Sunday, 28 April 2013

RHS Level 2 Diploma in the Principles and Practices of Horticulture

I am chuffed to say that I got the Royal Horticultural Society Level 2 Diploma on Friday.  Bit of a faff getting it but it shows me that I am working at a fairly good level of knowledge.  I am taking the RHS  level 3 practical gardening course at the moment, which is very enjoyable.  I might take the first part of the theory in February next year.

I went up to the old allotment this morning and decided to finish off digging the green manure into the brassica bed.  And this with a bad back!  The soil here is so light and friable that it took no effort but I am still feeling it now.

After digging, I put in a row of swede.  The ground had been walked over when I had watered the cauliflowers and cabbages so it did not need consolidating.  I put the garden line about 12 inches from the line of cabbages and used the cultivator, hoe and rake to make a fine tilth.  The hoe was used to take out a drill about 2 cm deep.  They say that the depth of the drill should be about twice that of the seed, however if you mess about worrying about the depth of the drill you would never get any seeds sown.  I plant all my seed at about this depth and they all seem to germinate.  Dilute comfrey liquid was put along the drill to dampen the soil.  The swede seeds were sown when the comfrey liquid had soaked in.  I covered the seeds with a rake and tamped them down.  It is easier to use the right angled rake rather than the rounded tinned rake to do this.  The ground was raked again to make it look pristine.

I  used the rake to measure about 12 inches from the swede line and put the garden line in again for the kohl rabbi.  Then again for the turnips.  They were sown in exactly the same way as the swedes.  Dig a hole and bung them in.

I like to rake the soil where I have been walking to make it look tidy.

Went up to the "leaves" bed and planted some dill and comfrey.  These will be used to make herb teas in the summer.  The Hamburg parsley was planted next to the Boltardy beetroot, which has germinated already.

Finally, I went down to where the pumpkin, oca, tomatoes, sweet corn, courgettes, cucumbers and when I sow them squash will be planted.  I had put some well rotted compost onto the soil and wanted to mix it in.  I used the Mantis Tiller to do this.  With the tiller it took me about 20 minutes.  I do like to have a good fork, however it would have taken me a lot longer particularly with my bad back.

Terry had given me some summer fruiting raspberries and healed them in so I needed to put these into a big pot before I could do any thing.  I also moved the cold frame towards the back of this bed.

Took some left over pea, cabbage and onion seedlings down to the new allotment together with the raspberries.

I planted the raspberries right down at the bottom of the new allotment.  I used up the last of the mychorrhizal fungi in the planting holes.  I don't have any comfrey liquid down at the new allotment so I watered them in with just water.

I planted all the seedlings just in time for the rain to come.  I couldn't have organised it better myself.  So I just have a few seeds to put in at the new allotment and then I am waiting for the seedlings in the greenhouse to get big enough to be put outside.

Tomorrow, I will be at Shrugborough walled garden doing a bit of work.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Planting pea seedlings.

I have found, after many years of experience, that sowing peas directly into the ground is perfectly acceptable unless you have pigeons or mice anywhere in the vicinity. Also you have to have pea seeds that are not prone to slowly rot away in soil.

To be sure of almost 100% germination (there are always a few contrary seeds) I sow in modular trays using a peat free compost and keep them in the greenhouse.   You might call this molly coddling but it is the only way I can get peas to germinate with any sense of responsibility.

My Douce Provenance peas had mostly germinated and been outside hardening off so I decided to take them down to the allotment and plant them.  Also the climbing peas - the ones that had germinated -had also been hardened off out side and were taken to the allotment for planting.  .

I had tilled the soil with the machine but had not put any fertiliser on the new pea bed.  Previously it had the brassicas on and there are still some winter cauliflowers just starting to come now.  They were seriously affected by the cold easterly wind and pigeons eating the new growth of leaves.  I doubt if I will get any reasonably sized curds from them.

I have put up some canes for the climbing peas and this afternoon I attached some old netting to it to make it easier for the peas to climb.  I left a 10 cm. gap at the bottom to enable me to weed around the peas. One line of peas were planted with a little mychorrhizal fungi in some of the holes and watered in with dilute comfrey liquid.

The Douce Provenance peas do not climb so high so they were planted in three rows.  2 inches apart in the row and the rows about 4 inches apart.  I then put chicken wire around the seedlings to make a rectangular box.
Bit like I did here in 2011
People ask me how I pick the peas.  Well I just go in over the top of the chicken wire.  I is perfectly doable.  

There are some Douce Provenance peas seedlings left over so I will put them in in the new allotment.  I have some spare cabbages and Bedfordshire Champion onions to put in the new allotment too.  I will have to take some nets down to the new allotment to keep the birds off the brassicas.  I am not going to net the onions because I want to see how they will be affected by the onion miner fly. I think that its life cycle has been disrupted because it usually hatches out in April and that is when the very cold easterly wind was blowing.  I recon that a lot of them were killed and the onions will be safe without the barriers for at least this year.  

