Saturday, 26 May 2012

The greening of late Spring

self-seeded honesty in the orchard will have beautiful seed heads in the Autumn
At last – sunshine! And warmth, sufficient to sit outside; sufficient for my courgette seeds to germinate in only a week after sowing. Foxgloves (Digitalis) in the courtyard potager are flowering, grown from plant plugs supplied last year; their tall green spikes ‘navigating’ towards the sun. Everywhere are the signs of a late Spring – a hum of bees in the orchard, and in the wild area by the ‘eco-garden’ a female blackbird collects a beakful of moss, tugging it from a thatch of over-wintered plant detritus. She hops into a tangle of honeysuckle growing through a Jargonelle pear. Cow parsley and honesty have colonized the space around a century-old fallen apple tree – a magnet for orange-tip butterflies. Wild flowers and weeds abound in this acre; tolerating their existence whilst keeping them under control benefits the garden, bio-diversity and the environment.

the Courtyard Potager two weeks ago; potatoes, salads and garlic thrive in the sunshine
The sheltered courtyard potager is flourishing: the potato and salad beds – now two-tier double depth – suit me fine; good for potatoes as they can be properly earthed up; we should be eating them soon. And did you know that if you select any ‘early’ variety, they mature in less time than maincrop and can even be planted in the Autumn to eat at Christmas? Fine for planters, too. I’m experimenting with potting-mixtures, having been given some by Dalefoot Composts to trial; peat-free: wool and bracken double-strength. (You can buy Dobies compost here.)

the salad bed last week (sparrows dust-bathed when the fleece was removed!)
Double-depth beds for salads was perhaps not quite such a good idea – they drain so well that it is difficult to keep the young seedlings growing to their maximum potential. And the day I forgot to cover the bed with fleece. the sparrows had a field-day amongst the newly emerging beet and spinach! I’ll have to re-sow and keep that part protected with twiggy prunings. But the radish (‘Jolly’), rocket (‘Runaway’) and ‘Greek’ Cress all sown on 21st April are doing really well in their mini-strips and already providing snippings for the salad bowl – ideal for cut-and-come again, as is the mixed lettuce which was sown much earlier under a cloche. The shallots, too, are at last ‘moving’; they did not like the cold and wet of early Spring.

digging out weed - before composting the annual weeds, the hens
will enjoy scratching through them - in their run, not on the plot 
I can never make sufficient of my own mulch, even though I compost everything I can. My bins work really well for soft prunings, vegetable waste from the kitchen, and weeds. Though not all weeds. Yesterday, whilst removing the spent purple-sprouting broccoli plants that have only just finished cropping, I dug over the bed to remove the annual red-deadnettle that I had left flowering to attract early insects. That, and other annual stragglers, went into one bucket, but the invasive perennial winter heliotrope that had wormed its way into the bed on creeping rootstock went into another, destined for the bonfire – productive of a potash-rich residue perfect for top-dressing.

two bean towers in place
The broccoli and weeds have denatured the soil – a top-up with compost was essential; for this is to be the ‘climbing bean’ bed (runners and French) this summer and should have had my own decomposed material dug into it, but supplies are short. So liquid seaweed feed and mulching will have to suffice for this year. I’ve divided the bed into four quadrants, with a tower in the middle of each, each formed from two purchased bent canes supported by a long upright in the middle. The whippy end of the bent canes do not quite reach into the bed, so I lashed them firmly to stakes (roofing batten offcuts) with hessian string – those knot-tying exercise of my Guiding days in the 1950s still come in handy!

four productive beds with their surrounding sheltering shrubbery
(taken this morning, Saturday 26th May, 2012)
I walk into this enclosed and protected patch . which a year ago was just an idea on paper. I touch the scented leaves of herbs, sit under a cloudless sky and make notes of more tasks: sow some annual flowers between the beans. Covering the soil surface with growth will eliminate the necessity for weeding. I contemplate the greening of this late Spring, and the joys of gardening in any productive plot. Contentment.

(All seed links are Dobies, but links provided to Dobies products are in many instances similar to what I use, but not identical; they are provided as a useful facility for readers.)

Friday, 18 May 2012

More Vegetable Heaven

After our ‘live’ posts from the Malvern Spring Garden Show, we bring you news of some exciting additions to the Dobies range of vegetable plants and seeds – all helping keen and dedicated gardeners to beat the spiraling cost of food, and to be able to eat produce that is tasty and totally fresh. Many of the new varieties are particularly colourful – you can adopt a painterly approach as well as a culinary one. Perfect for those who enjoy a mixed potager-style of producing food.

Or containers for that matter. Dobies have a world-exclusive on their Pepper ‘Sweet Sunshine’ – looks hot but isn’t! It can be grown outside the kitchen door in a hanging basket, window box or on a raised plant stand. With its trailing habit and vigorous growth, it will soon be producing masses of small tasty pointed fruits which ripen from mid-July through to the first frosts. Available as pot-ready plants – and with wicker basket as well if required.

Pots on the patio do not have to be confined to flowers! Vegetables can be just as attractive – but must be nurtured and not left to their own devices. All Dobies plants and seeds are supplied with excellent instructions for cultivating. Right now you can sow the new F1 Squash, ‘Butterbush’ – a compact cobnut-type British bred variety and an early cropper. Squash are becoming a bestseller in Dobies list, and no wonder, they are so versatile and suited to making soup, steaming or baking, and making sweet dishes as well.

