Friday, 28 March 2008

Accepting what life throws at you....

Which at the moment seems to be vast amounts of water. All cold, some frozen.

When I look back on it, last weekend wasn’t quite the wash out it felt at the time. Friday was good - we spent time in the garden, mostly transferring our Alpines into terracotta pots, which could be placed in the bark chip filled Belfast sink we saved from a skip. I have several cultivars of Lesser Celandine, which are reaching their best around now. As they’re not as wildlife friendly, I’m not normally a fan of double flowers, but I have a cream double celandine which I adore. I have a couple of the best known - Brazen Hussey, named by the late great Christopher Lloyd in his usual impish style.

The rest of the weekend was punctuated by blizzards and snow flurries. Yet we managed a few hours at the allotment each day. Didn’t get the raised beds done, let alone plant potatoes, but we worked all the same.

We have a reclaimed potato crate which is earmarked for dismantling to provide the slats for the front of the compost bins. On Saturday it was turned on its side, and the various parts of the dismantled shed propped round it. Being a cubic metre and a half in size, it provided a decent sized shelter, and I set up the little camping stove plus a couple of kneeling pads for seats. I was able to brew up tea out of the worst of the weather and on Sunday cooked sausages for lunch.

This weekend looks like being another damp squib, but I’m near enough on top of the seed sowing, so the first sign of good weather we should catch up.

Should the weather permit you to get to the plot, the Wartime Weekend Gardener has plenty of tasks alloted to this date:

Thin onions sown as seed. If possible try to replant the thinnings or pot them up for planting out later.

Sow Kale. The variety recommended in the book is Cottagers, but there are plenty of other varieties worth sowing. Kale is hardy enough to stand up to most Winter weather, and some, like Ragged Jack, Redbor, Red Russian and especially Nero di Toscana provide great colour & form, worthy of a potager or even a mixed border.

Also, sow Savoy Cabbage. I happen to like Savoys, wilted in butter with mustard seeds, with a fresh tomato sauce or used to hold a pilaff type stuffing.

Also, start sowing maincrop carrots such as Autumn King. Some gardeners say that to lessen carrot fly damage, you should avoid sowing carrot seeds when Queen Anne’s Lace is in flower. Haven’t seen any out yet, hopefully the recent cold snap has brought things back in line.

It’s often said that the mindset has changed from gardening to control nature, to one of gardening with nature. In truth that still seems a little arrogant. We need to garden in a way that acknowledges we are part of nature. Maybe the best way to put it is gardening with the permission of nature.

Let’s see what we’re allowed to do over the next couple of weeks.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

The year turns a corner

Apologies for the late posting - after a busy day gardening I retreated to a cosy sofa and idn’t move all evening. Anyway, we have an extra day of weekend, don’t we?

It’s is now officially Spring, and with Easter falling so close to the Equinox, it feels all the more special. OK, outside it seems like Winter has returned (snowing with you right now? or is the wind blowing so fiercely that it can’t land?) but the change over the past week or so has been dramatic. Only a few weeks back, the sun set behind the first house opposite me. Now it clears the whole block. There just seems to be more light, and with a narrow garden on a Northern slope of a hill, you certainly notice the change.

The plan for us this weekend is to spend as much time as possible (in spite of the weather) working at the new allotment. By the end of Monday I hope to have planted onions, garlic and shallots in their alloted raised beds, and most importantly, first early potatoes.

The Wartime Weekend Gardener suggests sowing another batch of peas. Already done that - found a packet from last year with four remaining Purple Podded seeds, so put them in pots, and sowed twice as many Golden Sweet peas to complement. I’m looking forward to a pile of salad leaves topped with them, garnished with a few Nasturtium flowers.

The other recommendation is to prepare a special bed for growing marrows. Similar to a hotbed, by placing a layer of topsoil on top of fresh or part rotted manure. Well if I manage to complete the main tasks at the allotment, I’ll be making the beds for the Three Sisters (beans, corn & squashes) part of the rotation plan, so that’s a possibility as well.

Friday, 14 March 2008

A late night intruder leaves a message

After the storms of the earlier part of the week, I checked over the garden for damage. All I could find was one hellebore with a broken stem, which I took in, cut down to size and put in a vase, and a small pot of feverfew on its side. Upon further inspection, I decided that the tipped herb pot wasn’t blown over by the wind. Nearby I spotted an animal dropping, and by checking reference books and websites my initial suspicions were confirmed - a Hedgehog has been visiting the garden.

I knew there were some in the area - someone a street away had some hibernating under her shed, and there is a small gap underneath the back fence that I guess is the entry point. We salvaged a pallet based crate to make a lean-to to store bags of potting compost, and the dimensions of the pallet are ideal for me to use it as a cat-proof hedgehog feeding point. There are plenty of plant saucers scattered around the garden for them to drink out of.

I’m looking forward to being outside at dusk, and to hear the tell tale snuffling and grunting from the undergrowth.

I guess most people’s gardening tasks this weekend will start with checking for storm damage and tidying up, and some of you (those with their plots prepared and not suffering from back twinges) will be starting to plant potatoes. I remember this weekend five years back. While many people were marching in protest of the upcoming invasion of Iraq, I was planting potatoes in preparation for the trade sanctions I expected to be the consequence.

The Wartime Weekend Gardener suggests that this weekend you make another sowing of early carrots, and a first row of turnips. If turnips don’t appeal to you, maybe try sowing Cima di Rapa, turnip greens, which are very popular in Italy.

Now I have a proper potting shed, I’ve been able to start seed sowing earlier than before. Most years I spent the mornings of Cheltenham Festival week frantically sowing as many trays of seed as I could, then lying on the sofa in the afternoon watching the racing. This year I am far enough ahead to have celery germinating and broccoli ready to pot on.

Tomorrow will be seven years to the day from when I started working on my first allotment. To say the day was grey would be an understatement. The rain was barely falling - it was more horizontal, kept from landing on the ground by a foot high shagpile of mist. The plot hadn’t been touched for years and the couch grass had knitted itself into the assorted objects that had been dumped on there. But from there on in, it was mine to do what I wanted. Well in a couple of weeks I’ll be handing that plot back to the council. The clearing has been completed on the new plot. We now have to start on the cultivation proper. This year I’m not going to let anything get in my way.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Brace Youself......

Severe Weather Warnings make me sit up and take notice nowadays. The event is usually preceded by attempts to anchor vulnerable stuff - usually involving bricks or paving slabs, and followed by checking for damage and clearing up the mess. The morning after the "hurricane" of 87 i got a bus into work and was able to survey the damage from the top deck. Nowadays I'd be surprised if I'd be able to get more than 2 stops before the entire system shut down.

Four tier mini greenhouses are great if you don't have space for a proper greenhouse, but they are inclined to do a passable impression of a hot air balloon at the slightest gust. I'm hoping the paving slab on the bottom shelf will be sufficient for the storms due on Sunday night, as I have quite a few trays with seedlings emerging.

I keep having to remind myself that the house is about 200ft above sea level with mature trees all round. Add to that the clump of bamboo in next door's garden and the slightest breeze is going to sound like a gale.

So, instructions for this weekend for the WWG, if the weather allows, are to sow early carrots and early turnips.

It's the Cheltenham Festival next week, my signal to get really busy in the garden. I've managed to get a little ahead so far this year - I've even spotted a few celery seedlings emerging! But I digress. Cheltenham is special to me, although I've never been, I make a point of being at home for the week. Let's hope everyone one gets round safely, and Kauto Star makes it 2 Gold Cups. Can't help but wonder how things would have panned out if Best Mate was still around....