I have some more Alderman climbing peas and Early Onward germinating in the greenhouse.  Eventually I will have about five lines of peas on the old allotment and whatever is left over on the new allotment.  Two large rolls of concrete reinforcement wire were left on the allotment and I thought that I could use these for the climbing peas to grow up.  I am not too sure where to put it so that it does not shade the allotment too much.  There is also quite a bit of chicken wire left on the new allotment which I will use for any peas that I plant there.  

Although I have hurt my back sieve double digging on the new allotment, I had a go at digging the green manure in on the new brassica bed.  Did a couple of rows before I called it a day and went home.  

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Finished the sieve double digging.

I have finally finished the sieve double digging for this year.  The allotment secretary asked if I wanted the other half to the new allotment.  It is very untidy with lots of hedge bindweed and horse tail.  However, I said yes.  Fool that I am.  I will cover the ground with the old carpets that I have found and the tarpaulins until I have time to sieve double dig this one too.  I will not do much digging during the summer but it could be a project for the winter.  I don't have to pay for it this year and it would not be cost effective anyway because I could not plant anything on it this year.

There is a small apple tree on this half of the allotment which has been pushed over by a pile of compost.  I am not sure whether it can be straightened or whether straightening it is a good idea.  I am going to double dig up to it and clear the ground around it to have a look and see what I can do.

The banks of soil next to the hedge have been sieved and I have started to rake the soil over the bottom half of the allotment.  I will finish that tomorrow.  I have buried three carpets alongside the hedge to keep the bindweed where it should be - in the hedge.  I have made a pathway along the hedge to where the shed will be moved to.

Tomorrow, after I have raked all the piles of sieved soil over the allotment, I will start to plant shallots, garlic and onions.  I know that it is very late to be planting these but they have been planted  on the old allotment during March and they are doing fine. I want to see how big I can grow the alliums on the old allotment so they are spaced about a foot apart.  It does not give you very many  but they are potentially very big.  The alliums that were left over will give me a succession of alliums later in the year. They will be planted closer together to give a more usual size.

I need to put up the runner bean canes on the new allotment and that will be done after planting alliums.  I will put them across next to the main track for a little privacy during the summer.  I am debating whether to put some climbing peas next to the hedge path.  I am not too sure whether they would survive slugs and snails living in the hedge.

The area next to the hedge path is for red, white and black currants.  I have some red and a lot of black currant cuttings but will have to buy some white currants.  I will have to transplant some more of the strawberries because  they are in the wrong place.  I will put them with the others under the Victoria plum.

I have a pot of teasel seedlings which I will plant under one of the apple trees.  They have a pleasant enough flower and the finches like to eat the seeds.

Talking about finches, I think that the gold and green finches are having all the blossom off the Victoria Plum. I will go and get some bird seed tomorrow in an effort to keep them off the fruit blossom.

I have watered all the seedlings and seeds that I planted last week with dilute comfrey liquid.  I only put a couple of table spoon fulls into a watering can of water but it seems to have a very beneficial effect on all the plants.

Dug over some more of the brassica bed and will plant some kohl rabbi, swede and turnip when I go down there next.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Transplanting seedlings.

Just as you think it is safe to harden off a lot of seedlings the weather changes again - for the worst.  I put five  trays of Douce Provence peas outside yesterday to harden off.  I think that they are hardy enough to take a few nights of cold weather.

The Swift potatoes and oca in pots will have to be put back in the greenhouse because they will not be so hardy.

I definitely need to repair the cold frame so that I can protect the more tender plants.

I pricked out borecole, broccoli, cabbage and kale into trays.  I did not use the sectioned trays because they are all being used for other seedlings.  The roots will be disturbed when I plant them out because they will be entangled with each others.  However, these are fairly robust brassicas and, with copious watering, they will survive well in good soil.

The climbing peas have not germinated very well.  I have potted up the ones that have germinated and will use them but I  have had to resow the Alderman peas.  I don't usually plant climbing peas preferring the smaller ones but this year I wanted to see just how well I could grow them.  If they do well, and they have not impressed me so far, then I will continue to grow them.  Also, the lettuce has not germinated very well.  I think this is due to it being old seed.

Sowed some Early Onward peas, which grow quite well on the allotment; some more lettuce; dwalf French beans saved seeds; runner beans saved seed; sweet corn; cucumber; pumpkin and courgette.

I discovered that I did not have any squash so I have bought some to sow later.

The chard and the perpetual spinach sown on the allotment have germinated already.  Nothing else is showing yet.  I am just hoping that the cold weather at the weekend will not check everything again.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Tried to get a lot more seeds sown.

