Out with the Old, In with the New

March 31, 2020

Gardening at this time of year always reminds me of the apocryphal resolution of some town council in Scotland somewhere to 1) build a new prison, 2) save money by using the bricks from the old prison in the new prison, and 3) to house the prisoners in the old prison until the new prison is built …

Veg plot in March

The focus at the moment is getting everything planted for the coming season but the old season isn’t finished yet – and at a time when access to fresh veg feels like a luxury I’m not ready to cut it off before it’s done. The purple sprouting broccoli is just getting into its stride, the kale is still hanging in there, the Swiss chard is gearing up to produce a final flush of leaves before it bolts for good, and the leeks … well the last remaining leeks are doing a convincing impression of spring onions. With the weather warming up and the days lengthening, they might well have plumped up a bit more before they bolted too but like time and the tide, seed potatoes wait for no man so today they got eaten, ready or not to make room for the spuds. ‘Baby leeks’ are totally a thing, right?

very small leeks

I’ve also been taking the chance to plant some of the hardier flowering plants I have been raising from seed. There’s still a lot of garden to take back control of, and I’m generally too tight-fisted to buy actual plants from a garden centre (village plant sales are another matter) but I have great difficulty in walking past a display of seeds without some seductively illustrated little packet ending up in my basket. Not all of these are successful, and my failure to find a plant labelling solution that remains legible after a few months means that those that do grow often end up as mystery plants before they are planted out, but I’m pretty sure that these are my white foxgloves (we have plenty of the normal pink ones) which I planted underneath our wedding anniversary birch trees while catching up with the latest government announcement on the radio.

foxglove seedlings

There’s a weird disconnect involved in doing something as generally pleasant and hopeful as planting out young plants, while listening to the daily announcement of the coronavirus death toll. I can only hope that by the time they are in flower (if indeed they do flower), the memory of this time will seem like something from the distant past.


Springiness

April 16, 2019

April seems to have been a month of easterlies up to now – bringing dry, cold weather rather than the traditional showers and – in my case at least – a welcome tailwind when climbing the hill to home. Indeed yesterday, in a boisterous hat-snatching gale, I could actually feel it like a hand on my back and my legs were suddenly very very good indeed. This made the fact that I’d had to pedal downhill on the way in worth it.

Even a withering east wind hasn’t quite managed to hold back spring, though. There’s a sudden surge of greenness everywhere (except on the big trees, which will hang on a while yet, I imagine). And today the wind relented and it got more mild (complete with the return of the April showers, possibly a good thing given our water butt is almost empty*). I even managed an hour or two in the greenhouse, potting on seedlings. I was pleased to note that my greenhouse potatoes were finally putting in an appearance after over a month

potato shoots

As, er, are the last of the stored potatoes, which I’m going to have to summon up the courage to investigate and deal with before we end up with a thriving, if cannibalistic, potato patch in our utility room.

potato shoots

And another green shoot popped up in the post this morning. This year’s PoP t-shirt is a zinger and you should definitely buy one.

Pedal on Parliament t-shirt

In other news, it’s harder to make a cow costume than you might think.

* Note to the Weather Gods – you didn’t hear me say that, OK?


What Lies Beneath

September 5, 2018

So today (once our current hare had deigned to stop sunning itself in the back garden, preventing me from going outside & enjoying the sunshine myself) I thought I’d have a look and see how this year’s potato crop was shaping up

Pretty well, actually

digging up potatoes

Yup, very nicely indeed.

potato harvest

This is the initial* haul from the second of my three potato beds – the first had the first earlies in it (plus a fine crop of mushrooms) and we’re still only half way through those. I may need to upgrade my pototo storage solution so we can keep them through the winter and still have something to eat come Brexit.**

Meanwhile, in tenuously related news, the final chapter seems to have almost closed on our local stretch of the gas pipeline project with the mysterious pipe-and-bag arrangement now replaced with a much more engineering-y manhole cover, and the land returned to the cows.

manhole cover

Given the rate that grass grows around here, it’s already hard to imagine that there’s anything beneath this field but stones and soil, were it not for this warning sign (and incidental Gaelic lesson) and final loose ends which I have no doubt will be dealt with in the fullness of time.

pipeline warning sign

We’ll update you on this story as soon as we have news. I know, you can barely wait.

* Fellow gardeners will know that harvesting potatoes is a Zeno’s Arrow sort of an affair, with each dig yielding a few more, but still leaving enough in the ground to be a complete nuisance for years to come.

** Kidding ***

*** I hope.


Full Disclosure

August 21, 2018

So, I’ve shown you the other half’s greenhouse, and someone else’s garden altogether, but what of my own veg gardening? Are those raised beds still proving so wonderful?

Well…

veg plot in August

To be fair, August is always a bit random on the gardening front as the accumulation of any spring and summer neglect comes home to roost in spades, but I’ve never grown an additional mystery crop of mushrooms in my potato patch before:

mushrooms in potato patch

Any mycologists out there?

mystery mushroom

I’m more or less resigned to the fact that cabbage whites will come and infest my brassicas. In the past I’ve tried netting them, picking them off, and just ignoring them, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it takes a lot to completely kill off purple sprouting broccoli. Hopefully, enough plants will survive to put out spears in the spring, after the caterpillars have been killed off in the winter. This year, I’ve cut off the worst of the leaves and stuck them, caterpillars and all, in the compost bin, which probably only means that the caterpillars will have worked up a good appetite by the time they’ve finished crawling back round the house to the veg patch.

caterpillars on broccoli

Interestingly (for a certain value of interesting) the broccoli is quite badly infested with the yellow-and-black caterpillars of the large white, while the cavolo nero right next to it has a much more limited number of the green caterpillars of the small white. Any entomologists care to weigh in?

