How to prick out seedlings (and other February gardening)

It feels strange to be writing about heat loving plants like aubergines as Britain is gripped by unseasonally cold weather. Kitchen gardening is about always thinking ahead, anticipating and planning for what is to come, so I have been happy thinking about warm summer days as I wrap myself up in layers of thermals and woollens!

Somerset Garden Day

Somerset Garden Day is happening today! I think this is a brilliant idea – of course I don’t need much encouragement to spend time in my garden, but this day is a bit different.

I am writing this in Kent, far from my own garden in Bruton, in the barn of a beautiful flower farm, whilst Charles gives a talk on No Dig gardening. Charles and I were intrigued when we first heard about the idea of Somerset Garden Day and were asked for our help launching the project. We are always keen to help promote ideas that encourage people to enjoy gardens and were delighted to help enthuse people to spend time enjoying their gardens.

The idea of Garden Day is to down tools and spend time celebrating your garden, whatever the size (even a window box!), spending quality time relaxing and consciously taking pleasure from your outdoor space, in whatever way feels good for you. You can spend all day, or just half an hour, enjoying a garden, experiencing the outdoor space and the season with all of your senses.

Garden Day is accessible to everyone – any age, any size of garden. If you have no garden, then spend some time visiting one of the many amazing gardens we have in Somerset – community  gardens, private gardens that are open to the public, National Trust properties, wild spaces, riversides, the coast, country walks: pack a picnic, take family and friends, or enjoy some outdoor solitude, whatever appeals to you!

I love the idea because I am absolutely rubbish at just sitting in and enjoying my garden, especially at this time of year when there is so much to do! It gives an opportunity to look at my garden and allotment from a different perspective, as a space to relax and socialise as well as work and grow food. At first I thought that the date was a bit too early in the year – as a veg grower, most of the plantings are quite small especially as it is just after the (hopefully!) last frost date for Somerset. But as I thought more about it, and looked at everything emerging in my garden last week – and the gardens I have visited this weekend in Sussex and Kent – I came to realise what a great time of year it is to encourage people to be outside and get pleasure from the warmer temperatures, let the spring sunlight clear away winter cobwebs, enjoy the pleasure of gorgeous early flowers and the anticipation of everything that is in bud, about to unfurl into summer glory.

As I am not at home, I’m going to make some time to just sit and enjoy my garden next week – and today, we will be celebrating gardens here in Kent, having lunch outside in the sunshine with the course participants in this lovely flower farm. Yesterday I spent time relaxing at Sissinghurst, enjoying the stunning garden there, where many of these photos are from (not Somerset I know, but this is where I am!)

It isn’t too late to enjoy Somerset Garden Day wherever you are, with an impromptu al fresco lunch or supper, invite neighbours round for an early evening glass of wine, search for insects with children, take a comfy chair outside and relax with a book – how will you celebrate your garden?

 

Clearing and planting

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!

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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.

Polytunnel polyculture & spring flowers

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?

mystery tree

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.

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Frosted kitchen garden at Roth Bar and Grill

a photo blog

I took these photos at one of my work gardens last week during a few days of low temperatures. The kitchen garden is at Hauser and Wirth, Somerset and is made up of 10 large no dig raised beds (plus three new ones). All of the vegetables and herbs are used by the chefs in the restaurant there, Roth Bar and Grill.