Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A flurry of February flowers

Where has the sunny weather gone again? I don't mind the cold so much, it's the grey dampness that I find can put me off a spot of garden pottering.

So, in order to cheer up proceedings, here's a few shots of some flowers that were taken a week or so ago when the sun was visiting.

Crocuses - unknown variety/cultivar. They've been popping up in my garden since we moved here. These were hiding beneath a pile of leaves at the foot of the strawberry tree. They've found a sunny corner and seem very happy there.

Snowdrops - again, variety unknown. Nestling beneath the Winter Nellis pear tree, slightly too close to the chicken fence for comfort so these were swiftly relocated after I took the photo. My chickens do not distinguish between weeds and lovely naturalised winter flowers... And you can really see my muddy clay soil in this shot. In no time at all it will be covered in wild geraniums (Geranium robertiatum, pratense and mollis).

Nectarine blossom - 'Big Top'. My patio tree is still in its overwintering residence in the greenhouse but is beginning to develop a multitude of delicate pale pink buds. As the sun comes out, the petals begin to slowly unfurl. I won't be moving it out of the greenhouse for a while yet, so I have an old blusher brush at the ready to help along the pollination. I know I really should be doing it with a rabbit's tail tied to a stick to give it the authentic touch...

And lastly, our elegant and unassuming native primrose (with a little cyclamen coum tucked in there). This wasn't taken in my garden but is on a large raised bed fronting a museum in St Albans that I passed by this morning. I have just sown some primrose seeds in a tray, so am hopeful that I shall have some of my own to photograph next year.

What's brightening up your garden this grey February week?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Strawberries that reach for the sky

I'm always looking for space-saving ideas in the suburban veg plot. It's not the largest of growing areas - 8 square metres of raised beds, a rhubarb patch and one or two small spots beneath trellis panels - so I try hard to pack a lot into it. So when I came across climbing strawberry plants, I thought I'd just have to give them a try. I've grown 'Cambridge Favourite' in grow-bags for the last few years but these went into the compost at the end of 2012 as they'd started to tail off in terms of production.

Strawberry 'Mount Everest' is available from a number of the bigger online/mail order seed and plant companies and is described as producing runners upto a metre long that can be trained up a trellis or other climbing support. They produce mid-sized fruit from mid June through to September and can also be planted as trailing plants in window boxes or hanging baskets.

They didn't come cheap (£12.99 for 12 runners) but the plants certainly look vigorous with a healthy bare root system. Once unwrapped, I did find a bonus 13th runner in the box as well. The runners were placed in a bucket of damp compost for a couple of days until I was ready to plant them out. I've decided to reuse my pea teepees from last year to train them up as they're in a nice sunny spot by the greenhouse. The teepees proved to be surprisingly strong and have weathered well through the winter. I replaced some of the twine fastened around them and they're good as new. 

So, 13 planting holes later, each of the runners are now situated at the bottom of a nice rough vertical stake to climb up (coincidently enough a strawberry tree pruning) and awaiting the warmer weather.

I can probably use the space beneath the teepee for salad leaves and radishes as they'll mature quickly before the strawberries grow and block out the light. And aside from the space saving aspect, I'm also hoping that unless the local slug population are kitted out with crampons and climbing ropes, then this may prove to keep more of my fruit safe from the hordes of marauding molluscs!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A tentative salad update

Following my woeful salad year – in particular the second half of 2012, I am pleased to report that despite sowing salad leaf seeds 2 days before a downfall of snow, the seeds bided their time and waited until more suitable daytime temps had been achieved before germinating. They're still a bit small for microgreens but I'm sure we're not too far off!

I'm hoping to be a bit more organised this year as regards succession sowing so I can maintain a regular supply of fresh green leaves. And indeed red leaves, as these were recommended by the Tuckshop Gardener as being less likely to become victim of a slug attack. I look forward to comparing the two once they're out in the raised beds. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A beginning and an end

Potato chitting time has arrived again! My Apache potatoes arrived in the post yesterday, so I got them straight into egg boxes and into the cool spare room. These are a maincrop potato variety with attractive red markings. We've been buying them from our local supermarket for mini roasties, so thought I might as well try growing my own. I grew Ulster Classic last year and while they were lovely in taste, they were a bit too floury for my preference - fine if you want mash all the time, but pretty useless for anything else.

This weekend I also need to redo my planting plans for the year. Maybe it was the cold weather and snow cover, but our garden in December and January was suddenly inundated by some very hungry pigeons. There have always been pigeons in the large trees surrounding the suburban veg plot and there have always been winter brassicas in the plot, but this was my first experience of the 2 meeting... And suffice to say, the brassicas came off worse.
The tuscan kale, the early sprouting broccoli, the cauliflowers bought as plug plants, the savoy cabbages - all of it, gone. This is probably gardener's karma for forgetting about them as seedlings in the autumn (see post here). I managed to net the brussels sprouts before Christmas, so saved some of those but the rest was wholly decimated. Were it not for the fact I am vegetarian, there may have been some pigeon pie served up for dinner!