery was ready.

I waited until later in the afternoon as the sun was too strong and I would have risked wilting and/or scorching. Overcast days are said to be best, but I usually do it in the early evenings (because that's when I am around). This is not ideal, however, I suppose because overnight the plants do not do photosynthesis, which by and large is the main way water moves through the plant. Moreover, you unnecessarily expose your seedlings to slugs. Anyway, the pre-transplant soak seems to sort them, and I use a little ferric phosphate for the slugs - which incidentally seem to have been less active lately (I hope I will not come to regret saying this :)).

When the sky got hazed, I first did something that might sound obvious but that I have forgotten endless times: give a good soak to the seedlings and let them absorb the water: it is stressful enough to go through a change of temperature and soil - possibly after some bruising of your tiny stem and leaves and with some of your roots ripped - without being starved for water.

I grow my seedlings in cardboard punnets, easy to rip apart to get to the block of compost from which delicately to extract the seedlings - possibly without even touching them, just handling the compost around the roots. However when that does not work, I pick seedlings by the leaves - I read one should leave the stem alone.

Having digged some trenches at a suitable depth and distance from each other (the seed packet often specifies), I planted the seedlings with as much as possible of the original compost and pushed the soil around them.

Then, I re-writed the label in felt pen (they tend to discolour and I forget which species I have grown in a particular place!), and with my watering can with a fine rose I watered around the seedlings: any one seedling that was knocked down or sideways needed the soil firmed around them. Roots absorb both oxigen and water from the soil - compaction and waterlogging prevent them to breathe, but air pockets may cause them to dry out as there is no contact between the soil water and the root hairs in charge of absorption.

I finished by covering with fleece, to minimise temperature variation from the greenhouse and to prevent direct sun that might scorch them at this stage.

Finger crossed, and I will now keep an eye on them for the next few days. I have overplanted anyway, so if any casualty occurs, I should feel it less painfully.

P.S. Warning - I read that same night that the potting on process and gradually hardening off the new plants - by putting them out in the day, not in direct sun, and bringing them back in at night - ensures they keep the head start you gave them by sowing in the greenhouse environment. Planting out too early can stunt growth - apparently some seedlings don't recover until as late as July! Anyway, I do the best I can given my circumstances...

Friday, 23 April 2010

Nettles and summer

Fancy nettles being all the rage this year! There is a special on the May issue of Gardener's World, saying that they are not only useful for attracting ladybirds but also to distract caterpillars of several butterflies from your plants, besides being a nutritious food, a compost heap starter and an effective soil test (some of the reflections were already published in a blog post from 2008).

The other night I got the first midge bite of the year, on my head as usual: it's summer!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Weeds and Friar's Beards

I was pulling weeds here and there - a lot of grass tufts around - wondering why my barba di frate never got to come out (ok that it is a low germination seed, but...) when I realised that what I was pulling might well not have been a tiny tiny tuft of grass but actually the elusive agretti! In fact it was tinier than grass usually is when it emerges, so watch this space...

Most seedlings are out now

Suddenly al the seedlings are coming out together: this is the most difficult stage for me as I am not too good at potting on - a very delicate phase, with a lot of pressure to find suitable space.

I have prepared the greenhouses for the chillies already, and the tomatoes that I transplanted straight from the seedtrays to the ground under a tent seem to be doing fine. The cardoons that I planted out to save from slug & snails look on the mend as well.

Strawberries, redcurrant, gooseberry and blackcurrant are flowering. I wish someone got the shoots and self-seeded soft-fruits off me before they die in the small pots. I also have borage seedlings and plenty of mint that I could give away.

As I really loved the soup the other night, before leaving I decided to try some more nettles: you are only supposed to pick them while they are young in spring - which is now. It was already darkish, and an odd, gloomy feeling took hold of me, as if I was in the process of stealing, much as little Eliza must have felt in the childrens' story "The Wild Swans" by H.C. Andersen.

Anyway, I decided to make an omelette this time. It was lovely and I have some leftover for lunch today. For the recipe, I proceeded as per the soup until just before the flour/milk/stock step and added a sprinkle of white wine instead. I then whisked 6 eggs with some parmesan and mixed it with the wilted nettles straight in a pan, where I had heated some e.v. olive oil.
Another recipe I found suggested to chop the nettles finely and add them raw to the batter instead.

-- Post From My iPhone

Sunday, 18 April 2010

First produce of the year!

Today I picked some rhubarb, which I will be turning in compote tomorrow, and some nettles.

I have been growing nettles to attract ladybirds, as I read once that they particularly fancy nettle aphids, and saw nettles on the canal that were full of ladybirds after that.
But nettles are also a nutritious food: my Food for Free booklet says that "they have high levels if Vitamins A and C, 2.3% by weight iron, and a remarkable 5.5% of protein."

