Monday, September 5, 2011

Seeing Other Plots

It's a peculiar thing that for all the images I see of people's gardens and so forth online, it's very rare for me to see comparable gardens in real life - areas that have limited size, and that are being grown by people who don't yet have a vast amount of experience. I've seen the veg plots in the Botanical Gardens in Dublin, and the absolutely stunning Victorian Gardens in the Phoenix Park, but both of those are full-on professional, and the Victorian Gardens in particular have about four dedicated people working full time on them.

However, at the weekend, I was able to see the student plots in Kew Gardens in London - more than a dozen small plots, each thoroughly jammed with vegetables planted by first-years horticulture students. They were pretty impressive in some ways, and oddly comforting in others. For instance, none of them had much in the way of carrots, a crop I've simply not been able to grow here.

The tomatoes, though. They were mostly using Tigerella and Shirley varieties, with some Truegold here and there. They were massive, enormous plants, easily my height, weighed down with huge trusses of fruit. Each had been sown indoors around the end of February, and then planted out in the end of April. I'm planning similar varieties and schedules myself for next year. Now, London is always going to be a few degrees warmer than I can manage, it being further south and under the heat island effect of a large city. But I think that with some sensible use of glass, and some good composting, I ought to be able to do fairly well. Even half as successful would make me very happy indeed.

And basil, variety Sweetgreen, growing in small rows here and there, with an amazingly strong scent. I did note that it was in among vegetables, not in a dedicated herb bed, which I might try next year too - reserving the herb bed for the tougher perennials like mint and sage and thyme.

The squashes and cucumbers were beyond what I think is possible in my climatic conditions. That said, I haven't had a chance to look at my own squash since I got back, so it's now been about five days since I saw them. It's possible they've set fruit and got going in the meantime, although I'm not all that hopeful.

Vegetables were not planted in rows in most of the plots, but in rough patches - the intention here was to cut down on pest effects. I'm not completely convinced by this, because it seems to me that it would be a lot harder to thin plants in these conditions, and it'd make weeding tougher as well. But I'm willing to give it a try - perhaps some beds in rows next year, and some in patches, and see which does better in the end.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Garden Calendar

I've been reading up repeatedly about pruning for the various fruit trees and bushes we have, and then blanking on which one happens when. This really isn't terribly helpful, because it means I have to search out the information again, and I've been trying to think of some sort of useful mnemonic - but haven't come up with anything.

Eventually, I realised I had a useful tool for this already - my online calendar. I use Google Calendar for this, and it is, of course, very easy to choose a Saturday at the appropriate time of year for pruning each tree or bush. So that's what I've done, setting pruning dates out to mid-2012. If the actual dates don't suit closer to the time, I can move them, and once I've done the actual pruning, I can mark next year's calendar. Apart from anything else, this will give me a record of what I've planted when.

I'm reckoning on doing this with other garden tasks as well - particularly planting. That way, I'll have a record of planting dates without having to mess around with other spreadsheets or external gardening diaries, and can see over time what works well and what didn't.

Friday, July 29, 2011

My Ideal Workshop

There isn't room for a real workshop on our property. And indeed, even if there was room for it, it'd be a low priority, because I've half a dozen other hobbies and pursuits that come above the woodwork. But still, when I'm working on some piece of woodwork on a makeshift bench, or wishing for a fourth hand and an extra elbow, I do think about a Proper Workshop. When we get in a new shed, sometime later this year, I may even take some steps toward setting up a small one.

Now, I was brought up in a carpentry shop; my father is a master craftsman in a number of fields, and he's had various work areas. The only thing they've all had in common is copious space - these are not sheds and basements, they're full-on professional spaces where you can build a 10-metre stairs and rotate it without running into anything. I'm not thinking of anything that big, not least because I'd never have the use for it. The largest things I'm likely to handle are more on the 2.5 metre scale.

There are two key aspects, I think - working space and storage space. And the two cannot overlap. The default state of the place needs to be that the working space is empty, and the storage space is full, or nearly so.

The working space in my father's shops has always been big, heavy tables. These would have tops a good 4cm thick, maybe more. 2 metres by 3. Legs in 10cm square chunks of timber, often braced two ways. They weren't nailed or bolted to the floor, because sometimes they'd need to be moved, but they were incredibly immobile pieces of furniture. And then they'd have a full sheet of thick plywood attached on top, because the working surface would become pitted and battered, and need to be replaced after a while.