I may have a tad too many brassicas this year.  I spent all morning transplanting seedlings into pots and trays and I still have some left over.  I am having to ration myself because I have no room in the greenhouse and probably will not be able to fit more than one row of about 19 plants of each.  I hate throwing any away though and I will probably end up giving most of them away.  The only problem with giving plants away is that you never see the pot or label again.  I like to use my pots and labels year after year.  I have quite a collection now.

I pricked out quite a few calabrese and second sowing of All the Year Round cauliflowers.  Running out of labels this time, I had to do some washing.  I write all my labels in pencil because it is much easier to wash off when I have finished with them.  I wash them in washing up liquid and then get any marks off with white spirit.

I have plenty of clean three inch pots but I can see that I will need some more soon.

Started sowing the runner beans.  Only got round to planting about half the Aintree and this year I will need a lot more because I am going to put a double row in the new allotment.

Started to mow the lawn but the newly serviced lawn mower would not start so I took it back to the service man.  He asked me a few questions and then looked at the mower.  Mowers don't work unless you turn the fuel on I have discovered today.  It is a little leaver that I have never noticed before.  Now I know.

Went up to the old allotment to get some sweet peas for my daughter's garden.  While I was there I watered all the seeds and seedlings that I have planted.  I am using the water from the butts, which is quickly running out.  They still haven't turned the water on.

The sweet peas are getting hammered by the slugs and snails so I have resorted to putting down some ferric phosphate.  The night time temperatures need to be a little warmer to enable the plants to grow away.  It is going to be OoC  again tonight and this is too cold to plant out anything cold sensitive.

I have put lime on the brassica bed but not on the hot bed.  Manure and lime do not mix very well.  The lime will help the brassicas in several ways.  Primarily a high pH suppresses club root disease.  I have not used this brassica bed for the cabbage family before. That means that it has not had brassicas on it for six years at least.  I know that Eric had some turnips on the bed just before I took it over but as I remember it they were quite healthy.  Therefore, I don't think that there are any club root spores on this bed.  However, you cannot be too careful so I am liming.  Last year I added some compost from Fred's mega compost heap.  The compost was lovely, however I could not guarantee that there was no club club root spores in it.

Most of the brassicas have been developed from sea shore plants which are adapted to high pH so providing them with a root environment that they are particularly adapted to will enable them to produce healthy plants.

Lime introduces calcium into the soil which is a nutrient.  It does not leach out of the soil easily so it does not need to be added too regularly.  I am putting lime on the soil every year but only on the brassica bed which means that each bed gets lime every six years due to the rotation.

Lime does help to make a good friable soil by flocculating clay particles to make larger particles.  It also helps to bind together particles that include organic matter.

I add a lot of organic matter to the soil and this tends to lower the pH.  Lime helps to maintain the pH between 6.5 and 7  which is a good average growing pH.

I scattered the lime over the green manure and will dig them in together.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Planted all the Sweet Peas now.

I completed the sweet pea planting giving them a little mychorrhizal fungi and watering them in with dilute comfrey liquid.  I have already lost two to slugs and snails but the others seem to have withstood the onslaught.  I have resorted to using ferric phosphate because the nematodes have not come yet.

Planted out the exhibition broad beans in the same way and covered them with a cloche.  There is only room for one line of climbing french beans because I am using the space for the big peas Alderman, Radio and the heritage one.  I put the support canes up for these today.  I am going to attach nets to the canes so that they can climb as high as they want.  I was going to dig in some of the well rotted manure to the pea bed but I don't think it will be necessary.  I put the manure on the pumpkin bed instead.  I just hoed and raked the bed but I will probably use the Mantis Tiller on it before I plant the peas.

I tidied up the winter cauliflowers.  They have been looking very forlorn since the very cold east winds.  They have some very small cauliflowers forming which I doubt will produce very big curds.  Still they will be out of the way when I want to plant the peas.  

Now that I have emptied one of the compost bins I can turn the other one into it.  I had to repair the emptied compost bin because two of the pallets had pulled apart.  When the bin was empty I could push them together and wire them together.  I began to refill the empty bin but will need to finish this the next time I go to the old allotment.

I planted out the All the Year Round cauliflowers and two rows of cabbage on the hot bed.  I stuck a cane into the bed and left it there for a couple of hours.  When I took it out the bottom was quite warm.  It seems to be working, however whether it will produce any good cauliflowers remains to be seen.  I covered the whole hot bed with scaffold netting supported by blue water pipe.  That will keep the pigeons off and might well keep the cabbage white butterflies from laying eggs on them.

Sowed a speculative row of beetroot - might be a little early for beetroot but I have enough to sow again if necessary.