In other news, my sole squash plant has turned into a sprawling giant which has quite overwhelmed the beans I had optimistically hoped it would share its raised bed with, annexed the fennel bed next door, and is currently conducting a hostile takeover of the not-yet-cultivated mixed bramble and willowherb patch next to the pond. Normally, my money would be on brambles winning any sort of territorial battle, but this time I’m not so sure. The only thing it’s not doing is apparently producing any squashes (but then again, I thought that about the pumpkin last year).

squash plant

On the other hand, despite all this, we’re still getting plentiful potatoes, chard, kale (some with added protein) and giant beetroot. And the peas, which should have been over and done by now, are having a new lease of life and are merrily producing new shoots, flowers and pods. Obviously, what they’re not doing is using any of the supports I helpfully supplied for them, which means they look terrible and picking the peas is a challenge, but August peas of any kind are a bonus so it’s worth the effort.

peas

How does your garden grow?


What a Difference …

April 6, 2018

… A bit of sunshine makes, with spring finally making a guest appearance yesterday, and apparently now settled in for the week.* It wasn’t exactly ‘taps aff’ in Bigtown, but I felt a bit overdressed in my hat, scarf and winter gloves when I cycled down for the paper and discovered that everyone else was in their summer clothes. What can I say, they’re a hardy bunch. There were even other cyclists out on the country roads (I was deep in conversation with myself, plugging up the hill on my way home, when I was startled by a cheery voice saying ‘nice day for it!’ just at my right shoulder. Turns out other cyclists actually maintain their bikes to the point where they can silently sneak up on people …).

I didn’t technically have any time for gardening yesterday, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to get on with the earth moving project that the raised beds have turned into. I was only going to clear away the soil and tackle assembling them later, but I got the bit between my teeth and it turned out to be pretty straightforward in the end.

assembled raised beds

Assembled raised beds. That small cairn of stones in the foreground is the inevitable result of doing any digging around here …

Today I was going to start filling them, ready for the potatoes which are waiting chitting on the windowsill, but the rain came down just as I had met my last deadline of the week and was ready to head out to do some muck shifting at last.

potatoes chitting indoors

Fortunately, it doesn’t rain inside the greenhouse so I did some binge planting instead. Now all I have to do is assemble and fill the other eight raised beds before everything starts climbing out of the pots unassisted.

seeds planted in greenhouse

That should be easy enough, right?

* I actually thought my Met Office weather app might be broken when I looked at it this morning and there was no forecast for rain/sleet/snow/plagues of frogs for the whole week, just a row of white clouds and more-or-less normal temperatures for the time of year. Surely some mistake?


First Find your Veg Plot

July 6, 2017

We needed potatoes tonight, and the first of the earlies were likely to be ready. There was just one problem …

overgrown veg

I’ve been neglecting the veg plot recently, it’s safe to say. There’s just too much other garden to be getting on with, not to mention all the other things I’ve been doing and so I’ve been letting the hares keep on top of the weeding, without, it must be said, a great deal of success.

Fortunately, most of what’s in the plot this year is stuff that can just get on with things themselves, like broad beans

broad beans

And potatoes of course.

First potatoes

First crop of new potatoes. Very satisfying

Mental note to self: next year, plant the earlies right by the entrance to the plot, instead of deep in the back corner.

veg plot found

By tradition, all home grown veg is nothing less than delicious.

potatoes being cooked

And these were no exception.

 


What Lies Beneath

March 25, 2017

So, I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath to discover how the manky pink carpet experiment has been getting on.

carpet-covered veg bed

Well, as it happens, due to a rare confluence of events that meant I was not required to be in a random Scottish city this weekend, combined with a slight lull in the immediate pressure of POP preparation (but there’s still time to contribute to our crowd funder, just saying), and a day promising sunshine and light winds, gave me the perfect (indeed, possibly the only) opportunity to find out. In fact, I would have been hard pressed not to spend today out in the garden, given the gloriousness of the weather.

potatoes chitting

So far this year, my entire preparation for growing veg has been a half-hour trolley dash through potato day (top tip: label your seed potato bags before you pick your potatoes, and then put them in alphabetical order for maximum efficiency), and chitting my seed potatoes. I knew that the carpet hasn’t been down long enough to properly deal with the weeds or let the organic matter break down, but spring waits for nobody, and I decided to open up the first bed and put my first and second earlies in today.

veg bed uncovered

If I’d been hoping that underneath there had been a magical transformation into wonderful friable rich soil, I would have been disappointed, but if I’ve learned anything in gardening these past few years it’s to manage my expectations, so I was just pleased to discover that the grass it had covered up wasn’t just sitting there unscathed. There are still some clumps hanging in there to deal with, and a lot of the coarser plant material hadn’t broken down yet, but there was also a fairly healthy population of worms. So the carpet has saved me a lot of digging, although I suspect come later in the season when I’m battling the weeds that did survive, I will wish I’d been more patient

Fortunately potatoes have a fierce determination to grow and will do so even in a light-proof plastic bin so I suspect they will manage anyway (that said, I note that last year I was still putting potatoes in at the end of April, which might explain why we had such a rubbish crop – I had forgotten that. Clearly you can push even a seed potato too far.)

Anyway, given that I haven’t even bought any seeds yet, he rest of the bed can remain under the carpet for now, hopefully mulching down into something marvellous. Meanwhile the now-spare carpet has been moved up to where the fruit cage will be, which is currently about 50% nettle roots by volume. I don’t think we’ll be planting our raspberry canes there for a while …

potatoes planted

What with all the digging, lugging about of heavy stuff and general hard labour, I feel a bit broken now, but it does feel good to have got started for the season.