Grow-to-eat Diary: 1 - February 2014
The last few years we've been experimenting with raised beds in the fenced off part of our garden that we laughingly call the vegetable plot. We put the fence up because our last dog, Diezel, was a digger and no fresh soil was safe from him. Eska doesn't seem as interested in digging up things as we plant them - but she's never really had the opportunity - and that's the way we intend to keep it.
So... fence. And on the lawn side of that fence we've planted 5 espalier and fan trained fruit trees, 2 eating apples, a Bramley baking apple (all espalier), a plum tree and a pear tree (fan trained). We had a small crop in their first year but last year not one sign of blossom, so no fruit. I think we had late frosts at exactly the wrong time. So we'll see how they do this year. Our neighbours have a cherry tree which dangles very tempting sweet fruit over our path. Yum. One of our other neighbours also has a crabapple tree which is a bit unloved, but again dangles plenty of fruit over the wall. It's not the best crab-apple flavour, though we did get several jars of crab apple jelly from the windfalls the year before last.
The veg garden is bounded on 3 sides by dry-stone walls and on the fourth by the fence and the apple trees. There are trees up against the south-western wall, including two huge conifers, and a mature ash tree guards the west corner. This was trimmed back about 6 years ago and doesn't get full leaf until June. In summer the trees don't shade the garden until evening.
In the border by the north west wall BB has planted an edible hedge with crab apple, hazel and cherry plum, but this is still too small to produce anything.
We have 5 raised beds in a triangular plot so ranging from a triangle with sides of about 5ft, to a long bed which is about 4ft wide and 20ft long. The two smallest plots are planted with strawberries, Marshmallo, which are supposed to be one of the finest flavours. The plants were new the autumn before last, but we had a small delicious crop in the few weeks when the rain let up and the sun came out. Hope for better this year now they are a little better established. I've also pegged down some runners, but most of the runners have had to be snipped and disposed of otherwise the whole garden would be strawberries. In the remaining three beds I plan to plant vegetables in small but intensive quantities.
There's one triangular patch roughly the same size which is currently uncultivated (grassed over).
There's another triangular patch which is full of self seeded saplings and a self-seeded willow that's grown rather large. Over the years this plot has been a dumping ground for gravelly and weedy stuff that should have gone into rubble bags or into the compost. That last patch will take a LOT of reclaiming, so for the moment, we aren't doing anything with it.
Yes we have compost - at least we do now, though we've only really looked after it properly for about 4 years. We have 3 big plastic 'dalek' compost bins courtesy of the local council and two open wooden compost bins for grass clippings and hefty stuff like cabbage stalks and roots. (There's also an old compost bin in the lawned part of the garden which could be cleared now and would probably yield dome good stuff as it's been festering for years with mostly lawn clippings in it.
Last autumn we invested in a small lean-to greenhouse which, for better or worse, is in a semi-shady section of our back yard. We figured that is we like greenhouse gardening, we'll get a bigger one and put it in the veg garden. (Though a self-seeded willow will have to go as it overshadows the plot where the greenhouse and soft fruit might go.)
So first things first. I have bought heritage seeds. We're 1000 ft up on the edge of the Yorkshire Pennines, so the season starts late here, so it's too early to plant seeds in an unheated greenhouse and there's no suitable indoor windowsill, so for now, planning is all I can do.
I still need tomato seeds suitable for an unheated greenhouse, but so far I've got:
Bulls Blood beetleaf beetroot
Romanesco broccoli / calabrese
Sutton Dwarf broad beans
Mixed colours runner beans
Sonesta Wax AGM dwarf French bean
Early half tall brussel sprout
Ormskirk Savoy cabbage
All year round cauliflower
Mixed summer sampler courgettes
Ailsa Craig onion (seed)
Norli AGM dwarf mangetout peas
Pea shoot style dwarf pea
Tom Thumb dwarf pea
Guensey demi-long parsnip
Early Nante carrot
In addition I've got a pack of ramsom (wild garlic) seeds and some Alexandra Red Wild Woodland strawberry (alpine) for under the trees.
Mostly you'll notice I've gone for dwarf varieties. That's because even in summer we can get wild windy weather up here and I don't want to have to stake everything.
In previous years the cabbage whites have devastated the brassicas, so this year we'll net the cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, swede and beetroot. Slugs are also a real problem. I'm wondering about watering in some nematodes, but will also resort to slug pellets this year. Belt and braces. The little bastards love my strawberries and cabbages.
So that's the plan.