Dug a little more of the brassica bed but it isn't really necessary at the moment because the cabbage family seedlings will be in the greenhouse for a while yet.  The green manure is covering the ground quite well but there are some ephemeral weeds like groundsel, chickweed and hairy bitter cress growing in between the plants and they will set seed if I don't dig them in quite quickly.

The digging at the new allotment is still grinding away although I have reached the hedge on one side.  There is still far too much bindweed to dig it over without sieving the soil.  So, I am still sieving the soil.  More carpets have slowed me down even further because the bindweed, nettles and ivy had grown through holes and their roots were very firmly anchored to the ground.  I have removed a further two and I think - I hope that the blue one is the last one.  That will be removed when I get down to it.

There is a little apple tree which is leaning almost at 45o onto my allotment.  There were no apples on it last year because it was over shadowed by the hawthorn hedge and covered in bindweed.  I haven't pruned the tree because it is rooted in the next allotment.  I am going to have any apples that come on it unless someone takes on the untidy allotment.

I have carefully raked the allotment except for the small area that I have not dug.  As soon as this area is dug I can start planting in earnest.  The mounds of soil that were against the hedge were probably where weeds were thrown in the past.  Now that the carpets have been taken off them, you can see that they are good top soil.  I cannot waste good topsoil so, when I have sieved it, I have been raking it over the rest of the allotment.

Still a lot more to do before both allotments are full.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Started Planting the Sweet Peas

Usually the sweet peas are planted during March but this year we are about one month behind.  So today in the middle of April I started to plant out sweet peas.  They have been hardening off for about two weeks in the cold frame and on a sheltered patio.  Their growth this year has been particularly slow but hopefully with the warmer weather they will begin to grow much faster.

I took Blue Danube; Red Ace and Epicure to plant so only nine varieties to go.

A planting hole taken out with a hand trowel behind each of the canes.  I plant the seedlings behind the canes so that they will not get damaged when weeding with a hoe.  The cane protects them to some extent.  After a little mychorrhizal fungi was added to the hole, the plants were knocked out of their pots and firmed into the soil.  The sweet peas were watered with dilute comfrey liquid.

They were too small to tie to the canes but this will have to be done when they begin to grow a little larger.

I planted four rows of carrots: Flyaway; two rows of Autumn King and another one I can't remember the name of.  These were covered by enviromesh supported by old cloche wires.  As this bed is a little wider than the others, I had to use two nets.  I don't really like doing this because they overlap and cut out some of the light.  However, it was either this or no carrots at all.  Carrot root fly would devastate the crop without a barrier in place.

I also planted a row of salsify, perpetual spinach and rainbow chard.

Remarkably the hot bed I made has warmed up now.  The All The Year Round cauliflowers and cabbage will be planted on and around the hotbed.  The seedlings are being hardened off first before being planted out.

Tomorrow, I will be putting up some runner bean canes on the new allotment.  I will also attempt to finish the sieve double digging right up to the hedge where a path will be constructed leading to the little shed.

The concrete reinforcement wire I found on the allotment will be constructed as a support for the climbing peas.  The peas have germinated in the greenhouse and will have to be planted out in a couple of weeks.  This year, I am going to pinch out the growing tips in order to make them bush up a little more.  Hopefully this will give me a lot more stems and  a heavier crop of peas.

All the brassicas have germinated in the greenhouse.  They will be pricked out when they are big enough to handle.  I will have to think about sowing the beans, sweet corn, and cucurbita seeds.

I think that the peppers and tomatoes have survived the cold weather.

The oca is growing well and will need to be planted out soon.  I will cover these with a cloche.  I only have five plants because I lost a lot of tubers during the cold weather last year.

More hard work tomorrow - food growing is not easy.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Putting up the Sweet Pea Canes

I took the new canes down to the old allotment and put up another two rows.  I have enough to do another shorter row and I may do that tomorrow.  If I do put up another row it will be a little close to the broad bean  row. Really you need to be able to get up and down the rows of sweet peas with as little difficulty as possible. Trying to avoid stepping on the broad beans while taking off tendrils and side shoots is not something that I am very good at.  I will measure carefully to make sure there is enough room.

Putting up the sweet pea and runner bean canes involves placing a tree stake at each end of the row.  I bury them at least 18 inches deep to keep them steady.   They will be the anchors that stabilize the row of canes.  I measured six inches out from the tree stakes and put in the garden line.  Doing this both sides will give one foot between the rows. I placed the canes nine inches apart using a measuring stick cut to nine inches.  If you start the nine inches measurement from the same side for each of the rows the canes will match up and can be tied at the top together saving time.  One cane is attached to the top of the tree stake horizontally and passed through the canes so that each cane crosses below the horizontal cane.  This gives a more stable structure.  The canes are tied onto the horizontal cane with garden wire.  More horizontal canes may be necessary to reach the other tree stake and these can be tied in with garden wire.

