Kitchen Garden

Sowing in the Wind

The weather has been very blustery since yesterday and it looks set to continue today. The chickens are not fans of the wind blowing up their skirts, especially the fluffy gang…

The sun was shining earlier so I got on with planting broad beans in the cold wind. I don’t mind so much when I’m working in the vegetable garden, it’s the only time the weather doesn’t bother me, although I had to hold on tight to my seed packet!

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Broad bean ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ are a hardy variety, perfect for direct sowing in autumn right through to January if the soil isn’t frozen or water-logged. Our seeds go straight into the ground in a deep raised bed, the soil warmed with tunnel cloches for a few weeks before sowing. I sow double rows and use more seeds than needed to allow for failures, then cover with tunnel cloches to aid germination. The cloches remain in place and lifted only to water if the soil becomes too dry, as the seedlings grow taller we remove them.

The tunnel cloches are simply lengths of plastic corrugated sheeting slid into metal cloche hoops. The hoops are pushed down into the soil to anchor the sheets in place, keeping the soil warm and protecting the crop from weather and pests such as pigeons. Or in our case, chickens.

Seeds tucked safe and warm under tunnel cloches

The idea of sowing hardy broad beans in autumn is to get an earlier crop and avoid blackfly, in our experience we really only get a few weeks head start at most before the spring sown beans start producing. However I enjoy the anticipation of seedlings bursting into life through the soil, while everything else around them is taken by winters firm grip.

Growing broad beans from autumn onwards can be a challenge, nurturing the plants through the bleakest months can be tricky with cruel winds and heavy snow at the ready to scupper your plans. Some winters are easier than others, but I came up with a nifty idea for protecting plants through gales – wind break panels made from plastic sheeting, fashioned together using garden wire and garden canes. Heavy snow is far trickier to control if the plants are particularly tall, we’ve had plants literally collapse and snap low down during tough winters. When this happens the plants eventually produce shoots from the base and continue growing, but they’re never as good.

There’s always spring to fall back on of course, but I rather like a challenge.

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October in the Garden Smallholding

The Autumn garden tidy up is well underway this month, bean canes are coming down, leaves are being collected to make leaf mould, herbs such as mint are being potted up and brought indoors for use over winter. I like to get the tidying up done now but I keep wildlife in mind, making sure I leave enough ‘messy’ areas for hibernating creatures.

There’s a definite nip in the air although most days are still very mild for the time of year, night-time temperatures are slowly plummeting and beautiful star-filled skies suggest frosts are on the horizon – some areas may have experienced a few already. These first frosts will almost certainly finish off tender vegetables such as courgettes, keep an eye on the weather forecast and harvest anything tender as necessary, cover with fleece or cloches if you prefer. Hardy broad beans such as Aquadulce Claudia can be sown from this month onwards, garlic can be planted now but I tend to wait until next month and plant again in December, weather permitting. Digging over the soil at this time of year allows essential air back in and frost to break up compacted soil, killing off pests too.

I’ve been pulling baby carrots this month thanks to a spur of the moment late summer sowing, I watched Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall discussing the gorgeous flavour of baby carrots during an episode of River Cottage Veg Every Day – a great incentive to sow them late next year. I just hope the weather is kind again.

I would like to wish you all a very happy Halloween, or Samhain blessings. Enjoy your October garden.

Kitchen Garden

Planting out my Leggy Broad Beans

There has been much drama in the legumes department. Last autumn I popped a few rows of  hardy Aquadulce Claudia outdoors in an attempt to get a slightly earlier crop – I lost the lot. The snow, extreme cold and prolonged cold/wet soil from December onwards took care of that idea for me and just to stick the boot in even harder, claimed my hardy Meteor peas too. Bah! I’m such a fool! I should have covered the rows with cloches rather than relying  completely on the word ‘hardy’. I guess the seeds weren’t hardy enough to cope with a foot of snow and then ice on top of the soil for weeks on end, they rotted away. Poor things. It’s OK though, I’m getting over it.

Good job really that I’m not a massive fan of broad beans, I’m also not able to control the weather either (now wouldn’t that be nice!?) so, I have decided to sow broad beans directly into the garden around March time in future – I would rather wait a few weeks longer to pick broad beans if need be to avoid all this hoo haar. Failing that, if I do decide to give autumn sowing another try I will remember to use some common sense ( I do have some, although it’s fleeting) and cover with cloches. I think I prefer waiting till March idea best – they usually catch up anyway.

I did sow more broad beans indoors in January, the plants are healthy at the moment but rather leggy which I find does happen to broad beans started off in small pots. The plants have been hardening off outside and are ready to go in the veg garden, but because they are so leggy they are too tall for my tunnel cloches so I will pop some fleece over them at night for a while, keeping my fingers tightly crossed for them. All is not lost, there is still time to sow broad beans outside and that is what I shall do whilst mumbling a little prayer for my leggy broad bean plants.

One of these years I will crack the art of growing them without any false starts. I will! I will!

EDIT: I’ve had a late thought. Perhaps mice got to them? We certainly have a lot of field mice here. All I found in the soil were soggy broad bean skins here and there and no sign of the peas!