Now, I'll never need anything quite that massive, but I do reckon that something very solid is essential. If you need to really put pressure on something, if it's clamped down, the very last thing you want is the table moving. There's a heavy desk that was in the house when we got it, and is now in the garden shed, which might well be ideal for this job, except that it's far too low - any surface that's comfortable to sit at is not comfortable to stand at. So it might be best to build myself a bespoke worktable, at the proper height, and with the proper density. I think a 1 metre by 2 surface should be plenty. 1 by 1.5 might even suffice.

The worktable also needs space around it. A metre would be good, but I'd probably get away with 75cm. That would, on a 1.5 metre-long table, give me space enough for an object of up to 3 metres in the longest axis.

Now, there's the question of a vice. A good vice is essentially an immovable object, so common sense dictates that it be attached to the worktable. But it can get in the way, and having taken so much trouble to ensure that the worktable can remain clear, deliberately putting a heavy chunk of metal where it can interfere seems counter-productive. There are two possibilities, I think - you either ensure that the vice sits slightly below the surface of the table, or you put it on a second bench. In constrained spaces, I think the former is probably more likely.

Then, storage space. There are two kinds of storage spaces needed - tools, and materials. Tools need to be visible, accessible, and safe. Wall-mounted racks of one kind or another are ideal for this. Boxes are definitely not; they encourage rummaging, and rummaging in a box of sharp things is trouble. There is also, of course, something very pleasing about a wall covered in tools. Tool storage like this isn't even all that intrusive; it doesn't use up much space in reality.

Material storage is another matter. Materials for projects under way, bits of scrap that are "too good" to throw out (and I've been really glad to have these, already), and then the things like sandpaper, glue, screws and nails, varnish, and so on. That can take up a lot of space. In some workshops I've seen, there's an entire room, sometimes a second building, given over to this storage. Again, that's not practical for me, so I think that stacking by a wall for timber, and a cupboard for the sandpaper and screws end of things will be needed. Maybe some semi-loft-like storage, if the structure allows for it.

Is that everything? Not hardly. There are three other things to consider: permanently placed tools, lighting, and ventilation.

Permanently placed tools are the things like table saws, pull-down drills, sanding belts, and so on. At present, of course, I've none of these. A pull-down drill would be convenient, but isn't essential. Some sort of mounted saw would be very good, though - not necessarily a table-saw, but one of the pull-down style as well, perhaps. And maybe a small lathe. And, considering how much of my reference material is online, I'd need space for some sort of laptop or old desktop computer. These things need their own space, usually along by a wall. Some of them need a solid bench, again, for a mounting. They do need a workspace, but they can share that around the main work table, and if they're on benches, then I might have drawers or other storage underneath.

Lighting is a thing that my father's shops never did well, but I'm not sure that lighting was done well anywhere in the 80s and early 90s. What's needed is one or two powerful pendant lights over the main work table, high enough that they won't be hit by ordinary movements. And then you want spot lighting for the permanent tools and storage spaces. There's no need for these lights to be on all the time, and indeed, if they're off, you can get the pleasing effect of a pool of light in the working space, and nothing elsewhere to distract.

And finally, ventilation. My mild allergy to wood dust seems to have decreased massively in the last couple of years, but it's still better not to be breathing it too much. Not to mention varnish, paint, and glue. A flow of air is often enough - so a door and a window will do. I'd like to have some sort of air suction, as well, for clearing away dust from places where it'll otherwise build up, under saws and drills - it's entirely possible that an old vacuum cleaner will suffice for this.

Ideally, then, I'd be looking at a space of about 2 metres by 4. It would, of course, fulfil many of the functions of our existing sheds - storage of garden tools, outdoor furniture, and so on, and I'm sure the lawnmower can find a space in there someplace. Inevitably, some compromise will be needed - but it's nice to have an idea in mind.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Native Irish Plants for Winter

I've been listening to the BBC Gardeners' Question Time podcast of late, and also looking at gardens while I commute. The harsh winter of 2010-2011 seems to have ravaged gardens up and down the British Isles, and this is clear in two ways.