This will give you a pyramidal structure to the sweet pea row supports.

Sweet pea canes two years ago.
There is an issue with this kind of structure.  The plants get crowded at the top of the canes and this can lead to mildew and fungal infections due to lack of air flow around the plants.  I will be layering the plants before they reach the very top of the canes to prevent this and allow them to have a new cane to climb up.

I have not planted any of the sweet pea seedlings out yet.  They are still very small and have not started to send out side shoots even though I have pinched them out.  They will have to be planted out soon otherwise they will not produce any flowers at all.

I dug another couple of rows on the brassica bed to ensure that I had enough dug area to plant both the cauliflowers and two rows of cabbages.

For the competition, I have to have cauliflowers growing in succession.  There are three common ways of producing succession:  growing different maturing varieties;  sowing at different times and planting in different aspects.  I cannot really grow the cauliflowers in different aspects so I will have to rely on using different varieties and sowing at monthly intervals.  I sowed some All the Year Round cauliflowers in early March and another variety in early April.  Hopefully they will come at different times.

I sowed two rows of parsnips in the new roots bed.  Sometime this week I will sow the carrots and put up the barrier against carrot root fly.

As there were a lot of chickweed plants growing in the green manure,  I dug all this bed to stop the chickweed from flowering and scattering seeds.  The soil here is very friable and it is like digging through a bag of John Innes compost.  I left the soil quite rough because I am going to take the Mantis Tiller over it to make the fine tilth for seed planting.

Finally, I put some horse manure on the rhubarb and started to dig in some of the home made compost on the curbit bed next to the rhubarb.  The rye and tares green manure has died and needed to be dug in even though  I will not be planting here until the end of May.

Adding carbon reduces nitrogen; adding nitrogen reduces carbon; adding air reduces both; adding horse manure increases both...

All in all a good tiring day.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Making a hotbed for the cauliflowers.

This year I have made a proper hotbed using horse manure.  It will be for the cauliflowers again because they did so well on the hugelkultur hotbed  last year.  As there was no brushwood or logs to bury,   hugelkultur couldn't be used this year.  However, there has been two or three very big loads of horse manure delivered to the allotment and this could be used  to make a big traditional hotbed.

I have been turning a big pile of manure over for about two weeks now, watering it with dilute comfrey liquid to heat it up.  Unfortunately the cold weather and the cold drying wind has meant that the manure pile has not warmed and keeps drying out.  I made the decision to make the hot bed regardless and set about it today.

Topsoil was needed to cap the hot bed and the only way to do this was to dig a trench out where the hot bed was to be placed.  The bed was four foot across twelve feet long and one spit deep.  The top soil was set to one side and the bottom of the trench was forked over to a depth of one spit.  The horse manure was stacked in the trench until it was about one foot above the original soil level and trodden down.  More manure was added until the height was restored.  The top was leveled and the sides made vertical.  The manure was watered with dilute comfrey liquid again in order to keep it moist.

I needed a 6-8 inch layer of top soil on top of the hot bed so that the cauliflower plants could be planted directly into the soil.  With such a wide bed it was quite easy to achieve and rake level.  I will be able to plant two rows of cauliflowers here and hopefully get some fairly large ones.  On one side of the hot bed I have put a slope of topsoil and will grow some cabbages here.  The whole area will be covered in scaffold netting supported by blue water pipes as a barrier against cabbage white butterfly caterpillars.  The scaffold netting will also keep the pigeons off the cauliflowers.  The hot bed is four to five feet across, one foot above the soil level and about twelve foot long stretching right across the brassica bed.

The cauliflower and cabbage plants are about 4-5 cm tall now growing in three inch pots in the greenhouse.  They can stay in their pots until they are twice that size and if the weather remains this cold then that is what will happen.  When brassica plants are ten inches tall slugs and snails are much less likely to be attracted to them.

I have erected four rows of canes.  One row will be for the runner beans and the other three for sweet peas. I will need at least another three rows of canes for the sweet peas but I have run out of canes.   I bought two hundred canes during the winter but they need to be brought  to the old allotment.  I need about fifty canes for the new allotment's runner beans but the rest can be used for the sweet peas.

This will be the next job.

The sweet peas are not really growing at the moment.  Most have been pinched out but they have not developed their side shoots yet.  I will probably allow two shoots to develop into stems because I will not get a good show of flowers this year.  I will get more flowers but much smaller than usual.

I had the seed to sow the parsnips and Hamburg parsley but it was still very cold and the wind bitterly penetrating so I thought I would leave sowing seeds until later in the week.  I probably will cover the parsnips with a cloche when I do eventually sow them.  There is still snow on Penn hill by the cricket ground which is lower than the allotment site.

