Winter move over

You could be forgiven for thinking the title of this post was a lament at the sudden change in the weather from hot and sunny to cold and drizzly. Well, cold it is but the rain is more of a fine mist.

I’d really like it to pour down to soften the soil, as I’ve got lots of jobs to do which require better soil conditions. On the other hand, with a bit of muscle I was able to get the bean poles which had been holding up the autumn-planted broad beans out of the ground.

Ground where autumn-sown broad beans had been growing.

The crop wasn’t fantastic from these plants but if you asked me would I sow broad beans in the autumn again I would say yes. The reason is simply because it is nice to see something germinating and growing in the ground in spite of it being winter.

Now, the plan is to plant out butternut squash and courgettes in this bed. This will possibly happen tomorrow – at least the butternut squash could go in but I don’t have enough cloches to go over anything else and I think the still young plants will need protection from the cold wind. I know I do!

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The garlic’s surprise

The strawberries haven’t quite stopped all other play in the garden but they have certainly kept me very busy. Not only have I been spending over half an hour every day picking kilos of them (one of my colleagues, another keen gardener, couldn’t believe his ears when I said I had picked about four kilos just on Saturday and Sunday), but I’ve also been very busy in the kitchen.

Tonight it was the turned of strawberry and mint cordial, followed by crumble using the fruit once it was done with being simmered for its juice. I’ve also got both plain strawberry jam for my daughter and the same with rhubarb for myself – and the freezer is full of the rest that will be processed at a later date.

And I can’t forget the strawberry sorbet…

Anyway, a job I did yesterday which has nothing to do with strawberries is to take up the garlic which had been growing in the hugel bed built last November (I’ve got more elsewhere which I’ll take out another day). I’m pleased that it did well, in spite of any possible loss of nitrogen in the soil due to the act of decomposition underneath.

However, many of the bulbs seem to have grown bulblets. If it had been just one or two I would have presumed that two of the bulbils they grew from had been planted together. But up to three extra mini garlics on the full bulbs?

I’m going to save these little treasures and replant them next year. Which makes me extremely happy, considering the garlic didn’t flower and produce bulbils from the flowers this year. I’ve got a few bulbils growing into next year’s garlic crop but not enough to keep us for twelve months’ supply in the kitchen.

I am curious as to why the garlic appears to have produced differently now. Perhaps it is because it has naturalised in my garden. Or perhaps this is a normal phenomenon when growing from bulbils. I guess the thing to do is see if it continues in the future….

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PDC Revisited

In January 2016, I started a PDC. My original thought was that I might use it as a stepping stone to a new career. But something extraordinary happened which has nothing to do with permaculture. I remembered how much I love language and words.

Whilst things went very wrong on the PDC last year, things started to go very right in my job, so why have I returned to the PDC this past weekend? Well, I like to finish what I start – and you always get something from your endeavours.

This Saturday/Sunday we started the design exercise which brings together what was covered over the first five weekends of the course. This year the site being designed is an allotment where university students can grow food as part of a co-op.

The site is very sheltered, so the figs featured above have been doing very well. That said, sheltered my garden may not be, but….

I picked 2kg of strawberries on Saturday evening and the same again on Sunday!

The lemon balm has been growing like crazy over the past few days. The bees are going to have a lot to go on once it flowers.

All in all, it looks like I’m going to be busy in the kitchen: sorbet, jam, cordial. Most of these won’t make it to autumn, let alone see us through the winter, but great that we can revel in the bounty from our garden.

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The headless tomato plant

The wind has come and gone, come and gone and one thing is for sure: it’s not just the butternut squash which are suffering.

While the first tomato plant I put in the ground is starting to grow tomatoes, another has been battered about so much that it has lost its leading shoot. Oh well, I guess tomato plants have survived worse fates, so I’ll see if it still flowers before calling it quits.

This is not the only variety of plant to be suffering – the sesame plant I put in the ‘coldframe’ as an experiment is dead. On the other hand, the ones in the house are coming on very well. However, I doubt they will be able to stay there indefinitely, so I hope the weather calms down soon.

To finish on a truly positive note, the melon plants (inside) have started flowering, so I hope they will produce some fruit. Not having grown them before, I’m not sure what to expect. My daughter loves this fruit, though, and it would be very pleasing to give her something else she actually likes from the garden.

