Monday, 28 April 2008

Welcome to Amanda

I will start by congratulating Amanda on her new projects, both in the garden and in the blog. Amanda has started her veg plot, and is keeping track of her progress at Amanda's EightBySix. Do stop by to see what she's been up to, the link's on the side.
Last week I was given a number of plum tomato plants, some more chillies, and a greenhouse cucumber. I swapped them for some of my 'insurance policy' tomatoes and peppers, as well as some watercress plants and a Vietnamese coriander. My original tomatoes have quite large buds now, but I need to sort the base of the greenhouse to avoid all the flooding before putting in the canes for them. I think I will invest in some gravel for the floor, held in place by boards. The watercress is growing really well using the capillary matting (perhaps I should plant in the base of the greenhouse), and the celeriac will be ready to plant out in a week or so.
I have used all the spinach tops, and cut down the stems to a couple of side shoots. The stems were used in spinach and tomato soup, using frozen tomatoes from last year. I also added fresh chives, and some of last years garlic cloves. Althought they are getting a bit dry, the flavour is still there.
I've stopped putting the propagator cover over the cucumber and courgette plants at night as they are growing well and I will need to plant them into bigger pots soon. This will give them a chance to harden off a bit. The french beans and runners are coming through in the peat pots, and I've got the supports in place ready for planting out. In the garden the radish markers are showing through, although the slower germinating seeds are still languishing underground. Since moving here I just can't get my radishes to 'radish', usually plenty of top, but no decent size roots. If I get the chance I will post some more photos soon, so you can see how things are progressing.
I've found the best way so far to keep the cats off is to place canes over the ground, because they can't scratch so easily. The netting didn't work well, as they scratched it out of the way, and probably caused more problems than if nothing was put down. The carnations are all still there, but they dug up a pot of onions covered with the netting.
Life is really burgeoning in the garden now, every time I go out it seems everything is bigger, but the weeds are growing too. I must do the 'front garden', a tiny strip that, because we don't use the front door much, I keep forgetting. The thistledown, or 'fairies' as we used to call them, that floated around late last summer are now getting established anywhere they can! Some glyphosphate will kill right down the roots, but I need to know it will be dry!
With not a ladybird in sight, I thought I'd try an organic solution to the greenfly that were infesting the lettuce. It is supposed to be a solution of rape seed oil that disrupts their systems, but I found that it burned the leaves, leaving small brown spots all over. The inside leaves look OK, so we'll still be able to use those. I have to say I never had this problem with the chemical sprays I used to use.
I hope the bank holiday weekend is wet and windy! What? Is she mad? No, but I will have the final A level marking to do, and I will be much less distracted if I can't get outside to the garden!

Sunday, 20 April 2008

A very busy week

It seems to have been ages since I was here last, so there's lots to tell you about. If I start with the greenhouse, I finally decided to take the plunge and potted up my tomatoes. The tigrellas already have minute buds showing, and although the sunburst are as big, they haven't any flower buds yet. I mixed fresh compost with water retaining granules and pepped it up with some poultry manure pellets. I also potted up the orange peppers that are showing flower buds, but they are in 5 inch pots (approx) so I can still bring them in. I stood a couple of pots of lettuce outside to make more room together with the hardy carnations and lavender seedlings, so they can harden off. I'll still bring them in for the nights for a week or so. The watercress that I planted into a seed tray and stood on capillary matting is definitely looking better than the ones just in pots. I have found everything has been fine just covered with fleece so far. The thermometer went down to 6, which isn't too bad.
I put in just 6 runner beans, my indoor cucumbers, some patty pan courgettes and some ordinary courgettes in the heated propagator a week ago, and all but the ordinary courgettes are now up. Today I planted some more peas in pots, the climbing french beans and some cut and come again salad. A cautionary tale, if you buy peat pots nested inside each other, make sure they don't get damp. It took me longer to separate them, with a few casualties, than it did to plant the seeds! I've finally planted some more kohl rabi in modules too.
The broad beans and onions are doing well in the garden, but I've lost a couple of the kohl rabi plants since they went out. Before the rain started in earnest on Friday I put in a few beetroot, parsnip and carrot seeds, with radishes to mark the rows as these germinate fast. The cherry blossom has come on a treat this week, and one of the blackcurrants is showing flower buds.
Some good news, Smokey my son's cat, produced 4 kittens with no fuss whatsoever on Wednesday. They are all a creamy colour at the moment, but their points are beginning to darken already. Mum and Dad are short coated, chocolate pointed and blued eyed, similar in colour to a siamese, but with much chunkier bodies. I don't really know what breed they are, similar to burmese, but have the blue, not gold eyes
On a different note, we went to Wisley on Thursday, the RHS garden. The camellias and magnolias were past their best, and we were too early for the rhododendrons, but still had a lovely time. We decided to find somewhere outside the gardens to eat, and ended up at the pub at Wisley Lock. It was very busy, but lovely surroundings and food.
I am back to work tomorrow, having got all my marking finished, and planned some lessons too. Some of the students have a very busy two weeks ahead of them if they want a grade in the unit they gave in! I email each one with their mark grid as soon as it's done, but I don't supposed many, if any will have started to act on the feedback!