The potatoes need planting at the new allotment and there is less danger from frost  because the new allotment is a lot lower altitude  and it is sloping to the south.  The potatoes should develop quite quickly in these conditions.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Heritage Seeds

I have received and sown some heritage seeds from the Garden Organic Heritage Seed Library.  This is a new adventure for me because I have never grown "heritage" seeds before.  I like to grow some of the tried and tested old varieties such as the leek Musselburgh and runner bean "Painted Lady" but I had no interest in heritage vegetables.

Why are they heritage?  Because they don't taste good and they are susceptible to pests and diseases.  However,  I had the opportunity to share some seed and experiment to see what they are like.

The one that I am most interested in is the Pea "Champion of England".  It is a tall variety which will grow up to 5 foot tall according to the catalogue.  I can get Early Onward almost up to this height (See previous post photographs) so I don't know how high Champion of England will grow.  I am going to plant it with the "Radio?" and Alderman and compare the varieties.  I haven't grown Alderman for many years but it crops well and is good sweet tasting pea.  Don gave me the "Radio" but I cannot find any reference to that name anywhere.   I think that he may have got it mixed up with the pea "Telegraph".  Whatever, I will continue to call it Radio.

I only had 12 pea seeds for the Champion of England so I will save most of the pods for next year's seed.  According to Kate and Ben at the Real Seed Company, peas are relatively self pollinating so will breed true.

I have sown the Ragged Jack kale and will probably have enough to eat as well as save seed from.  This is the only brassica seed that I will save at the new allotment and will not allow any other brassica to flower.  This should give me seed that will come true to type.

I will save the seed from the cauliflower Late Queen at the old allotment.  I haven't sown this yet because it is a winter cauliflower and needs to be sown in late April or early May.  The heritage cauliflowers do not grow very big but they are quite tasty by all accounts.

I have sown the leek Kelvedon King but to get seed from it will be difficult with the Phytomyza gymnostoma. I will be lucky to get any plants growing at all.

The heritage lettuce I've sown is George Richardson.  It is a cos lettuce which I'm not too fond of but it will produce some seed.  Lettuce flowers are self pollinating and rarely cross so will breed true.  I will be collecting seed from strong late flowering plants so I can select those that will stand for some time without bolting.

Potato planting Photographs

After planting 12 rows of potatoes; Sherine, Rocket, Aron Pilot and Swift in the potato bed, Paul came over and said that he wasn't going to plant anything until the weather got a lot warmer.  He said that Monty Don had said don't plant or sow anything yet.  Well tough t*****s Monty; the potatoes are planted.  The wind might have been bitterly cold but it certainly dried out the ground and the manure.

Potato bed covered in horse manure.  
The manure was dug in as I planted the potatoes. This bed had some pigeon muck dug in in the autumn which is very high in nitrogen.  I am hoping that the strawiness of the horse manure will lock up some of the nitrogen and prevent it from burning the potato roots.    
Now it could be said that digging in fresh manure like this will only lead to problems but the manure will rot down whether here or on the compost pile so why not here?

Thick layer of manure
Digging in this much manure is not very easy and took some time.  I didn't realise how much I had put onto the bed.  All the manure was free and delivered to the bins by the gate.  I had to wheel barrow it to the allotment which is all uphill but it was worth it.   Once I had taken out a trench where the potatoes were to be planted - lines were 2 feet apart, the potatoes were placed along it.  Some might say that this amount of fresh manure will deplete the soil of nitrogen.  This might be true but I will wait to see because I think that I will have a lovely crop of early potatoes.

I use a line all the time even when I dig.  I  have been digging for over 50 years now but I still can't keep a straight line.  The potatoes were placed 1 foot apart.  There were 13 potatoes in each line which means there is potentially 156 plants.  There is usually one or two misses but this number of early potatoes is fine.  Which reminds me I need to get some more storage potato bags.  

Mychorrhizal Fungi Spores.
After planting the tubers were dusted with mychorrhiza spores to encourage symbiosis.  So the bed was dug: the potatoes were planted and the garden tidied all at the same time.

One finished potato bed.  

The potatoes in late June 2013.  
(June 2012 notes I thought that I had added a little too much horse manure to this plot but it does not seem to have affected the early potatoes very much.  They were more affected by the slugs - which might have been attracted by the manure.  Nematode worms watered onto the potatoes seems to have remedied the slug problem.)

After finishing off the potatoes - even sweeping the path, I went down and planted the red onions.  Only planted one 12 foot row but that will produce enough onions for me.

Onion bed
I took off the enviromesh barrier so that I could plant the red onions and by extending the blue pipes I could cover them as well.  I prepared the ground using the Mantis Tiller.  It can cope with bare soil and light weeds but it will not dig in the big green manure plants.  After planting the onions the mesh barrier was put on again to prevent Pytomyza gymnostoma from laying eggs on them.  When I put the netting on I put some horse manure around the bottom to help to keep the mesh on the pipes.