Apparently, the only things I grow that she does like are strawberries and tomatoes. Well, maybe cucumber as well!

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It seems that the seeds that were in my compost last year have worked their way through, as the garden isn’t inundated with chard wherever the bin has stood recently. So when I turned and moved it yesterday, I decided to leave some of its contents on the top of the soil.

This is the spot where I had planned to put two more tomato plants, so some of the compost has been turned in. However, there is about an inch or so left over most of this patch.

The birds had clearly been at it during the day – there was quite a bit on one of the stepping stones which I hadn’t left there – which has got me wondering. Do they know that there might be a feast of worms underneath the mulch or were they in search of seeds?

I doubt of course that the worms will have appeared that quickly but if the birds are helping themselves to any remaining seeds, that can only be a good thing!

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Determined to have squash this year

After the warmth and near drought in the spring, we now have something akin to a second winter. Of course, approximately 20 degrees C is warmer than you’d find on a normal winter’s day but the wind, coupled with April showers, is a bit of a mare for growing tender crops outside.

Squash recovering from a battering

Last night, I caved in and brought the squash, which I’d been trying to harden off, back inside. I lost just about all the courgette plants a couple of years ago, due to being a little foolhardy…. It seems June is too soon for cucurbites round here!

However, the squash can’t live indefinitely on the floor of the kitchen/dining room. And there is no windowsill space left for them, their residence having been taken up by soapwart and bergamot (and courgettes, one of which has germinated so far).

Luckily, the overwintering onions are ready. I had been pulling one at a time to use in cooking but then I developed other plans for this spot in the garden. Basically, a windfall of branches on the way home from work last week meant that I had enough wood for another hugel bed. I also had some bokashi solids and homemade compost to give immediate nourishment to the next plantings. 

It was amazing to see the difference in the soil I dug last night, in comparison with much of the rest of the garden. This patch has been no-dig since I moved in (apart from digging out the bushes my predecessor left) and was full of roots from previous crops. It has also been mulched with manure and compost – and all before I’d ever learned about such techniques. So, it was actually a little sad to dig up my pioneer no-dig bed for hugelculture. 

The latest log pile

Anyway, the deed has been done and I won’t be digging in that spot for quite some time to come. Instead, in the immediate future, the squash will go in and be protected by cloches to keep the wind off them. The extra warmth will no doubt do them good as well, I hope.

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Parasites of various kinds

Today, we went to a lovely talk on birds at the University of York, which was part of York Festival of Ideas. This festival takes place over two weeks in June every year and has lots of interesting talks and other activities.

The talk was followed by a walk round part of the university campus in order to see some of the birds which had featured in it. I must say that I enjoy watching the birds in my garden more but I did enjoy learning more about the landscaping of this part of the campus.

Basically, the buildings are surrounded by a series of ponds, which were mandated because the site is a flood plain. However, it has made sense for the university to grow wildflowers rather than having oodles of lawn, as the latter costs a lot more to maintain. They even have a local farmer who comes once a year to mow the wildflowers, which keeps the meadows at their best and provides hay for him without costing the institution a penny.

But as any gardener in this part of the world will know, the grass will just keep coming. So, one of the wildflowers is yellow rattle, which is a parasite for grass.

Pond and meadow at the University of York

Yellow rattle, which does indeed rattle when the seeds are ready to pop out their pods

While suppression of unwanted grass may be a good thing in certain environments, there are times when suppression of other plants is most unfortunate. I recently posted that wildflowers (aka weeds) growing next to crops may be beneficial. The rationale is that they help stop water evaporating from the soil. Thus, I decided to keep the phacelia and poppies which had self-sown close to a row of broad beans.

However, while there had been flowers on these bean plants, they did not turn into pods. I think this must be because the flowers were too tall and prevented the pollinating insects from getting to them.

Broad beans once the phacelia and poppies had been removed

Now, I’ve sown cucumber seeds between the broad beans. It’s a long shot, I feel, as I can’t believe they will germinate, let alone thrive, but I have sown some others in pots as insurance. These in any case won’t be big until the beans have finished (for what it’s worth).

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