First, nigh-on every every episode of GQT has a question like "My beloved such-and-such plant died over the winter; can you suggest a replacement?". Second, gardens all over Ireland have dead shrubs standing out - sometimes it's just one set of bare branches, but there's one garden near us that has a hedge, three large shrubs, and several lower and smaller ones, all stone dead. There's a honeysuckle growing over one of the big dead shrubs, which gives the garden some semblance of life, but otherwise it looks like some sort of depressing art installation.

The GQT folks have a barrage of suggestions, but they come down to one fundamental - use native plants. We may think that winters like the last two are unusual, but the plant life of the British Isles disagrees, and can handle the -15°C fairly well. The exotics, on the other hand, keel over - there are dead palm trees hither and yon all over the South-west of Ireland, for just one example. Now, there are exotics I have every intention of growing, but they're either tolerant of our climate - pak choi, for instance, which is so happy in cold damp conditions that the crop I planted this year reckoned it was too dry, and bolted - or kept in greenhouses, like the jalapeƱo peppers we're hoping to have a crop from this autumn.

There were two palm trees in our place when we moved in; one at the front, and one at the back. They were terminated with extreme prejudice. Everything else shrub-like or hedging in there is native, or hardy - hazel, holly, blackthorn, hawthorn, ash, and so on. The only thing in the whole place that didn't make it through the winter intact was the rosemary in the herb bed.

So it's pretty clear that native plants have a massive advantage in this regard over the exotics. Now if only the weather could kill off bindweed.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Two years ago, I planted asparagus crowns. I noted earlier this year that they seemed to have died; this turns out to be incorrect. There is, once more, one solitary frond of very narrow asparagus hanging out where the three crowns went in. This, to be honest, almost more frustrating than the things having died off completely.

Now, having concluded they were dead, that area hasn't been weeded, so that's probably not doing it any favours. It's halfway covered in vetch, for a start. But even if I weed it thoroughly and carefully, I'm not sure what to do to actually encourage the plant. More compost? Dig it up and move it somewhere else?

Some initial research seems to indicate that compost is indeed the way to go, but also argues for a well-drained sandy loam, rather than our cold clay. So I'm reckoning that if I want to keep this one, I'll look at clearing it up carefully, leaving the fern there over the winter, and providing it with a good dollop of compost in the autumn. But it does seem like a small raised bed elsewhere with some more suitable soil brought in might be a better solution - it'll warm sooner in the spring, drain better, and be somewhat easier to keep weed free. I do have a bunch of beams left from the attic, so I could build a nice high bed.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Crops, July 2011

Some pictures of the crops growing in the garden this summer.

The lettuces are starting to go to seed a little - we've more coming up, so it's not a problem, and they've done very well as cut-and-come-again crops. Also, they're gorgeously geometric when they run to seed, so I'm willing to let them be for a bit on that stake as well.

The apples are getting sizable enough. There are six on this tree, and two on the other; after the whipping around in wind they got in late April, I'm not unhappy with that, and they're young trees yet.

The peas have come into their own in the last couple of weeks; there are fattening pods all over. We've had some, and they were very good, and I look forward to more soon. Oddly, the ones in newer, unimproved ground did well (or maybe it was something to do with the rogue potatoes alongside them), while those in better ground are much slower to get going.

And then the green beans, which were extremely poor at the germination stage. But all three plants that actually sprouted have done very well, and are now being trained up the cones. They're just short of flowering, so with any luck, we'll have a crop from them as well.

Next year, I reckon I'll be doing a lot more planting in trays and then planting out; much better control over conditions starting out, and a lot less bother with thinning. And they'll look neater too.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Second-hand Greenhouse (Miniature)

Friends who are moving out of the country said we could have their miniature greenhouse. Having assembled a makeshift one from old windows and attic beams, I wasn't about to say no. It needed some dis-assembly to get in it as far as the car, and then we realised that the size of the back panel - composed of solid pine beams and tongue-and-groove boards - meant it just wasn't going to go in, and that was it. So out came a hammer, and I took it apart, plank by plank, until it fitted.

