Monday, 21 February 2011

Planting my Rhubarb

 Last week saw the arrival of my Rhubarb crowns. I ordered 9 in total... 3 Stockbridge arrow, 3 Suttons seedless and 3 Victoria. They all came from Suttons, and I am very happy with the quality of them (not that I know much about Rhubarb crowns though :).

 Sunday turned out to be planting day for them, when they got to settle into their new lifelong home in one of my permanent planting beds (hopefully the start of my potager).
 The soil was pretty wet, so I threw a plank of timber across to walk on, and spaced them out along it. I aimed for about 1m between each plant, but probably ended up with about 0.8m which I hope will be ok. The ground had been dug previously, but I dug out a hole with the spade and dropped some compost and fertiliser in before positioning the crowns.... after all, one can never have too much organic matter in the ground!! :)

 A bit more compost then got placed around the crowns before covering back over with soil. I made sure the crowns sat just below the surface. I shall drop a mulch on top of them this weekend coming, probably of well rotted manure, and hopefully they will flourish there for the next 5 or 6 years before I need to divide them.

 Unfortunately there will be no picking from them this year, so I will have to wait until next spring to try my first stems from them, I do have one existing plant that I can pick from this year though to quench my thirst for the delightful pink stalks for the time being :) I fancy a couple of those traditional rhubarb forcing pots to bring some sweet early stems on next spring, but they cost an absolute fortune whenever I have seen them before.... I may end up coming up with some kind of contraption myself :)  All I can now do is wait... and dream of those rhubarb crumbles!! :)

Completion grows ever nearer!!

  This weekend was hardly suited to doing anything outside, as unfortunately the ground was completely saturated from all the rain through friday night, but I have so many things to do (and never enough hours to do them), I just decided to put my good old wellies on and find the jobs with the least impact on the soil.
 The first job that sprang to mind was covering the polytunnel, although I had been waiting for a glorious sunny day without a breath of wind for that. Today was far from that mythical day!! Instead, it was overcast, dull, gloomy, grey, damp, and still drizzling with rain... at least there was no wind though. Nope... I decided to wait and see what happens later.
 Anyway, later on, after a trip to the supermarket, some jobs in the greenhouse, and lunch :) the drizzle stopped, so I decided to get the cover on the framework. I dryed the frame off (with one of our bathroom towels... sorry Sarah :) and then applied all the anti hot spot tape to the metalwork, and taped up the ends of the ridge tube and crop bars to protect the cover, then at this point I realised that I needed an area larger than the size of the polythene covering to get it all unfolded and then folded back up the other way so I could just lay it along the side of the frame ( I don't have a lot of space either side of the frame at the moment, but the front field will be ideal ) and then drag it over..... I need a second pair of hands!!  Luckily I persuaded my dad to give me a hand with that, so that sorted that problem. The cover was pleated up nicely, layed along the side of the frame, and pulled over!! 

 As it was getting late now, I just popped a few of the plastic strips into the aluminium base rails to hold the cover on overnight, and waited until sunday to finish it off.  Sunday morning I jumped out of bed hoping that the Met office were wrong, and I was going to have that sunshine I was hoping for after all..... not a chance... grey again, but at least it was dry and still no wind... that will have to do! :)
 Well, after pulling the top of the cover tight, and then pulling all the sides down onto the base rails tightly, it looked brilliant!!!!  This is soooo exciting! I started to pull the polythene onto the door frames next and pleat them up, which went surprisingly well on my own, and then nailed the battens around to hold it.

The covering did take quite a while from start to finish, but I was in no hurry, and just wanted to get it as neat as I could. I think I pulled the cover too tight onto the rails to start with, as the instructions tell you to leave a gap under the base rails so that you can push them down to the ground to tighten it all up afterwards.... but mine would hardly move... that may be due to it being a cold day though, and the polythene not being flexible?? I will have to wait and see when it warms up a bit. It is easy to re-tension it if I need to however, as it's just a case of undo the clips, push the base rails down, then re-tighten. Well, that just left the doors, which took a little messing around to get right, then trim off the excess polythene, and a general tidy up around the area at the end.  My polytunnel is now useable, but not quite finished... although I am absolutely delighted that the cover is on now! This only leaves me a few slabs to put down and a gravel bed to put in the empty area you can see on the left, and then the irrigation systems. I'm not in so much of a hurry to get those jobs done, so I can concentrate on getting more of the urgent garden jobs completed at the weekend from now on.

