Ta Dah!

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Today I am delighted to announce that the compost bins are finished!

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To think that when he went out this morning Chris still had a shrub to dig up, as it was growing exactly where we wanted to site the heaps.

After a busy day digging, sawing, hammering and screwing the heaps were finally complete.

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Now we need to lay some slabs in front of them ……

What a Bargain

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One of the houses in our road was having clear out; I spotted this box of plant pots as I cycled by.  Chris was surprised when I brought them home as he thought that I had enough plant pots already; just shows how little he knows!

I spent Sunday morning happily washing pots; it took over an hour as there were so many.  They were mainly of the size that I use most when sowing seeds.

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What a bargain!

Breaking News!

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I am excited to report that the garlic is now sprouting!  Above is the Red Duke that I planted on the 10th January, and below is the the Solent White that I planted on the 17th.

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The broad beans are still tucked under their compost duvet.

Watching Paint Dry

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Today was a mild damp day.  The soil was too wet and heavy to stand on.  Pulling up weeds was hampered by the great clods of clay which could not be shaken from their roots.  So I painted.  Chris is making great progress with the new compost heaps and he has made fronts that can be slotted in to make moving compost much easier; he thought that the fronts would benefit from a coating of wood preserving paint to protect them.  I mixed my own colour by combining two colours and got painting.  The only trouble is that it was such a damp day that I am not sure how long the paint will take to dry!

Rhubarb Worry!

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I am a little worried about my rhubarb!  The mild weather has brought it so far on that it is more advanced than it would be if I had forced it.  Earlier this year I dug up part of the root and moved it to a new site where it will have a bit more room to grow.  The two newly planted crowns do look a bit exposed and I think that I may not have planted them deeply enough.sunday 17th January 006

Perhaps I should find something to mulch them with?  What do you think?

Feeling Chilly!

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Today was definitely colder than when I took a picture of the same view a week ago!  I reckon that is a sprinkling of snow on the beds, but Chris thinks it is just a heavy frost.  Either way, we didn’t let it stop us getting on in the garden.

Chris pruned the last of the fruit trees.

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That was a bit of a cold job today, but he was really pleased to get it done.  The ones that he was doing today were two of our espaliers which had started to send up lots of shoots which meant that last autumn it was a bit of a stretch to reach all of the fruit!

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They look a lot more manageable now; there are plenty of fruiting spurs so fingers crossed for a good crop next year.  In the foreground is the Jonagold which has never cropped heavily.  Perhaps because it is in the only part of the garden where there is a tendency for the soil to become waterlogged.

Because there were only 11 cloves in the Red Duke garlic that I planted last week I sent off for some more.  I thought that I would try a different variety to compare with Red Duke so ordered Solent Wight.  This time there were over thirty cloves in the same weight of garlic.  I planted those today as well as the last few broadbeans.  I had to order more of those seeds as well as I didn’t have quite enough.  I am hoping that in only a few weeks I will be able to plant both the garlic and broadbeans into the plot.  My Dad planted his broadbeans in the autumn and they are aparantly already a foot high!  It will be interesting to see how much sooner he is able to start picking his broadbeans than we are.

 

 

 

Looking a bit bare!

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I wouldn’t usually leave my plot so empty over winter.  It is not good for soil to be left unprotected by plants during the winter months as heavy rain can leach out many of the soils nutrients.  However, the two nearest plots were until recently full of strawberry plants.  The third plot along is now mainly full of strawberry runners (with a few bearded irises planted out at one end).  The furthest plot away had been full of tulip bulbs which I have only recently got around to digging out. I had left it too late to plant anything to over winter so that plot too is empty (save for some rhubarb at one end).  However. it is exciting to have such a blank canvas!

My son brought me a book called ‘One Magic Square’ for Christmas.  It is about growing crops on a square metre of land. I have divided my beds each into four separate metre square beds and am really looking forward to trying out some of the planting plans in this book.

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Slugs: Trouble to Come!

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Looking around the garden yesterday I could not help feeling that there may be trouble ahead!  Compare, for example, the picture of a young Herb Robert plant, above, with the chickweek trying to grow near by ….