Re-assembly therefore meant starting with remaking the back panel, and that started with taking out the rusty staples it had been put together with. Between a hammer to knock them flat in places, and a pliers to get them out where possible, I eventually got them all dealt with. And then on to the assembly. There's something very pleasing about working outdoors with wood on a sunny day.

Here's the final result:

That's now sitting at the back of the house, holding two tomato plants (one starting to groan with green tomatoes, the other only starting to produce a few; both have lots more flowers), a jalapeno pepper (flowers, no fruit yet, but I'm hopeful), and a small grape-vine, which we thought was dead, but has started to produce some small leaves again. Ideally, I think, it should actually be in soil, with a wall to climb on, but it's very small right now, and I think a year's coddling before we expose it to the outside world might be good for it.

One thing I would like to get would be a couple of small thermometers, which I'd mount where they can be seen in this and in the makeshift one. I reckon this will be hotter than the recycled one, so that gives three stages of heat - outside, recycled greenhouse, and good greenhouse, in increasing heat.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Attic Progress

The attic work is under way, and it's going well. We pulled out the fitted wardrobe - which took a little longer than expected, because whoever fitted it had some of fetish about using lots and lots of nails. The removed chipboard and plasterboard are going into a skip, which arrived yesterday, and will be filled up tomorrow. The more solid bits of actual timber that were forming the structure, I'm hanging on to; some of them have already become the frame of a miniature greenhouse, and the rest will find uses in the garden.

The next bit was putting down flooring. First, though, it was necessary to raise the level a bit, as there are lots of wires, pipes, and other bits that cross the actual rafters. The optimal height to raise it was exactly 5cm, but annoyingly, this falls short of the floor level in the bedroom, since the bedroom floor is on thicker, deeper rafters. I looked into what I'd need to do to make the floors match in level, but it would have been difficult, and made the overall structure rather weaker than I was happy with. So there are 5cm square beams crossing the rafters at right angles, about 35cm apart, and the high-density particleboard "loft panels" rest on these. There were support beams, wires, and other things to navigate around, and by and large, it has come out very neatly. There are a few more bits to slot in, but that's waiting on the replacement jigsaw blades I bought this morning.

We had a local electrician in to lay cables for the sockets and light fittings, and those have been accommodated as well. The cables will disappear behind panelling of one kind or another when everything is finished. Once everything else is in place, the electrician will come back in to do the final fittings.

Since there's a support beam at ceiling level as well, the old opening for the fitted wardrobe is becoming the opening into the new space - a doorway without a door. This will become a feature, and I plan to put a nice timber step - only a centimetre or two high - in the opening to allow for the difference in floor levels.

We're also putting up a hardboard ceiling - this won't be the final surface; it's just to keep the insulation material at bay for now. It's about two-thirds in place, and is awaiting the jigsaw blades as well before it can be finished.

The next bit will be to put in the storage. There are various details to work around with this, as there were with the flooring; beams and access to the water tank being the main ones. Once I'm done with the floor and ceiling, I can start to measure and calculate how we can get the most storage out of the space that's there. Long drawers and pull-out rails will certainly feature. The spare mattresses, which were such a nuisance to get in and out before, are being disposed of; we got a chair-bed for the study downstairs, and we'll get an air mattress or two in case of extra need. Not having those will free up a lot of storage, and put less constraint on what we can do.

And when all of that is in place, we'll finish it out with tongue-and-groove panelling, as in the bathroom downstairs, and put something a bit nicer on the floor.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Long Term Planting Plans

I'm giving some consideration now to long-term planting plans for the garden. There are a number of crops which don't really partake of crop rotation in any form, given that they're the same plants for a number of years. The fruit trees and bushes are one example of this, but there're also the strawberries, which will be in place for at least three years, and the potential for rhubarb and asparagus.

I tried to plant asparagus before, but it didn't work out well - there was one single fern from the three I planted, and then nothing the following year. I'm not sure whether the soil was to blame (a fair chance), or my possibly inept planting (also a fair chance). The fact that I wasn't 100% sure what an asparagus fern looked like was of no help in this.

