Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The April garden

What a busy time of year it is in the garden !

In the potager we've gone from zero to sixty in the past six weeks and gardeners across the land have dusted off their old seed packets, been ordering and buying new ones, and there is more than a seedling or two sprouting at this point.

We are no different here. The glass house and green house are full of plants, seedlings and seeds. Over the past couple of years I did go at the seed sowing with much enthusiasm and abundance in mind. this year I've slowed a little and am back to growing smaller amounts in stages. The advantages of sowing at intervals is that not everything will crop at once, avoiding the 'all or nothing' trap we sometimes fall in to.

My early salad crops are just about ready to start to pick, and although I have them covered at night from cool wind and potential cold, during the day they are uncovered and receive the full benefits of the spring sunshine.

With the slight cooler weather at the moment, I've stalled my onion sets planting, just for the week. They are growing in modules and are about 4-5 inches in height. The bed has been prepared, this time the upper layer of grass was stripped off, and last autumn's leaf and grass compost has been layered over the area for the sets to be planted in to. What is very exciting is that I'm trying onions from seeds this year. Now it's been a couple of years since I've done this, so I did some winter reading, chatted to a few people (including my dad who gave me some advice on how my granddad grew them) and am looking forward to seeing how they grow. All very exciting ! 

Since I gave up blogging and tweeting from mid February until Easter, I can't recall where I left off with my last garden blog post. Did I mention the early tomatoes I'm growing? The seed was sown in January and was brought on in a heated propagator, once they were pricked out, I gave them some additional morning and evening light during February and some of March. They are now sitting in the glasshouse, about 18 inches in height and sturdy too, and some flower buds just opening. The challenge was to have some fresh homegrown tomatoes in May. Lets see how we get on ....  

In the shrubs and flower parts of the garden, things are moving at a pace too. The Dahlia tubers have been set and are sprouting nicely (albeit with slugs and snails assaulting them, but that's a story for another day), my Hemerocallis and Hostas are motoring along nicely (I've one or two nice ones selected to give mum as presents for her birthday) and the Fuchsia have been de-soiled, cut back and repotted. A certain amount of Fuchsia didn't make it over winter, which is always expected, and so I'm on the hunt for a couple of new ones ... nothing new there i hear you say ... hahaha. Oh, remember the mixed wall flowers I potted in Autumn with a view to sorting out colours for spring planting, well, that's worked a treat and I'm rewarded with lots of blocks of scented colour ...

As always, the pot display area is removed over winter, with a view to bringing it back in the spring. However, this year I've moved it and amalgamated it with the few shrubs in bigger pots close to the back door. This will give the advantage of the pots (hopefully) not been blown to pieces on windy days, and having almost all the pots in one area which will be a time saver for me when watering during summer. A double win there.

Finally, I do invite you to drop by my YouTube channel, where I've begun to put up some video clips of the garden, what I'm doing, and sometimes just having a bit of banter and a laugh. I do like doing the video clips, as I can fit in more for you to see, and obviously its far more visual, so you can see the garden warts (or weeds) and all ... Lol.


I am on social media in a number of different ways, so if there are any particular aspects of the garden you have questions about, or if you want to share pictures of your garden, let me know. 

Happy gardening,


Thursday, 9 February 2017

Early seedlings and other February stories ...

It's true. We've only a few weeks of this cold weather before the warmth of the March sun and longer evenings grace us with their presence. 

While we still have dark mornings and evenings, there is no doubt about it, there are small incremental changes that we see each day, adding to an over all air of positiveness regarding the seasonal changes. 

In short, spring is on the way.

For now though, I'm still awaking from winter mode regarding flowering plants. I do notice on some of my prize* pot grown plants there are the startings of new shoots. This means the annual repotting, where they are removed from their old pots and potted on into a bigger size pot (see my potting on Wisteria post here), or in some cases some of the old soil is removed and fresh compost is added. I have a fair few to work on, from pot grown clematis to herbaceous perennials to grasses. Yes, plenty to keep me amused. Of course, having the right compost is very important (read my blog on compost here), and this year I will again be making my own mix with loam from the garden along with other additives. 

*not prized, in fact completely neglected at times !

In the potager garden, where I have my fruit and vegetables growing, things are quite dormant there still. I have spent this past winter transforming an extended area, that was very overgrown, into something resembling a workable area. Recently, I've been moving bark chippings into create paths, and all the future beds are covered with plastic to smother out the weeds. Some of the beds have been dug, and have had manure added. Others I've simply removed the top inch of soil and left to fallow over winter. I've still to finalise which beds will contain chosen crops, but mostly this is just a formality as I've been pondering it for much of the winter. 

What is coming into vogue is the 'no-dig' system for soil and crop management. If you haven't heard of it before, look here to read more, and a fellow blogger and his recent blog, Spadesharp, here. Of course I have been using this system for years to grow my onions (see here as an example), which has proved to be well worth while doing. in fact, we are still using the last of our 2016 onions here. With other crops I do an element of digging, sometimes deeper and sometimes not so, depending on the location, and crop, within the garden. And, with such high water table in the garden, it doesn't bode well to dig too deeply in spots. I came across a phrase recently, when reading Nicky Kyle's blog (here), that pretty much sums up my approach. She called it 'minimum dig'. This is digging where necessary, and in other areas, leaving well enough alone. 

