April in the Garden Smallholding

The weather has been beautiful for the last couple of weeks, seed germination has been a doddle (although I’m still waiting on a tray of asparagus) and seedlings have put on a lot of growth, all of this means that watering has been a bit of a chore at times. Still, mustn’t grumble! I planted onion sets out this month, the spares that are left over will be used at the allotment  if I manage to create something with the soil that resembles a veg bed, rather than a weedy mound of rubble. I started sowing Early Nantes carrots and Gladiator parsnips, the carrots are already shooting away. The broad beans are doing brilliantly, I’m really pleased with them actually as I tend to be unlucky where broad beans are concerned.

I took the plunge and planted out the sweet pea after hardening them off, peas don’t like extremes and they’re not a fan of heat – outside seems to be the better choice for them rather than the hot greenhouse. Talking of peas, the eating variety are going great guns and I should begin picking them very soon. Charlotte potato leaves are breaking the surface of the mounds, I’m earthing up and keeping a close eye on the weather – first sniff of bad stuff and I shall cover them with cardboard pieces like I did last year. It worked a treat. Jerusalem artichokes are poking through the soil now, a welcome sight - I was convinced I’d planted them upside down.

The rhubarb still insists on cloning itself, I’ve cut three flower buds off since my post about it flowering. Summer fruiting raspberries, loganberry and blackberry are laden with buds and the strawbs are all in full flower. Yummy times ahead. The red currant bush is literally dripping with flowers, if you’ve never seen one in flower before it’s quite spectacular. The gooseberry bush is doing well and looks really healthy too, I moved it to a shady spot, pruned it hard to open up the middle for better air flow and threatened it with the chop if it gets mildew again this year. It flowered (blink and you miss them) and baby gooseberries are setting so I’m keeping a check on it.

At the moment I’m mostly potting on stuff and thinning out beets to make new rows, (I hate throwing them away) at some point I’ll start thinking about sowing more tender beans and courgettes.

First Spring Harvest

I’ve been pulling radish for the past few days, they’re always a welcome treat and usually straight forward to grow. With prolonged warm weather you can expect to start pulling radish from 3 weeks after sowing, because of their speed of growth they’re a handy gap filler amongst slower growing plants and a great first crop for children to grow. I tried another variety this year called Bright Lights, they’re almost ready to pull and so far I can see a purple, white and yellow one!

I Have an Allotment Plot

Here she is, all weedy and wonderful. A plot was offered to me at my village allotment on Good Friday, I jumped at the chance - who wouldn’t? What with waiting lists as long as 10 years in some places I feel ever so lucky to have an allotment plot so soon. You might be surprised to learn that my plot was in fact reserved beforehand but never claimed, I’m not complaining I just find it bizarre. I went along to the allotment the following day to choose between two previously reserved plots (yes, somebody else failed to claim a plot) and I’m now the proud slave to Plot 4. 

 

I spent today, my first proper day as a plot holder digging and cursing the ground – it’s rock solid dry and a jungle of weeds. I’m now enjoying a glass of red wine to take the edge off my aches and pains - plot 4 is going to bury me under her by the time the year is through .

I’m loving every painful minute of it.

Meteor Peas in Flower

I’m growing Meteor peas which can be autumn or spring sown, after a disastrous attempt at autumn sowing I decided to wait until March before direct sowing again. This time germination was a success, the plants are romping away and flowering already but my joy has quickly turned to dread because of a pest called Pea Moth. Pea flowers are self pollinating so I’m keeping my peas covered with fleece –  just in case the gorgeous weather we’ve been blessed with encourages pea moths to emerge earlier than usual. 

I have disturbing visions of eagerly opening up a pod only to be met with nibbled peas and caterpillar poo!

We’re Having a Bit of a Celebration

I’m chuffed to bits to announce that today marks the 3rd anniversary of freedom for a couple of my original ex battery hens, Lily ‘Savage’ and Emily have been out of a battery cage for 3 whole years, whoopee! Believe it or not both hens are still laying quality shelled eggs every single day, usually taking a small break during the winter months for moulting purposes. I was trying to work out their ages last night and I reckon they’re either 4 or 5 years old which is pretty good going considering battery hens are not bred to last. 