The two apples we have, and the pear, are at the back of the garden, and except in the height of summer, they're in the shade of the south wall at noon. They get some sun in mid-morning, and a little in the evening. As they grow higher, of course, this to being less of a problem, and to be honest, they don't seem to suffer much from it even now. They're quite close together, but as long as they're kept pruned back to reasonable sizes, they should be fine. I did see apple trees at the Bloom festival last weekend which were plainly twenty years old or more, but which were not much taller than ours now - they'd been kept trimmed back very nicely, giving an effect almost like bonsai.

Some of the fruit bushes - particularly the gooseberry - are coming into their own. I'm debating not pruning the smallest currant this year - it looks like it could use some more physical mass - but I'm honestly not sure whether that's better or worse for it. I'll have to do some reading.

And then there's the aforementioned rhubarb and asparagus. I need to work out what they need, when the ideal time of year is to plant them, and then find suitable spaces in the garden that I can be relatively sure won't be disturbed for a number of years. My instinctive urge is to have them near the edges, but that's not necessarily useful, or even convenient - why shouldn't there be a great big bed of rhubarb in the middle of the garden? Indeed, given we've a slightly inconveniently located plum tree, I could do worse than plant rhubarb around it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Attic Plans

We have plans for the attic. While our house has an upper story, it's all within the roof - there's only one room up there, and the one window is in the gable wall. The room doesn't occupy all of the attic space, though - it goes from where the height rises to about one metre on one side to where it falls to about 1.5m on the other side. Now, that's uneven - because there's a section of actual "attic" there too, accessed through a door in the back of a built-in wardrobe. It's bare rafters at floor level - you put your foot through onto the plasterboard ceiling of the sitting room - and insulation more-or-less held in place with a sheet of clear plastic tacked to the roof rafters.

The access doorway is very narrow, and it's a pain in the neck (and sides, leg, and some other parts) to get anything large through, because once you're through, you have to twist the thing or hit the roof pretty much immediately. It's also partly full of stuff - spare mattresses, boxes of seasonal decorations, and stuff in storage for a charity bring-and-buy stall we run at conventions.

The plan is, essentially, to take out the dividing wall entirely, or as much as possible, and extend the bedroom floor and ceiling down into that space. We can then put screens or a curtain or something across where the wall was, if need be, but mostly it'll be storage space. A skylight will let in some light, the mattresses can lie flat, and we might even get a small desk or the like in there as well. And it'll be a matter of walking in, crouching a bit at the far side, but no more struggling through the narrow access door - and it'll make the master bedroom about 30% bigger.

The upstairs floor is chipboard under the carpet, and I think we'll replicate that in the soon-t0-be-ex-attic space; we can put down something nicer over it later on. The ceiling will almost certainly be tongue-and-groove panelling, which we both like, and which worked well in the bathroom. I'll need to leave access to the water storage tanks, but that can be behind a door, or maybe even a hinged set of shelves - access there won't be needed often.

A light fitting, or maybe some wall-mounted lamps, a socket or four, and it'll be a very nice extra space.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Fruit in the Garden

We're starting to see fruit in the garden. Here, for example, are the gooseberries:

The bush was planted two years ago, but hasn't really fruited properly. It looks like it's changing that this year, and we're planning to let it grow out as much as it likes for next year, so we should have an even better crop then.

The apple trees also have little applets on:

And even the currants are going well. This is one bush of the four in the garden, which are of varying sizes and shapes, and in varying conditions. If they go the way the gooseberry is going, we should have a good-sized crop over the next few years too.

The Fat Cat is not a fruit, but she's very comfortable in this picture, and a comfortable cat is one who is not winding around your ankles to trip you, or digging in the onion bed:

Herb Bed

The herb bed has been doing very well indeed. The glass panel in the foreground below covers the basil and some coriander, and there's another in at the back, between the two parsley plants, which covers more coriander. There's also some rosemary tucked in there, but it's hard to make out - it's just behind the foreground glass panel.

Getting Rid of An Ash Tree Stump

So, we brought that tree down last year. I'm actually having some trouble finding an image of the garden with it in, and considering the number of pictures I've taken, that seems bizarre. However, this entry has an image of the garden under snow, with the tree right in the middle.

Here's the view from earlier this year, with the stump visible in the midst of other work. It's barely visible, really, having been chopped off within about six inches of ground level.

So, after it was chopped down, we excavated around it, looking to unearth it, chop off the roots, and basically dig it up. This proved harder than expected, because there were big stones all around it - it seems it grew on the remnants of a dry-stone wall.

