Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Mammoth Seed Sowing Afternoon

On Tuesday the sun was a little later coming out waiting until the early afternoon before making an appearance. By late afternoon the temperature reached 21.1°C our warmest day of the year.
It was far too hot in the greenhouse in the afternoon to be sowing seeds so our mammoth seed sowing session was done outside. Fortunately there was only the lightest of breezes so whilst sowing seed there was no risk of them being blown about in the wind. The full list is shown below. 
This was our main flower sowing session. The plan is that once germination takes place flower seeds will be moved outside into the cold frame and more seeds sown. We don’t plan to thin out the seedling but just plant the contents of the pot in the allotment where the plants are to flower.

I did sow more of our choices from James Wong’s Homegrown collection, Cucamelon and Chinese Chives, which we are trying along with Inca Berries for the first time.

Cucamelons are described as grape size watermelons that taste of cucumber with a tinge of lime. Chinese Chives are described as having delicate roast garlic flavoured blossoms and greens.

I’m not sure that we've tried eating any flowers before now so Chinese Chives might be a first in more ways than one.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Inca Berry Trial

Monday was a brilliant spring day with lots of sunshine and a temperature of 18.5°C in the afternoon. It’s just a pity that some colder nights are forecast for the weekend with the possibility of frosts. At the moment that threat seems to be limited to Friday and Saturday night with night time temperatures recovering after the weekend.

This year we are experimenting with Inca Berries which we came across from James Wong’s Homegrown Revolution.
So far they are living up to their “easy to grow” tag. They were sown on 7 April and placed under our indoor grow light. Germination took 9 days and since then they've grown into sturdy looking seedlings. Monday was the day they took their first step into the outside world moving from the luxury of the indoor growlight to the perils of our outdoor greenhouse.
This tray of 15 Inca Berry plants will be left to grow on in the greenhouse before moving to the cold frame and eventually the allotment plot. They should only be planted outside once there is no risk of a frost. They like a sunny spot with good drainage. All we have to do then is harvest the berries, probably in September. Each berry comes wrapped in its own Chinese lantern.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Slugs and Snails and ….

Sunday turned out dry and mild but we didn't really have much in the way of sunshine.

The dampish conditions of the last few days certainly seem to helped the slug and snail population. They're bad enough outside but in the greenhouse even worse. I had to think carefully the other day as I looked at a small tray of Tom Thumb lettuces. I was sure they had already germinated but there was nothing to see now. Looking more carefully the tell tale signs were there, a bit of a slime trail  and the barely visible green stumps of chewed off lettuce seedlings. If that wasn't bad enough a couple of tomato seedlings had come in for the same treatment.
An inspection under one tray revealed one slug laying in wait for darkness and its next meal. It didn't make that next meal as it met a grizzly end. I couldn't find any more culprits but the damage was from more than one slug so I resorted to a few carefully placed slug pellets where I thought these pests might emerge from. I was hoping the pellets would stop them in their tracks before they reached our seedlings.
Not a pleasant sight but this snail isn't going to eat any more of my lettuce plants. It wasn't the only one as the pellets managed to prevent another snail and 3 slugs from reaching their intended victims.

Aren’t some aspects of gardening wonderful? Here’s the first of our aquilegias to cheer things up.

Sunday, 27 April 2014


Saturday afternoon wasn't too bad and we decided on a visit to the plot to do a little bit of tidying up. It was just as well we didn't take any notice of the weather forecast which was for heavy showers for most of the afternoon. We obviously missed them. We've had some rain each day now for the last week and it has started to make the allotment beds rather wet and they could do with a few days of good drying weather to get them back into shape. Although its come in bits and pieces it’s amounted to 16.2mm of rain in the last week following on from a dry start to the month.

Our experimental early potatoes planted on 10 April 2014 are just pushing their first shoots through the soil and holes in the weed control fabric.
I’ll take the precaution of moving some straw over to the bed to cover these young shoots if a frost is forecast. These are Casablanca which have beaten Rocket to be the first to show some shoots.