Kept in the dark

 Well actually, I don't keep them in the dark, the mushrooms that is. :) They seem to appreciate just a relatively dark corner of the house more than the intense dark of the cellar. Mushrooms always bring back the memory of a college holiday many years ago in France.... we went to some mushroom growing caves just out of curiosity while there, but myself and two friends.. Stuart and James, couldn't even leave the minibus as we were still terribly inebriated from our late night pool and snooker playing session in the only bar in Saumur to have a table "Le Liverpool".... I really wanted to see the caves, but they said we were a "health and safety issue" (to be honest, I think they were probably right!! :) Maybe one day I shall return to the caves!

 This year I am trying out three mushroom kits from Dobies that they had on offer a few weeks back... buy two, get one free ( I am just the perfect customer... offers never fail to win me over!! :) Anyway, after a few tense minutes of pondering, I decided on white button, brown chestnut and yellow oyster mushrooms. Last year I grew a couple of white button mushroom boxes I got from the garden centre.. we ended up with a good crop from one of the boxes, and not such a good crop from the other, but it was still well worth growing them for the sheer enjoyment of seeing them form on top of the casing compost (and we had a multitude of stuffed mushrooms for dinner for a few weeks! :)

The three kits from Dobies

 The new kits came with some pretty straight forward instructions to follow..... how could I go wrong??!??...oh how naive I am sometimes!!! :) It all sounded so simple for the button mushrooms, and having done pretty well last time, I thought a bumper crop was a foregone conclusion. So far I have nothing showing but a bit of mould on the casing compost, whereas the oyster mushrooms which I thought out of the three would be the ones not to grow, are coming along splendidly!! :)

A group of yellow oyster mushrooms forming

Yellow oyster mushrooms  

 Pleurotus ostreatus.
The kit comes with impregnated straw in a plastic bag to grow the mushrooms on, which sits inside a little mini plastic propagator. The plastic bag stays around the substrate all the time, and you just make small incisions in it for the mushrooms to grow through. You keep it in a warm place, 20 - 25 degrees until the straw is covered in white Mycelium, then make the incisions in the bag. After about 10 days or so the mushrooms start to show through the plastic... this is the stage I am at now!! :)  I'm not sure how long it will be before I can pick some... but to say I am excited about it is an understatement!!!! Once i've exhausted the first flush of mushrooms, apparently I just make some more incisions in the plastic, and another flush grows through..... happy days!!

Yellow oyster mushrooms going for gold!!

Button mushrooms

 Agaricus bisporus.
These two kits come in the same mini propagators, but they have a seperate impregnated straw growing substrate, and a dark casing compost to go over the top of it. With this kit you have to place the straw in the bottom of the proagator and keep it warm as you do for the oyster mushrooms until it is covered in the white Mycelium again (completed this part successfully), but then you have to put the casing compost on top of the straw and then apparently the mushrooms grow through the compost..... so far I have a distinct lack of any kind of fungii activity in these two kits... buggar! ... well, unless you can call grey mould on the surface activity?? :(  I've given them a good watering at the weekend, as they seemed quite dry under the surface, so now i'm going to wait and see what happens.

 I'll keep you posted on my progress with all three kits. I also need to find some oyster mushroom recipes pretty quickly, as it looks like the yellow oyster mushrooms will outgrow their mini propagator in a few days, so i've sorted out an old electric one that doesn't work anymore over the weekend that I can put them in when they reach that point.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Another weekend gone by...!

  Blimey!!  Is it just me, or does it seem like this year is flying by already!!

  This post means the end of yet another busy and productive weekend in the garden... at this rate, summer will be here again very soon!! :) To be honest, saturday could have almost been the summer.... it was glorious!!! out in the garden in my T-shirt, the sun shining and the dogs sunbathing while I worked (I did try to get them pricking out, but they are just far too ham fisted to be any good at it!:)

 Things in the vegetable garden are generally moving on quite well now.  The digging is slowly but surely getting done, and all the old spent compost, the manure, the buckets of fish blood and bone, and the builders bags of leaf mould are quickly disappearing into the ground as I go. I keep thinking of doing some tests on the soil while i dig, as it would be nice to know the PH of my soil just for reference, but I just never get around to buying one of those kits at the garden centre (too obsessed with looking at seeds and bulbs most probably!!).

