Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Green manure

Green manure, cut and ready to dig in
The potatoes currently chitting on the windowsill are going to go into beds two and four, where I was experimenting with green manure. The forage rye I grew there got to about 6" high, growing quite thickly over the area. It needs to be dug in about 4-6 weeks before the following crop, so today I cut it down with shears. I'll let it wilt for a few days, then dig the beds over.

I don't think it was worth it in terms of time and money - the soil appears to be in good condition and green manure is really a treatment for heavy clay soils or nutrient-poor soils, so I think I just made a couple of extra tasks for myself. Next year I doubt I'll bother with green manure.

Murdah, Holmes!?

Just before I left on Thursday, a parcel containing ten strawberry plants arrived in the post. I followed the instructions and soaked the roots, then placed them in shallow holes loosely covered in soil, to keep them damp until I got back.

Sadly, there wasn't anything left when I went to plant them out - a few shreds of leaf was all that remained. Something had dug them all up and eaten them.

Cauli and turnip seedlings, garlic growth

Cauliflower seedlings, 12 days old
After a few days  away, the first of the seeds have started putting forth shoots in the paper pots. As I feared, they were quite dried out by the time I got back, but not fatally I hope. So far most of the cauliflowers have appeared, and a few of the turnips are also visible.

14-week old garlic plants

The most successful of the 2011 sowing has been the garlic - pictured here after 14 weeks in the soil. The onions are less vigorous, but still growing. The kale and cabbages are mostly holding on, but not growing very strongly, and a few have been eaten, probably by pigeons. The autumn planting of broad beans and peas appears to have perished entirely.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

More early planting

Pots with germinating seeds
A few days ago I watched 'Fort Apache', and while doing so I rolled another 70-odd paper pots.

Today I sowed more seeds, again varieties which should be started in March, but I'm taking a chance that the weather will continue mild. I've only done small batches of each, so I have plenty more seeds if these ones are killed by a hard frost.

The varieties are:
  • 6x Spinach Samich F1
  • 6x Beetroot Chioggia Pink
  • 6x Basil Lettuce Leaf
  • 12x Turnip Rubin
  • 12x Cabbage Greyhound
To replace the original planting of broad beans, which I don't think will recover from the frost, I've planted six more of the Aguadulce variety in peat pots, also in the greenhouse, and six directly into bed five, since the lamb's lettuce there seems not to have germinated.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Tuber Mirum

Watching... waiting...
No sooner had I finished the paper pots and had a cup of tea, there was a knock on the door and my seed potatoes had arrived. (They were brought by a courier man in a van, obviously, they didn't make their own way here.)

 Checking on the excellent Grow Your Own forum, it seems that many gardeners have already started chitting their potatoes. Apparently, at the very least this prevents mould and weak, white, spindly shoots, and may also increase yield and shorten the time until the spuds are ready to lift. So I put them out in egg-boxes on a cool, well-lit, airy window sill. The sheet of advice that came with the potatoes said to place them 'blunt end' up, but I'd read somewhere that you place them with the majority of eyes uppermost. This was easier than trying to decide which was the blunt end. I think the potatoes have already decided which way they want to grow - one end usually has many spiky little eyes, and the other end usually has one, which looks different. I expect that one is the bud of the tap-root.

There are two varieties of potatoes here, Epicure, which is a first early (ready as soon as June, possibly), and King Edward, which is a maincrop, cropping from August. I got a 1.5 Kg bag of each variety, and that came to 23 Epicure and 24 King Edward.

Busy morning

Making paper pots
First batch - leeks, cauliflowers, and two varieties of peas
Since the weather is very mild at the moment, and the long-term forecast says it will probably continue mild, I decided to try getting some veg off to an early start. I chose things that are supposed to be planted in March, and will keep them in the greenhouse for the first month or two. The veg chosen for this early experiment are leeks (Carlton F1), cauliflowers (All the Year Round), and two varieties of peas (Early Onward and Greenshaft).

For Christmas I got a wooden tool for making biodegradable pots out of newspaper, pictured right. A strip of newspaper about 4" wide is wrapped round the top part with about 1.5" sticking out, which is folded under and crushed against the bottom part of the tool.

They seem to stay together quite well. Obviously they won't be very strong when wet, but I will be able to leave them in their trays until it's time to plant them out, when the pots will be transferred whole to the beds - no need to unwrap them, the newspaper will just decompose in the ground.

Since the volume of earth in each is quite small, and the paper will wick water away, there may be problems with them drying out. Time will tell.

Raspberry plant
I also planted out the raspberry I got from the neighbours. I put plenty of slow-release fertilizer pellets in the hole, to help it along.

Some raspberry varieties produce fruit on the new year's growth, and some on year-old wood - if mine is the latter I wont see any raspberries until 2013. Hope it's the former!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Lettuce bed

New bed, intended for lettuce
I finished digging a new bed today, which I'd started a while ago. Frost delayed more work for some time, but the last few days have been mild and the ground has now thawed out. This bed is intended for lettuce, rocket, and other salad leaves - it is more shaded than the other beds, and lettuce doesn't need full summer sun.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Leaf blowers = evil

Spring-tine rake. Low-tech and effective.
This is a miscellaneous rant, because there's not much to do in the garden at the moment. It's been too frosty recently, and there's now a couple of inches of snow over everything.

So, compare two instruments for sweeping up fallen leaves. The old-fashioned spring-tine rake, and the electric or petrol-driven leaf blower. I believe that the differences in these two tools illustrate many of the serious errors in our society's attitudes towards the environment, sustainability and human labour which are quite likely to lead to the collapse of civilisation.

The technology for making a rake has been around for about 3000 years, when wire was invented. Rows of wires are supported by a simple frame - pieces of metal with holes in them, also very low-tech, and attached to a stick - possibly the lowest technology tool there is. Rakes are simple, easy to produce and use, robust, and effective. Leaf blowers are constructed from dozens of plastic and metal parts, all of which are precision engineered, which has a high environmental cost. They cannot be made using simple metal- and wood-working skills, and all but the simplest repairs will require new parts sourced from the original manufacturer.

The first point of comparison is clearly in the rake's favour in terms of the environmental impact of construction, use, and maintainance.

The second point of comparison is in use - they do similar, but not identical tasks. The aim of each is to move leaves off lawns, but the action of the rake draws leaves towards the user, resulting in a pile which can be easily taken up and put in a wheelbarrow to take to the compost heap, or into sacks for rotting down as leafmold. The leaf blower blows leaves away from the user, and it is less easy, if not impossible, to make a tidy heap of leaves using one. Leaves are transformed into litter, to be whooshed away onto someone else's property, or the public street. By using a conceptually poor tool, a valuable resource is turned into a problem.

Bosch leaf blower. Worse in every respect.
Thirdly, the leaf-blower panders to the dangerous delusion of convenience - the idea that anything that reduces the expenditure of human muscular energy is a good thing, almost irrespective of the cost. In this case, the cost is in far higher environmental impact, and the transformation of a resource into a disposal problem. This is not worth paying for the highly questionable benefit of reducing the gentle exercise involved in raking to mere ambling about holding a gizmo.

Developing leaf blowers was thus a totally misguided project, giving a higher environmental cost, to do a worse job, of less benefit to the user and the land so managed.