This week was all about tomatoes – one of our favourite crops. As usual, we went a bit mad and sowed 48 pots, 29 of which will be planted out in the polytunnel and the remaining 19 in one of the glasshouses. Early March is a good time to sow; the young plants will be of a good size when it is time to plant them out in early May. Continue reading
Our fruit cage has borders all around and six beds in the middle; each bed has a double row of raspberries or hybrids down the centre and rows for strawberries along the outer edge. We initially planted four of the six beds with strawberry plants and I have since been taking runners from our favourite variety – Gariguette – to fill in the remaining beds. When clearing two beds of their rampaging hybrid berries I found the strawberry crowns to be rather woody and in need of replacement so have bought new stock to replenish these beds. Continue reading
The peach blossom has just started to open in the polytunnel where we have a mystery peach tree. I have no idea what variety it is – it certainly is not the sort that I bought, as the fruit is quite different and ripens at the wrong time of year, and, given that there are few interesting old sorts offered, I guess it is a fairly modern variety. I have left it in place for now because it is vigorous – in fact, a little too vigorous for where it is planted and the manner of its training, healthy so far, and produces a good crop. The blossom has just started to open on the west facing side of the tree and the rest will follow over the course of the next couple of weeks. So, it is time, once again, to tickle the peaches: I use a soft paint brush, of the kind one would use for watercolour painting, to gently hand pollinate the flowers, as, even with several bee hives on the site, there are not many pollinators around at this time of year.
This week we started our leeks. This is a long season crop that will be most valuable through the winter, but to achieve good sized stems the seed is best started early in the year. We prepared two seed trays with a proprietary seed compost, which was well watered before the seed was scattered thinly – and rather less evenly than it should – over the surface. A thin layer of finely sieved compost was then gently spread over the top. The seed trays were placed in an unheated propagator in the polytunnel, and the job was done. We are growing two varieties this year: our favourite, Musselburgh, the ‘Scotch Flag’ as it was known in times past; and Bleu de Solaise, a French variety known for its winter hardiness and named for its distinctive blue-green leaves, which go particularly blue when the frosty weather arrives. Continue reading
This week we decided to start the chillies, peppers, and aubergines. Although these are tender plants, to be planted out in early May, the seed needs to be sown early. We sowed these at the start of February last year, so they are a little later this time around, but any time in February should suffice. One can sow right through March and into April, but chillies and peppers take several weeks to germinate and can be slow to take off; aubergines are even worse in this regard, and some recommend sowing these as early as January. Continue reading
Our row of vines was completed this week with the planting of the last two specimens. Both are suitable for outdoor cultivation and should provide some good fruit in a couple of years. They were supplied bare root and, for some reason that makes no sense to me, the scion was cut rather short. We might, therefore, need an extra year to bring these to fruit than the others we planted. The first variety is the French grape Chasselas Rosé Royale, a sport of Chasselas Blanc with sweet pink–red fruits. The second is Gewürztraminer, from which the well know Alsatian white wines of the same name are produced. The grape itself is another pink skinned sort and, although best known as a wine grape, should also produce good table grapes.
There are all sorts of things that can be sown in February, including brassicas of various kinds, broad beans, hardy lettuces, and artichokes. Many seeds will germinate at temperatures of 5°C and above. Cold, wet soil, though, is not the place to do it. With some undercover space, the temperature will be better, so germination markedly improved in both reliability and speed, and the compost can be kept at a more suitable moisture level, so that seed or seedlings do not sit in the soil and rot before they can get started properly. Continue reading
We have two vines growing in our glasshouses – old classics Muscat of Alexandria, which has delivered great crops of fine dessert grapes for the past two years, and Black Hamburg, which is a year or so younger and has yet to give a decent bunch. Now we have added a row of vines outdoors. Continue reading
Sometimes things do not go as planned. At the start of the kitchen garden project we planted three plum trees along the boundary fence and began their fan training. One developed many fruiting spurs but, before it could bear a crop, died. On another, one half of the initial Y shape died out and there were signs of problems with the trunk. The third tree appeared reasonably healthy but none have borne a single fruit. I am not sure what disease was to blame; all of our other fruit trees, including the stone fruits, are fine. Silver Leaf is the most likely candidate, although I suspect that the one that only half died may have been due to bacterial canker. This winter we removed all three and replaced them. Interestingly, all had established a good root system and digging them out was hard work. Continue reading
This weekend we took advantage of a brief break in the storms to attend to the most important task of our winter work – planting the early potatoes in large pots in the glasshouses. The normal time to sow the first earlies is towards the end of March or early April. We have some advantages, though, being located in the south and with a couple of glasshouses bolted to a south facing wall, which allows us to get an early harvest. Continue reading