Archive for the ‘Garden’ Category

Our four-year crop-rotation fantasy plan

Getting to the end of our first year in the garden, we’ve been a bit chaotic. Digging beds just in time to plant chitted potatoes, or seedlings outgrowing their seed trays, and we’ve only managed to get three-and-a-half of the eight beds dug (each bed is 5ft x 20ft, and double-dug)

I’ve finally had a chance to sit down and plan it all out properly, ready for next year, and – several books later – I have got a full four-year crop-rotation plan mostly complete: Our Crop-Rotation plan (pdf)

Now I’ve just got to dig and manure the remaining beds, and buy a million-or-so seeds. It’ll be interesting to see if reality even slightly matches the plan . . .

Growing plants to attract bees

With the continuing problems faced by Britain’s bee populations, now is a great time to think about what you’re planting in your garden. You can have a really beautiful, productive garden that also looks after the bees – just by well-planned planting choices and avoiding using pesticides.

There’s a really great list of bee-friendly plants on the RHS website – Plants for Bees. And a less comprehensive seasonal list of  plants for bees on the Gardener’s World website.

I’m still looking for a list which tells you the flowering times of all the plants too, so that we can have a nearly-year-round bee friendly garden – I’ll post one if I find it!

Planting our orchard

This post has been a long time coming – I think I’ve been looking at trees for a couple of years, and planning this particular orchard for about 9 months! Finally, the trees have arrived and are in! We’ve beaten the weather (finding a two-day slot in between heavy coverings of snow) and here are the pictures to prove it.

First, the “before” pictures, including large piles of ex-shrubs that had to come out to make space. Here’s where the apples, a plum and gage are going, on the north side of the Aquaponic Polytunnel:

And here’s where the pears, and a plum are going:

Not a witch’s broomstick – here’s how the trees arrived from Agroforestry:

And here they are unwrapped:

Quite cool, minimal packaging really – especially the flax used as a tie and the green bamboo used as a reinforcing pole:

It took us a couple of days to get them all in, including digging the new holes in the ex-lawn, and then the snow was back. Here’s what it all looked like just after the thaw. First the Apples, Plum and Gage:

And then the two pears and remaining plum:

I haven’t got any pics of the raspberries or the peach yet – I’ll post them when I can.

Edible Perennials – Siberian / Pink Purslane

800px-Claytonia_sibirica_EglintonI’m keen to try as many edible perennials as possible – I like the idea of not having to re-plant things every year, with all the work that involves. I’ve been having a great time watching “A year in a Forest Garden” from Martin Crawford at Agroforestry, and it’s been giving me lots of ideas for new plants to try. One I’ve ordered is Claytonia Sibirica, or “Siberian / Pink Purslane”.

Siberian purslane. Not from Siberia, this North American short-lived perennial grows 20 cm high in any moist soil in sun or part or full shade. The leaves are edible, raw (an excellent salad plant – beet flavour) or cooked, and the plant can be used for ground cover – it self-seeds freely. Hardy to -35ºC.

Plants for a Future have more info on it:

  • “It is in leaf all year, in flower from April to July, and the seeds ripen from June to August. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, flies. The plant is self-fertile.”
  • It seems to handle any soil and shade situation, as long as it is not too wet.
  • The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. “They usually have a fairly bland flavour and are quite nice in a salad or cooked as a green vegetable”
  • I particularly like their cultivation notes. It just sounds too good to be true – I’ll have to give it a go:

A very tolerant and easily grown plant, it prefers a moist peaty soil and is unhappy in dry situations. It succeeds in full sun though is happier when given some shade and also grows in the dense shade of beech trees. Plants usually self-sow freely. This is an excellent and trouble-free salad plant. It is extremely cold-hardy and can provide edible leaves all year round in all areas of the country even if it is not given protection.

