Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Fantastic 'Countrytastic', and Malvern Gardening Show preview

hot hazy sunshine as families descend on the Malvern Showground for an enjoyable hands-on countryside day out at the Three Counties Showground in Malvern
Watching the happy faces of so many young children enjoying the activities at 'Countrytastic' on the Malvern Showground was a real treat; seeing families participating in all that was available on such a hot and sunny day. Seeds to sow; craft activities to try; understanding the farming year (with the NFU); food to make, taste and enjoy with the Slow Food UK; poultry pens and dozens of farm animals that children were encouraged to pet and even cuddle. Aimed mainly at the under tens, it was good to learn about the West Midlands Care Farming movement, which offers opportunities to young people aged 8-19 (included youth) who have found traditional classroom education a struggle.

learning to sow seeds (and label them!)
Indeed, so committed are they to education and learning that TCAS (Three Counties Agricultural Society) produce a 'Discovery Zone' newsletter outlining all the cross-curricular educational resources available to teachers, including regular professional development days - this year at the Malvern Spring Gardening Show (May) and Three Counties Show (June) plus their ongoing year-round projects such as school gardens.

it's a building site right now - but come May 12th, this space (and many similar) will have been transformed into one of the 'Mentoring Scholarship' Show Gardens
The Malvern Spring Gardening Show (12th-15th May) attracts visitors passionate about gardening from far further afield than the 'three counties'. A short walk across the Showground from 'Countrytastic' and I was chatting to designers slaving under a blistering sun to build their show gardens. Amazing what three short weeks will bring forth: from building site to gardens that delight and inspire. Few as yet had plants 'installed', and this seems to be the year of garden structures; intriguing. The Show itself has many new features for 2011 including the 'Garden in Harmony Theatre' and 'Landscaping Live'. Then within the 50-acre showground, you will also find over 100 nurseries displaying and selling plant in the 'Floral Marquee' (many more plant stalls outdoors), the 'Eco Home & Garden Area' (green living), shopping - 700 stands, and the Bradstone-sponsored 'Chris Beardshaw Mentoring Scholarship'. See the would-be scholars' atom-themed show gardens, and watch the live judging. I hope to be blogging live from the Show, WiFi signal permitting.

And now to a goodbye. Brian O'Donnell is leaving Dobies at the end of this week. It was Brian who asked me to set up this blog to augment the monthly e-newsletter; he has been a constant encouragement and support. As he moves on to pastures new, we wish him all the very best in his new job, and in his Devon garden.

Finally, thankyou to all the many readers who have read the 'serious' post last week about the potential threat to allotments and wildlife; signing petitions does help, and it's good to have the opportunity to 'have one's say.'

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Your help URGENTLY needed

This is serious! There are two pieces of Parliamentary legislation currently under consideration, both of which will affect gardeners: allotments and wildlife protection / climate change. Please take a look at the following websites. We urge you to read and consider the implications, then if you wish, petition, email or whatever else is asked, to safeguard ourselves and our children, grandchildren and future generations.

Allotments: "The government has decided to undertake a 'Review of statutory duties' with the aim of reducing the burden on local authorities. However they are considering removing the statutory duty to provide sufficient number of allotments for people in the area who want one. This would have the effect of putting all allotments under threat. There is a consultation process but it closes on 25th April 2011 so you need to ACT NOW and let the politicians know that allotments are important and should be protected." Written by John Harrison in his allotment diary. He urges you to email your comments before  next Wednesday to this address. But if you don't have time, sign the petition being organised by City Cottage.

Environment: On Monday, it was revealed that the government might scrap vital laws which protect wildlife and the countryside (the Wildlife and Countryside Act) and help to stop climate change (the Climate Change Act). "We need to work together to make sure our wildlife, our countryside and our planet are protected", says the 'people, power, change' group, 38 Degrees. It only takes a few seconds to add your name to their petition. Just click here

Writing personally, with tongue in cheek, and whilst acknowledging the severe lack of government funds (politics aside) - perhaps politicians don't have time to garden! So probably they just don't realise the benefits of growing our own food, being 'green'; maybe as they "busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels", they have lost the home plot, the garden plot. And they are probably unaware that gardeners save NHS costs, for gardening aids health. As author Donald Norfolk (a Fellow of the Royal Society of Health) wrote in 'The Therapeutic Garden': "dedicated to my green-fingered patients, who inspired me to write this book when I noticed that their love of gardening seemed to imbue them with an above average level of cheerfulness, contentment and physical fitness." The book is a collection of fascinating and illuminating essays and well worth reading, whether you are a politician or not. Copies can be obtained second-hand from Amazon. (Just enter author and title.)

