A Not really the end but…Review of 2018

I am not one for letting the calendar dictate the growing seasons, but, every year bloggers across the globe pump out their Reviews, so ,despite knowing that nature ignores our plans at any opportunity, I’m going to call time on the last 12 months.

My memory isn’t the greatest so I’m going to use my Facebook page as a guide. That’s where most of my posts go, along with my Instagram (Westongreenman) and Twitter.

Overall, it wasn’t a terrible year. It wasn’t spectacular either but I had no major disasters so I’m not complaining.

It’s easy to think we started with a thick blanket of snow, but that didn’t come until the end of February , start of March.

The year actually started with my announcement regarding weight loss. My own, not the allotment! I was determined to drop two stones in weight , from 18 to 16, for health reasons.

I did it. I hadn’t set any time goals but it was realised within 3 months. I may have struggled maintaining that during the last month due to bad weather and good food, but I’ll be back to my best size by February.

My first real allotment based post was about Rhubarb, digging up, splitting and replanting the best bits. I also experimented, because that’s what I like, and potted a small root up. I had decided to try forcing a piece in the greenhouse at home.

I covered the pot with an upturned bucket and within a couple of months I had a single stalk of dark pink ,juicy sweetness. I only had the one stalk, but it proved a point.

 

 

It was around the same time I braved the loppers and pruned the pears tree and apple trees. I say brave but I had little choice, the pear was getting too tall to pick from and would have become even more of a problem next year had it been left.

The apples just needed thinning to encourage a good frame-work. I can attest to the results of the pruning, we had a good crop of both fruits and the apples were a little larger than the last year, but that was its first crop.

February saw the new potatoes set for chitting. There is still some debate regarding the efficiency of this practice but the general feeling is, it helps get an early start on the first tubers but the lates don’t really benefit. I don’t grow main crop potatoes so I chit. Varieties?

Rocket and Pentland Javelin. A relatively new and an old reliable variety. Results were mixed but a lot of that was due to space issues, weather and timing for planting.

March saw sharp frosts and special offers. Snow fell and garlic grew. The weather kept us all from doing anything other than plan and sow indoors. Luckily, seeds were plentiful as most of the gardening magazines were giving them away in bundles. Keep that in mind this year too.

If we get more of the white stuff, remember to do what I did last year, get some covers down. Once the worst had melted away I put mini tunnel cloches out on as many beds as I could, to dry and warm the soil in preparation. Some of that preparation was digging and lining a hole for my first Fig tree, something I’ve been after since I first tasted one fresh from the tree at Uphill Manor.

April became much of the same. More seeds and by now some results. Butternut and tomatoes popping through. After the snows of March we had the rains of April. Showers maybe but enough on already sodden soil to cause issues. Clay soil like mine doesn’t drain well, which is why I grow in beds and follow the no dig system. April also saw the first harvest of rhubarb. Earlier than expected and very welcome.

In fact, looking back, April was quite the busiest month so far. Potatoes started in bags at home, Polytunnel construction finished and plenty of new life starting in the seed trays.

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May and June seem like a million years ago now but they were the start of the migration of plants and seed from home to the plot. Support frames were constructed for the beans and peas sown at the same time. Tomatoes potted on and more seeds sown. The tunnel was getting closer to full with raised beds and compost going in.

The movement went the other direction too, with the first strawberries coming home, at least the ones that didn’t get eaten on site!

It was time for the cardboard revolution to start gaining pace with grass clippings and compost piling on top.  No dig is the way forward!

July was time for the garden at home to get a bit of an upgrade. Gravel mulch laid over a weed membrane fitted around the existing shrubs. As a late tip, try putting the weed cover down first, then planting through. Fitting it all around well established plants is a nightmare best avoided.

The allotment was in full flow by then, with the longer ays and brilliant weather.The first summer fruits were coming in strong and the squash were going out. The tomatoes were by now starting to fill out and they brought some surprises themselves.

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That was labelled as Indigo Blue, a medium to cherry sized dark purple !

Anyway, that was a rough round up of the first half of 2018.

I’ll work on the second half next!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November Remembered.

 

November was an odd companion.

Weather through the month was so varied it was hard to really tell what season it was most days.

The rain falling meant the temperature was too high for frost, the clouds stopped the sun from  making things too hot.  

Progress outside was and remains slow. The garden slows down naturally this time of year, the season of preparation. Preparing for winter, for hibernation. 

Everything doesn’t stop though, it just happens out of sight, below the protective blanket of the soil. Bulbs, seeds, roots. All working away at building up for the big rush in Spring.

Meanwhile, under the protective cover of the polytunnel, seedlings are growing, slowly but surely. Carrots and Turnips are producing their first true leaves, a sign that dangerous risky period of first establishment has been successful. Lettuces and Beetroot are not far behind.

