Mulching and Vegetables Update

The vegetable beds are now filling up nicely. There are plenty of potatoes, some Calabrese broccoli and other brassicas, chard, peas, broad beans, onions and garlic. There is some space left that will be for leeks when those go out in a couple of weeks. Then, when the first early potatoes come out, kale, beans and other crops will take their place and, with a little protection, should make it through the winter.

As I mentioned in my post about the polytunnel, I am experimenting a little this year with different mulches as an alternative to earthing up potatoes. Some have been given a thick mulch of grass clippings while others are peeping up through seaweed from one of our local beaches. I have also given some a top dressing of a heavily chicken-poo based compost. Basically, I am using what we have to hand and I will of course let you know how we get on with my not very scientific experiment.

Seaweed Mulch
Seaweed Mulching in Progress – An alternative to earthing up?

Peas and beans run down the centres of the beds as companions for the potatoes, hence the sticks in the photo above and I have also planted a few other companion plants, such as the marigolds that you can see in the end of the brassica bed.

Speaking of potatoes, one of the lessons I learned recently is that I have to be a lot more careful about making sure that I have dug up all the potatoes! When I was top dressing the beds for the brassicas earlier in the spring and weeding prior to planting, I found a few potatoes from last year had sprouted and were just about the broach the surface. Luckily, as I got to them in time, there were still quite a few potatoes from last year’s maincrop that were still in good condition under ground, a small bonus to supplement our food stocks during the ‘hungry gap’. I think we were lucky due to the mild winter and cold spring. This year, however, I will be far more careful to make sure I have retrieved all the tubers! Speaking of which, we should be harvesting the first, first earlies from the polytunnel in the next week or two.

Happy Easter!

I hope everyone is having a good Easter weekend. We took Thursday and Friday off work and went for a short break up north in Blair Atholl with our dog for a few walks in the woods and a bit of relaxation that allowed us to recharge a bit after a very busy couple of months. We stayed in a dog-friendly hotel, the Atholl Arms, before coming back here yesterday so we could do some more jobs around the house and garden.

As usual there is plenty going on here. We’ve been using the compost that we made (with the help of the chickens) to enrich the beds ready for the season’s planting. I am glad to see that it appears to be rich and crumbly so it should help us to get a good yield this year.

The polytunnel is filling up again with first early potatoes, peas, beans, salad crops etc and as they were last year, the windowsills inside are crammed with a variety of plants that will later be transplanted into their growing positions in the polytunnel and in the vegetable beds as soon as the weather warms up.

Yesterday we decided to tackle the compost situation in the orchard. The compost we created has been good quality so far but the problem was that the cold compost heap had been spread over a rather large area by the chickens! We meant to get around to it before, but we have finally built a rough structure from wooden pallets which will contain the compost while still giving the chickens access to it.

Today we planted a LOT of potatoes in the vegetable beds, helping them along with the addition of plenty of our compost. That was rather a mammoth task! One of the lessons I learned last year is that we could have done with more potatoes, so we have given over a lot more space to this staple. When the weather warms up a bit, they will be inter-planted with some peas and other companion plants.

Another job for today was to sort out the area behind the polytunnel next to the wildlife pond. I’ve prepared a circular area for a runner bean tipi in this sheltered spot and we’ve made a path with cardboard laid beneath wood chips. This will slow things down a little and keep down the weeds, meaning that we can more easily reach the beans and the wild raspberries that grow in that far corner of the garden. This meant relocating some daffodils and making it all a bit less lumpy out there. We are slowing getting around to sorting out and making the most of all the space we have here. At some point this spring, we will turn over the small area in front of the polytunnel to growing space too.

We are moving along slowly but surely. This Easter weekend we have made a few more tentative steps in the right direction.

Taking Our Minds off the Election Results

Well, we’ve had a crazy election here in the UK – we have an interesting discrepancy between the way England and Scotland have voted and we here are simultaneously elated by the historic victory in Scotland for the progressive, left-wing SNP and extremely depressed to be stuck with the Conservatives in Westminster – since (at least for now) we are still shackled to that government. Five more years of the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and astonishing numbers of people having to rely on food banks. Five more years of a government that very few people in our country actually voted for.

Aside from staying up all night to watch as the results came in on Thursday night, we have managed to take our mind off it all by doing quite a lot in the garden and polytunnel. Though it is still a bit colder than we would usually expect for this time of year, things are still surviving and thriving.

Today we have planted out lots of tomatoes and bell peppers into the polytunnel.

I tied strings between the crop bars to which we have tied the tomatoes.
I tied strings between the crop bars to which we have tied the tomatoes. There are still a few more on the windowsill which we are going to put in grow bags tomorrow.
The tomatoes and bell peppers are underplanted with a few marigolds and some basil.
The tomatoes and bell peppers are underplanted with a few marigolds and some basil.
As you can see, things are really filling up now in the polytunnel.
As you can see, things are really filling up now in the polytunnel. We have already been eating a lot of mixed salad leaves, pak choi, spinach and radishes and the peas and broad beans are in full flower. 

Things outside the tunnel are looking pretty good now too.

Peas are popping up in the vegetable bed.
Peas are popping up in the vegetable bed.
First earlies just bursting through
And the first earlies are just peeking through the soil.
The calabrese and other brassicas are coming along.
The calabrese and other brassicas are coming along.
There are flowers on the strawberry plants.
There are flowers on the strawberry plants.
As you can see, the blossom on the fruit trees seems mostly to have survived the cold.
As you can see, the blossom on the fruit trees seems mostly to have survived the cold.