 The polytunnel is now ready for covering (Sarah shouts "at last"!!), the weekend saw me get the raised beds inside it finished and filled, and the aluminium base rails around the bottom were all fixed on, aswell as the last few battens around the door frames to fix the polythene to. The next step is the cover, and I am eagerly awaiting the next warm, dry and wind free day for that (please let it be this weekend!!) Oh, and a couple of extra pairs of hands wouldn't go amiss if any of you are free this weekend?! :) Food and drink can be provided :)

Aubergine "Diamond" (Geezer)
 The seeds in the propagators are germinating well, and more and more are going in each week now. Sunday was Chilli day!! Yeehaa! when all my chilli seeds went into pots in the warmth finally. One day next weekend will be Sweet pepper day!! :)

 Spring is slowly creeping into the garden all around, and the days are getting longer! Last week actually saw me get home from work in daylight a couple of times, so I got to survey things and fill the bird feeders without the use of the torch for the first time this year.

 One of the things that isn't going so well yet this year, is my crop protection strategy... or more to the point "lack of crop protection strategy"!! I have been having a few issues with mice in the last couple of weeks! They didn't bother me at all last year, so I can only assume that the harsh winter has left them short of food, and now they see my seeds as an easy source!! They have eaten broad beans, parsnips and peas so far.. cleaned out an entire lot of the broad beans... and they have been nibbling all my salad leaf seedlings off as well as the odd other seedling.
 Also, I am lucky that although we live in the countryside, there are no rabbits in the village.... or so I thought! I saw a rabbit in the wood on sunday morning... that is one visitor I don't want to see too much of in my garden again!

 Right then.. i'm off back to writing another list of jobs for this weekend coming. :)

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Here come the spuds.

  It's that time of the year again!

 The seed spuds have been delivered.
Most of my seed came from JBA again, but I also had a couple of bags from Thompson and morgan, and a couple more from Medwyn's of Anglesey. I'm still waiting for one packet to be delivered, but it's only a small packet of a new variety to try out.
  They have been looked over to check the quality... thankfully all is good, and then dropped into seed trays to chit... I didn't have enough egg trays (I can't find them actually) so I opted for seed trays again this year which did the job perfectly well last year. Altogether we have about 30kg's of seed potatoes, which will hopefully keep us harvesting right through until this time next year again.

Firsts, seconds, maincrop and exhibition.

 I've sorted them out into their different classes.. firsts, seconds, maincrop and exhibition, going from left to right in the photo... here is a quick rundown of what i've gone with...

 First earlies:  Dunluce and Red duke of York. These both did well last year, so i'm playing it safe and sticking with them again this year.
 Second earlies:  Kestrel, Edgecote purple and Shetland black.  The first two also proved themselves last year, so i'm rolling with them again, but the Shetland black just looked interesting so I thought I would give it a go.
 Maincrop.  Ambo, Celine, Congo and Mayan gold. Ambo did well for me last year (about the only maincrop that did) but the other two are new. Celine sounded pretty good on the website, and the Mayan gold are supposed to be really delicious!! (yes, thinking of my stomach again :) Congo are only being grown because I want to make some blue crisps out of them!! :)
 Exhibition.  Winston and Blue belle. Never grown either of these before, but I am only looking for aesthetics with these two, not flavour (they had better win us a red card at the village show! :).

 The seeds are chitting away nicely in their light windowsills, and I am planning on getting the first earlies in the ground in around two to three weeks time, but that will depend on the weather really. Last year I started planting on the first weekend of march and everything worked out pretty well. They will get a nice bed of well rotted manure to sit on when they are planted, and then mounded up in the first couple of weeks to protect the emerging shoots.
 The exhibition spuds are going to be put in a compost mix inside a 17 litre polypot, and then sunk in the ground in a row in the garden. Hopefully the compost mix will mean I get some nice looking tubers free from blemishes for the village show. That reminds me... I must get onto Darren and get the compost mix for the pots as he is my exhibition guru!!

