March 2006

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Wednesday March 1st
Managed to get out to lottie by 3pm after having to work in the morning. Decided to finish off the path by the latest bed, only to end up redoing the bit I did yesterday as well, as it was a bit wonky and wouldnīt quite line up with the daffodil bed. Now have a nice path, reasonably flat and it needs covering with something. I am now thinking seriously about ground cover material, though carpets and flints come as a much cheaper alternative.
 Then got down to more compost heap shifting. It seems to be endless! Just as well, since thereīs a lot of space to be filled in the raised beds. Have now finished topping up the flower bed, which was a challenge around the crocuses, as they arenīt very tall... had to lever a couple of clumps upwards and pack soil underneath so they didnīt get totally buried again! Then started on the sweetcorn bed: this is on plot 1 and is going to be a

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New path and edging. Next step - get some more wood and do the other side of the bed, then get the blueberries up there!

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 particularly deep bed of scaffold boards. When I began, it was full of bamboo canes, and you can see how deep itīs going to be! Shifted the canes onto the runner bean plot to get them out of the way. Tipped a barrowload of manure in to start building it up and managed to get two barrows of soil on top before it got too cold to continue. Will hopefully be back to do some more tomorrow after trying to get a cheapie cold frame from Lidl. Hope I can use it to begin with as a warming-up cloche where the carrots are going.

Thursday March 2nd
Long shopping expedition but came back with the cheapie cold frame (which they handily call a mini-greenhouse - what they call a cold frame is a raised bed with lids!!).

What with one thing and another (and a very heavy snow shower) I didnīt make it to the lottie until mid-afternoon; still, managed to finish off the sweetcorn bed manuring and filling, though now must get several pieces more wood so that I can make a proper path to the right. This will make it the first full raised bed on that side, instead of just the lower corner being made leveller. Beds on plot 1 are rather longer than plot 2 so will need multiples of about 1.6m rather than 1.3m. Iīm about halfway through the compost pile now; still finding bindweed and some odd fibrous roots, though the latter donīt seem to be coming from the greengage so Iīm not bothered about them. Am sieving the compost now - pity the beds arenīt going to get carrots! But at least Iīll not have too many stones adding to whatīs already there.

Sweetcorn bed now rather fuller and deeper! Amazed that itīs all been filled by the compost heap...

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Friday March 3rd
Construction continues. Started by measuring all the beds on Plot 1: I now know just how higgledy-piggledy they are (very) and what I need to bring them up to the same raised bed standard as Plot 2. Lots... Moved on to the compost heap. Did less today as it was partially frozen! But Iīm well over halfway now. Raking the soil instead of digging it helps, too. Topped up two of the larger plot 2 beds, so only one big one to go (which needs weeding of all the leftover titchy onions first!) and then two small ones. One currently has leeks and the other is the winter onions, which need something... a good kick I suspect. Theyīre smaller than the summer ones in the conservatory! Saw a fantastic multicoloured sundog - and realised too late that the camera was back at home beside the PC. Ouch. Had lunch up there between barrowloads, then went to Crownform for more wood. Decided to start with the bottom four beds closest to Keithīs plot, as they already have quite a few bits on. (Some in need of serious replacement though!) Bought almost literally a shedload of wood (I reckon I could make one) and then went home to get a cup of tea and the camera.

 Discovered two whopping daleks in front of the door. So theyīre here, then! Due to carful of wood, no chance of getting them up to the plot but I know what Iīll be doing tomorrow if the weatherīs fit! Metcheck says it will be - so far theyīre way better than the BBC! Carted the wood up to the plot - took four trips to get it all up there, and then two more for the mallet and the spade (separately) as I totally forgot to pick them up! Figured out which bits of wood were for which bed (they really do vary a lot) and then only managed to make one before it got too dark. Now have a shedful of wood!!! But at least the sweetcorn bed is at last completed. I shall move on to the bean plots tomorrow (as I can finally clear the cabbages now Iīve got the compost bins huzzah!). Still havenīt shifted the plum. Oh well!