Oh, and here is one of the wood burning stoves in action, complete with the hearth dragon that lives beneath it.

Dragon sleeping under wood burning stove

Potting Up, Companion Planting and More

We were expecting it to be rather a damp weekend but although we have had a few showers, most of the time it has continued rather dry and not too cold. It was warm enough yesterday to sit out in the garden for a while. I also took the time to earth up the first early potatoes one last time.

I have been working flat out today as there is so much that needs to be done in the house, polytunnel and garden. Here is what I have managed to do so far:

– Pot up lots of squash and cucumbers.

A few of the many squash.
A few of the many squash.

– Pot up a huge forest of tomatoes.

Tomato Jungle.
Tomato Jungle.

– Pot up all the bell and chili peppers.

Potted up Bell Peppers

– Plant out brussels sprouts into the vegetable beds.

– Plant out peas and beans into the forest garden.

Peas and Beans in Forest Garden

– Add some companion plants to the polytunnel.

Peas with companion plants Marigold

– I have also planted a few more lettuce seeds and pak choi to keep supplies going.

Lovely flowers are springing into bloom in the polytunnel on the peas and beans and all around the garden.

Pea flower in the polytunnel.
Pea flower in the polytunnel.

Lots of blossom

Onions, Planting, Outbuilding Work and More

The weather has not been quite as lovely here today. It has been cloudy and much colder than yesterday but we have all still been really busy and we have achieved a lot on all fronts.

The vegetable beds are now all complete! Eight beds, ready and waiting for us to plant up in the next couple of months. They are a bit stoney but the soil is good.

Vegetable Beds Ready Completed Vegetable BedsWe have also planted out hundreds of onion sets – first outdoor planting of the year. There is one full bed and also the edges of two more, in the centre of which we will be planting vegetables which like onions as companion plants. A few more went into the edges of the orchard.

The bed is pretty stoney but the soil seems good.
The bed is pretty stoney, as you can see in this picture,  but the soil seems good. Some red and some white onions have been planted and we still have quite a few left over for replacing any duds.

Some other planting has been done in the garden, some flowers and shrubs to entice pollinators and disguise the fence in front of the polytunnel.

New Shrubs next to fenceThere has also been some more progress in gutting the outbuilding. Some more panelling and carpet has been removed, we have taken a lot of old carpets down to the recycling centre and some old stud walling has been removed to reveal the pleasing arch behind. This mirrors the south-facing arch to the front of the building that will be glazed to provide solar gain.

Stud Wall RemovalThe warmer weather we have had over the last few days has also brought on the tomato plants I have overwintered in the front porch. There are now several tomatoes growing on the plants!

Tomatoes Tomato Plant FruitingIt has been a really busy day but it feels good to be moving forward more quickly now spring has officially arrived.

Beneficial Herbs for Companion Planting

I love herbs in cooking and we really enjoyed the supply for fresh herbs from the allotment last summer. But getting fresh herbs that would have cost a fortune from the shops is not the only reason to sow these handy plants in your garden. Various different herbs can attract a host of beneficial insects and can aid other plants when placed alongside them.

Today I got around to sowing some herbs indoors. These are not all the herbs we will be growing by any means, but just the seeds I happened to have to hand:

– Parsley (moss curled): As well as having some for cooking, some parsley will be placed next to the tomatoes as a trap crop to prevent insects who would otherwise spoil the tomato plants.

– Thyme: This can be used to attract beneficial hoverflies (who eat aphids) and also useful pollinators to various areas of the garden. It is useful also as a companion plant, repelling pests from, amongst others, potatoes and tomatoes.

– Coriander: This is another attractant for hoverflies and other predatory insects and repels aphids and other pests. Both the leaves and seeds of coriander are useful in the kitchen.

– Chervil: If grown next to radishes, chervil will make them spicier – good if you like a bit of a kick in your salad. Chervil is also an excellent shade tolerant plant, so it should do well in shadier areas of the orchard.

– Dill: Ladybirds and other aphid munchers really love dill. Somewhere away from the coriander so the two don’t spoil each other, dill will eventually live happily beside some fennel, which all other plants dislike. Fennel will also bring ladybirds to the garden.

– Herb chives: Chives, like all alliums, have a range of uses. But I will mostly be using mine alongside the onions to confuse carrot flies and stop them from destroying my carrot crop.

I also currently have oregano which has survived the winter on the windowsill and is throwing up new shoots. Oregano, along with basil to be planted later, will act as some ground cover underneath the tomatoes and reduce any aphid problems.

Also on the wish list for the garden are lavender, mint, rosemary, sage and tarragon, all of which I would also find multiple uses for.

Polytunnel and Vegetable Bed Plotting

Since the weekend, the weather has been too cold and windy to get on with much outside, so I have been spending time planning – over planning some might say! I thought I would share my thoughts on the polytunnel crops and the outside vegetable beds so you can see what I am thinking regarding the layout.

I want to experiment this first year with planting a little bit of lots of things, so we can see what does and doesn’t work. I also want to experiment with sowing some of a crop in the polytunnel and some outside so I can compare yields and see what is sustainable.

A rough idea of the planting scheme for the polytunnel for the first year.
A rough idea of the planting scheme for the polytunnel for the first year.

Outside, we have not yet finished digging the beds but this is what we are ultimately aiming for:

This is the plan so far - it may change. The first thing to go in here will be the potatoes towards the end of March.
This is the plan so far – it may change. The first thing to go in here will be the potatoes towards the end of March.

Let the plotting continue…