Dunluce, Red duke of York and Edgecote purple.

 Hopefully in a few months time we shall be harvesting some more of these little beauties... and no doubt giving lots away to friends and family.

Friday, 11 February 2011

February photo update.

  Well.. what would you have done on a nice sunny afternoon if you had the option of an early finish from work??
 I don't think I would be on my own in saying that pottering around the garden, while at the same time taking a few photo's of anything that catches the eye would be the choice I would make.
 Here is the evidence...

 Sweet pea "Candy cane" growing on in the greenhouse. I shall be training these along the fence at the end of the veg garden.

The Caraway plants look lovely and fresh! :)  This is the secret ingredient for making Latvian "Piragi" ... I am drooling at the thought of them now!!

Chives are one of my favourite herbs! :)

Sarah and I both love Flanders poppies, so we have a few trays to put a row in across the veg plot this year.

The first signs of the Tulips. I cannot for the life of me remember what variety they are!

Getting a bit of colour back into the garden! :)

Snowdrops a-plenty everywhere this week! :)

Hmmmm... anyone have any ideas what this is??  It has completely gone from my mind.
The first sowing of my "Meteor" peas. (My OCD came into play here... after taking the pic I had to turn all the pots round so that all the shoots were pointing the same direction.... much better!! :)

Passion fruit seedlings happy to be basking in some sunshine at long last! :) These will be growing in the polytunnel when it's completed.

Sorry... I know I have put two Snowdrop pics in here... but they do look splendid at this time of year!!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Polytunnel progress 2.

 This weekend was a bit of a windy one!! so i'm glad I hadn't arranged to put the covering on the tunnel (by now I would have been hanging on to the plastic sheet somewhere over Norway in the wind :)!!!
 I had planned to get a load of jobs done on the tunnel over the weekend, but to be honest I just didn't get them all done.  I did get the other door frame on which was on my list to do, but I only got one of the raised beds done..... where on earth does the time go to??!!?

 You can see the first raised bed in the photo. It is made from 9x3 reclaimed timber and just cut to length, then nailed together. It is about 5.2m x 1m, and as my arms will verify.... it weighs a LOT. I am going to make some brackets this week to screw onto the corners aswell, just to go all "belt and braces" on it :) The bed on that side doesn't run quite to the far end, I have left an area which I will fill with gravel and have it as hard standing for some big planter bags. The other bed will be full length.
 I did at least get the timber for the other bed collected from the timber yard on saturday, so i'm ready to get it done next weekend now. I also managed to get one or two more slabs down aswell, but not in the tunnel (I have gone a bit paving crazy now).
 Well that's about all for my progress report on the polytunnel this week, I just never really got going on it what with the weather threatening to rain all weekend, and then having a huge list of important clean up jobs that needed addressing. Hopefully next weekend the other raised bed will be done, and then get them both filled, and maybe even get all the aluminium base rails around the bottom aswell.

Onions, Garlic and Leeks.

  Last weekend saw my plans for the crop rotation on the garden starting to take shape. I have decided to slowly divide the garden up into five sections, and then to operate a five year rotation plan on it (probably way too complicated for me to get right, but i'm going to try). The Allium bed is the first of those sections to come together, and it is going to have all of my Onions, Shallots, Garlic, Leeks and spring onions in it. :) Each section will be around eighty square meters give or take the odd awkward corner or shaded area, and they will be divided up by the path down the middle and then some permanent plantings dividing each side up.