Sunday, 13 April 2008

April showers?

This morning I have finally potted the potatoes into their large pots. I used the old compost I grew the tomatoes and peppers in last year, which I'd stored in a 'spare' compost bin. I added poultry manure pellets to replace the nutrients, and will probably feed later on as well. Up until now I had just put the chitted spuds into 5 inch pots so they could get going. This was quite successful, as each one had begun to produce roots. As I haven't got room in the greenhouse I have put them behind it, where I can easily cover them with fleece if need be.
Dan dug over the garden by the garage and found someone had dumped some rubbish there. It was easy to work out who, and I'm not very happy. Now I wonder if the same person put the load of concrete bits there during the winter too.
We were going to rake it down, but the handle on the rake broke; it was pretty ancient; leaving it too short to use. Now I need to get that fixed! I think I might have a spare broom handle in the garage, from when the children used to play Harry Potter.
Before we could do much more the rain started again, so we came back in. I really wanted to move the tree peony which is planted too near to the minarette plum tree. Well, actually I had forgot it was there when I planted the plum tree, but the tree needs to stay put. Hopefully the rain won't last long, and we'll be able to get it sorted today.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Taking Chances!

Yesterday I spent most of the day pottering in the potager. I decided to take the chance on planting out a few of the hardier plants, to make more room in the greenhouse, so I now have a row of red onions in front of the grapevine trellis, and 2 pots containing the remaining 14. The seeds I bought are suitable for spring onions or letting them bulb up, so I'll be leaving them to grow on. The variety is Lilia, and they were planted on 12th January in a heated propagator to get them going. As soon as they were up they were moved out from the heat and have been in the cold greenhouse. They have not been fleeced against the frost, and during the day they have spent time outside, so hopefully they are well hardened off and able to cope, as long as the cats do not dig them up! The kohl rabi plants went out as well, and I still cannot find the seeds for the next sowing, so I think I feel a shopping trip coming on.
I put up a wigwam of canes for the runner and climbing French beans, just to get a feel for how much space they would take up. Unfortunately one of the connector thingies broke when I took them down last year, so something else to buy. Mind you, it was over 10 years old, so I can't complain. I can't decided yet whether to alternate the beans around the same wigwam, or have one of just runners and another of just French. I think alternating would look good, as I'd get red and white flowers together, but I don't know about the growth habits, and don't want one to be swamped by the other.
I also decided to take a chance on planting some courgettes in the heated propagator. This year I am trying a new variety (to me), Cavili. It is suppposed to set fruit even if they don't get pollinated, which is often a problem if the weather is less than perfect. I will also be growing Sunburst again. They are tiny, yellow, patty pans which look good on the plate. I also got a lot off each plant when I grew them before. I followed this up with cucumbers and some runner beans. I should have put some French in too, in case I want to alternate! I'll do some later ones of both sorts in any case to extend the cropping period, although last year the late ones caught the early ones up!
AccuWeather is not forecasting a really cold night until Tues 15th April, so I'll need to keep the fleece to hand for then. I am thinking I need to get the potato pots out, and the behind the greenhouse seems the warmest place in the garden, so as most people will have sown their earlies in the ground by now around here, mine should be OK as long as I cover any shoots that come through.
So far this has all been about veg, but I have also planted up some flowers. I put out 12 hardy carnations interspersed with ixia and sparaxis bulbs (they were dried up freebies that might grow), with cat repellant and rose prunings scattered across the bed. Having 6 cats is a challenge to a gardener, they have access to the indoor litter, but do use the garden as well. Fortunately they concentrate their efforts in our garden, although the appeal of astro turf one way, and 3 large dogs with paving the other doesn't offer much option anyway. I try to keep them to using areas that are not planted up, and put a tray of compost for them to use at the back of the garden once space becomes a premium.
The lavender seedlings seemed popular at the Garden Pub Club meet, with all six pots being taken. I hope everyone is successful at growing them on. I still have loads in the greenhouse, enough to do my hedge, and some for my brother too. We were also talking about raised beds, here is the link to the African Keyhole gardens.
Well after some showers overnight by the looks of it, the sun is shining again this morning, but I will have to do some food shopping today, or the teenagers will be complaining. I will try to 'divert' via a garden center to pick up the seeds and cane holder for the second wigwam, but must guard against impluse buys. It's so easy to pick up something, and then when you get home you realise that the 2 foot square you intended to put it in is actually more like 6 inches, and it just won't fit!