Ideal for growing in a large pot, raised bed or open ground, the attractive Courgette  F1 ‘Piccolo’ is another summer delight; for it can be used as either a courgette when small or grown on as a baby marrow. Again British bred, its spine-free foliage will ease harvesting (no more scratched hands and arms!) The stripy fruit will endear it to children, who will hunt for the fruit and can be encouraged to let you know when it is ready for picking.

Have you tried Pak Choi? I have to admit that I haven’t but will be sowing the new F1 ‘Rubi’ which attracted so much attention at Malvern. Its looks alone would tempt you to plant it in potager or containers – or the flower border, for its unbelievably deep purple leaves (which change colour somewhat according to the amount of sunshine) literally glow. As to what you do with it, pick the young tender leaves for salads and stir fries, and use those grown to maturity as a cooked vegetable (somewhat like Chard) using both the leafy portions and the thick stalks and midribs.

Continuous Cropping: isn’t it frustrating when all the plants in a row or patch of veg mature almost simultaneously? Dobies have introduced the ingenious idea of ‘Continuity Collections’ for a number of vegetables, with varieties that can be harvested in succession. Perfect, too, for couples who do not need a large quantity of veg at any one time; as for families, double up on collections, and still take advantage of a continual – and much larger – supply. Dobies are offering ‘Triple’ packs of Broccoli, and also 'Continuity' Leeks – that valuable winter veg that can be sautéed, braised, or roast whilst also forming the basis of many a hearty soup.

Dobies will be having an even larger display of vegetables at the RHS Hampton Court Show, and WiFi permitting, we’ll blog live from there, too. But that’s not until July (3rd-8th), and meanwhile there’s gardening to be done.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Vegetable Heaven

Grafted Veg in the Dobies of Devon display at Malvern

Back at the 'Beat the Spiralling Cost of Food' Dobies of Devon display at the Malvern Spring Gardening Show this morning (stand OS564 in the Plant Pavilions opposite the Wye Hall), all remaining plant surprises were in position – no wonder they were kept under wraps last night; the weather was not conducive to ensuring that such magnificent grafted vegetables would still looking pristine this morning. And they were. Grafted aubergine ‘Scorpio’, grafted tomatoes ‘Conchita’, grafted peppers ‘Britney’ and Grafted Chillo ‘Medina’. Grafted vegetables are not in any way genetically modified but grafted onto vigorous stock; but they do need feeding to produce a good crop.

The Dobies Team (Steve, Fran, Michelle and Alex) with everything under control
Alex (who helps to maintain the Dobies (and Suttons) trial grounds in Devon, joined me in the vegetable patch of psychedelic swirls, reeling off a list of varieties to save me peering at labels and wetting my notebook in the rain. Leaf Beet (Chard) ‘Bright Lights’; Pak Choi ‘Rubi F1 (ruby-leaved) and Pak Choi ‘Chu Choi’ F1 (green-leaved);  salad bowl Lettuce ‘Delicato’ (red) and  non-heading ‘Ashbrook’ (green); plus Turnips, Carrots and red and green Basil.

Potato Chitting Trays have many uses:
and don't be fooled by the simplicity of the seed packet design;
reduced printing costs reduce the cost of the top-quality seed
You never know what will inspire you at Malvern, or any other gardening show for that matter. The inventiveness of exhibitors is legion, and here was the Dobies team with such a good idea for storing seeds: using potato chitting trays which they adapted with wooden dividers to support the various packets.

All seeds and plants are on special offer during the Show, and there are still three days to visit; to see the stand - OS564 - and to buy (whilst stocks last). And of course, to visit the rest of the Show.

Three Counties Showground, Welland, Malvern, Worcs, WR13 6SP
For more information about the Show, 
or telephone the Showground on 01684 584924. 

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

A Sneak Preview

A touch of nostalgia - read on
Despite the rain (again!) it's Showtime; and this sneak preview is coming to you live from Malvern as exhibitors are putting the final touches to their show gardens, displays and stands. It's a hectic time, and one truly feels for everyone struggling to cope with the vagaries of the English weather. Dobies - exhibiting at Malvern for the first time - have created a feeling of nostalgia, and yet are totally in line with increasing trends to grow your own food. Steeped in the past, with plants for the future, the circular raised beds spiral in a swirl of purple pan-choi, offset with green; or lush oak leaf lettuce tinged with red and bronze. The central pots await tomorrow's surprises, kept under wraps as the team unloaded and sorted packets of Dobies seed, in the well-known simple livery of brown text on white packets. They'll be on special offer, too, so come along to Stand OS564 in the Plant Pavilions opposite the Wye Hall.

One of the school gardens with seeds provided by Dobies

Dobies are also supporting Malvern’s educational initiative and have supplied all the seeds (along with their parent company Suttons Seeds) for the School Gardens, the theme for which is ‘Sustainability for All’. Fourteen schools and colleges (from primary through middle and secondary up to vocational level) have created something truly thought-provoking – thoughtful, quirky and eco-friendly. The pupils and students have demonstrated a resilience in getting on with the job despite the appalling weather during build-up time; what a lesson in determination.


Three Counties Showground, Welland, Malvern, Worcs, WR13 6SP
For more information about the Show, please visit the web site
or telephone the Showground on 01684 584924. 

This is a short post (WiFi limitations); more to follow over the course of the Show.