Monday, 28 March 2011

Rain in sight

We planted the remaining parsnips out today. They look puny, but they should be fine. The first batch of sweet peas were big enough to go out two to a cane.

The weather forecast is for heavy rain in a few days, I hope they are right. The local weather forecaster is hoping for no rain to set a new record for minimum rainfall in March. I hope he is disappointed.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Going well

We took the remaining pots of leeks from the first batch of sowing up to the greenhouse along with the second batch of parsnips. The parsnips will need to grow a little before they go out. The second batch of leeks have been potted. When they have settled down they will follow the first batch up to the greenhouse.

The newly planted parsnips look great. The soaking we gave to a few areas of the plot are still visible. The second asparagus spear has appeared but is still too small to cut. I put up a string of CDs to keep the birds off the onions. Pigeons and crows sometimes pull up the onion sets when they see the tops poking out of the soil. Once they sprout they are safer, the birds don't seem to like onions.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Plantings, insects and nuts

The unusually warm weather has encouraged us to plant some of the hardy plants out. It has also stirred the insects and birds. Around Plot 18 there are great tits, robins, blue tits, dunnocks, sparrows and blackbirds all showing signs of pairing up and gathering nesting materials. The winter flocks of tits have broken up. We saw a crow flying past struggling to stay airborne under the load of the stick it was carrying. Insects and spiders are on the move, with a particularly large number of ladybirds this year. We've see our first bees and butterflies and spiders race for cover with almost every footstep on the ground.

We took up some leeks, spinach and sweet peas up to the greenhouse. Our leeks have potted up particularly well this year, looking strong and upright. The earliest batch of parsnips had the tips of their roots showing at the bottom of their tubes so they had to go into the ground to keep the disturbance of that root to a minimum. Jean used a bulb-planter to cut a hole in the freshly raked soil to drop the parsnip, tube-and-all, into the ground, then carefully fill in around the tiny plant to cover the cardboard tube. The tube will quickly rot away if it is buried.

The leeks will sit in the greenhouse for some weeks until they are a thick as a pencil before they go out, the spinach might take a couple of weeks but some of the sweet peas will be ready to go out sooner than that. I'm going to try training each sweet pea up a single cane this year to see if that will work.

Some years ago I gathered a few seeds in the autumn: some acorns and hazel nuts and a few holly, rowan and whitebeam berries. many of them grew in pots, not the holly, and when we got the allotment I transplanted a few around the edges of the plot. This year we have our first female flowers on the hazel. They are tiny flowers (sorry about the picture) and there are a few male catkins around. I tried to dust the flowers with pollen from the catkins because with luck we will get a few hazel nuts. Not what I had expected to grow on the allotment, but why not?

Monday, 21 March 2011

Broad beans, onions and water

Broad beans
The air was slightly warmer with a gentle breeze and as dry as a bone. The forecast for the week is dry and warmish, so it seemed the right time to plant out the broad beans. They have been sitting in the greenhouse to keep them cool and stop them growing too fast. If they do grow too quickly they get floppy so when they get planted out the first bit of wind blows them over and possibly snaps the stem. That isn't always too bad, because the plant usually grows on again and is just a bit later to produce beans. The ground was very, very dry, so they needed a lot of water to set them on their way. I strung up some simple supports until the have got used to being out.

Winter Onions
I marked out the rest of the plot with little marker sticks. It gives us an idea where to plant things when their neighbours are not ready to plant yet. To do that I need to know what the spacing is for the plants in the rows and between the rows. This varies for different plants and can be varied to stimulate different growth, for example wider spacing of onions can help to grow bigger bulbs. I can't remember the spacing from one year to the next, so I look them up, but that means remembering to do that before going to the plot. We do have a printed copy of the plan pinned up in the shed so it occurred to me that printing the spacing on it would mean I had a copy there, so when I've finished writing this I'll add the spacing to the plot plan and reprint it.

While Jean planted the onion sets in neat rows, guided by a string line, I watered the asparagus, strawberries, garlic and winter onions. As I watered the asparagus I noticed the first spear has just emerged, so the season will soon start for real. The winter onions are beginning to look a bit stronger after sitting under snow for weeks.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Using the tube

For the past few years we have chitted our parsnips and then grown the sprouted seeds on in a pot or a cardboard tube before planting them out. This year we have done the same again. The first batch of 26 have sprouted, been potted, or should that be tubed, and are now in the greenhouse, with the second batch sprouted and tubed. They will go up to the greenhouse as soon as the leaves appear.

The plot looks tidy but very, very dry. There has been little rain since the snow in November and December. We will need to water extensively before we plant anything out and then keep watering until it rains. The forecast is not just dry for the week ahead but warmer, so the broad beans might well go out shortly, but only with a lot of water.

