Friday, 29 February 2008

Feeling the earth shift with the seasons

Or not, to be honest. I didn't FEEL the legendary earthquake the other night. However, I realise now that I did hear it - a long low rumble in the distance. At the time I moaned that a Heathrow jet way flying way too low at 1am. Other reports mentioned pets reacting, or birds singing in the middle of the night - we happen to have a local Robin with a dodgy body clock that frequently wakes me at 2am or so, and near neighbours have an excitable puppy. So neither of those clues alarmed me.

Anyway, March is here, and with that the gardening year ups a gear. This weekend the Wartime Weekend Gardener instructs a further sowing of Broad Beans (I happen to like broad beans, so I'm not complaining) - this time one of the "Windsor" varieties.

Sow onions, or plant out sets. I love red onions, and will probably sow some seed of the variety Red baron, then plant out sets of the same variety later in the month. Also, sow leeks in trays or modules for planting out later in the year.

Which somehow brings me to the fact tomorrow is St David's Day. Have a glass of Brains, a bowl of Cawl or a slice of Tiesen Lap. The rugby team's doing well, Duffy's at No. 1, Cardiff are still in the FA Cup, and everyone's talking about Torchwood. And with the unveiling of the statue last week, the world has realised that one of the greatest comedians ever - Tommy Cooper - was also Welsh. We're being taken seriously for once.

Friday, 22 February 2008

From martyr to barter

In June last year, when we had to move at short notice from our old place, I felt that all the work we had put in at the old allotment had come to nothing. I though I would have to turn my back on six years of hard work, planting and studies and just leave things to rot and waste. I felt miserable and angry that my attempts to live a more sustainable life were scuppered by others who were stuck in the lazy, greedy ways of the late 20th century.

Fortunately, I found a new allotment site with a plot to rent within a few weeks of moving, as so far we have been able to lift most of the fruit trees and bushes, as well as a huge amount of Jerusalem Artichokes and I even saved a good number of the precious heirloom variety Cherokee Trail of Tears climbing bean seeds.

Through various forums I belong to, I have sent out about 200 Jerusalem Artichoke tubers and over 400 bean seeds. These have been swapped for various things - other seeds, items I need for craft projects and so forth. Last year I sent a box of tubers to a farmer so he could try growing them for his pigs to have winter forage. In exchange he sent me a selection pack of his farm's meat products, including several packs of excellent sausages, for my freezer!

I have been giving small batches of tubers for new growers to try since my first harvest in 2001. Each time I've asked that they give a few tubers to a few other people to grow. If everyone I've passed them on to did that, by now there will be hundreds of Jerusalem Artichoke patches out there, all descended from the 15 tubers I planted 7 years ago.

Hope the same happens with my bean seeds - next year I hope to add a few more of my favourites to the list.

Which brings me neatly to what I've read in the Wartime Weekend Gardener for this weekend.

This weekend is all about preparation - March is just around the corner and all the frenzy that entails.

Prepare trenches for beans and peas. That is, dig a trench where you plan to grow beans (especially Runners) and peas. Fill the trench with well rotted manure and compost. Mark the trench with canes and replace the soil.

Then continue digging the rest of the plot, adding organic matter (compost or manure) as you go.

In the comfort of the potting shed, sow another tray of Summer Cabbage. Sadly, all the varieties recommended in the book have been lost from cultivation due to the EU seed list cull. The best varieties available now include Derby Day, Greyhound and Primo/Golden Acre.

Must go and re-season my flat griddle ready to make bakestone cakes for next Saturday.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Things you can never have enough of....

Onions. Always plant twice as many as you think you'll need. If you think of the meals you cook that need an onion or two you'll realise they're a necessity.

Our new garden shed had handy struts and crossbraces in the roof for hanging onions and garlic to dry once they're harvested. At the moment it's adorned with branches removed from a rampant rosemary bush, filling the shed with a lovely scent and acting as an impact repellent.

But I digress. The Wartime Weekend Gardener this week instructs us to plant onion and shallot sets. Having rescued a few clumps of shallots from the old allotment, I've spent the past week or so potting up shallots - my favourite variety, Jermor.

Another suggestion is to sow the first row of carrots - an early variety, Nantes or Amsterdam. I'd be inclined to leave that for a couple weeks or so, especially with another cold snap forecast.