The peas are not faring so well however. The few that germinated looked healthy and even vigorous but, something nibbled the tops off. Oddly, they only cut through them and left the stalks on the surface.

 Outside, the grass is still growing fast and strong. I’ve resolved to deal with it in the next season. How is yet to be decided.

Mowing isn’t practical due to layout,accessibility and infrequency of visits. When the time allows, the weather doesn’t.  

Lifting the turf and covering with something practical is the next option. Weed membrane would be the base layer with any option. Chopped bark is one possible topping. The positives are tidiness and drainage. Negatively, it also provides good cover for slugs and snails. its liable to blow away during dry spells and walking on it with wet or muddy boots will add three inches of bark to your height. Worst of all, unless you can get a free supply from a friendly tree surgeon, it’s an expensive option.

Gravel or chippings is never going to be a free supply. The cost will always be an issue as I’ve yet to meet a local quarry supplying chippings to allotments free of charge. The drainage would be top of the list. It won’t blow away. It will still stick to muddy boots but if the paths to the plot aren’t muddy,and they won’t be, this isn’t really that much of an issue with either option.  Price will be the big question. Gravel would require less topping up.  Bark should be cheaper. 

The third potential option would be more permanent but initially more expensive solution: Paving slabs.

The forth and most unlikely option is a range of unusual things. Straw, sand, shredded paper or even crushed sea shells. All are problematic in supply and the straw and paper are very likely to rot down if they don’t blow away first. 

As I say, I’ll need to think long and hard about it. 

Squashed!

I’ve been trying my hand at growing some of a range of vegetables that have been fast gaining popularity,the squashes.

Squash are from the species Cucurbita and are mainly known as pumpkins,butternut or courgettes. Commonly large courgettes are mistaken for Vegetable marrows but they are technically a different plant.

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I’m growing a few Jack O’Lantern pumpkins for carving and hopefully eating,a few yellow courgettes and a singular butternut. I’m also trying a second attempt at a heritage variety, Cornell’s Bush Delicata.

From the top working down are the first early shots of the following: Two Jack O’Lanterns amongst the Sweetcorn, a small Delicata with three runner beans and two Jacks with a yellow courgette beneath a dual row of Runner Beans.

The Polytunnel contains,amongst other things, another yellow courgette, a Jack O’Lantern in a tub and a small Butternut. In fact, there is another squash but it has been so slow to start I can’t really identify if it is a butter nut or not. I’m not pinning much hope on it.

Anyway, the ones that are doing well are looking like we might have a store cupboard full by Autumn.

So far it’s only been courgettes but the pumpkins are producing small fruits and the Butternut is showing embryonic fruits on the female flower stems.

I’m sure from looking at the fruits from the courgettes that I have two different varieties. I’ll have to go back through my records to see if that’s the case. Either way, I’m getting lots of yellow courgettes.

 

Hit The Gravel And Go!

This week we took delivery of two large/jumbo sacks of 20 mm gravel, for the purpose of covering our side border at the front of the house.

We had previously covered the front border quite successfully and wanted to continue along the side to complete the job. We didn’t do it all in one hit simply because the cost was prohibitive at the time. The timing here was vital as I’d already booked two weeks off work and this was one of the main jobs I had planned.

We ordered the materials from a local trade supplier a few days before and I had purchased a roll of heavy duty weed control membrane before winter, as the money was available and we had formulated a plan by then. Membrane doesn’t go off so it was worth getting it while the price was right and funds were available.

Putting down the membrane meant removing any pernicious weeds and old stumps first.

That itself was a challenge as the stump I had my eye on was from a still live Hawthorn, complete with deadly needle sharp thorns.

Now, sensible people would use heavy, thick gloves and long thick sleeves when doing this, but then I’m never one to make a job easy on myself,so several stabs and swear words later it was out and I could begin laying down the ground cover.

Once again, planning would have said put down your ground cover first then add plants afterwards but we have established shrubs already so I had to work around those. We could have dug them out, covered and replanted but as it has been one of the hottest, driest in a long time, with a prevailing drying wind, I didn’t want to risk losing any plants.

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Now, the problem I didn’t anticipate was the location of the sacks. Directly in front of my huge Hebe bush. Now, I LOVE my Hebes and so do the insects. Hoverflies,butterflies, bees and wasps. I don’t know which one took offence to a great big sweaty human standing and shovelling gravel right where they wanted to fly but I felt a sting and caught something tangled in my chest hair within twenty minutes of starting!

One application of anti bug spray (citronella) later and the job was on again.

Three bottles of water, two cans of lager and several rest breaks later it was …well, started at least. I managed to empty the first bag within the first day but knew I was wavering by about 3:30 pm and decided to give my back a break.