 I am surprised on close inspection of the bed, how well my overwintering onions and garlic have done to be honest, out of nearly 300 sets which I put in last autumn, I can only count 3 or 4 which have not grown despite the cold weather. Saturday and sunday gave me a bit of time to tidy up the autumn plantings, get the rest of my sets in, and finish digging the bed up to the first permanent planting section (starts by the wooden stake in the foreground of the photo). You can just see some of our new "Star" row markers in use in the Onion bed too:) 

 Weeding was first... onions hate the weeds!!!! Then followed by a quick scan round to push any loose ones back in. I was really happy to see my elephant garlic and my Jermor shallots are coming up really well as they are my own saved sets from last year!! :)
(Elephant garlic in the photo)

 As for varieties, I have no doubt gone over the top with the amount, but there are worse things to get carried away with :) 
Onions... Radar, Red electric, Senshyu yellow, Stuttgarter giant and Ramata (seed).
Garlic... Vayo, Solent wight, Albigensian wight, Elephant and Tochliavri.
Shallots... Jermor, Yellow moon, Pesandor and Echalote grise.
Leeks... Bleu de solaise, Musselburgh and Jaune de poitou.
Spring onions... Paris silverskin, White lisbon, Cipollini yellow, Ishikura and Lilia.

 With the garlic and shallots, I intend to keep my own sets every year like I did with some last year. I am also going to leave a couple of leek plants in this spring to allow them to flower and save some seeds off them. I figure if I only allow one variety to flower, then I won't have to worry about cross pollination :)
 Most of the Leek seeds are in modules now, I have some spring onions in pots, and my Ramata onions are growing away nicely in modules too... the only thing that needs sowing is the rest of the spring onions, but most of those will now go directly into the bed when it's a bit warmer.  I can now just sit back and start to dream of all the strings of onions and garlic Sarah and I will have hanging in the shed come autumn time!! :)

The stars of the garden!

  I decided that as the vegetables are the stars of the garden.... they needed some row markers to suit their status!

 Plain white labels or bits of wood with the old packets stuck on top would just not do them justice anymore... they needed something with a bit of style, something that stands out in a crowd, and most of all something that Sarah likes (yes, she is mad on stars!!)

  A bit of messing on the computer.. some laser cut steel, fold the top over, and then off to see a friend to get them powdercoated... and voila, some cool looking labels for our rows of veg!! I did however slightly underestimate the amount of them that I need, and so only made 40.... just the Allium bed will need nearly half of that lot on its own come spring/summer (Sarah also decided that they make a good magic wand, and so kept one, that left 39, and she now waves it at me while using phrases like "Get me a drink" and "Run my bath" amongst others :).  I may try out some other designs for the next batch... maybe flowers or bees or something else garden related. :)

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

A bird in the hand...... quite literally

  There have been a few mentions of the RSPB bird count this week in peoples blogs, so I just wanted to post this up on here, as i'm quite pleased with it!! :)

This is one of our garden robins at home, who after a bit of perseverance will now eat out of your hand! :)

He is available for childrens parties and the Royal variety performance, but he does command a high price nowadays (I think the fame has gone to his head a bit)!! :)

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Chapter 5.... Clearing the way for the new season

  2010 turned out to be a pretty good year on the whole, although I did let the weeds have a bit of a free run of the site for the last bit of the growing season..... the result of that is some pretty serious cleaning up needed again this year to get the ground and the established plantings ship shape again.

 Last weekend saw me getting started on that, with the herb bed at the far end of the garden getting most of the attention. It needed a good old prune first to get rid of all the dead stuff, followed by a bit of a weeding. I was pleased to see quite a few of the plants starting to shoot again, especially the Bronze fennel, Caraway and red veined Sorrel, although no doubt the frosts this weekend have slowed them down a bit. My pineapple sage looks like it may have given up the ghost at some point through the winter.... maybe it will shoot again, but I fear I may need to find another :(  Sunday saw me throwing some Fish blood and bone all around the herbs, and then following after with the hoe to remove any weeds and get the fert into the ground. 

The fruit trees got some attention after that, and the last two apple trees had their haircut before the new season starts. I have a row of eight mixed dessert and cooking apple trees along the side of the veg garden which I cut back quite a lot last year as they were getting too big for their boots, and they were starting to grow into some slightly funny shapes. Even after their major surgery last year, they actually produced some pretty good crops of fruit, so i'm hoping that this year they will be even better again. The raspberry patch had a few newcomers in the shape of some runners that I potted up last year... I slotted those into a few gaps in the rows to thicken it up a bit.

 Sunday turned out to be gorgeous in the garden... the sun was out, the wind was bracing, the birds were everywhere, including two woodpeckers playing the drums in one of the poplar trees behind the garden..... and everything else was going brilliantly! It was an absolute pleasure to be out there! Don't you just love days like that! :)

Polytunnel progress

How exciting is this... ??!!??!!??!

