I had a great time on holidays, but it’s nice being home again too, especially now that spring is in the air!
It has been a busy time since my last blog post and how the garden has changed! The weather has been typically British, from unseasonably warm to icy cold (for Somerset) and back again. Mornings are misty, deciduous trees almost entirely without leaves now and anything frost tender has died.
The polytunnel has frozen a few times now, I love the patterns on the frozen polythene, although it is still reaching 30˚C in there some days. I have electronic thermometers in the greenhouse and polytunnel and it’s so interesting to see the extremes of temperatures undercover, compared with outside in the garden.
I’ve mostly been concentrating on my at home garden, so it was a real pleasure to be able to spend some time at my allotment, getting ready for everything that will be planted there over the next week or so.
I’d let the brassicas go to flower for the wildlife, but now needed most of the space for new plantings.
At the back, you can see the untidy part of my plot – cloche hoops and sticks waiting in a heap on top of the plastic mulch* to be put to use.
(*the plastic mulch is there to kill off invasive horseradish, which was trying to take over. It will be there all year.)
Bees and other beneficial insects are loving the brassica flowers. Small birds are feeding on the many insects flying about there. Some of the stems are covered in aphids, useful food for all kinds of beneficial predators – fine on these as they are going to be composted soon but I wouldn’t be quite as happy if they were on my food crops.
Most of the plants needed removing; I left just some flowering kale (seen above in the photo with the blue sky).
Even though it has been so dry for weeks, these mulched beds have retained moisture so I was able to simply pull out the large plants. Using my very sharp copper spade*, I chopped them into 6 inch pieces, then added them to the compost heap. Allowing the plants to flower has another advantage – it helps to create more material for compost making. To the heap I also added ripped up cardboard and chopped comfrey leaves; there’s a lot of comfrey in the hedgerows at this site.
(* the spade has an alloy so it is really bronze)
After clearing, I walked over the bed to level it off and break down any lumps of composted manure that remained, then using my dibber made holes for the module sown peas. The moisture conserving properties of the mulch made the job easy, even though we have had the driest April here for 30 odd years. It was more difficult where the brassicas had been, as one would expect.
I had meant to add a picture of the module peas but forgot to put it in my media files before going away – I am in Sussex, at Sarah Raven’s where Charles is giving a day course. This is a photo of my view as I type!
Back on the allotment, here are the peas after planting. I also planted module sown beetroot and spring onions down the sides of the beds – you can just about see the small leaves.
The self sown borage is huge now and full of bees.
The allotment after clearing – the garlic in the foreground is looking a little yellow due to lack of rain. I am hoping there’ll be some on Monday; if not, I will water them. It’s looking quite bare but will be full within 2-3 weeks! Most of the plants are ready to go out next week, I was holding them back a bit because of the cooler temperatures last week.
At home, I’ve been clearing much of the polytunnel too. It was looking quite jungly, rather lovely really with all of those flowers, but I need the space for the tomatoes.
After clearing I watered using a hose with the sprinkler attached, for a long time, avoiding the back of the tunnel where I have a store of compost and the apricot. I avoid drenching that, preferring to water the soil.
You can see how some of the garlic has suffered from dryness and growing amongst large brassica plants, something to remember for next year. I’m hoping it will perk up after a few days.
I’ve left some kale, chard, dill and turnip greens for a final pick. I harvest the green seeds of the coriander before clearing, delicious sprinkled on hummus.
Harvests included calabrese, carrots, spring onions and cabbages.
Then the tomatoes went in, with the string placed at the bottom of the hole. This helps to secure the string, which is fastened to the crop bars. I’m using baler twine as I have a huge quantity of it. Each piece is reused for years, not biodegradable unfortunately but as I have some, it seems sensible to use it up.
These tomatoes are mostly much smaller than I would usually plant, late sowing (due to the Italian trip) and so planted from module to tunnel without being potted on. An interesting experiment!
I also harvested the scrapes from the elephant garlic. These have gone into the fridge, I’ll cook them on Monday.
Next week, the aubergines will be planted and soon, cucumbers and melons – also, the edible flower companions and basil soon, too. An exciting transformation from spring to summer.
A quick photo blog – I just wanted to share some spring pictures from my back garden!
Most of the plants in the no dig polytunnel were planted last October into beds which were mulched in May, just as the tomatoes and other summer plants were going in here: no other fertilisers were added, one annual spring mulch feeds the crops year round. The polytunnel has 1/3 mesh and 2/3 polythene doors, which ensures good ventilation and gaps above the doors are large enough for small birds and insects to enter. During the winter I recorded temperatures lower than -4°C in here so everything freezes, however the cover keeps the weather – wind, hail, driving rain – off the plants which makes a huge difference for extending the growing season and feeding my family.
Bruton where I live is in south west England, zone 8/9.
A week ago I planted Swift potatoes into one of the beds and sowed some catch-crop radish in gaps where we have harvested vegetables. I mostly grow annual plants here but there are some perennials; recently I planted an apricot tree, on pixie root stock so that it won’t get very big. Other trees – a peach, nectarine and a mystery fruit – are on unknown rootstocks, so they are growing in large tree pots. A 3 year old grapevine is established at the back of the polytunnel. The lemongrass planted in the ground may have survived the winter, it looks hopeful and other overwintered perennials are snug in their pots in side beds.
This is the flowering mystery tree. Unlike my other potted fruit trees, last year this one didn’t produce any fruit so I do not know what it is. An apricot, peach, almond?
