Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Legume tally, first signs of allium growth

Eleven out of eighteen broad beans have produced seedlings so far, the biggest being about three inches tall now. Forty out of sixty peas have also emerged.

One of the onions had half an inch of green shoot when it was planted, and that one is about two inches tall now. Three other onions are showing a new green tip emerging or about to start. One of the garlics has risen up half out of the soil - I couldn't see any signs of animal digging around it, so I'm hoping it is being pushed upwards by its own root growth.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Tree felling

...and after.
There were two sycamore trees, about 25' and 30' tall, at the bottom of the garden. They weren't blocking the light too badly, but they grow fast and would have become a problem. I decided to cut them down, and managed to fell them just where I wanted them. If they had fallen too far to the left, they could have damaged the blackcurrant or the peas, and too far to the right would have put them onto the roof of my neighbours' outbuilding. Fortunately it all went to plan - another job done.

By next winter, the trunks should be dry enough to cut up and burn in the fireplace, so they're free fuel as well. This year I'm using old, dry boughs from the much bigger sycamores visible at the very end of the garden. They are covered in ivy, and I've cut most of the ivy stems at the bottom of the trunk so that the plants die and the leaves fall off, to give more early morning light to the garden. Unfortunately, while cutting the thickest ivy stem, I broke the bow saw I'd borrowed from a neighbour. I'll have to replace the blade, and it means I didn't get to finish the job, which has slightly taken the shine off today.

Update: Tony was great about the broken blade, he just replaced it and lent me the saw again. I finished off the ivy and (very carefully!) cut up more dry boughs for fire-logs.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Bean seedling; onions under attack

Broad bean seedling, 14 days after planting
The largest of the eight broad bean seedlings.
Today I found that one of the onion sets had been dug up, by a person or persons unknown. Possibly a squirrel, possibly a bird. It was lying a few inches from the hole it came from, undamaged as far as I could see. There were numerous small roots which had developed since it was planted, and I tried not to damage these when I replaced it in the hole and firmed up the earth around it.

Garden layout

Here is an updated garden layout diagram, showing the new blackcurrant and other features such as the former site of a shed, now just slabs, and the compost heap.

For the thrill-seekers, here is a picture of the compost heap:

Compost heap.

Monday, 17 October 2011


I took advantage of an end-of-season sale, and got this small plastic greenhouse for £17.

At the top, a small raspberry plant, the next shelf down is occupied by the herbs, and at the bottom are three chilli plants and a bag of compost.

The nights are getting colder now, and I hope this will be enough protection for the herbs over the winter.

In the garden, the rye in bed four doesn't seem to be growing, and the cabbage seedlings look a bit forlorn too. More broad bean shoots are poking out now, however.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Winter salads in, blackcurrant planted

Blackcurrant 'Ebony'
Bed five now has lamb's lettuce and land cress planted - two rows of each. The blackcurrant has been planted too, with plenty of compost and some slow-release fertiliser in a hole much larger than the root ball.

The seedlings spotted yesterday are definitely cabbages, they are in neat rows where I planted them, and several more peas are showing. One broad bean seedling is just poking out of the soil too.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Alliums in, and seedlings spotted

Bed seven has now been planted with onion sets (senshyu yellow) and garlic (Avignon), half the bed for each. I planted the onions in four rows, the first two at a spacing of 10cm apart in rows 10cm apart. These looked a bit cramped, and I also didn't have enough onions to fill the remaining quarter of the bed, so the last two rows are 12cm apart and have onions spaced at 12cm in the row. I'll see which do better. The sets varied in size considerably - the smallest were less than 2cm high, and the largest about 4cm. I tried to mix large and small ones evenly over the area.

The garlic had huge cloves, and I had half a bed (about 6' by 2') for them, so I planted them about 20cm apart. The two bulbs of garlic had about a dozen cloves each, but a couple were withered or mouldy, so I ended up planting 21.

While doing some inspection and hand-weeding of beds one and three (legumes and brassicas) I found two pea shoots starting to poke out of the soil, and about ten of what I think are the cabbages (although I could be mistaken, maybe they're weeds.) No sign of the broad beans yet, but they are planted deeper than the peas, and may be slower to show. Those two beds, and the alliums, are covered with garden fleece. I hope this will speed their early growth and keep cats and birds off them.