As ordinary 'Jo Public', and a gardener, your opinion DOES count. The public's petitioning to save the sell-off of Forestry Commission woodland worked (via 38 Degrees), and the Government reversed their decision.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Vegetables in Small Spaces

an area of my garden, laid down to metre-wide beds, mostly two metres in length and packed with produce

Gardening by the "square  metre" is a simple, easy-to-follow concept that allows you to squeeze more produce into small spaces. Basically, you sow crops closer together - a higher density in any give area. Vegetables, salads, herbs and other edibles - whether annual or perennial - are planted in beds no more than  a metre (39 inches) wide. Beds can be square, but need not be; raised or at ground level. It's not the length that is important, but the WIDTH. 'Square-Metre Gardening' is also a no-dig technique, once it's set up, unless you neglect the beds! You can tend and reach produce from either side of any metre-wide bed; as plants are grown closer together, weeding is reduced and because you do not ever step on the growing area, soil is not compacted. Fertility is built up by the annual addition of compost. It's a technique you can use in garden or allotment, and one I have followed for many years.

the new area which is to take four raised beds (see below) - at the initial stage of removing all weed and digging the area that will become the potager

I was reading 'Organic No-dig, No-Weed Gardening' in the late 80s when coincidentally I adapted my plot to a raised-bed square-metre (square-foot) system. It was one of those 'Eureka!' moments when everything fell into place. In fact, I'm creating my latest potager (my fourth) using four Link-a-Bord square beds and principles I've been following now for nearly a quarter of a century.

weed cleared, and the area pegged out (the paper represents the beds; an easier way of 'planning' before assembling the kits

Where to begin: Clear the ground of all weeds and dig or fork it over (no more digging after this!) - then peg out the beds, allowing space for paths. Paths can be laid slabs, positioned over weed control fabric; or if you prefer, cover the fabric with bark mulch or gravel, or leave it as is. Bare earth is a poossibility, kept weed-free by hoeing. Raised beds are ideal if your natural soil is heavy or very stony - but you'll need to fill them with compost, which adds to the cost. I use bags of 'multipurpose' mixed with soil-based John Innes no.3, bulked up with spent compost from last year's grow-bags and well rotted straw from the chicken shed - plus my own home-made mulch from the compost heap.

listing seeds and planning what will fit where

Now comes the fun: allocating all the seeds to their positions, in blocks or rows (pre-planned in the living room), sowing them, with protection from inquisitive wildlife; and waiting for them to grow! Even if you do not wish to adapt your entire vegetable plot to a 'square-metre' scenario, you could at least use the technique for seedbeds and a 'nursery' area for bringing on plug plants, or even trialing small quantities of a range of varieties, as I have just done with my square of alliums. Oh, and if you're just starting on your first year of growing vegetables, do get hold of 'No-nonsense Vegetable Gardening' by Christine Walkden; only just published, I wish I'd had a copy when I began my gardening adventures.

paths laid and beds assembled - the two on the left are filled with compost (my own and purchased from the local garden-centre); two beds are planted - one with alliums, the others with beans; and various pots and structures are starting to appear

With all the work outside, my Potager Diary is still in note form; I'll post the most recent pages as soon as they are finished. How good to be in the garden, growing the things we love to eat; I'll certainly cram all I can into the available space. 

Thursday, 7 April 2011

'Doing the Continental'

My mention in last week's e-newsletter of 'Twelve - a Tuscan Cookbook' - had me thinking of food, and re-organising my potager plan to include 'Continentals'. Some, already ordered (potatoes), are now planted; or sown in the greenhouse (peas). Others are awaiting their turn to be sown in my raised beds, as yet to be assembled - when I've finished preparing the 8ft x 8ft (2.5metre-squared) patch where they are to be installed. I've ordered seeds: french beans, sugar pod peas, courgette, pumpkin, corn salad, rocket, artichoke and edible flowers; and plants of fennel, squash, climbing french beans, aubergine and asparagus crowns, to regain time lost over my belated start.

First early potatoes laid out in egg boxes in the greenhouse were by now well-chitted, and dry conditions during late March meant that the soil was in fine fettle, far earlier than in most years. A furrow was hoed out and the tubers laid at the bottom, about 45 cms (18ins) apart. The soil was raked back over the furrow and we await the first signs of emerging growth. Horticultural fleece will be needed on frosty nights. Can't wait to eat the first potato salad. Of course, if we didn't have the space, we could use planters.

And then I read that Dobies once again have topped the 'Best Buy' charts, in the April issue of Which? Gardening: two tomatoes received a 5-star Best Buy rating. So I ordered some tomato plants as well (Tomato Apero F1). There just won't be sufficient space in the potager for all these 'continentals' as well as everything else, so I'll have to make use of pots, planters and other containers, overspilling into other areas of the garden.

I've devoted quite a bit of greenhouse bench-space to the peas, but it really does give them a head-start. All you need are some trays and a length of plastic guttering cut into tray-lengths. Place compost into the base of the guttering, sow with pre-soaked peas, cover with more compost and a sprinkling of vermiculite, and for protection on cold nights, top with a piece of plastic DIY window-glazing (this also deters mice).

once the peas have four or five leaves, they can be planted out; use a draw-hoe to prepare a suitable 'channel' into which to slide the plants out of the guttering
Meanwhile the potager is taking shape: backtracking in time, my diary outlines some of the progress at the end of March - and I'm STILL digging out the wretched winter heliotrope. I suppose the best news is that all this activity and removal of so much undergrowth has not deterred the birds; they visit the feeders even whilst I am out there digging.

click on any page to view at a larger size

Next week I'll be covering 'square metre' gardening; ideal for small spaces, so do bookmark this blog so you don't miss the next phase of the 'potager progress'.