A polytunnel for the garden!! Woohoo! :)

 Well, I haven't actually finished it all yet, so I still have a load of hard work to do.... but I can't wait to move my first plants into it as soon as it's ready (and maybe even get a deck chair tucked in the end of it too ;). My plan is to get it finished by the end of february (trying not to rush it), which should be just the right time to start planting it up (maybe even a bit late for one or two things) The kit came from First tunnels, and I was very happy with the service I received.... I rang a couple of times to ask questions and they were excellent. The kit turned up in just a few days, all in perfect condition (couriers are notorious at damaging packages) and all present and correct. They even changed the free book they give you with your purchase for me, as I already had the one they advertised. I shall be using them again for my second one soon! :)

 The construction started in earnest on the 22nd january, when i broke the surface of the plot with my spade :) Two days later and the plot was just about clear. It took a lot of hard work to get the overgrown site ready to accept the foundation tubes (as mentioned in another post :), but I happily got on with it while the thought of that nice new environment i'm creating was in my head :)
 I took drastic action against the weeds on the plot, it's been overgrown and pretty wild for years, and the amount of roots in the ground were unbelievable..... I have never seen nettle roots quite that size before!!!... so out came the knapsack sprayer fully loaded with Glyphosate..... I don't usually like spraying chemicals to be honest, it's not that I consider myself an organic gardener, but I just don't see the need to use them on weeds (or anything else really)... digging and hoeing has the same effect... ok, it takes longer, but it's kinder to the soil and our precious environment. I did however concede defeat on this occasion, as I want to put raised "no dig" beds down either side and don't want all of those pernicious weeds poking through constantly.

 Meanwhile, in the Batcave (my workshop :), some of the tunnel parts were starting to take shape........

The hoops went together first. They are constructed of four pieces each, just screwed together on the joints. There are six of them in total.

 Next came the doors. I had opted for wider doors at both ends to give a bit of extra ventilation.
Most of the timber in the polytunnel door kits comes already cut to size, so it's just a case of screwing and nailing the pieces together... cut a few bits of lathe... staple on the net and plastic to cover the door... hit it with a hammer a few times..... and hey presto, a pair of nicely finished doors!! :) The frames are then simply assembled around the doors, taking care to leave the correct gap so that the finished assembly actually opens and closes :)

 Once I had finished my evening tasks in the Batcave, it was then back outside the following weekend to get the frame up. My aim was to get all of the steel frame up on the 29/30th, so I could then get on with the door frames and raised beds the following weekend.  It took me a while (and 3 tape measures, 2 string lines and a laser level :) to get the foundation tubes in place.... and only then did I realise that my site was sloping from one end to the other (I thought it was nearly level) It was only 200mm or so over the twenty five foot length, but I wasn't happy with it, so I ended up moving a load more of the topsoil to get it just right.

The hoops then just dropped on to the foundation tubes, followed swiftly by the ridge tube which just bolted on with the clamps. Corner braces were fitted to the four corners, and then my two extra "crop bars" bolted into place down the length of the tunnel.  A quick dash round with the drill and some more Tek screws..... GREAT!!!.. all the steelwork is up!!!! It didn't take as long as I thought on my own either.... what shall I do next?? :)
At this point I got carried away, and the order of doing things got a bit mixed up..... I decided to put a few slabs down at one end as I had plenty of time left, which was very exciting..... until I realised that I had to take a couple back up again to put the door frame up!! Oooops. Well this meant that I had to put the door frame up now, just so I could get the slabs back down again :) So... lift slabs... dig trench... insert door frame... cut frame to suit... check door frame for square... backfill... drill... hammer... lay slabs back down... job done!! I love it when a plan nearly comes together :)
So at the end of a busy weekend on the polytunnel, I ended up getting further than I had bargained for... which is fantastic!! Metalwork is up, one door frame is up, and i've started laying the slabs at one end and down the center of the tunnel. A satisfactory weekends work fitted in amidst other tasks in the garden! :)
Next stage will be the other door frame, the raised beds inside and finishing the slabs off, which I hope to complete on the 5/6th February.