Sweetcorn bed - completed

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Saturday March 4th
Very long day. Got up to the lottie with car full of dalek compost bins and followed by P. with the cold frame in his, en route to the shops. He carried the bins to the plot for me then vanished, leaving me with everything everywhere. Chris had arrived at the same time as me, and vanished to her top plot to try and dig in the very solidly frozen soil. Decided to get stuck into the raised beds, and started with the beans bed: itīs now rather wider than it was, though the path on the uphill side has got a bit too narrow and when I refurbish the runner bed Iīll have to move the sides in a bit to compensate. It was also full of cabbage leftovers so at last I could clear them into a compost bin. Took nearly 4 hours to finish the first one, including lunch break, then moved straight

into the second bed - this time the one which will be squashes and was the cauliflowers last season. It had one board in place, and now has the other three sides and a lot flatter aspect. Itīs amazing how different Plot 1 is starting to look, having some raised beds finished rather than one side of dubiously recycled flimsy wood. Next - the runner bean bed. Didnīt start it today as it was getting close to sunset. That and I had a colossal surprise - I noticed a suspicious patch of leaves growing in the defunct (I thought) parsnip bed... Took the spade to it - and unearthed the largest parsnip I have seen outside the show. How on earth did I miss it? It was perfectly shaped, long (and would have been longer but the root tip snapped) and given it had a smaller parsnip next to it, was obviously another of the April 3rd resown ones. Hopped around a bit, laughing and got Kate wondering what on earth I was up to. I really did want to pinch myself!
I am definitely sowing them this season in situ, though probably will do a variation of the loo roll + compost, planting the loo rolls first, filling with compost and finally sowing the seeds on top! That way, no check to the roots, and hopefully lots more monster parsnips!  Stats: weight almost 800g (1lb 12oz) length 36.8cm (14.5").

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Monster parsnip!

Sunday March 5th
The last of my run of days off, and again it dawned frosty and clear. Managed to get out there for 11-ish, and got cracking on the last of the set of four raised beds. This time it was replacing the downhill long side of the runner bed and then three other sides. Not as easy as I thought, since the wood wasnīt necessarily the right size, and Iīd forgotten to buy an end piece. However, a bit of creative faffing about and the help of two offcuts, and I managed to use the support post as part of the edge. This had the secondary effect of stopping the post

wobbling nearly as much as it had been. Now have all four done, and so that sorts out this yearīs beans, sweetcorn and marrows (though the latter should have been manured, so there may yet be some earth moving there: fortunately the bedīs not overfull so I shouldnīt have a problem). Took a break and nattered to John - and spotted a red kite over the allotments! So they have made it over here now - thatīs really good news.
 The dalek bin is now 2/3 full. I carted two buckets of compostable stuff from the house to the plot, and added it to the mix, then cut up the old sweetcorn haulms and added them. The couple of buckets of water and manure I threw in wonīt hurt, either. Pruned the last two sage bushes - one fairly drastically and the other - by far the best bush for leaves - just got trimmed. Theyīll bump into the next set of raised beds so I might as well get them tidy now. Cleared up the corrugated iron 

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The quartet finished: they will have to do for now.

where Iīd dumped the compostables off the heap while I sorted the dalek out, and put one of the rusty buckets to protect the comfrey, which is just sprouting and looking a bit beaten-up. Put manure on top of all the rhubarb crowns: that should give them a bit of a boost. Then it started to snow a bit, so it was a logical stop place. Now back to weekends only, though given the amount of light remaining at 5.30pm, thereīs beginning to be hope that I can get up after work.

Wednesday March 8th
Half an inch of rain yesterday and overnight - and more on the way. Excellent!

Friday March 17th
This weather is driving me nuts. Too cold to do much, not even offset by sunny conditions which at least make it feel warm. Canīt sow stuff, canīt put things outside... the wind chill is at about -5oC and I want to go up and start doing things! Itīs not even raining!
I suppose on the good side, the minicole cabbages are germinating, so are the saved aubergines from last year which have been in a month (typical - just after I buy seed thinking that the saved stuff was duff) and the onions are happily in the outside grow house. Forecast for Sunday is sunny, though, so might finally be able to do something without my fingers freezing off!