The shallots and garlic are still growing but very slowly.  The garlic got very crushed by the snow but seems to be standing up a little more now.
Alliums June 2013 
I have pruned this gooseberry bush and it has more of a goblet shape than the photograph suggests.  The grazing rye and tares have died off due to the severe weather and need to be dug into the soil.  The rhubarb started to grow but has not moved for over two weeks now. I doubt if I will be able to force any because they will be fairly weak plants.  I have left the black bins over them for the moment but taken them off the ones at the new allotment.  I am gong to put some horse manure on them this week.

Rotivated bed
The sweet pea bed has been partially rotivated with the Mantis Tiller.  It does form a very good tilth.  I put some home made compost on this area. There were a lot of old rotted down turf in it but the tiller mixed it in without any difficulty.  Weather this will save me time is debatable because I still need to rake it over and level it off a little.  I have raised the soil and this makes leveling a little more tricky.

The sage plants need to be moved and put up with the others on the roots and leaves bed.

This green manure is going over now and needs to be dug in so that I can put up the sweet pea canes.  That must be done soon because the sweet pea seedlings are ready to go out.    I have put a cloche over the broad beans but they have still suffered from the cold weather.  There are two rows under the cloches but they will probably be consolidated into one.  I have some more exhibition broad bean seedlings to put out and I will probably put them here.

I will dig in the green manure with a spade rather than trying to do it with the tiller.  The long strawy bits just wrap around the blades and make it difficult to clean it.  Digging in the rye and tares here is my next job.

Green manure has produced some
good runner beans. June 2013

Making a hot bed 
I am trying to make a hot bed for the cauliflowers but not very successfully.  It keeps on drying out in the cold easterly wind.  I have turned the manure about three times now and it is still not warming up.  I think that I will just go ahead and make it regardless of whether it is hot enough.  There is more horse manure to make it a little bigger so I will add some newer muck to the pile when I make it.

Cauliflowers and cabbage on the hot bed June 2013

New pea and bean bed
This is where the Brussel sprouts were and has only been hoed and raked.  I will rotivate it to make a tilth to plant in but I doubt whether I will do anything else to it.  This old plum tree stump should come out now but it is throwing off some suckers which I can use to graft on so I am going to keep it for the moment.  I need to put up the poles for the climbing french beans soon.  The poor old winter cauliflowers have suffered in the cold weather but I have seen them like this before and they have recovered.  The pigeons have taken alot of the top leaves so I have had to cover them with netting.  

The strawberries have not begun to grow yet.  I think that it will be a very late season for fruit.  I will put some straw on them only when they have started to grow.  

The black currants have been mulched and they are looking very healthy but very little growth at the moment.    I will have to dig in the green manure on the roots and leaves bed but I will do that as I need to sow seeds.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Sowing the brassicas

More  seeds were sown yesterday.  Brassicas sown were cabbage "Red Drumhead", "Stonehead" and "Holland Winter White";  calabrese "Green Magic"; cauliflower "All The Year Round" and "Romanesco Precoce";  Broccoli "Red Arrow" and  "Early Purple Blend"; Borecole "Red Russian";  Brussel sprout "Trafalgar".

The cabbage "Brunswick" and cauliflower "All The Year Round"  seedlings are getting quite large now and will be ready to plant out just as the weather gets warmer.

I planted the peas "Douce Provence" and "Alderman"  in trays in the greenhouse.  The germination is much better when I do this and it keeps them far away from pigeons and mice that find them irresistible.  When these are planted out I will sow some more to get a succession.   

As the snow has flattened my barriers over the the alliums I am going to reconstruct it today.  While I am doing that I will plant the red onion sets "Red Barron".  All the early potatoes will be taken to the old allotment but I don't know whether I will have time to plant them all.  They will be planted  6 inches deep using the trowel to make the holes.  I will water with comfrey and then put the seed potato in the hole and then add a little mychorrhizal fungi.  Sometimes I take out a trench to plant the potatoes but this takes more time and does not really make any difference to how well they crop.

I will also begin to put up the sweet pea canes.  This year the canes will be put up in a pyramid shape because last year the cuboid shape was not very stable.  Also, you get a much better show when the canes are sloping because the flowers grow up out of the plant horizontally.

So... I planted the Swift and Aron Pilot potatoes but then ran out of stamina.  I had covered this bed with horse manure and it had to be dug in before I could plant the potatoes.  It was a little thicker than I expected and had not rotted down as much as I wanted.  I still dug it in though.  There was a biting north east wind blowing up the hill and it was not very pleasant at all.  There were patches of snow that had not thawed in the gardens and further up the hill.  The potatoes were planted fairly deeply so I think that they will survive.  I will  plant the others tomorrow.