Now I just have to sow some. Apparently it can be sown in spring or autumn, in situ. I’m planning to put it in a shady spot under the Aquaponic growbeds in the polytunnel so I’ll have to see whether their spot is ready before winter really gets going. If not, they can wait until spring – apparently they germinate quickly.

Planting our tomato seeds

We’ve been taking (false) hope from all these false springs and started our January plantings with tomatoes. Planted them in little seed trays in an unheated propagator on January 24th on a beautiful south-facing windowsill and here’s the result two weeks later:

They are Beefsteak tomatoes “Big Boy” and Sweet Olive cherry tomatoes, and have been going really well. They survived a week of us being on holiday and a couple of days ago were ready to be potted up. I really wanted them to go straight into the polytunnel, but that is still dropping to near freezing overnight, so now we have them lined up along the windowsill in the kitchen

Before potting up:

And all the beefsteak seedlings, now without propagator lids, on a slightly cooler windowsill:

We didn’t have space, or enough pots, for the sweet olive tomatoes – they’ll have to hang on for another week or so.

Feels great to be growing seedlings again!

Our Seed Potatoes ready for chitting

Another great step here at the Eco-House, chitting our first potatoes!

We’ve been collecting eggboxes for a little while now so we’d be ready, and today I took the kids out to the Hulme Garden Centre in advance of this Sunday’s Potato Day. Here’s our haul, all ready to “chit”:

I got a whole range of different ones to try, to try and liven up one of our less exciting, but important, crops:

Swift – First Early

Pink Fir Apple – Salad Variety

Maris Peer – Second Early

Setanta – Highly Blight Resistant Maincrop

Kestrel – Second Early

Sarpo Mira – Blight Resistant Maincrop

Sarpo Axona – Blight Resistant Maincrop

Salad Blue – Blue-fleshed Salad Potato



Our new Orchard

I’m really keen to have as many permanent plantings as possible – I don’t want to be dependant on my year-in, year-out digging skills – so we’re putting in a nice compact orchard. This should give us most of our fruit once it gets going, and then I just have to worry about the veg.

After much deliberation, we’ve finally ordered the trees, and they’ll be here in early December – plenty of time for us to dig their new beds. We’ve ordered them from the excellent Agroforestry Research Trust and here’s what we’re getting:

Apple Trees

These are £14.30 each, and are all on M26 rootstock except for the Sanspareil, which is on the smaller M27. The Semi-Dwarfing M26 should produce trees 2.5-3.5m high, and the Dwarfing M27 only 1.5-2m.

The descriptions from Agroforestry are excellent, so I’ve reproduced them below so that I don’t forget! I tried to get a mix of good-keeping eating & cooking apples plus apples for cider and juice.

  • Ashmeads Kernel: Dessert apple. Pick October, use Dec-Feb+. Flower group D. Fruit medium-sized, greenish-yellow with some russet. Flesh aromatic, excellent flavour. Tree moderately vigorous. Also used for cider & juice.
  • Braeburn: Dessert apple. Pick Oct, use Oct-Feb. Flower group D. Good crisp flavour – new clone suitable for planting in the UK. Good crops of medium size red fruits.
  • Dabinett: Cider apple. Very reliable, producing a high quality juice.
  • Golden Harvey: Dessert apple. Pick October, use Dec-Mar. Flower group D. Fruit round, golden; flesh aromatic with an intense rich flavour. Tree vigorous, good cropper. Good cider & juice apple.
  • Howgate Wonder: Cooking apple. Pick October, use Nov-March. Flower group C. Large fruits, good for juice & cider. Vigorous tree, heavy cropping.
  • Keswick Codlin: Cooking apple. Pick & use Aug-Sept. Flower group B. Medium sized greenish-yellow fruit, cooks to a good puree. Tree has ornamental flowers. Part self fertile.
  • Sanspareil: Dual purpose apple. Pick October, use Nov-April. Flower group C. Large fruit flushed & streaked scarlet. Flesh juicy, crisp, aromatic, good balanced fruity flavour. Also used cooked. Heavy cropper with ornamental flowers.
  • Saturn: Dual purpose apple. Pick & use Sept-Oct. Flower group C. Large fruit with crisp juicy flesh of good refreshing flavour. Good for juice. Tree heavy cropping,

Pear Trees

Also £14.30 each, the Concorde on Quince A (4.5m high) rootstock, and the Williams Bon Chretien on Quince C (4m high).