I haven't been to Camden Market for a few years - I don't really enjoy crowds these days. But I spent much of last Saturday night watching news coverage of the fire. Fortunately the area the fire covered was much smaller than the reports indicated, but the devastation in terms of people's businesses was enormous. In my day, The Hawley Arms had a reputation as a bit of a rough pub, but every mention of it was preceded by the phrase "celeb hangout". Mind you, as the celeb they were referring to in the main was Our Amy, I suspect her reason for going there was the dodgy geezers propping up the bar!

These days I seem to end up in pubs where the typical clientele are old men in flat caps, and their sheepdogs who usually have one more eye than their owner has teeth! (But the beer & cider is better than you'd get in Camden).

Friday, 8 February 2008

Is it Spring yet?

I hope not! Still feel like there's catching up to be done.

But for Tuesday, this has been a rain free week, and the ground is finally starting to recover. As I'm dealing with previously uncultivated clay at the house, and long neglected clay at the allotment, it's still not the time to tramp all over with abandon. One of the reasons I'm putting in raised beds - the no-dig method will also mean less chance of aggravating an assortment of old injuries.

Had a very busy weekend. Had to dig up all the fruit trees and bushes from the old allotment and move them over to the new one. All done bar the largest trees, which we'll have to hire a transit for, and the rest of the raspberry canes. Also dug up my hellebores and other plants from my woodland patch. Have to hope that the Trilliums show above ground soon as I don't want to leave them. I want to take cuttings from the Elder tree as well. I've been making elderflower drinks for the past few Springs and I don't want to miss out. One of the other plotholders at the new site has an elder tree. I've struck a deal for this year to collect her elderflowers in exchange for one of my elderflower drizzle cakes.

For the second week of February, The Wartime Weekend Gardener recommends planting a few First Early potatoes to get an extra early crop. Rather than plant direct, I'm going to grow a few in large pots in the back garden, then plant the rest at the allotment mid-March.

Start sowing Parsnips. I love them, but they were always a pain to grow in the stoney soil at the old allotment. Hopefully raised beds and no-dig methods will allow me to grow something worth harvesting in polite company.

Also, sow radishes in trays. Radishes are overlooked these days in favour of other salad crops, but they have the advantage of being quick growing - a crop to encourage you when everything else is hiding below the surface.

Some of the most popular Mediterranean garden vegetables are omitted from WWG - there's no mention even for tomatoes. If you have a heated propagator or a sunny south facing windowsill, now would be a good time to start aubergines, tomatoes and peppers indoors. I bought some Padron pepper seeds a couple of weeks ago from Pennard Plants. This is a Spanish pepper, mostly mild, but about 1 in 10 fruits are very hot! Come September, I hope to be having fun preserving stuff in the kitchen - jams, chutneys, pickles, tomato sauces, and if the Summer is good enough, maybe experiment with sun drying!

Sitting here writing this, the birds are singing in the trees as the sun goes down. As dusk falls, I'm sure I'll hear the racket from the foxes that seem to have moved in a couple of gardens away, and once it's fully dark there will be shrieks and hoots from Tawny Owls in the woods. It feels more like the edge of the countryside than the edge of a city.

Maybe I can't wait for Spring after all...

Friday, 1 February 2008

The year marches on!

February at last The first week of February is often the coldest of the year. With the threat of snow for this weekend, that still holds true.

Wartime Weekend Gardener tasks for this week include:
Sow an extra crop of Broad Beans
Sow some late Spring, or early Summer cabbage
Set some carrot seed to "chit" - to sprout before sowing

It's time to start chitting potatoes, ready to plant the First Early varieties mid March.

Garden Organic at Ryton, near Coventry, are holding their Potato Day and Seed Swap this weekend, and in two weeks it's the East Anglia Potato Day at Stonham Barns. If you've only a little space to give over to potatoes, buying small amounts of a few varieties may be the best way to go.

Did anyone take part in the RSPB Birdwatch last weekend? Being a dry Sunday, it drought all the DIYers out and the noise kept most of the birds hiding in the woods. But I did see a Great Spotted Woodpecker first thing in the morning, and a few Redwings ventured into the Oak tree later in the day.

Busy long weekend over the allotment coming up - maybe some more nature notes later.