On the plot the last of our over wintering carrots were dug up and cleared away. Most of them only made it to the compost heap but I took pity on a few of the best looking roots and kept them for kitchen use.
We certainly can’t complain about last year’s carrot crop. Sown on 20 April 2013 we harvested our first root of Chantenay Royal by the 24 July and we've been harvesting on a regular basis all through winter. Since last July we've harvested a rather enormous 49.1kg of carrots.
Without doubt the star performer last year was Chantenay Royal producing some very large good quality roots. St Valery didn't perform as well as our other varieties and may be on a bit of a trial this year to see if it performs better but to be honest Early Nantes and Chantenay Royal have kept us well supplied in carrots for the last nine to ten months and we have a few in the freezer to help fill the gap to July. I wonder how this year’s carrots will perform.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

In Search of an Elusive Bittern

Thursday was a lovely sunny day after a drop of overnight rain. Friday in contrast was dull all day with light rain on and off throughout the day.
Wednesday 23 April to Friday 25 April 2014
We decided on a trip to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway as it’s the first weekend of their spring steam gala. Unfortunately the weather wasn't any better up on the North Yorkshire Moors, not that I was really expecting it to be, in fact it was worse and we ended up by abandoning the outing before we ended up even more soaked than we were .
When the heritage railway are holding a gala they usually arrange for a “visiting star attraction” a locomotive not normally seen on the railway. This gala is no exception especially as the star attraction in question is the fastest steam locomotive of the heritage era. 4464 Bittern made three 90mph trips along the East Coast Main Line last year to commemorate its sister locomotive Mallard’s world record speed of 126mph set in 1938. Bittern is normally restricted to 75mph operating main line charter trains but was granted special permission to exceed this limit on the national rail network on these three occasions. 4464 Bittern now carries a plaque to mark this event.
4464 Bittern with a fully loaded tender of coal and water weighs in at around 165 tons. You would think it wouldn't be easy to hide something that big but it can also create an enormous amount of steam allowing the locomotive to leave Grosmont station bound for Pickering engulfed in steam and almost hidden from view. 
Just as well that we'd managed to capture a few shots of Bittern before it took its place at the front of the train.
By the middle of the afternoon the morning drizzle had turned into heavy rain and we decided to head home before the thoroughly wet weather did some damage to our camera and soaked us to the skin. An hour and a half’s journey in soggy clothes wasn't something we fancied.  

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Decisions Decisions!

Wednesday was a big improvement with some sunny spells and the temperature managed a very respectable 17.6°C. We had some more light rain late on into the evening.

One issue with having grass paths around our beds down on the plot is that at this time of year the grass grows very quickly. Whilst I like the idea of keeping the paths looking reasonable I'm not too fussed if the grass gets a bit long. The trouble is it then takes much longer to cut and get back to looking tidy. Anyhow I decided to spend an afternoon on the plot cutting the grass. 
One of our plots that has lots of fruit bushes and trees is almost planted up for summer. Only one small bed remains to be planted up with peas and beans.

I’ve still some more potatoes to plant and I’d really decided that I wasn't going to plant any more through weed control fabric until we see how our experimental early potatoes perform this year. But…..
The plan for this bed is for a crop of potatoes to be grown in it over summer and then once they are removed it will be planted up with winter onions. It was covered with weed control fabric last autumn and whilst the edges need a little tidying up it would be much easier to plant a couple of rows directly through the fabric rather than remove the fabric, give the soil a quick tiller and then plant our potatoes conventionally. I might go for planting through the fabric after all. I saw last week on Beechgrove Garden they were planning to plant through black plastic sheeting. Should I, shouldn’t I? I’ll have to make a decision in the next few days.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Gardening On Hold

It rained on and off all day on Tuesday. The drop of rain won’t have done the garden and allotment any harm as we've not had any rain for a couple of weeks.
The rain cleared away in the early evening when a little bit of sun helped to raise the temperature up to 13.7°C the warmest time of the day.
Even then there were some threatening clouds about but the rain held off for the rest of the evening. The day’s rainfall came to 7.2mm, the wettest day this month but so far with a total of only 20.0mm it’s turning out to be a dry month. 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Good News About Brassicas

It wasn't too bad on Easter Monday. After a cloudy morning the sun broke through around lunch time a little earlier than the last few days resulting in a lovely warm sunny afternoon. The clouds thickened up again late in the afternoon enough to give a bit of light rain. This was the first measurable  rain for almost two weeks.