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Comparison time

For the past 2 days in Iwade we have had lovely sunshine, with the daytime temperature comfortable enough to work in the garden without a coat, although a jumper was needed. In the Medway towns, just 10 miles away, they were experiencing the same sunshine, but still interspersed with sleet and snow showers. I was looking at my gardening diary from last year, and realised how much colder this spring is. By now I had planted up my tomatoes into their final pots, planted some runner beans in pots, and got cucumbers started off too. This year the tomatoes, peppers and chillies have still been coming in at night, the beans and cucumbers are still in their packets. It looked quite a hard frost last night and the night before. The greenhouse roof is still iced over, but the more hardy plants, tucked up under their fleecy blanket, seem to have faired OK. The thermometer was down to -1, but during the day yesteray it was 19-20, with the door and vents open!

The tigrella tomatoes are showing the first signs of flower buds, on par with last year, so hopefully I'll be able to get them planted up soon. The problem is space, I don't want to move things like the potatoes out too soon, but the tomato pots need a lot of room. There are a few things I am more advanced with. The celeriac is earlier, and I have the lettuce and spinach growing well. I need to put in a new sowing of kohl rabi as Vicky loves it raw, but goodness know what I have done with the seed! The first plants are ready to put out now they have been hardened off, but I know I will lose some to slugs.

The forecast is sunny for the next few days, so I am hoping to twist Daniel's arm and get him to do some digging and rearrange some of the pots on the patio. I was going to spring clean the house, but the gardening is much more enjoyable! I must get on with the 6th form marking though, as I've almost 50 A level units to give feedback on before we return. The wonders of ICT means that they are all stored electronically, so I haven't got loads of folders cluttering up the space. However piles of folders are a tacit reminder of the amount of work to do, a file on the computer is more easily ignored!

Yesterday I sorted out the fan trained cherry, Sunburst, removing the twine I had used to tie it in, and replacing it with rubber coated wire. It should be easier to loosen off as the branches grow. I hope the cranberry flowers have weathered the frost. The two bushes are well in flower now, so we were hoping for a good crop.

Last year I decided that raspberries would be a good investment as they charge a fortune for them in the shops. I bought 5 summer fruiting canes, and 5 autumn fruiting ones. We prepared the ground with plenty of compost, and got them in quickly after purchase, but only one of each type made it. This year the summer fruiting one, Glen Ample, is growing well and has put up 4 new shoots, which I am going to move into a row, but the autumn one is moving much more slowly.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Getting colder

The weather is getting colder, just in time for our 2 week Spring Break holiday. However, although there was more of a bite to the wind today, the sun was shining, and it was still reasonably mild, which was lucky as Dan forgot to close the greenhouse door for me last night!

I was working in the greenhouse again today, finishing pricking out lavender seedlings and the latest sowing of Pandero lettuces, a small red cos type. I have 3 stages of these now, as well as an early sowing of a romaine type.

The spinach and romaine lettuce are doing well, I'll be able to pick some leaves soon. Last year we kept going with lettuce through the whole year. I pick leaves from some plants, and let some of the lettuce heart up to cut for a larger salad.

With the temperature going down to freezing tonight, I made sure the potato pots are in the greenhouse, and I will be putting fleece over everything as well.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Sizzled Seedlings

Well the weather has been very mild this week, and each day I've had the roof vent open on the greenhouse, but left the door closed. Everything was looking great, until today. I came home and went out to check the greenhouse. The thermometer had gone up to 40 degrees C! I hadn't thought to take the lid off the propagator where the clematis and busy lizzies WERE growing. I lifted the lid, the clematis was a crisp, and most of the busy lizzies too. Everything else was OK, although the watercress was a bit dry!
My bokashi bin had fermented for the two weeks so I decided to empty it into the 'bean trench' in the garden. The waste still looked very much as before, although it smelled very acid. The instructions say layer the food scraps with the bran, white mould should grow, a straw coloured liquid should be produced, and the waste is pickled. It is then buried in the garden or compost bin, where it is supposed to break down very quickly. I am still a bit unsure, but anyone who wants to give it a go, shop around for the bins. They are usually sold in pairs, and vary from £25 to £55. You get 2 months supply of bokashi bran with your order.
Over the weekend the weather is forecast to change dramatically. Accu weather, which seems a bit more accurate than the national TV forecasts, says Saturday night will feel like -8, although it will probably be more like 2 degrees. I think my tomato plants will stay in their small pots for a bit longer so I can bring them in again.