Eventually, we got it to a stage where we'd cleared all around it, leaving a big hole with the stump in the middle.

The trouble was that we weren't able to unearth it. It just kept going down, and down, and down. And my chainsaw was basically bouncing off it. Having tried to get the chain sharpened, and finding that it was too worn to do so, I arranged for someone to come in with a chainsaw and hack the thing out of there.

However, even for a professional with an industrial chainsaw, it wouldn't budge. He got an 8-inch slice off the top, which dropped it to below ground level, but below that, it was considerably harder than was in any way reasonable for an ash. The chainsaw was basically grinding at it, raising a lot of smoke, and getting nowhere.

So we settled for boring a lot of holes in the top, so that it can rot down. We could have put some petrol in, fired it, and repeated over a few months, gradually breaking it down, but frankly, a petrol-fuelled fire in the back yard did not appeal.

So we buried it. I brought out over the frame from an old raised bed from last year, filled in around the stump with the piles of soil we'd dug out - and about three-quarters of the compost-heap under where I'll be planting some squash.

And here's how it looks now, with no tree and no stump. I'm very glad to see the back of it, and while we won't be able to plant root vegetables in that bed for a while yet, it'll do nicely for strawberries or the like.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Seeds Planted in April

So, we got more digging done, built a low wall behind the herb bed with some of the stones that came from under the tree stump, and then got things planted. This post is as much a record of what went in when as it is an actual blog post, but it does mean I can find the details again.

So, the following were sown on Saturday, April 23rd: Potatoes (Organic Sarpo Mira), Onions (Bedfordshire Champion - from seed, not sets), Peas (Lincoln, an heirloom variety), Green Beans (Nomad), Rocket, and Coriander (Calypso).

We also bought and planted two courgettes (an F1 variety), some basil and rosemary, a couple of rather experimental tomato plants, a jalapeno pepper, and twelve Little Gem Improved lettuces.

It's astonishing how easy the sowing is compared to the work of digging. I'm very firmly resolved to use some sort of mulch or cover over the winter this year; something that can just be peeled back in springtime, so the beds can be dug over a bit, and set going again.

I'd also like to try to record the actual produce from the garden this year. This will involve some estimating, as we do eat some of the fruit and peas and the like there and then, and the herbs are essentially not measurable in weight. And the potatoes are being stored indoors this year, one way or another.

The next project is to get at the treestump, carefully, with the small chainsaw, and pull it out of there in bits - it doesn't look like it'll come out any other way. Getting it cleared down to about 40cm below ground level will suffice, and any more will be a bonus.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Edible Plans for 2011

There is, of course, a plan for all the work we're doing in the garden at the moment, a set of vegetables we want to plant. This is based partly on what we eat a lot of, partly on what we know we can grow reasonably well, and a bit on experimentation.

Things We Eat A Lot Of

Pak Choi is one of the new crops, but it's not quite as experimental as some of the others. I know it grows well in shade, and I'm told it'll get along on as little as two hours of sun a day. The spot we have planned for it is well within the shady south-end area of the garden, which gets sun only in the morning, now, and the evening, later in the year. We use pak choi in stir fries, a lot.

Onions were a definite success last year, and I'm intending to plant more of them this year. I use onions in just about everything I cook, so they won't go astray.

Strawberries grow fairly well for us, as long as they get enough sunshine, and have enough room. We can't affect the first, but we can deal with the second, so this year's strawberry bed will be better positioned and bigger.

Courgettes will be thinned to about two plants once they get going. There are limits to how many we can eat. I'm also tempted to let one or two go out to marrow size at the end of the season.

Things We Know Grow Well

Potatoes are not a thing we use a lot of, but we could use more - particularly if they're a waxy potato, rather than floury. Sadly, we lost much of last year's stored crop to frost. Given that they were in a potato sack, in a dark cupboard, in a shed which contains an always-on freezer and a tumble-dryer, I do feel this was rather bad luck. We'll try again, with a bigger bed and a different variety.

Peas did pretty well before, although few of them made it to the table - we tend to pop the pods and eat them there and then. They're getting what should be a good position this year, and we'll be planting more than before.