Sunday March 19th
Huzzah. Decent day - actually quite warm about midday. Did a fair bit of reshuffling of Plot 1. Started by weeding the first potato bed - got shot of the spinach plants and the resprouting onions, then used some of the bits of wood freed up by the new beds to delineate the path rather better. Then did similar for the upper edge of the second potato bed/tomato bed. They both need me to do them properly, though. Then dug up the last of the salsify - need the space to plant the garlics while itīs still cold enough to split them properly. Filled in the wasp hole a bit, by flushing soil down, then weeded a load of couch out of the edges. Looked at the pussy willow bush, which looks pretty for about 2 weeks a year and then is a total pest. Itīs lost a lot of branches over the winter and looks worse than usual. Decided that enough was enough: no more walking into it with full watering cans and the wheelbarrow! Spent an hour or so digging around it and chopping the roots off. And finding an astonishing amount of bindweed (the other reason for getting rid of it!). There is now a bush stump on a carpeted bed and a gap in one bed, which will also give me a lot more growing room considering how far out the roots went! The crocuses are now all out - beautiful, though the ones in the daff bed arenīt what I expected! Iīd thought Iīd bought the slim-petalled crocus tommasinianus, but I guess not. Right colour, lovely shape, just more like crocus chrysanthus. Hey ho. Most of the narcissi have now broken soil and all of a sudden the bedīs looking much better. Will be more so when Iīve got flowers!

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Cleared beds (and blue alkathene piping waiting for the carrots and the enviromesh!)

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Crocuses in amongst the narcissi

Wednesday March 22nd
Spring! And it almost felt warm (at least while the sun was out). Even better, got home early enough to get to the lottie! Was up there at 5.45pm and left at 7pm, though sunset was at 6.30pm! Had enough time to weed the old onion bed (which is incredibly solid soil) and some of the leek bed (mostly of spinach). Then had another go at the rock face, ie the bit near the firebox which seems to be solid flint stuck together with a bit of soil. Riddled a lot of stones out and dumped them on the new path. It will be a long job to get the free soil to a decent depth. Took home four leeks and, weirdly, an onion... Rain is forecast for Friday, and a lot of next week. Guess when Iīm off, supposedly fixing the shed waterproofing...
Ordered some ultra fine enviromesh, which should just cover a) the cabbages at the start of the flea beetle season and b) the late carrots. Early carrots can lump the old mesh! Also some organic potash, so I donīt have to worry about whether sulphate of potash is organic or not. Now got 16 aubergines up. Yikes.

Thursday March 23rd
Another lovely day - and the last without rain for some time so went into work very early so I had a chunk of the afternoon to go to the lottie. Admittedly via the garden centre, where I got three bags of compost. Barrowed one up to the plot together with a bag of loo roll inserts. Opened the compost and discovered theyīve changed the formulation and itīs full of blinking bits of shredded wood, not even composted - it was pale coloured and obviously fresh! Sieved a fair bit out, and then used the sieved stuff to fill loo rolls. This time, instead of planting parsnips in them, germinating the seed and putting them out after the tap rootīs gone out the base, I planted full rolls then sowed the seed in the top. Hopefully the tap root will have an unobstructed run. Anyway, sowed 20 rolls with three seeds(ish) per roll, and we shall see. They are a foot apart, giving plenty of room for the foliage in summer, and space for me to grow an intercrop. Plenty of room for later sowings! Then decided to do the first carrot trench. Popped the cloche together, dug and filled the trench then sowed the freebie Early Nantes that fell out of Kitchen Garden. Yes I know I said I would stick with Autumn King, but this time I will pull the Nantes early on, and leave the maincrops for later so I donīt run out of carrots this time next year like I have now!

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The first parsnip sowing

Covered the row with the cloche and found the labels, so I know whatīs in there. At last, somethingīs in. Noticed Tonyīs got his spuds in already - I still think I shall wait another week or two (though perhaps not for the indoor ones). They will always catch up, and it might save some frantic earthing up and covering over in May, like happened last year.

