Saturday, May 28, 2011

At long last....

We have finally had some rain, great drenching cloudbursts with thunder and lightening that flattened the plants and soaked the washing and I am oh! so grateful!
 Hattie, our beautiful welsummer went off lay for a few days (or so we thought) but it seems that with three broody pekins hogging the nest box she was sneaking off to build her own nest! A couple of times we've been unable to find her in our small garden, even with three of us searching. I followed her the other day as she toddled round the rhubarb and through the solidago to a spot just behind her favourite redcurrant bush and found her stash of eggs.
I'm so impressed that this bird, hatched in an incubator somehow knows how to do this...and do it so well! We would never have found this secret place!

I think I have amassed enough seedlings now and the threat of frost is pretty much over (touch wood quick) so it is time to start planting out.
Earlier this year I went to Seedy Sunday with my friend Dom and we chose some weird and wonderful seed varieties to try.
Dom has a conservatory and a greenhouse so agreed to start off all our tomatoes and squashes etc. while I concentrate on hardier stuff. I've been transporting seedlings back and forth between our houses and I think we each now have a pretty good mix. So now I know what my family will be eating this year and barring catastrophes we should be eating very well!

Dom has sown a lovely selection of tomatoes. We are growing;
Tigerella (my absolute favourite) 
Black cherry
Mille fleur
Purple Ukraine
Gardeners delight
Costoluto genovest
Cuor di buie
I also swapped some cabbages with another plot holder for a Marmande.
There are also a tray of unidentified toms (labelling issues) so maybe some surprises.
We have five different types of winter squash, three types of cucumber, sweetcorn, assorted beans and peas, grain amaranth, cape gooseberries, various colours of carrot and beetroot, fancy lettuces, spuds, all manner of cabbages and cauliflowers and the regulars, garlic, spring onions and leeks, perrenial friut bushes, raspberry canes and such.

  My parsnips failed to germinate in the dry heat of March so, inspired by my friend Flo, I'm soaking the seeds on kitchen paper until they shoot then transplanting them quick.
I'll let you know how they get on (bet you can't wait) well, just in case you're as weird as me!

And for those of you who aren't enjoying picture after picture of seedlings, here's a shot of Teddy stealing kisses from Little flower as she grooms him. I'm off to try and find room for forty odd tomato plants, 20 squash plants, 20 sweetcorn..............

Monday, May 16, 2011

Conspiracy theory

We British are obsessed with the weather. 
We talk about it all the time. It is the basis for polite conversation on the commute to work..."Morning! turned out nice again" is one of very few accepted phrases exchanged by strangers on the 6.32 to London each morning.
And yet, somehow, the total lack of mad March storms and April showers have gone unmentioned, perhaps even unnoticed!

That's just weird!

We still have not had a single drop of rain round our way. Not one. April is always the wettest month of the year so to have absolutely no rain, you would think, would be news.
Not world news, I'm not suggesting for one moment it's as serious as the flooded Mississippi, the Spanish or Japanese earthquakes or the American typhoons, but locally I feel it deserves a mention.

 My allotment is on clay.
Thick, claggy, orange clay and it's a bit of a nightmare.
Three seasons in it's not really improving at all and I'm starting to get discouraged.
I've imported manure, double dug, trench composted, made mountains of leaf mould, mulched heavily with straw, turned over rough for winter, and still each spring I'm planting into builders rubble.
These photos (ignore the date, they were taken yesterday) show what I mean.
This is never going to be a 'friable loam' is it?
Whatever I add, this is what I get, fist sized chunks that stick to spade when wet or unbreakable as concrete when dry.
Either way, it's bloody hard work.

The books keep telling me that clay is full of life and potential, that with some organic matter will be unlocked....but I've been piling on organic matter for three years and nothing is happening.
In the garlic bed, where I dug out the first layer of clay and replaced it entirely with compost and manure (topped up twice a year) the clay foundation is sucking the moisture down to leave great chasms on the surface.
I would normally mulch this bed in April when the soil has had a chance to warm and the ground is good and wet, but I'm still waiting for the good and wet part.