As I’ve said, and been reminded, I’ve got two weeks off. I don’t need to damage myself doing it all in one go, so, after a long soak in the bath, I’ve set my sights on finishing it this week, rather than immediately.

I mean , I’ve still got the greenhouse, allotment, polytunnel and a social life to handle as well!

Be Water wise..

Oh  it’s hot and dry at last.

 

But we’ll get the doom prophets and the naysayers who’ll bemoan the weather.

I’m going to ignore the subject of whether the weather is good or bad for us and just stick to the fact that it is warm, it has been a bit arid, and we need to adopt certain measures to deal with it.

As gardeners, growers of edibles and ornamentals, we are used to compromise. Pruning things to restrict growth, changing soil to suit and more are all par for this particular course we choose to play.

Water is a luxury we can be forgiven for taking for granted.  It’s always available. At home it’s at the end of a hose pipe, just the twist of a tap away.

At the plot, if you are lucky as I am, it’s from a trough, a cattle trough with a cistern. Mains water direct to your plants via a dipped watering can. At worst, it’s a water butt collecting rain water from a shed or greenhouse roof. I’ve read of plot holders who share a small number of taps with a large site, suffering low pressure and queues, those who transport large containers of water by car to their remote plots.

However you get your water, we will all at some point find there simply isn’t enough.

Let’s have a look at ways of conserving what we do have, using less and providing ways in which we can reduce the demand for it.

  1. Look at the ways you waste water. Change them. Stop leaving the tap or hose running, Put the plug in when you shower and then use the water collected for plants. Soaps and detergent s in general won’t do too much harm but if in doubt, dilute it further and don’t use for anything you grow to eat.
  2. Reduce the water you lose from the garden itself after or during watering. Evaporation is a big water loser. Mulch after watering, direct water to a point, at the stem or directly to the roots via pipe or empty pot sunk to root level. Avoid leaving a wet or damp surface as it will wick water away from the soil as it evaporates from the surface.
  3. Grow plants that are less thirsty or lose less through their leaves (transpiration). Grow plants to increase the deep roots, so avoid watering little and often or on the soil surface. This creates short, shallow roots which cannot source water easily from the soil and rely entirely on you. Giving a good drenching when planting, watering to the roots as described and watering less frequently. Make the plants delve deeper to find the water table.
  4. It may sound obvious but don’t water when it as at the hottest point of the day. Warm the water. It sounds daft but imagine spending the day on a hot, sunny beach then being soaked in ice cold water. Fill the watering can then leave it near to the plants you will be watering so it can acclimatise.
  5. Make a sponge out of your soil. Add lots of soil conditioners that hold water and release it slowly, deep down at the roots. Lots of what garden advisors and professionals call humus. Material that has broken down naturally and is fibrous and light when dry. Rotted stable or farm manure, composted kitchen and garden waste (compost) or leaf mould from rotted or decayed leaves. Try to avoid materials that dry out and are hard to re-wet, such as peat or coir.
  6. Before you water, check if the plants actually need it. Stick a finger deep into the soil and check if it is damp. If it is, don’t water. If the leaves are drooping and limp, wait until it is cooler later in the day and check again. Sometimes it is heat, not thirst that is the problem.
  7. Use shade to reduce the temperature and water loss. Try planting to provide natural shade, see if the plants will grow in partial shade. A surprising number of vegetables will.
  8. My pet hate, stop watering your lawn! An established lawn will have a complex root system designed to survive almost anything we throw at it, including prolonged drought. Stop cutting it too short and let it go brown, even yellow.
  9. Reuse household water. We get all our household water from one source. Mains water, treated and purified for drinking, is the same water used to flush toilets, wash clothes and cars, fill radiators and heating systems. We only need purified water for eating and drinking purposes. Try to reuse as much water as possible and let nothing go down the plug hole to join sewer water.
  10. Finally, if you’re a keen grower at home you will probably have at least a lawn, possibly borders too to the front of your home. Far beneath that will be natural water courses which carry water draining through the soil layers to reservoirs, rivers, lakes and other natural water points. Replacing your lawn or soil with tarmac or concrete means rain water will run off to gutters and soakaways, to go directly into sewers along with toilet waste, rainwater running off roofs and out of baths. When we see images of bone dry reservoirs and a few months later horrendous floods, this is why. If you must have a driveway, use a fast draining material that allows the rain water to drain through into the soil and away naturally.

 

Not all of these tips will apply to you and your world but share them, change the people and the environment around you.

Get water wise.

 

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Heavy mulch over moisture retentive soil.

Water pots and pipes, directing water to the roots and not the surface/

Cardboard, then grass clippings and compost to hold water deep at root level.

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Deep down beneath the mulch, the new potatoes were cool and damp and growing really happily, despite never having been watered, other than by rainfall.