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.
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!
My allotment has been quite neglected recently. All of my travels (Yorkshire for a wedding, then Thailand and Laos, with a work trip to Ireland just 2 days after returning), my work and autumnal weather suddenly arriving after a mild sunny spell – quite a shock after Thailand for me! – has meant that I am not quite where I would like to be for November 22nd. Nevermind though, it will all get done and I have had a lovely time.
This is the eighth in my series of blog posts, explaining how to grow vegetables and herbs which can be sown now to see you through the winter and spring – no hungry gap in 2018!
I have added the category No Hungry Gap, so you can find all of the blogs easily using the search facility.
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.
aphids on the kale
a bee visiting the kale flower
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.
The temperature has fallen (again!) and the wind can be so cold, but things are hotting up in my no dig greenhouse and polytunnel. Germination is so rapid it feels as though seeds are popping almost as soon as I plant them, thanks to the heat mats and heated propagating bench.
Less temperature vulnerable larger plants, including the tomatoes, peppers, sweetcorn and aubergines, have been moved to unheated areas in the greenhouse and polytunnel – they are still being protected from the cool wind and cold, and I am ready to cover them with fleece if there is a risk of frost – tonight has been flagged up as a potential problem, so I’m going to check all of my outdoor potatoes and protect with earthing up, cardboard and fleece.
On the heat now are young courgettes, cucumbers, melons, basil, squash, blue butterfly pea and beans, in various stages of growth – some ready to pot on, others just emerging from the compost. The wind last week was so cold I appreciated being able to sow, prick out and pot on in the shelter of my polytunnel.
modules of beans
emerging dwarf french beans
This year I’ve sown 13 different varieties of basil, including Thai, Indian, Cinnamon, Lemon, Lime and Holy, as well as three different kinds of sweet basil. I use basil widely in cooking, from salads to Thai dishes (for which I also grow lemon grass, special Thai aubergines and Thai chillies). The vibrant spicy flavours available are far more exciting than anything you can buy in a regular grocers, making basil a really worthwhile herb to grow.
There’s still plenty of time to sow basil!
Basil needs warmth and daylight to germinate and thrive. A windowsill propagator is ideal for smaller spaces. Sow the basil in rows in a seed tray to maximise space – you can easily fit 7 or 8 full rows of basil, more if you sow half rows. Remember to label them all! Once they have germinated, prick out into modules for single sturdy plants, to grow on somewhere light and frost free. Alternatively, sow a pinch into modules, or more into pots, for clumps of fragrant leaves for the kitchen windowsill. Most of my basil goes into the polytunnel as individual plants.
seed tray of different basil seedlings
pricked out basil
After pricking out, I leave the rest of the basil in the seedtray to grow on as microleaves. This provides two or three harvests of extra-early basil for salads, pesto and sauces.
There are seed trays, modules and plants everywhere! On tables in the garden, temporary staging made from upturned crates, anywhere I can find until they are ready to plant out. Growing in modules makes it very easy to put plants in crates and then into the car, to go to work or up to my allotment – they can be stacked in the boot too, an important space and time saving consideration as my car is very small. I bought more herbs and four step over apple trees from Pennard Plants last week and somehow managed to fit them all in my boot!
module sown beetroot
module sown onions
new plants from Pennard
A spider used one of the crates to make her nest – here are her beautiful babies. I always try to keep spiders safe, they are such great predators in the garden.
I am very much enjoying this wildish area next to the perennial bed (there are potatoes on the other side of the dalek composters). The florence fennel has overwintered somehow and is producing small fennel bulbs from the base where I cut the bulb last autumn – I expect it will bolt quite soon. As well as the annual flowers, here are two euphorbia varieties, a red rose and a wild white rose. This polyculture adds to the biodiversity of my garden, providing a wide range of forage for insects and birds throughout the year. It is a bit of a pain to keep weed free though – both roses are very thorny!
This is one of the two Florence fennel that I sowed in September and overwintered in the polytunnel (on display at Hauser and Wirth with some of my stored squash and garlic; the potatoes were harvested by Charles in July and stored in a sack in his shed all winter). Most of the young fennel plants were killed by the cold temperatures.
Every day there are more flowers! These are all in my back garden, except for the bean flowers which are at work.
It looks as though the greengage blossom was undamaged by frost as the small tree is full of potential baby fruit. At work, I am enjoying the amazing vibrant pink of this chard.
On Bank Holiday Monday, Charles and I had a stall selling our new book, and many of Charles’ other titles. It was a fun day, so many people came, great music, fantastic food and the Morris Men.
The sun is shining (some of the time!), everything is growing fast! When I am not sowing, planting or weeding, I’m thinking about what I’m going to be doing next and even dreaming about my garden at night 🙂
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.
carrots, elephant garlic. spinach, lettuce and more
spring cable growing well
I’m looking forward to the first carrots
brassicas including kale, cabbage and calabrese
spinach and garlic
Swift first early potatoes are planted here
large oriental leaves for stir fries
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.
startled winter density lettuce, after picking
the chosen lettuce!
Signs of spring – some of the first flowers in my garden, all outside except the apricot.
Flower on my new dwarf apricot
An early plum tree full of blossom
last year this little tree was hit by a severe late frost so I had no fruit
hyacinths growing under a gooseberry
emerging peony and forget me nots
one of the primroses
bud of the new apricot
polyculture of hyacinths, yellow dead nettles, gooseberry and Japanese wineberry
lung wort flower – this spread like mad
ladybird and rosemary flowers
flowering hairy bittercress – a widespread edible weed, I don’t want it in my veg beds
We have had some hard frosts here in Bruton, with temperatures falling well below zero (that’s cold for for Somerset, I appreciate that elsewhere it would be considered rather mild weather!) Although not frost free, the polytunnel offers a lot of protection from the winter weather, in particular icy winds and rain, enabling me to grow a far wider range of food year round.