Another casualty of this dry spell, my comfrey has developed rust. It grows just near the tree line and I hoped it's long taproots would be able to find moisture but it has really been struggling for a few weeks. I've tried watering but the water just runs straight off down the hill. It was wilting for a while before the rust arrived.
I just hope the young oak tree behind it is coping better.

One or two of the shallots in the raised beds are bolting and going to seed.
I'm thinking I might let this one go and harvest the seed for a bumper crop next year. These are the legendary 'Banana shallots' absolutely massive and easy to peel. I couldn't get hold of them from any seed seller, garden centre etc. Folk advertised them but when they arrived they were bog standard so I bought these from a greengrocers.
I put them in their own little raised bed so that any disease on them wouldn't contaminate the whole plot, it's always a risk with 'shop bought' and they're doing really well.
I've never grown shallots from seed before....if it works though I'll be well happy!

And still, I'm worrying about this weather....or rather, I'm worrying about the silence about this weather. By now we should be getting those public information adverts from 'Thames Water' on how to conserve the stuff. There should be talk of hosepipe bans and the papers should have headlines misquoting the met office. This is, after all, the driest spring certainly of my life.
Agriculture in the South East must be suffering, surely there will be price hikes and shortages later in the year so why so quiet? hmm?
It's making me paranoid.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Busy, busy, busy

It's that time of year again!
There are chicks in the dining room, seedlings going in and out, the garden is crawling with froglets that are being stalked by chickens and though the days are long they are never long enough!

Racey Lacey hatched her chick. Of the five eggs only one was fertile but we smuggled some chicks underneath her on day 21.
She's now proudly raising two seramas, a sebright and a pekin.
I'm a little worried about the sebright. It just isn't thriving. The others are flittering about and exploring their world but the little sebright is still tiny, seems a little wobbly on her feet and keeps getting pasted vent.
She's the dark chick at 6 o'clock in the picture.

Little flower is still blissfully in love with Teddy.
Luckily it appears the feeling is entirely mutual! 
Teddy is really enjoying all the attention. At this time of year as he's losing his winter coat he gets itchy if not groomed each day so he comes running as soon as Little flower bursts into the paddock calling his name.
Then he waits for her to fit his bridle and they skip off happily together for his hour of pampering!


The street party was a great success!
Turns out my neighbours are all bonkers!
There were plenty of games, sack races, tug-o-wars and such.
We had face painting, tombola and raffle.
The children used chalk to colour in the road, draw round each other and write messages to 'Will and Kate'
Everyone brought out mountains of food.
These cupcakes took ages to ice!
Me and Wurzel cracked open the homebrew at about all got a bit hazy after that!

Together we all raised lots of money in support of  'Help 4 Heroes' a charity providing care for injured British soldiers.

Up on the plot.....
Here in the South East we have had the driest March and April on record. In fact, we have had only one brief shower in the last eight weeks! Normally we depend upon 'April showers'  to provide a large proportion of our annual rainfall so drought conditions so early in the season is proving disastrous for seed germination.

To add to our woes, high daytime temperatures are making those that do germinate bolt and go straight to seed and (adding insult to injury) we are still getting the occasional night time frost.
The potatoes in the picture have been badly frosted...I've earthed them up now and can only hope they will recover.

All is not doom and gloom though.
There is always optimism enough for gardeners in springtime! My house, so dark and cold in the winter is proving to be the perfect place to 'hatch' trays and trays of seedlings. My dear friend Dom has a large conservatory to bring them on.
Between us I think we have it covered. I care for the brassicas, fennel and salad leaves, potting on (and on and on) until conditions improve, Dom cares for the sun lovers, the chillis and squashes, melons and cape gooseberries. And there are sometimes delightful surprises at this time of year! I found this splendid purple flower at the edge of my fruit bed the other day. It's quite tall (about 18 inches) and closes quickly if you cast a shadow over it. I've no idea what it is but I'd love to find out.
Do you know?

The best thing about spring is the sudden energy boost afforded by sunny days. The children are boisterous and eager to get out there and play! Poor Wurzel is usually the climbing frame of choice giving me precious time to gaze at the chicks and marvel at seedlings emerging from the soil.

Happy growing blogland!