 

They really are the most amazing girls, funny characters and completely friendly despite Lily’s nickname Savage. You see, she is quite partial to the odd mouse if she can catch one – nothing to do with hurting people. This time last year I still had all 6 of my original motley crew – Dolly, Lizzie, Rose and Mrs N completed the line up, what a bunch of HUGE characters they were. As I watch Emily & Lily tucking into their favourite treat of sliced grapes a tinge of sadness washes over me for the other 4 girls we sadly lost, but I look back over the two years of freedom they did have with fond memories.

It’s more than most ex battery hens could ever dream of.

The Onions are In

I planted the onions last weekend, I’m growing Sturon which is a good all round white onion and Red Baron, sweet and perfect for salads. I grow onions from sets which are basically little baby onions already grown from seed. It’s really easy to grow onions from sets, just push them into the ground approximately 4 inches apart with the tip (pointy end) just poking out of the soil and keep them weed free and well watered during prolonged dry weather. You can buy onion sets from garden centres or online seed shops to plant out in spring, there are autumn planting varieties too. Onions grown from sets mature faster than onions grown from seed.

This year I’m trying my hand at companion planting by growing onions next to carrots, this combination is meant to help repel both carrot fly and onion fly. A little tip to stop birds from disturbing your newly planted onion sets can be found here.

Make Veg Frames for Raised Beds

I mainly use raised beds to grow fruit and vegetables in my garden, for the last 2 years I’ve been using what I call ‘veg frames’, to prevent my seeds, seedlings and onion sets being disturbed by cats, birds and rodents, giving them protection during the vulnerable early weeks of growing. The frames sit on top of my raised beds allowing essential light, water and air flow through but little else. Obviously, I remove the frames once my seedlings grow taller, by this point the crops are usually strong enough to handle what nature throws at them. I use 4 frames side by side along the length of a 10 ft x 4 ft raised bed, each frame can be removed or lifted with ease to allow for weeding etc.

To make a veg frame, simply nail, screw or glue together a simple rectangle or square wooden frame, (any wood will do) then staple chicken wire or aviary mesh to the frame. Using veg frames with raised beds is really handy to prevent cats from messing empty beds, I also use my frames to hold a covering of fleece securely over a raised bed if an overnight frost is forecast, particularly useful during blustery weather. The possibilities are endless, have a rummage around your shed or garage for materials (check out skips too) and see if you can rustle something up.

A Beautiful Sunny Weekend

The weather is utterly gorgeous at the moment, brilliant blue sky and wall to wall sunshine. The weekend was spent pottering around the garden, watering seed trays, sowing rows of carrots, planting herbs and dining al fresco with evening drinks by candlelight, entertainment provided by bats with their magnificent aerial display. Everything looks so much better in the sunshine, especially the tulips which are putting on a dazzling show at the moment, they look even more beautiful glowing in the sunshine, igniting the borders like hot fire lanterns. I cannot claim credit for planting these red beauties, we were lucky to inherit them from the previous homeowners/gardeners.

The weather is set to change of course but its been a joy having a taste of summer for a while.

Sowing Sweetcorn

I started sowing sweetcorn about a week ago using 4 in pots inside the greenhouse, the seedlings are germinating well in this tropical heat that we are experiencing at the moment. All you need to keep sweetcorn happy until planted outside (wait until the last frosts are over) is a sunny windowsill, they love the heat but need plenty of space so I only sow one seed per pot.  Sweetcorn is my favourite vegetable to grow, not only because it tastes so much better than anything you can buy in the shops, but it also adds a touch of beauty to the veg garden, rustling in the breeze, adding height and interest.

Sweetcorn is wind-pollinated so it’s best planted out in blocks rather than single rows. I usually plant a few blocks using 15 or 18 plants in short rows of 3, this way the plants are closer together which helps to ensure successful pollination of the silks. With this in mind I have sown quite a few seeds to allow for failures. It’s possible to grow a few plants in a large pot successfully but expect a low yield. Despite this, even if you only manage to pick one or two cobs it’s totally worth the effort for the fresh and sweet taste.

However you decide to grow sweetcorn, cook the cobs as soon as they’re picked for the best flavour.

Pear Tree Flowering

My Williams Bon Chrétien pear tree is in full flower, bees are flocking to the blossom and it looks a real treat. Last year my young ‘Williams’ suffered a bit from the heat, the fruit set but didn’t mature properly so I removed the fruit to give the tree a chance to recover.

Hopefully its root system can cope better this year, I’m ever hopeful to be picking pears this year.

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