Our cabbage and calabrese plants bought from Marshalls at the end of March have come on a treat with a bit of care and attention.
Cabbage - Duncan - 23 March 2014
Calabrese - Marathon - 23 March 2014
These plants spent their first couple of weeks recuperating in the relative luxury of our cold greenhouse before being moved on into the cold frame to allow them to acclimatise to life outdoors. 
Cabbage - Duncan - 22 April 2014
Calabrese - Marathon - 21 April 2014
In the fine weather of Easter Monday afternoon Sue planted out these cabbages and calabrese on the plot. We haven’t had any problems with club root in the bed they've been planted in so we’re hoping for great things from them. They've been planted through weed control fabric to reduce competition from weed growth and save us time not having to do any weeding. As a final precautionary measure they were covered with butterfly proof netting to hopefully keep the plants caterpillar free.
It turned out to be a productive day down on the plot. This is the list of other sowings and plantings for the Easter Monday.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Teased by the Weather

I supposed I’d have to say Easter Sunday was typical Bank Holiday weather. Most of the day was cloudy with enough dampness in the air at lunchtime to wet the ground but not disturb my rain gauge. It was enough to put us off visiting the plot. Then like Saturday late in the afternoon the cloud broke up a bit and the sun broke through.
I made use of the late afternoon sunshine by sowing our second set of brassicas in the greenhouse.
Brussels sprout - Crispus together with cabbage - Kilaton and cauliflower - Clapton are all club root resistant varieties. We've planted these varieties for a number of year now and they have lived up to their club root resistant tag. Huzaro is a variety of red cabbage and touch wood we haven’t had any problems with this variety.

If you've never had club root then you really should look after your patch and do all you can to avoid introducing this disease. Nowadays there are no chemical controls for club root and the spores of the disease are able to remain active in the soil for up to 20 years. Once you’ve got club root you’re very much stuck with it.

There are a few measures to take to try to reduce the effects one of which is liming the soil and growing plants in good quality compost to a reasonable size before planting them out.
This is how your brassicas look when club root takes hold. Planted last year, this bed was supposed to be our over wintering cabbages and this is how they looked by November 2013. These weren't club root resistant varieties as the temptation is always to try some different varieties as the list of resistant brassicas is very limited. 

What makes our problem frustrating is knowing which beds have the club root spores in them and which are clean. Wallflowers are also subject to club root and if you look closely at the photo above the bed at the top of the picture has wallflowers planted in it. 
This is how our wallflowers look now. They've gone on to produce excellent plants and are flowering just as we had hoped. In the top right of this picture are the remains of our club root infected cabbage plants that still need tidying up. I need to ensure that I clean any equipment used to dig the infected bed before using it on any other part of the plot. The roots of the plants and any weeds removed will be added into the Council’s Waste Recycling bin to avoid further contamination. 

There’s more information on club root on the RHS web site here.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Coldest Day of the Month

Our somewhat topsy turvy weather produced the coldest day of the month so far. After Good Friday’s sunshine we had cloud for much of Saturday with the sun only managing to break through late in the afternoon. Saturday morning was the coldest it’s been this month with the temperature falling to 0.1°C in the early hours of the morning managing to climb to 12.6°C by 17:15 in the late afternoon sun.

Our tomato seeds germinated well under the indoor growlight but it was time for them to be transplanted to give them more room to grow on. 
These are Sungold seedlings after transplanting. We have similar seed modules with Alicante, Amish Gold, Brandy Boy Hybrids, Kings of Colour and Sioux. That should be plenty of plants to supply both home and plot greenhouses. The seedlings will be left in the cold greenhouse now and will need to be covered with fleece to keep them as warm as possible during the night.

