Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Weather continues unsettled

I have moved the containers with the delicate plants indoors, where we can trip over them until mid-April. And I potted up all the other seedlings/little plants into larger pots. Amazingly, I did not cover the entire world in compost while doing this, which is a first.

The plants all seem happy so far, although the trays holding them now take up nearly the whole kitchen table. When we move house, whenever that is, I am holding out for lots of south-facing windows with broad sills. Or possibly a greenhouse. This house has smallish windows, which makes it very efficient to heat but cuts down on the places you can put plant-pots.

I also, rather daringly, re-potted the lovely yellow orchid which sits on our bedroom windowsill. The poor thing had big thick roots coming out of the bottom of its pot and spiralling round and round the cache-pot, but I was a bit worried that, this being so, I'd damage it getting it out of the pot. We'll see. I didn't snap anything off, or gouge lumps out. We've had it about a year and it's flowered beautifully (it's now on its third flowering stem) so I'll be sorry if this turns out to be a mistake.

Looking down from the bedroom window, you get an aerial view of the lawn, which is my next major concern. My mother has a theory that if it's green and growing in your lawn, and isn't a dandelion, it's grass. You could just about believe this if you squint at mine with half-shut eyes. If you don't, there are big lumps of clover, and large patches which are a sort of lime-green and are definitely moss. Irritatingly, the neighbours on both sides (neither of whom have anything in the way of plants in their gardens) have lawns which look much better.

I wouldn't mind the moss that much - it's soft and green, isn't it? which is mostly what I want from a lawn - but two summers ago, the weather was dryish and all the moss died and left big brown swathes which had to be pulled out and re-seeded. The wet summer last year obviously brought it back with a vengeance.

I must do something about it soon if I'm going to, because we want to be able to put the guinea pigs on the lawn during the summer, which means we can't put fertilizer or weedkiller on it for some weeks beforehand. Sigh. It's not so much that I don't want to do the work, but the lawn's going to look pretty scruffy for a while once I've yanked out all the unwanted stuff.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

The only pretty ring-time

I'm beginning to feel I was perhaps a tiny bit over-optimistic getting started with vegetables so soon in the year. March is coming in like a lion.

Last year I left buying bedding plants a bit late, and there was hardly anything left, so I didn't want to make that mistake again. So a few weeks back, during a rare visit to a garden centre, I bought some little petunias and geraniums and impatiens and things, and was encouraged to plant them out by a bit of mild weather (and the fact that they were rapidly outgrowing the big tray I keep pots with seedlings in). So I planted up a few containers which had had annuals in them.

Disaster. It then became very windy and rainy again, and they're all looking a bit battered. Some of the impatiens (supposed to be a hardy variety) have lost almost all their leaves. Fortunately, I have more I could replace them with, but it's a waste of money and I feel like a failure when things die on me.

The vegetables are cheaper since they're mostly grown from seed, but more effort. Right now I have five courgette seedlings, all of which have their first real leaf, which is apparently the point at which you should plant them out. And this is probably true, since last time I waited until they were much further on, and the wind and rain promptly battered their papery leaves to shreds. It seems that leaves which emerge amid wind and rain are tougher than those which emerge in the shelter of your kitchen. You're supposed to plant out only the strongest seedlings, but all of mine look equally sturdy just now.

On the other hand, all the advice I seem to find says that courgettes shouldn't be planted out until April or May in the UK. By which time they'll have many more than three leaves, and the same thing will probably happen again. Actually, going by my Flickr it looks as though the seedlings were still on the kitchen table on the 24th of April last year.

So I don't really know what to do, other than invent a suspended-animation machine. I did buy some cloches (very expensive cloches, considering they consist solely of a piece of moulded polythene) in the hope that these would ward off the wind and the slugs. But do they provide enough protection for me to plant them out now? Or should I just pot them up and wait?

I could plant them out, see what happens, and then start again with some new seeds at the end of March if they all die, I suppose. But I don't want them to die. Perhaps I am too sentimental to make a proper gardener.

The sugar snap pea seedlings that I planted out last week (under very expensive cloches) seem to be doing absolutely fine, but then they are meant to be a cool-weather crop. I sowed early spinach the same day, but I'm not expecting to see green bits for another week.

I also have tomato seedlings (not grown from seed), but they're definitely getting planted up into bigger pots before I trust them to the great outdoors.

The seven chilli-pepper seedlings on our bedroom windowsill are looking good and showing signs of their first non-seed leaves. These are actually J's babies, but since he tends to get a bit nervous that he'll kill plants, I suspect I'll be doing the potting-up and so forth.

The garden is beginning to look quite spring-like, despite the wind and the rain that raineth every day. I have lots of Tête-à-tête daffodils flowering, some bigger ones flowering in pots and about to flower in the ground, grape hyacinths, polyanthus, and the signs of tulips and dicentra on the way.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

The best-laid plans of mice and men…

And gardeners.

OK, so I never had time to do that write-up of what happened in the garden last year.

This is the short version - vegetable section!

Back in the spring, I grew seedlings of:

Courgettes (Diamant variety)
Butternut squash (saved seeds)
Pumpkins (saved seeds)
Tomatoes (Chelsea Mini F1)
Peppers (Rainbow)

I took loving pictures of all the seedlings, because I am an optimist.
Squash seedlings

I also planted sugar snap peas (Sugar Bon) directly into the ground. I remember that the planting was done on St Patrick’s Day because I read somewhere that this is when you should plant peas.

The seedlings all took off, except the peppers. I don’t know what I was doing wrong with those - they’re the only things I have a proven track record of growing, and they failed me utterly. I duly potted everything up and tried hardening the plants off by putting them outside during the day once the weather started to warm, but the squash seedlings got a bit battered in the wind and some of them didn’t recover from that. I planted out the remainder. We were hoping for a good harvest from the courgettes, because we eat a lot of courgettes and they’re fairly expensive. We’d been told how easy they are to grow, and warned that we might have difficulty using all of the crop ourselves.

And then it rained for forty days and forty nights. Or more.

It really was a very wet spring and summer. Which encourages slugs, which ate all the squash plants entirely except for one courgette plant, which was sufficiently discouraged by the lack of warmth, sunshine (etc) that it produced exactly one courgette, which grew to be finger-sized and then had a big hole eaten in it, presumably by another slug.
Spot the courgette!

Oh well.

The sugar snap peas did fine, except that I didn’t plant enough of them, I think. The pods we did pick were delicious. The tomatoes did not fruit until very late, and by then the weather was too cool for the fruit to ripen on the vine, but we picked what there was in December – yes, really –and ripened them indoors. It wasn’t exactly a bumper crop; I never pinched out the side shoots (partly because I’m still not sure how to do this) which probably didn’t help.

Aren't they pretty, though?

Our one undoubted success story came with something that was never on the plan to begin with: salad leaves. I picked up a packet of Suttons’ Speedyseeds Leaf Salad (the “spicy mix”, which consists of rocket, red giant mustard, green wave mustard and mizuna kyoto) on a whim, sowed it… and it was brilliant. The leaves not only appeared quickly, but kept reappearing after many successive harvestings. We eat salad at least twice a week in summer, and augmented with a bit of bought lettuce this kept us well supplied. We decided that rocket was our favourite out of the leaves – the mustards get bitter if you don’t harvest them very young – so we’re trying that on its own this year.

This year, the list so far is:

Sugar snap peas (Sugar Bon again)
Tomatoes (Gardener’s Delight and… something else yet unchosen)
First early potatoes (Epicure – I think!)
Courgettes (Diamant again)
Early spinach

I may buy some other stuff as plants later if I have room, but these are the things I’m starting from seed.