Tuesday, 28 March 2017

March round-up

Conservatory full of seedlings
March is the month of sowing, potting up and digging. First up were the tomatoes, chillies and sweet peppers. The chilli and pepper seeds were lightly sanded before sowing - this really speeds up their germination. Sixteen varieties of tomatoes this time, eight types of chillies and five sweet peppers. I just can't say no to heirloom tomato seeds. This means we can keep two plants of each variety and the rest will go to friends and neighbours. One of my friends who gave me some tomato seeds simply dries them on a bit of kitchen paper towel and then plants a piece of the kitchen paper into the soil. I can confirm this method works brilliantly - germination rates were very high.

Spring onions!
The second group sowing was the brassicas: four kinds of kale, savoy cabbage, red cabbage, white cabbage, two kinds of Brussels sprouts (early and late), cauliflower and romanesco. The broccoli and calabrese will follow next month - no rush since we still have plenty of purple-sprouting broccoli.

Spring is here!
Together with February's sowing of leeks, beetroot and salad stuff, this means the conservatory is filling up already, especially after pricking out and potting up the tomatoes and brassicas. The tomatoes are being pampered: They spend their days basking in the light in the conservatory, but are carried back into the lounge for an overnight stay on the windowsills each night. They really don't like cold nights.

The third lot of sowing indoors this month is peas and mangetout. We're going to try pre-growing them in sections of plastic guttering this time and then hopefully sliding off the seedlings into position next to a brand-new pea trellis made from fence posts and chicken wire. Slightly apprehensive about the sliding off bit, but hoping it'll go smoothly.

Planting Jerusalem artichokes
Outside, we sowed 400 set onions (Sturon and Setton) and netted them over to protect them from marauding blackbirds. We also replanted the nicest 20 Jerusalem artichokes. The parsnips were sown with seed that we collected ourselves. Parsnip seed doesn't germinate well after one year of age so it is vital to have the freshest seed possible. It was fairly straightforward to collect: We simply left a couple of parsnips in the ground and in their second year they flower and go to seed. The bees just loved the parsnip flowers.

Blackcurrant cutting come to life
Everything else outside has to wait until April when the next lot of indoor sowing (cucumbers, melons, broccoli/calabrese, celeriac, tomatillos, herbs) is also due. Squashes, courgettes, sweetcorn and beans have to wait until May here though I've sown one courgette to pop into the polytunnel for an extra early courgette crop. We find it best to plant squashes and courgettes out when they only have one or true leaves; they seem to suffer very little transplant stress that way.

While I've been sowing and potting up, Jim has been digging every day. The new area that we'd earmarked for our potatoes had to be temporarily abandoned since it was too wet to dig - maybe some of the cranberry cuttings can go into that! As always, it helps if you can stay flexible in this gardening game. Luckily we had another option: the newly de-brambled area next to the pond. The soil is beautiful there, though full of stones, and our potatoes will have a view! The first earlies (Dunluce) went in last weekend and the rest (Blue Danube, Sarpo Axona and Setanta) will follow in the first week in April.

Domino watches the mass hatching
Most of the cuttings that I've stuck in the ground over the past few months have taken and are now unfurling their first leaves. Amazing how easy it can be to propagate plants! I'm especially pleased that the Finnish greencurrants and the Siberian blackcurrants have taken. They will all stay in their nursery bed until November so that they can develop some decent roots before being moved into their final positions. The improved pond has been enthusiastically embraced by the amphibians. We had a mass hatching of frog and toad spawn, during which several common newts were spotted darting about. Now the thousands of tadpoles are cruising around.

Building a new bridge and steps
Another improved item in the garden is a our improved new footbridge over the burn. Away with the rotten wooden planks and in with stone slabs linked with 'crazy' paving of flat stones and bricks that we had dug up in the grounds. Jim even made a lovely little set of steps leading down to the bridge. This makes a very slippery, particularly when muddy, slope much safer.

The hungry gap has started - we've run out of potatoes, neeps and celeriacs, among a whole lot of other things. But at least there are beautiful spring onions, two types of kale, chard and lots and lots of purple-sprouting broccoli. And the new season salad leaves are not far off.

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