On the early seedlings front, there is plenty happening. The tomatoes have germinated and are just about starting their true leaves, and ready to pot on into bigger pots. The early salad foliage plants have also germinated, including  beetroot, spinach and pea shoots. There is still a bit of growing for them to do, and it being so early, we have plenty of time. The sweet peppers too have germinated, so lets see what happens in this space. 

You can see my video clip on all my early seedling updates here

You can see my video clip on making a coldframe from an old bed frame here

A slight change for me this year is to grow my onions from seeds rather than sets. Now, there is always great debates about which is better, and being the convenient* gardener that I am, sets win out every time. However, this year I have taken the decision to get started early and sow some seed, which I'll grow on over the next few months before planting out in April. According to my dad, my granddad used to always grow onions from seed, and he did a fair job of it be the reports I hear. It would be a nice bit of success to master this craft, and if it doesn't work, well there's always sets for next year. 

*lazy, look for the easy way to do things ... Lol

In attempting to negate the effects of cold spring nights, I have constructed a cosy area within the glasshouse. This will assist young plants that require a minimum temperature to grow, and it was a hard lesson learned a couple of years ago when my tomato plants (given to me by my dad) were stunted in growth, even though they were in the glasshouse ! Yes, this area will do very nicely, and it is an expansion of a smaller area I did last year, for the same reason. In fact, the base of this area is full of six month old manure that I was intending to use as a 'hot bed'. However, to get the hotbed active, certain 'additives' have to be used, which is just not going to happen here. If you don't know what I'm talking about, bless your innocence; and if you do know, stop laughing at my prudishness !  

When looking at my early rhubarb, it is unbelievable to see it growing and defying the frost. Now I do give it a helping hand, through putting fleece over it some nights, but there are other nights where it is left unprotected and it still keeps growing. With some luck, we'll soon be enjoying some rhubarb desserts. I have lifter the main crop rhubarb and split it into smaller portions. This will mean less cropping this year, but all going well, there'll be plenty to go around in the years to come. 

Finally, I'd just like to thank all my fellow gardening friends, who I interact with on a regular basis, either in person or across social media, and are from novices to experts. It is great to meet and share with like minded folks, whether it is a tale of success, or of total disaster (hopefully the former...), and have fun while we're doing it.  

Happy gardening. 

Monday, 6 February 2017

Sowing sweet pea seeds

Now that we're into early spring, I'm thinking it's time to start sowing some seed. Hardy annuals are always good to start with, as these little toughies don't need high temperatures to sustain themselves. In fact, at times, some plants will self seed around the garden, and the only work you've to do is to enjoy them when (and where!) they flower.
The first seed I'm going to start with are sweet-pea (lathyrus odoratus). These are easy to grow, flower reliably and require only a small amount of soil preparation when planting. You can read what I've written before about them here. In the recent past I've concentrated on growing the white variety, which will do nicely this year. However, there are so many other colours to choose from I will indulge a little and pick some other shades. 
You can see my YouTube video on sowing seed here:
And sowing early spring onions here:
In writing this blog and doing the videos, I'm also reminded of my own words on keeping gardening easy, to encourage others to try their hand at sowing some seeds too.
So first things first. And when sowing seed, to start, you have to make sure you have the right ingredients to use. For the sweet pea, these are as follows:
Seed (in this case some sweet pea saved from two year's ago)
Seed tray, pots or seed modules (my choice for these) 
Compost (go for a compost recommended for seed)
Propagator cover
As you can see from the picture, the first step is to fill the seed modules with compost. An easy task and one that doesn't take long. I firm the compost in the modules by lightly pressing into the corners with my fingers. I then use a little more compost to fill in any gaps or dips that has appeared. Next, level off the compost on the seed modules and leave them looking neat, with clean edges showing.The compost I use here is home made, however, if you're only doing a small amount, or a beginner, buy some seed compost in your local garden centre.  
Next step is to water in the compost. You can use a watering can with a rose on it or, as in my case, I used the garden hose turned on low with a nozzle on it to give a fine spray. You can sow seed straight away, although I do like to leave them to sit in order for the compost to settle.
And then it's time to sow seed, the fun part. The general rule of thumb, is that seed need to be covered by soil, twice their own depth. In the case of the sweet pea seed, this means putting about a centimetre (or half inch) of soil over them. My technique is very simply. I take a pencil and, with the blunt end, make a hole about three times the depth of the seed. I then put the seed into the hole, and cover it over ... et viola ... seed is sown.
Once all the seed have been popped in and covered, write your label giving the name and colour of your seed. I also like to put the date of sowing on it. Makes for interesting reading at a later date.  Now water the seed in. Again a watering can with a fine rose is useful. In my case, I used the tea pot with luke warm water. Watering at this point is important as it will move compost into any gaps or air pockets left by the seed sowing. Using slightly warmed water is a cheat to assist the seed thinking it's time to germinate. When using seed modules, it is useful to place them into a seed tray for handling. Which is what I've done in this case. I also have a propagator cover to put over them. This ensures a warm moist atmosphere, again, to encourage germination.  Place the unit onto a bright warm windowsill, or similar, and the seeds will germinate in no time. I have a little heated propagator, so I give them a couple of days in this first and then into a warmish spot in the greenhouse.  There are a few more steps to take before you're smelling these lovely fragrant flowers, however, sowing seed is the very first step. As we go through the coming months, we'll keep and see out for these seed and see how they get on. 
Happy gardening
This was an update from an earlier post at http://hughcassidy.blogspot.ie/2015/02/easy-gardening-sowing-seed.html