It still can get pretty cold in the greenhouse overnight. On Saturday morning as the outside temperature fell to 0.1°C the corresponding temperature in the greenhouse was 2.1°C. That’s a little bit too low for my liking for tomato plants so if we have any more nights as cold they might get a little bit of a set back. 

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Blue Sky

The weather turned on its head and from no sun on Thursday we had dawn to dusk sunshine for Good Friday.
Woody took up an early morning pose on the finial at the top of the summerhouse on guard in case I mistakenly left the brassicas hardening off in the cold frame uncovered. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and it continued like that throughout the day.

It was a busy afternoon on the plot planting some Winston, Nicola and Marfona potatoes and getting all our remaining onion sets that were growing in modules planted out.
We still managed to find time to have a couple of cups of coffee and attempt to photograph a goldfinch singing in the hawthorn tree. Of course by the time we had our cameras trained on it, off it went. This was my best and only picture.
Our cherry tree Summer Sun is now in full flower. If any of these flowers set fruit the main problem will be keeping the birds from pinching the cherries as they ripen. We haven’t yet mastered the art of protecting our cherries from the birds.
I’m hoping that we might have another chance to practice our protection techniques this summer.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Baby Incas

A complete turn around in the weather for Thursday as sunshine was replaced by clouds and a strong wind returned.

Our Inca Berries seeds sown on 07 April have germinated.
We're trying Inca Berries for the first time this year and I'm always a little bit dubious how untried seeds will germinate but these have germinated very well. According to James Wong they're incredibly easy to grow so I guess we're going to put that claim to the test. You can find out more about Inca Berries from James Wong’s web site here

I've never really understood why Easter is considered to be potato planting time as the date of the holiday varies considerably from March into mid April. In any case I'm planning on taking part in this tradition.
I’m hoping to get these Winston potatoes planted as soon as I can now. They're certainly well chitted and ready for the plot. Hopefully with a good weather forecast for Friday and Saturday they'll be in the plot by the end of the holiday.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Blowing Hot and Cold

Wednesday was another super spring day and it set a few little weather records. Starting off in the early hours of the morning it was our equal coldest night of the month with the temperature falling to 1.4°C but with blue skies and sunshine all day it then became our warmest day of the month and year as the thermometer rose to 19.2°C.
I've now kept rainfall records since the beginning of 2010 and April 16th is the first day of the year when no rainfall has been recorded in any of the five years. That’s 106 days into the year before a day that has been consistently dry in the five years from 2010 to 2014.
At Harlow Carr on Tuesday I noticed that, in some places alongside the stream, their Marsh Marigolds were on flower and thought that ours which are only in bud were a little behind, however Wednesday’s sunshine brought our Marsh Marigolds out into flower too.

Don’t plants sometimes do their best to annoy you. I posted about giving our violas a second chance after they’d been left to overwinter in the cold frame. I thought I’d picked out the best ones to move into a pot and produce some better plants. The other stragglers have been left in the cold frame. Last night, as I watered the other plants hardening off in the cold frame, I saw this one defiant viola in flower and crying out to be saved. 
I can feel another potting up session coming on.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

RHS Harlow Carr in April

Tuesday continued where Monday left off with lots more sunshine. The early hours of Tuesday morning provided the coldest temperatures of the month so far with the thermometer down to 1.4°C. Despite the excellent weather recently the warmest day of the month remains the first of the month with 18.3°C.

As the forecast was for another nice sunny day we'd decided on another trip to the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Harlow Carr.
It was tricky finding somewhere to park and there is lots of parking available at Harlow Carr. We eventually managed to find a spot in the overspill car park. As it’s school half term lots of the next generation of plant hunters had descended on the gardens.
We were correct in our guess that the rhododendron would be coming into flower. Spring bulbs still formed a large part of the more formal display areas with lots of daffodils still in flower but the beds planted up with Hyacinths looked particularly attractive. 
On a still sunny day the scent from the display was very intense. My favourite was this dark blue variety.
We had a quick look around the kitchen garden display but just like the allotment it still very early with most vegetable still to be planted out. The main display was the collection of rhubarb and the fruit trees coming into blossom.