The polytunnel is 12ft x 40ft. During the summer the beds are completely full but at this time of year I make the most of the dry covered space and set up a potting bench. There’s also my saw horse, a stack of card for mulching, bags of compost and lots of young plants waiting to go outside.
The lettuce on the left has just been picked. The larger lettuce is the chosen Grenoble Red plant for saving seed. I chose this one because, unlike the other lettuces, this one self seeded from the lettuce I was growing for seed last year – it chose where to grow (ok, that is a bit of a romantic notion, but I like it…) Grenoble Red is the best lettuce for overwintering here, very prolific and tasty.
Signs of spring – some of the first flowers in my garden, all outside except the apricot.
My August back garden is full of dazzling fruit, thanks to the warm and sunny weather we have been enjoying in Somerset. (Today the weather is quite different: grey skies, wild wind, rain – but the sunshine is set to return.)
I grow fruit in the ground and in pots (see this blog), in the polytunnel, up walls, across fences. Some are old established trees which were already very mature when I moved here 14 years ago, most were added during the past eight years, others are new this year.
One of the plans for my back garden is to make the concrete areas more productive and beautiful. This one is quite near to the back of my house, where a shed was removed after storms a few years ago – a concrete base that had become something of a glory hole for stray pots, bricks and other things that could be useful so I didn’t want to throw them away, but hadn’t quite got round to storing them properly.
The concrete base is rather ugly with a low breeze block around it. This photo was taken on 30th January. The strange plastic covered blob is the outside water tap, wrapped up in case of cold weather.
On 17th May Charles and I cleared the area of weeds and debris, making a neat pile of all of the ‘useful’ stones, bricks and slabs. I already had two pot grown apple trees, two red elders and a fig. A friend gave me a peach and two nectarines, too.
This is the space in July. Everything here is grown in pots or reusable grow bags (these were free gifts with other purchases for the garden.) It is a beautiful polyculture, a multi-level mix of edible annual and perennial plants, with some non edible flowers for colour and wildlife. I placed the pots around the edges so that I have access down the middle towards the back fence.
This is a productive and versatile use of a sterile, neglected space. The flexibility of potted plants means that after observing how I interact with this area, what grows well, what is not successful, etc I can reconsider this area in the autumn and redesign it for the winter and next year. So far, I have realised that having the washing line here does not work well (the laundry is knocking some of the fruit off, it takes twice as long to hang things out as I’m negotiating pots) and that I’d love to have a place to sit in here – two considerations for future designs for this space.
I am also going to use more plant trays to conserve water when watering. This is easily solved as I have a store of different sized plant saucers ready to use. Watering is an issue with pot grown plants. A water butt here would be idea, but I am not sure how I could fill it using rain water. A possible solution might be to run guttering along the fence – another idea to ponder!
The compost used is a mixture of homemade, store bought organic multipurpose compost, seaweed meal, rock dust and chicken manure pellets. They are fed using a homemade comfrey and nettle feed.
I have been thinking about ways of making the area around the pots less of a concrete monoculture. My first thought of spreading some of my stone collection was rejected as I thought it would make walking in there unstable. I may do this around the pots where I don’t walk, but need to take into account that I don’t want to create habitats for slugs and snails. A solution may be to have low growing plants in pockets created by stones or in plant trays.
There is an article in the next issue of Permaculture Magazine about growing a forest garden in pots, so I’m looking forward to reading that and getting some new ideas. My article about using the summer harvest is in this issue too.
Pots are placed on the ground, on the low wall and stone piles – small ones are on top of the compost of bigger pots, too. In the background you can see a grapevine trying to join in.
Different flowers bloom in the compost around some of the trees.
At the back a boysenberry its starting to climb the fence. A tomatillo and a tomato share a pot with a tree which is labelled ‘nectarine’ but I think the fruit looks more like a peach! Really I should have removed the fruits when I potted on the tree, to allow it to put energy into the roots but they looked so pretty and fuzzy that I couldn’t bring myself to.
The growing space next to this is joining in too – here is a caper spurge which has self sown itself next to a blackcurrant and the growing Pumpkin Nut is spreading itself across some of the pots. I keep redirecting it so that the space isn’t take over by large squash leaves!
Caper spurge (Euphorbia lathyris ) is of course poisonous. I have a great fondness for euphorbias and grow several, but you might not want to grow toxic plants close to edibles if you have young children (or dogs) in the garden (my children are 17, 19 and 22.) The morning glories too have seeds which are toxic if eaten in quantity, so I didn’t grow them with edibles when my children were small.
This is a great area for wildlife. As well as benefitting birds, bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other insects, my population of toads and frogs can enjoy the nooks and crannies here. The dish of marbles is for bees to drink from, I got the idea from a Pinterest post.
I’m happy that the sweet pepper and tomatoes (Garden Pearl) are fruiting outside, they were an experiment. I have two Garden Pearl tomato plants outside, both have been very productive and no signs of blight. I’m growing three different tomatoes in the large, reusable grow bag along with chamomile.
The small white flowers are on a tea tree plant!
More views of the forest garden. Ideally, I would like this to be productive as much of the year as possible but perhaps not this year as I need to change it around and implement new ideas. I may just add some easy to move over wintering herbs in small pots.
On Friday I harvested the first of my roses to dry the petals. The edible flowers here are beginning to bloom in abundance, adding beauty and colour to the garden and food, with the added bonus of smelling amazing and feeding the bees. My article on growing and using edible flowers, including many recipes, is in the current issue of Permaculture Magazine (International) and the new publication, Permaculture Magazine, North America.