Green Beans are experiment number 1. They'll be a dwarf variety, so they don't shade the peas too much. We both like them, so I reckon if they grow well, they'll be added to the frequently-eaten list.

Carrots are something I tried before, but the soil was too heavy then, and they didn't get anywhere. This year they'll be going into a well-mixed bed of lighter soil, and I reckon we may get somewhere.

Corn - as in sweetcorn - will go into one sheltered corner. I know it'll grow in this climate, and I know it'll do ok as long as it gets some sun and not too much wind. I also know to grow it in a square block, rather than a row, so it gets pollinated. I have no idea how this will turn out, but I'll give it a shot.

Butternut squash will be another trial crop, on well-fertilised ground. I've had little success with squashes and pumpkins before, but I reckon I'll keep trying different varieties and see where I get to.

Lettuce was tried before, but got slugged. I'll try some slug preventatives this year, and plant some rocket as well. We use rocket much more as a vegetable than a herb.

We're also going to try some beetroot, in a small area, more for variety than anything else; we'll both eat it, and it looks like it might do well in our particular soil.

Things Already In Place

And of course, the apple trees, pear and plum, and fruit bushes (currants, gooseberries, blueberries and maybe raspberries, if they made it through the winter) are already there from last year, as are the herbs. There's also the twisted hazel in the front garden, which had some nuts last year, and might have some this year too, though that's not really the intention of it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Starting 2011's Gardening

This year, after the experimentation of the last two years, we're taking the gardening rather more seriously - or intending to, at least. Rather than have individual beds here and there, we're going to clear out the whole back 7m or so of the garden, except where there are already fruit trees and bushes, dig it all up, and plant vegetables. It's going to be a lot of work, but we're already getting started.

Yesterday, I spent a chunk of time clearing out old netting, pulling up the edging on an old raised bed, and moving out the pile of stones we've unearthed from under a tree-stump we're extracting. I also started some digging - mostly clearing back the sod where there was still lawn grass. Here's how the garden looked this morning:

Let me talk you through what can be seen here. Foreground, on the left, some old netting and small fences from around the strawberry bed. Just behind that, some rescued strawberry plants. Behind that, the plum tree - flowering this year for the first time. In on the extreme left, and probably only visible to me because I know they're there, two blueberry bushes. At the very back left, a pile of branches from the ash tree that we cut down last year.

Slightly right of the middle of the picture, you can see the stump from the ash. There's a line across the garden here where an old boundary wall was, and the ash apparently grew in/on this. Unfortunately, the basis of it was a dry-stone wall, so there are dozens and dozens of rocks snarled up in the roots of the stump. We've extracted about a cubic metre of stones so far from immediately around it. Just behind it, to the left, is the pile of soil from around the roots.

Along the back are two small apple trees and a somewhat larger pear, all getting going with the leafing and flowering. We had some apples last year, and I'm hoping for more this year. We might or might not get pears. They grey corner at the back right is the compost heap, and then there's the shed on the right-hand-side. This is the older of the two sheds we have, and it's starting to fall apart. I've done some repairs on the roof felting, after it pretty much blew off in a winter storm, and some other repairs here and there. It'll hold together for another few years, but that's going to be about it.

There's also a herb bed, much closer to the house, which currently looks like this:

That's some thyme overflowing on the right foreground, and some mint just resurfacing to the left. In the middle are two kinds of sage, some more mint behind those, and two outcrops of parsley at the back. I am rather mystified at the parsley still being there; it was under a foot of snow in December, and suffered temperatures down to -15C at one point. Presumably the snow helped hold off the frost. There was also some rosemary in this bed, but it was looking rather sorry last autumn, and just plain didn't make it through the winter. I need to do some weeding in this, and then look at filling in the gaps with other herbs before the mint and sage expand to fill the space, as they'll undoubtedly try.

We're now inside to get some lunch, and get out of the hottest part of the day, and the work thus far looks like this:

As you can see, we've dug up or at least uncovered a lot of the left-hand areas. There's about one square metre in there that's been dug to about 30cm down, had the top sod placed upside-down at the bottom, and then filled in again with good, loose, stone-free soil. That's one out of... about 40 square metres in total that'll be dug up, but not a bad start at all.