So I decided to make soup, and after browsing a few recipes I mixed them to get this:
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • e.v. olive oil q.b.
  • 2 tbs of white flour
  • 150 gr nettles tops and young leaves
  • 1 glass whole milk
  • 500 ml chicken stock
Soften your onion and garlic in a pan with some oil, then add the nettles (washed, with stalks & all) and stir until wilted. Stir in the white flour, the milk and the chicken stock. Bring to the boil for a few minutes and then turn off the hob and blend the soup into the mixer.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Living the Good Life?

I am doing a lot more than last year at the allotment but that means I am so tired when I get home and leave reporting and keeping track of things, which is not very "professional" of someone that is trying to assess whether she is successful!
Also, as I mentioned last week, I have lost inspiration to write about what is going on: full-time work, housework and studying on top, all together take their toll.

So I was intrigued when I read this article referring to a hypothesis of alternative life where the working week would consist of 21 hours and so much more free time for the rest (with the side benefit of less money for consumerism)... The article also refers to the price of bed frames (which I mentioned last week) and how the Good Life is now being sold as a marketing exercise...

Of course I am thinking of the possibility of living in a more self-sufficient, sustainable way: somehow working the land triggers reflections on responsibility towards what's around you. In an attempt to cut on the effort towards it, I had even considered applying for the new BBC reality show on setting up your own farm (but it is not clear what you commit yourself for and what you get for it, so I suspect it is only attractive to pretty desperate - or very brave - people). In the meantime, I will be attending a breadmaking course.

Incidentally, I have received my first horticulture paper results, and it seems I have cracked it, even though it took me all that long.

Is the Good Life any closer? For sure it's a hell of a lot of work to get there! And I cannot see many realistic shortcuts...

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Maybe it's just me being more alert...

... but both at the allotment and at home there are plentiful spiders, ladybirds, (bumble)bees of several types and even a couple of butterflies (a peacock - bit battered, and a comma)...

I made another bed today and started planting out some peas. More tomorrow, when some sunshine is forecasted. Need to clean up the shed once again or I will miss some of the seeds that I have not catalogued by month as they were used already and stored in tins.

More raspberry shoots today, if anyone is keen on experimenting, they might even fruit this year if transplanted quickly enough.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Talking of clearing up...

I arrive at the plot, climb to the shed and...
My gosh it's light and airy!
gobsmacked, jaw dropping... there is virtually no holly on the bank over the plot on the left, and the elders whose flowering I was looking forward for my cordial have mostly gone too!

Maybe the new neighbour, maybe the council following my request to clear the banks from evergreens (mental note: leave the council alone in future)...

I was not sure whether to be pleased - which I really was - or disappointed - which I was also, a bit. But I spent most of the time looking at it. It was beautifully clean, light and airy, so different from before and will help a lot with the establishment of my besties' hotel -which I forgot to tell you, I finished last weekend: voila'!

But the elders were a sorry sight after a rough job, and technically in my plot - I always feel a bit possessive of my plot as you should know by now...

No new signs of slugs on the seedlings tonight.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

First night shifts

I have been for the first time after work yesterday, and then again today - very frustrating but at the same time it has been absolutely vital as slugs and snails (big, beautiful ones) seem to have found their way to my seedlings and have already cleared out four crops completely and another two or three partially: I had to plant out my cardoons in the hope that they will be safer in the ground than they were in the protected environment of the propagator!

Tonight I have sprinkled ferric phosphate all over the place and will keep my finger crossed and keep checking (tonight I squashed three of the nasty visitors). Sigh.

-- Post From My iPhone

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Queen of the raised beds

Over Easter I became an expert of bed-making. I made four; still have another four to go and I am a tinselly bit tired and sore, but you know... It's that time of the year!

Anyway, if you do a big of gardening yourselves, you will know that it's awfully expensive to buy pre-shaped wood to make beds. I am sure it is worthwhile and they will last forever, but I could never bring myself to buy any and then found myself with some old overlap panels - like the ones they sell at Wickes for next to nothing - from the fence at home. They are simply perfect for the job! As they are slightly rotten, they pull apart fairly easily. The overlapping wood makes fine bed walls and the battens, chopped to a suitable size, also have a role in keeping the bed walls in place. They look very nice and tidy and I am sure they will make gardening easier too, as the plot is clearly sectioned, and there are proper footpaths to walk on.

It is confirmed that the less you clear up your plot over winter, the more native ladybirds will like it: when I finally made it to pull dead leaves and sticks from my strawberries, there were a half dozen!

I have some raspberry shoots and gooseberry cuttings at various stages of rooting. Also mint and some peas Balmoral (50% germination) and Meteor (15% germination) if anyone is interested.

-- Post From My iPhone