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The Chickweed, which clearly tastes much nicer than Herb Robert, has been munched by slugs: it has all but been defoliated!  The Sweet Williams planted out in the vegetable beds have also suffered …

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I compared the growth of the seeds that I sowed at exactly the same time and from the same packet  in two different places…

On the left we have apparantly zero germination (next to a volunteer purple toadflax plant which I will allow to grow on).  On the right we have the overcrowded seedlings in a large container.  One reason for the difference might be the relatively cold wet and heavy soil compared to the free draining coir compost.  However, close inspection of the soil from time to time reveals tiny stalks of the seedlings that have dared to put their heads above the surface, only to have their leaves immediately grazed off by the hungry slugs!

All of this will obviously have implications for the year ahead as I plan to grow tasty crops rather than Toadflax and Herb Robert, which I have no more desire to eat than the slugs have.  To help reduce losses to slugs I have several strategies planned.

  1. As far as possible I will sow in pots and not put the plants into the ground until they are less tender and tempting.  By then they should also be robust enough to cope with a little nibbling.
  2. I will use barriers such as copper rings to protect the most valuable and vulnerable plants.   Although these are expensive they do last for a very long time.  (My lovely dad bought me some for my birthday last year: he knows me very well).
  3. I will regularly remove slugs from the plot.  Firstly, by visiting late at night with a torch in hand to catch them red handed.  Secondly, by laying traps such as pieces of board which I can then lift to reveal the slugs hiding during the day.
  4. I will grow a variety of crops intermingled rather than too many mono cultures. A whole plot of lettuce is likely to attract an army of slugs: a few lettuces grown amongst some onions might not get noticed.
  5. I will use ‘sacrificial plants’ that I know are loved by slugs to tempt slugs to eat them, rather than my crops.  These will also make night time visits more profitable as I am likely to be able to collect a lot of slugs from one place.
  6. Apart from my traps I will try and make sure there are as few places as possible for slugs to hang out by clearing up piles of rotting leaves and other places where they like to be.  Of course, the deep beds we built nearly 20 years ago and which are surrounded by a brick path and wooden boards make such a lovely home for our slimy friends so this might not make too much difference!
  7. I will encourage hedgehogs, birds and frogs into the garden who I know enjoy snacking on slugs.
  8. Lastly, I will try not to get too stressed by the inevitable losses and accept that slugs are a part of a gardener’s life!

Growing Garlic

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I missed the boat planting garlic before Christmas, so today decided to play catch up by planting some in pots ready to plant out once the soil is a little warmer.

First I mixed some garden soil with some peat free potting compost, rubbing the two together rather like rubbing fa into flour when making pastry.  This made a lovely crumbly mixture.

Then I planted the cloves in 4″ pots.  I bought two bulbs from Garden Organic and was surprised that there were only 11 cloves in the two bulbs;they were so large and plump.  I should imagine that they should make lovely healthy plants.

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Then I put the pots in the cold frame so that they could start growing.

 

Double Digging

My soil is a heavy clay.  Although I have been adding home made compost to it for the last twenty years since we first made these deep beds the soil remains dense; cold in winter and like concrete in summer.  Today I took a new approach as I prepared the bed that I have ear marked for runner beans.

First I dug a trench at one end of the meter square plot.  I put all of the soil into a wheel barrow as I removed it.  As I did this the soil was mixed with the layer of home made compost that I put on top of the bed earlier in the week.garden 3.01.16 002

Then I forked over the bottom of the trench.  You can see the more yellow clay sub soil, I needed to be careful not to mix this with the top soil.garden 3.01.16 003Then I added a layer of compost material, this included kitchen waste and some half rotten material from the compost heap.  Usually it is important to only add well rottend compost to the soil because of the ‘nitrogen robbery’ which occurs when micro organisms break down organic matter. However, because I am planning to plant beans which can fix their own nitrogen this is not an issue in this case.  I forked this into the sub soil.garden 3.01.16 004

Next, I filled this trench by digging a new trench alonside the first one.  I then repeated the process until I had got to the end of the plot and was able to fill the last trench with the top soil from the wheel barrow.

garden 3.01.16 008The finished bed was noticeably higher than the bed next to it.  In the next few days I plan to top dress it with some more compost and cover it with a layer of cardboard.  I have half a mind to plant runner beans as well on the adjacent plot (currently underneath the pallets) so that I can compare the effects of double digging compared to my usual approach of applying a layer of home made compost once or twice a year.

Here you can see the profile of the soil prior to double digging.  The organic rich layer and the humus does not seem to be very deep at all before the clay is reached; this is clearly an aspect of the vegetable plot which needs a lot more effort!garden 3.01.16 006