  • Concorde: Dessert pear. Pick October, use Oct-Jan. Flower group E. Fruit medium-large, pale green turning yellow. Flesh pale yellow, sweet and juicy. Very heavy cropping, compact grower. Quince A rootstock produces trees about 15 ft (4.5m) high.
  • Williams Bon Chretien: Dessert pear. Pick & use Aug-Sept. Flower group D. Fruit medium-large, pale green turning golden yellow. Flesh very juicy and sweet. Self-fertile.

Plums & Gages

Again, £14.30 each, all on Pixy rootstock, which’ll limit them to 3.5-4m.

  • Marjorie’s Seedling: September-October. Flower group E (psf). Fruit large, flesh firm, juicy, quite sweet, good flavour, hangs well on tree, good cooked. Tree vigorous, upright, heavy cropping.
  • Victoria: August-September. Flower group C (sf). Large fruit of good flavour fresh or cooked. Tree very heavy cropping, hardy, vigorous, a good pollinator.
  • Oullins Golden Gage: August. Flower group D (psf). Yellow fruit, flesh firm, sweet, good flavour, also good cooked. Tree large, vigorous, upright, fair cropper, good pollinator.

Peach

Grown on St Julian A rootstock, it’ll get to 3.5-4m high, and cost – £14.30!

  • Redwing:  Fruits very dark red, superb flavour, late flowering, bears good crops. This variety has some resistance to peach leaf curl. The late flowering means it’s more suitable to our northerly climate!

Raspberry

Not strictly for the orchard, but we’ll be planting them at the same time. They are sold at £12.65 for a pack of 10. We’ve tried to go for a good range of fruiting times so that we have the longest possible season – I love raspberries!

  • Autumn Bliss: Ripens mid-August onwards. Heavy crops of large red fruits. Canes medium high – easy to support.
  • Allgold: Autumn fruiting. Recent variety with yellow fruits – less likely to be eaten by the birds!
  • Glen Moy: Early season. Canes erect, spineless. Bears good crops of easily picked large fruits of good flavour.
  • Tulameen: Mid and late season. Fruits very large, good quality. Canes with few spines.

So that gives you a flavour of what we’ll be planting in early December – at the moment the places they’ll be planted are full of grass or ornamental shrubs. If anyone want a free mature shrub, come down and bring a spade!

    Redwing / St Julian

    Fruits very dark red, superb flavour, late flowering, bears good crops. This variety has some resistance to peach leaf curl.

    First frost in Manchester

    This morning we awoke to the first frost of the season, which probably means it’s our first frost for about six years. I just thought it was worth recording the date so we can use it to plan next year’s planting and harvesting.

    For the record, the forecast was 2°C !

    Our October / Autumn Planting List

    Seems like an obvious thing to have in one place, but I’ve been struggling to find a good planting list for October (or the rest of Autumn for that matter) So here’s what we’re planting:

    Purple Sprouting Broccoli

    I thought we’d missed the boat on this one, as you usually have to sow seed a lot earlier in the year, but I spotted some seedlings at the Altrincham Wyevale Garden Centre and thought we’d give it a go.  They were sold as twelve seedlings for £2.99, were already a reasonable size and seem to be thriving. We’ve planted them 12″ apart, as per the instructions in “How to Grow More Veg” in our double-dug allotment-style bed. Apparently they should be ready to harvest in 34-36 weeks. We planted them on the 6th of October, so I’ll see how accurate that is when we get to harvest time.