I did attempt to use the Mantis Tiller and I think that it would have coped if it hadn't been so wet.  All that happened was that the tines got choked up and I had to keep stopping to clear them.  I wanted to find out what it was capable of and took it down to the new sweet pea bed.  It made a really good tilth where the ground was clear or covered with small weeds.  It did not like the big grazing rye plants though.  I will have to dig these in with a spade.  I also used it to make a fine tilth where the red onions were going to go.   I decided not to plant the red onions today because the wind becoming more penetrating and felt like it was getting at my bones.  I had taken the enviromesh barrier off the alliums to till the soil and did not want to put it back on again until I had finished planting the onions.  The wind was going to whip it away so I have stored it in the shed until tomorrow.

So all in all a bitterly cold wind did not make today very enjoyable at all.  

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Seed sowning, potato planting and still digging.

I sowed several different seed types today.  I used New Horizon General Purpose growing medium.  I did not add anything else primarily because I did not have any vermiculite or grit.  The compost is fairly open in any case and does not readily cap.

Seeds sown were: lettuce Web's Wonderful;  Fennel "Colossale" and "Sirio"; Celeriac "Asterix"; Celery "Victoria" and Celery "Full White".  Tomorrow I will be sowing the brassicas and peas.

I could not bring myself to plant the potatoes in this cold wet soil so that is still to be done.  I still need to dig in the green and  horse manure on the potato beds and this can be done fairly quickly.  I tried to use the Mantis Tiller  yesterday but the ground was far too wet.  If it does not dry up, I will just fork it over.

I have dug down to the old apple tree on the new allotment which has prompted me to do a little more remedial pruning.  The apple tree did not produce any fruit last year mainly because of overcrowding of branches and a covering of Calystegia sepium.  I have already done the three d's - removed dead, diseased and damaged material.  (However, I saw some more canker on it yesterday and that will have to come out. I will need a saw for that branch.) There are crossing branches and I took out some of these together with branches that were growing in the middle to open it up.  The others will be removed next year, although they might fruit and the weight pull them into a more suitable position.  I took out a lot of the fruiting spurs because there were far to many to produce large apples.  All the spurs that were pointing down came off and that gave the tree a much more open structure.  You could throw your hat through it.  The whole tree is leaning towards the north because the hedge is on the south side and was shading it.  This may affect it later in its life but I think that it is fine at the moment.  I will keep the height about 5 to 6 foot high so that I do not need a ladder to prune and crop it.  I don't know what the root stock is for this tree but I suspect that it will be one of the dwarfing ones.  A lot of the buds have been damaged by the easterly wind but I am hoping that they have still protected the flowers.  The buds were only just opening.

Spent all day yesterday digging in a bitterly cold easterly wind.  I kept myself warm by working quite hard but I am feeling it today.  Aches and pains all over.  Not a lot more digging to do but still about 6 to 8 foot to do.  The allotment slopes along the hedge so that one side of the allotment is about 8 foot longer than the other.  This means that I will not have to dig all the way across the whole width of the allotment and this will mean that it will take no time at all once past the apple tree.  Double digging and sieving the soil has produced as finer tilth as on the old allotment.  I think that it took about 10 years on the old allotment to get as friable soil as I have on the new allotment in one years digging.  However, to make the new allotment's soil as good as the old allotment I will have to add a lot more organic matter.  Digging the black, crumbly decomposed woody shreddings into the soil has started this process but I still need to continue.

I am really struggling with the carpets on the allotment.  They are definitely not a good idea.  I think that I have several that are more than 15 foot square. They are incredibly difficult to move when they are wet and they are in the way of the digging.  I have no where to store them now and getting them down to the tip will be a right pain in the neck.

I hate carpets on allotments.

I have put out the sweet peas again to harden off after taking them into the greenhouse during the snowy weather.  I have lost a few this year due to the cold easterly winds and snow but I am not too worried, (although the temperature tonight is going to fall to -4oC.)  I seem to have a lot of Gwendoline, which I like and Epicure, which I don't.  I have pinched out all the growing tips after the first leaf to remove apical dominance and encourage lateral buds to form. The two strongest buds will be left to grow on.

The peppers and the tomato seedlings are still surviving - remarkably in these temperatures.  I think that I am keeping the greenhouse just above freezing overnight but it is really difficult.  It needs more than a little paraffin heater.  Needless to say, if I can keep them alive for this week then the forecast is for temperatures to rise and the pressure will be off.

I need to prick out the onions and leeks into trays.  I will do that tomorrow after sowing the seeds.

I need the allotment soil to dry and warm up so that I can begin to sow seed in earnest.  It will be warmer soon.