The first batch of leeks have been potted into individual pots today. When they have got over the shock they will go up to the greenhouse to gently grown on for a few weeks before the go out.

We now need to water the asparagus and strawberries to ensure a decent crop of each this year.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Spruce up

The fencing job has left us with a pile of rubbish: old, mangled wire fencing, some broken, rotted fence posts and a couple of old rotten gates. We swept them up into the trailer this morning and took them to the local tip to be recycled.

The broad beans and sweet peas in the greenhouse are doing well, the beans are about ready to be planted out if the weather stays warm.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

A Plan

The plot is secure and dug over. We already have some winter and perennial crops on the plot and some annuals are already sown, with some growing well. The trouble is that there's no plan as to where everything will go, or al least there wasn't until now.

The newly moved raspberries have made some more space, but somehow it's just been used. We need a big space for leeks and onions, the carrots are speculative and may come to nothing. The sweetcorn and courgettes are best in blocks, so there may be some wiggle room there. The beetroot may spread into some of the space near the strawberries. There's no space for sweet peas - they may go outside of the fence but be protected by a wire cage.

Now we just need it to be a bit warmer and a good downpour and we're all set to go.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Fenced in

The new, step-over fence is now in place, though it needs a bit of finishing off. It is wired along the top for extra support and when I have finished adding a wire along the middle it will be firm and robust. The bottom of the fence is buried in a trench to deter burrowing under it. The joins are trapped between two battens screwed together for strength and to stop the stray ends of wire snagging passers-by.

Meanwhile Jean finished the digging, with the whole plot now dug over, except for where the winter onions, garlic and asparagus are. The broad beans are now safely in the greenhouse to slow down their growth a bit before they are ready to go out.

All that remains is to take the pile of old fencing and some other rubbish to the local tip and we are ready for the new season.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Measuring the size of it

Much of the digging over of the plot has been done. The first part of the fence has been moved, leaving the fruit bushes outside of the fence. I have now measured up the old split and damaged wire fence and I need about 20m to replace it. I'll see what I can find over the next week. We need the fence replaced before we plant anything out, but that's a few weeks off yet so no great rush. As the old fence is removed it is a chance to cut and edge the grass paths around the plot before the new fence is installed. The new battery strimmer should get an outing for just that purpose.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Old bean

All of the broad beans have sprouted. They are growing so quickly in the kitchen that they will soon need to be taken to the cold greenhouse to stop them becoming too leggy. One thing to mention is that these are not growing from beans saved from last year's crop - they got eaten by weevils. These are beans saved from 2009's crop. So eighteen months stored and they all germinate.

The garlic we grew last year looked enough to last until the next crop is ready, as it did last year. Unfortunately it has all spontaneously rotted, in both of the places we store it. So it looks as though the tough growing season last year has left us with weak garlic bulbs as well as all of the other poor crops.

I have put up the temporary table in a spare bedroom to hold some of the trays for allotment seeds and garden seeds that abound for the next few months. Now it just needs to be a bit warmer ...

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Digging, gates, fences and holes

Jean continued to dig over the plot. We guessed she has probably done about 30% now. The soil is damp and breaks up nicely without being too sticky, so it seems a good time to be digging. We haven't finalised the layout of the crops this year yet - we need a plan. I have added some blood fish and bone to one area Jean dug over and to the asparagus bed but until I know where things like carrots and parsnips are going I'll not add any more because they don't like it.

Remains of the rabbit hole
I repaired a gate that was spare and fixed it to the shed. Then cut a gate post from a suitable piece of tanalised timber, dug a hole to mount it in put the post in and back-filled the hole. This gate post is going to form the start of the new fencing. It does look as though some of our fencing is past its best, with holes and tears in some of it. Some of the fencing was on the plot when we arrived and it looks as though we need to replace it. I think I'll use fencing that is not so high on some parts so we can just step over rather than needing gates. This works well for other people.  When we were leaving I looked closely at the old fence and found two holes which are easily rabbit sized, which explains how they exited from the plot when they vacated their warren. This all needs to be repaired before we can plant any new plants. When we foolishly planted some sweet peas outside of the protection of the fence in a previous year they where eaten to the ground the next day, so rabbit proofing is important.

The village has the first signs of blossom showing, crocuses are out in the verges and daffodils are rapidly pushing up. On our plot the blackcurrant and gooseberry buds are opening up and the rhubarb is starting to push through. We'll see if there are any raspberries that have survived - there do look to be a couple of canes with buds. The strawberries have suffered by being half buried by the excavations made by the rabbits, but some should be fine.

I'm looking forward to getting some stuff in the ground, but as always the preparation is important and that's not finished yet.