Carrot technique for stony soils

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Dig out a 6" deep trench, fill with compost, water it and create drill. Sow seed, cover with compost and cloche

Saturday March 25th
After a Friday of rain (8mm) the Metcheck forecast was clear until about 3pm then rain. They were spot on, almost to the minute. Got to plots about 11am, and got stuck into the weeding of the orchard area. I had intended to work my way across the area, but ended up chasing bindweed and couch up the border path. Dug out 2-3 bucketsful in the end, having moved up the edge and then gone into the old compost heap area. Need to edge the grass a bit to stop it creeping back in! But the soil in the enclosure is really nice now - itīs not grown anything for years and spent a good amount of time with a heap of cow manure on it, so it should be quite fertile (especially if the rampant couch is anything to go by!). Itīs also quite open in there now, so the bramble will be easier to pick, as will the gooseberries and rhubarb. The comfreyīs up and running, thereīs corrugated iron over most of the area to spread my weight and stop anything weedy growing, and Iīve now installed the second dalek bin on it, simply because there isnīt really room opposite, as the treeīs in the way.

Then back to the original plan, weeding across the orchard. There were a lot of bramble seedlings, and I must have missed some as theyīre very similar to the soil colour. Most of the plot is now weeded (and a lot of bindweed is now out, too!) apart from the access road edge, as I need to be flat out and wriggling under the gooseberries to get at the interlopers there. Not in the present damp conditions! Was sung to by a very loud great tit in the bramley. Donīt know if thereīs any residents in the box yet - I know some have been looking though. Forsythia about to flower. Ditto the narcissi. Left at 3.15pm as a few raindrops fell, and it was quite damp by the time I got home.

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Sunday March 26th
SUMMER TIME! And more rain... so I spent the afternoon cleaning the inside conservatory windows and roof. I know greenhouse owners do this over winter, but I keep all my tropicals and overwintering fuchsias as well as seedlings in the conservatory, and as a result, cleaning involves playing musical chairs with all the plants (or at least those I can move - half the climbers are attached to the structure!). Well, itīs half done. (Other half is cleaning the outside!) At least the temperatures are sufficiently high to get the onions, shallots and cabbages out without heat so theyīll harden off enough to stay in the frame unassisted until they get planted out.
I am ready for the next wave of sowings now. Tomatoes...

 

Tuesday March 28th
A dry-ish forecast so Chris and I went ahead with the planned rescue of the shed. First a trip to the Focus to get some roofing felt, and then we lugged it up to the plot. Several hours later, after a lot of faffing and rain-dodging and a very sore finger (I hit it with the hammer and split the skin by the side of my nail) we had a mostly waterproof shed. Pity that we also found half a bucket of soil in the shed and a suspicious tunnel. I think we need to get some Eradirat.

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Wednesday March 29th
Partial eclipse of the sun, so lugged main camera etc. up to the plot and waited for gaps in the cloud. Amazingly, there was a gap right at maximum eclipse (11.33BST) and I got some pics. Then took some rubbish to the dump. Pricked out the aubergines at home - now have 20 up - Moneymakers still germinating. Will have to donate some to folk! Also got my delivery from the Organic Gardening Catalogue - so now possess a pack of

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ultra-fine Enviromesh and some organic potash. That should sort out the flea beetle and pigeons when I put out the cabbages! Though have several lots now (red, white and the summer broccoli) so will have to choose carefully which gets the mesh. Then used the half-price voucher I had got from Van Hage garden centre to treat the lottie to a fan cherry `Stellaī. And scared myself when I got it home - according to the RHS, a colt rootstock cherry requires 18ī wide for a fan! Yikes! Itīs going to have 4īx6ī and lump it... so it will be a very small fan, pruned very carefully and rather more vertically! Also got something to try and remove the shedīs squatters before they pass on Weilīs disease or something similarly nasty.
Another centimetre of rain overnight.