    Garlic – Early Purple Wight

    This is one of the earliest varieties – as discussed in my aged post on 18 different varieties of Garlic. We got ours from the local Homebase – £1.99 for a large bulb. They can be planted September to November and should be ready for harvest from May-August, a couple of weeks after the leaves yellow and die back. We bought two bulbs, and they have split into 20 good-sized cloves.

    Red Onions – Electric

    Another one of our purchases from the Altrincham Wyevale, 100 bulbs (“sets”) for £3.49. We’ve planted all of these in the allotment bed, the packet says you can plant them from August onwards, and that they are an “Over-wintering” set. It’ll be interesting to see what yield we get – 100 red onions could last us all year! It doesn’t say when to expect the harvest – just to wait until the tops start to die back. We’re planting sets rather than seed as they are apparently a lot more reliable. Not a very resilient solution though, so maybe we’ll try and harvest some seed for next year’s crop.

    White Onions – Senshyu

    Also from the Altrincham Wyevale, 100 sets for £3.49 again. These haven’t gone in the ground yet as we’ve run out of space in our single bed. Time for some more digging I think!

    Autumn Planting Pea – Twinkle

    This was a bit of an impulse buy at Wyevale. And the thing I hadn’t spotted on the label was the crucial “protect from frost”, so they haven’t been planted in the ground, but in pots that can be taken into the polytunnel when it gets frosty (assuming we ever get the polythene on the tunnel!). I don’t rate their chances of lasting the winter, so we may have to build them a cloche or a coldframe.

    Broad Beans – Sutton & Aquadulce Claudia

    All of the gardening magazines are listing these as things to plant now, so I got some as we were passing the seed aisle in B&Q. They haven’t gone in the ground yet – no space! But that’s ok, as the packets say to plant them Nov-Dec, with harvesting from April (Sutton) and May (Aquadulce Claudia). The Sutton beans suggest they need a cloche too – looks like I might be busy trying to work out how to make cloches!

    Thats all that’s going in for us this autumn – I’ll let you know how we get on.

    Starting our “allotment”

    Purple Sprouting BroccoliOK, don’t get too excited, we haven’t got to the top of the 15-year queue for allotments. What we are doing is starting to turn large amounts of turf into productive garden beds. In addition to the Aquaponics system we have in our polytunnel, we are going to have eight conventional allotment-style beds. Each will be 5’x20′ and we’re going to try the planting styles detailed in the excellent “How to Grow More Vegetables: And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than You Can Imagine“. This means we’re planting a lot closer together than the instructions on the packets, and we’re not planting in widely spaced rows.

    According to the book, this should give us maximum yields with minimum weeding and we should be able to reach every plant in the 5-foot wide beds without walking on the beds at all. The downside? It’s all about the soil! So that means digging . . . lots of digging. And compost . . . lots of compost.

    Luckily we seem to have really good, deep topsoil. From digging the holes for the sumps in our aquaponics system I know it goes down about three feet. Unluckily it has had turf on it for a long time and so it is incredibly solid – too compacted to consider planting into, and it’s causing real drainage problems. So, we dig, and dig, and dig. The book calls for double-digging which is hard work but at the end of it the difference is amazing. These big thick slices that we’re levering up break apart into a beautiful fine soil and with plenty of compost mixed through it is finally possible to think of this piece of ex-lawn as a possible vegetable garden.

    The hardest bit is getting rid of the turf. Lifting and shifting it took far more time than doing the eventual digging so we’re going to have to work out a better way to do that. The result is a little underwhelming, but we’re happy with it:

    Allotment bed

    That’s half of one of the eight beds – it’s 10’x5′, fully double-dug with a couple of big bags of compost dug through for good measure. We’re now planting it up with over-wintering onions (red and white), garlic, and purple-sprouting broccoli. This is our first real go at growing our own food, so wish us luck! Hopefully the slugs haven’t eaten it all yet!