The first sowing of rye now has quite a few blades 2-4" tall, and the second sowing has started to show some root growth. (Beds two and four, respectively).

Rye in bed two

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


Mint, sage, oregano, and rosemary (and some kale seedlings).
A neighbour kindly took me along on a trip to a garden centre, and I did reasonably well at not buying things on impulse. I had these herbs on my list, and I also intended to buy a blackcurrant bush, which I did. Only a couple of packets of seeds came along to the till with me out of exuberance - turnips and lamb's lettuce. Oh, and some land cress, which is apparently like water cress but doesn't need running water to grow in. I got that because the packet claims it grows in shady places, and not many edible things do that - most prefer full sun or only partial shade.

Monday, 10 October 2011

First phase of digging beds finished

A marathon digging session today, doing all of beds seven and eight in one go. I was knackered when I had finished, but pleased that the initial phase of digging is done.

Next job: planting the onions and garlic.

Since the weather is good and there isn't much else to do, I may add a few further beds before frost sets in. Average first frost around here is mid-October, but there's no sign of any yet - night time temperatures haven't been lower than 5ºC, and mostly they've been much higher, as much as 13 to 15ºC.

Mistaken identity

Adult cockchafer
Those horrible looking larvae aren't stag beetles at all. I found a couple of adult beetles today, and they're cockchafers. This is not good news, as they eat the roots of various plants, especially the grass family - including rye.

I found several dozen of the grubs in different stages of development while digging all the beds, which seems to be a bad infestation.

Update: According to advice received on the excellent Grow Your Own forum, they are not a major problem for vegetable beds, as they tend to move away from cultivated soil (although they are very destructive of lawns.) Phew!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Beds five and six

In progress...
... and finished.
Beds five and six are done now, and with the help of the soil sieve the top 6" or so are largely stone-free. The soil is soft and well-aerated, with some structure - it forms crumbs about the size of a pea quite easily. Looking at descriptions of soil types in a gardening book I think it counts as a sandy loam.

The first signs of germination of the rye appeared today - a lot of the seeds have sprouted tiny roots. There is no sign that birds or mice have eaten any, so I sowed bed four with the rest of the rye.

I have marked out the last two beds with string, and I will plant them with alliums as soon as they've been dug. Beds seven and eight are noticeably sunnier than five and six, so the alliums are going in those. I need to find plants that can be sown now, and don't require full sunlight, to go in five and six. If there's nothing suitable I may sow more rye, or try another green manure crop.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Modified plan

Bed one now has 60 peas in two rows, and I've planted cabbage seeds in half of bed three. Having done that, I realised that 6' x 6' is too wide, and it is going to be difficult to get to the plants in the middle.

I've modified the plan for the higher area, beds five to eight, and I am going to make them only 4' wide. I'm also going to leave a small path in the middle to make access easier, so the new plan looks like this. Having a path between beds six and seven also means that I can grade and plant five and six before having to dig the last two, which is good because I have some Japanese onions and garlic which I want to put in soon.

Yesterday I bought a soil sieve, which speeds up the stone removal process, and leaves a lovely fine tilth, which will be good for the alliums and also for carrots.

Another job done today was removing the large sapling near bed one - I thought it was a maple, but in fact it was a sycamore. I was thinking of planting a hazelnut tree there, but reading up on them I find that they are self-infertile, so I would need two. There are also a lot of squirrels in the neighbourhood, so it might be a lot of money and effort with no crop to show for it. This part of the plan requires further thought, but there's no hurry - I don't think this is the right time of year for planting new trees.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

First sowing

Bed one now has 18 broad beans, bed two planted with rye.
Yesterday I finished digging the first patch. Bed four was easier than the others after a small amount of rain softened the turf. I tried grading the whole area (making it level and even), and found that I hadn't dug bed one properly.

Today I forked over bed one, to remove roots and stones, and put string up to show the boundaries.

I decided to change the plan described in the last post. Initially I was going to put rye in beds one and three, thinking that because they are sunniest, I would improve the soil over winter with the green manure crop, and then plant my favourite veg in them. I changed my mind, because the whole area is reasonably sunny, and this is likely to be more of a constraint for winter crops. I also decided to put the brassicas in bed three, because it is more sheltered and they can suffer from too much wind, particularly in light soil. The new plan is thus:

  1. Legumes, initially broad beans (Aguadulce) and peas (Meteor).
  2. Winter grazing rye, a green manure.
  3. Brassicas, initially kale (Nero di Toscana) and cabbage (Advantage F1).
  4. Winter grazing rye.