Thursday March 30th
Slow start to the day, though picked up later with a seemingly daft game of musical water storage. Carted the small blueberry and the cherry tree up to the lottie and planted the cherry - had to shift the upturned holey metal water tank to do so, and found it had an inner base that was some 3" higher than the outer, so it was heavy to tip back into position. Had to walk it round to the front of the shed, to take up the position vacated by the plastic water tank. Now have a decent seat rather than the sloping one it had been. The plastic tank is now where the annoying bush was on Plot 1. Anyway, after this little game, then had to move the black water butt yet again, first emptying it via bucket into the Plot 1 tank, then moving it down to where the metal tank had been! Reason? I needed a door stop to prevent the shed door swinging back in the wind and hitting the cherry. Have a slightly mashed terminal bud as it is… So it was no longer connected to the shed guttering and the other butt. Argh! Transferred the water from the connected butt sideways, leaving the green butt with enough space for another couple of days of rain. I now need to hoof up the third butt from the house, and connect all three together. Preferably while there's still enough rain about to fill them all! Went back to the house for another blueberry bush, and managed somehow to get two into the car at once. Up to the plots, then buried all three blueberry pots about a third-way down into the ground. They should cope ok, though the older pair of them definitely need top-dressing! Wish I could remember what varieties they were - the young one's a Bluejay, and I know the others, bought from Bridgemere nearly 15 years ago, are different, so no problems with pollination. I think one's Bluecrop (which they still sell). And both probably need retiring given their age! Short of going back home for the plum (which I can't get in the car - too tall!) I was a bit stuck: trimmed the eating apple as much as I could reach and decided to push off. At home, got the seed tin out and sowed two large pots of basil and a 24-module of plum tomatoes (San Marzano x16 and cream sausage x 8). The toms are in the heated propagator. And it's raining again.
Tomorrow's aims: the water butt out of the back garden, the plum (I hope) and the potatoes. I'll be happy if I manage 2/3. 

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Blueberries - though might move pots about a bit as small oneīs a bit too shaded. And it needs repotting.

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Stella in new home. Not a classical fan, but should be fun to train. Wonder if I could get the right side to grow round the corner?!

Friday March 31st
Managed 1 / 3. Water butt took a while to get up to the lottie: had to empty it first (seems a waste, but the water has been in it for over a year - itīs now back in the water table) and then haul it up there. Unpotted the plum tree and got it into a plastic bag ready for transporting, then up to the lottie with the butt. Had fun digging a hole deep enough for it to fit into to allow water to drain downwards from the top one, and still flow down to number 3. Succeeded in the end, and without having to buy any more connection tubes. Cherry still not totally obscured, and the heat absorbed in summer by the water should provide an interesting microclimate. Soil too damp for the potato planting, so left that. Theyīll catch up! The plum site was interesting - the only position was buried under the old manky carpet and bindweed and... hauled it into a pile and eventually unearthed the earth. Dug a large hole and put some manure in, ready for the plum. All I need to do now is get it to the lottie and then plantingīs a doddle. This is going to spur me to do some serious tidying of rubbish, though not until we get a dry spell. That carpetīs horribly soggy! Decided to do something about the blueberry next. Trip to B&Q and they still have the same pots for sale, so a bag of ericaceous compost and a pot later, I had three matching blueberries, shifted to the end furthest from the shed so they get more sun. Being slightly closer, theyīll be easier to net, too. Top dressed the older pair so theyīll get a boost too. Realised the cold frame had vanished in the hour Iīd been gone, and found it in pieces upside down on the access road. Put them back together, and stuck a brick on top. If it blows off, I give up. Had to run for cover in another heavy shower, but at least I will catch some of it! Apparently Three Valleys Water have sent a letter to the council saying that weīre not allowed to use hoses to fill the butts - directly opposing whatīs on their website. Vince now off to find out which storyīs the right one. Course, theyīve still not officially notified householders to the ban, so a lot of folk will probably carry on hosing in all innocence. *sigh*
Sowed romaine lettuces and beetroot (cylindrical) in modules. Not grown Cylindra before - should be easier to turn into sarnis! I shall follow up with Boltardy in a week or two as theyīll probably be ready first anyway. What a busy month this was!!!

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My trio of linked butts off the shed guttering. Hopefully this will help the water situation.