I have planted 18 broad beans in bed one, and scattered rye on bed two. I will see if the rye germinates before planting more in bed four, as I want to see if birds come and eat it before planting all my seeds.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Third bed

I've drawn a diagram (not very accurately) of the layout I want to make - the eastern beds (1-4) at the bottom of the garden are on slightly lower ground, and receive the best of the sunlight, so I've started there. So far 1-3 are de-turfed and have had the bigger pebbles removed. Tomorrow I intend to dig and de-pebble bed 4,  and grade the whole patch. That'll be a big job, but I can't plant in any of them until it's done. After that, I'll sow seeds in all four beds:

  1. Winter grazing rye, a green manure.
  2. Brassicas, initially kale (Nero di Toscana) and cabbage (Advantage F1).
  3. Winter grazing rye.
  4. Legumes, initially broad beans (Aguadulce) and peas (Meteor).

The kale should have been sown by the end of September according to the packet, but with the weather being very warm (and forecast to stay warm for a while) it should be OK, I hope. That's why I'm in a hurry to get the first four beds dug, de-pebbled, and graded.

I'm not sure yet about the higher section (beds 5-8) - I will probably plant alliums, try to prepare a bed for potatoes, and do at least one and maybe two more beds of rye. This is just a place-holder and soil improver until it's time for the main planting season in Spring.

Horrible looking thing, with glove finger for scale.

De-turfing the third bed today, I saw  more ants than in either of the first two beds, and I saw black ants among the red ones. Some ants steal the pupae of nearby ant colonies of different species, and when they hatch the abducted ants work in the abductors' colony. I assume that's what happened here.

Right in the middle of the ant colony, among all the eggs and grubs, I found this horrible looking thing. Looking at images of larvae on the web, I think it was a stag beetle larva. I say was, because it was gone by the time I'd taken the camera back inside - I expect a bird ate it. I'm sorry about that, because they're a declining species.

Sunday, 2 October 2011


The ants make the digging less fun. When I dig into a part of an ant nest, the first thing that happens is that lots of little ants run around, taking eggs and grubs away from the disturbance and further underground. These ones are about 4 mm long. As the digging goes on, the little ants vanish and and bigger, slightly darker ants appear. These are about 7-8 mm long, and they mill about on the surface within a few feet of the place where the nest was disturbed. If I keep standing on the same spot for more than ten seconds or so, they find me and begin climbing up my boots. They also end up on my hands, because I've been picking up the lumps of grass to shake the earth out of them - I want to get rid of the couch grass but keep as much of the soil as possible.

They have quite a nasty sting - it feels like a first degree burn, where the skin turns red and painful, but doesn't blister. The red patch is a bit smaller than a 5p piece, and the burning sensation slowly fades over about 6-8 hours. It is considerably worse than a nettle but nowhere near so painful as a wasp sting.

Because of this aggressive defence, today I just dug away the ant hill seen in the photo in yesterday's post. I thought I'd just remove that bit, and then go away while the soldier ants milled about. With luck that will reduce the amount of ant activity when I dig over bed number three.

Saturday, 1 October 2011


The garden as it was initially
This is a blog for recording my progress in turning a long-neglected garden into a vegetable plot.

The part which receives the most sunlight is shown in its original state, as it was when I moved in. The area is very uneven, due to the presence of many red ants who have made ant hills everywhere, and the vegetation is mostly couch grass, which is notoriously hard to get rid of.
The soil is very light in texture, that is to say that the particles are large (mostly sand, not silt or clay). This makes it easy to dig, but rain sinks through it very quickly and leaches out nutrients. The pH is 7.0, so it is neither acid nor alkaline, which should suit most vegetables.

Post-strimming, with two beds dug.
I got someone in to strim the area, and cut back the large Buddleia bushes and brambles in the soon-to-be-vegetable plot. It made the area look enormous. Gulp!

Before winter sets in, I hope to dig eight 6' by 6' beds, in two strips of four - there is a noticeable change in ground level where the apple tree is, so I will have an upper area and a lower one.

Here are the first two dug, and a third area also marked out with string. Notice the large ant-hill in the un-dug third bed. There were only a few ants in the nearest bed, but I saw a lot more digging the second.