Sunday, 27 January 2013

End of month miscellany

Met Office chart, Sun 27th January 2013
Well the snow has gone, around here at least, but with closely packed isobars and a complex series of warm and cold fronts, we’re already experiencing strong winds. It’s set to continue over the whole of the British Isles, with more areas of intense low pressure approaching us from the Atlantic, so check any newly planted trees to see that they are well staked. Wind-rock now will lessen their chances of establishing a good root structure, and there is always the risk that excess rainwater will puddle around the planting hole.

Don’t forget the birds! There is still time if you are reading this today (Sunday 27th January) to participate in the RSPB’s ‘Big Garden Birdwatch’. ‘Big’ does not stand for ‘big  garden’ but big in the sense of  their desire that many, many people will participate. We did our stint yesterday: nothing out of the ordinary other than a jay, but the increasingly rare mistle thrush was on the village green just a stone’s throw from our bird table, and two song thrushes were feeding on the mix of currants, suet and stale biscuit that I had put out during the below-zero daytime temperatures. We also had a flock of long-tailed tits, three other species of tit, male and female chaffinches, a pair of greater-spotted woodpeckers and starlings, dunnocks, sparrows and jackdaws. (Image shows a juvenile greater-spotted woodpecker taken Summer 2011.)

It's surprising that pigeons have not attacked these brassicas
With warmer weather the possible pattern for the coming week, it would be sensible to check that the allotment has not suffered; pigeons need to be discouraged from attacking cabbage and broccoli for they can devastate crops in a very short space of time. Cover with netting, if possible by erecting a frame so the mesh does not touch the foliage. Plant protection is always important, and readers who are on the Dobies mailing list will have received updated 2013 catalogues and a new ’Protect Your Plants’ leaflet in the last week  - take a look, for there are some really good new products therein.

For early crops, why not try an ancient system – if you have the space – by creating ‘hot beds’, a method utilised as far back as the Romans! It’s a highly productive, low-cost, year-round, natural and eco-friendly process and consists of a series of growing frames and organic material that produces heat as it decomposes. Traditionally this is horse manure and stable litter, but for those without access to such a commodity, there are alternatives. And it is all described in a new book just published by Green Books. ‘Hot Beds’ is written by experienced horticulturalist, Jack First, and his hot beds have featured on BBC TV’s Gardeners’ World.

Introducing Simon Hulstone, food ambassador for Dobies of Devon
All this thought of food and early crops brings us to Dobies of Devon's Food Ambassador. The Dobies of Devon team are very excited to be welcoming Simon Hulstone (Michelin Star chef) as the 'Dobies of Devon Food Ambassador'.  Simon is in charge of the kitchen at Torquay’s Michelin Star restaurant 'The Elephant'; and last year, together with Heston Blumenthal, he created the menus for British Airways customers during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Simon Hulstone harvesting
potatoes with Dobies'
vegetable specialist,
Peter Moreton.
The Elephant Restaurant has its own farm which encompasses two acres of land with stunning views of the Devon landscape.  At the farm, Simon and his team rear free range pigs and sheep and grow a range of seasonal fruit, herbs, flowers and vegetables which are then expertly prepared and served at the restaurant and brasserie. Simon is a great advocate of home growing and foraging, and Dobies are proud to be joining forces with him in order to help you get the best out of your own home produce.  Each of the new catalogues being sent to Dobies customers throughout the year will include recipes from Simon. Time to get sowing and growing so as to be able to take advantage of what Simon suggests – there are three that sound delicious in the 2013 ‘Potatoes, Onions, Garlic & Shallots’ catalogue.

And in general, check for all seeds, plants and other topics on the Dobies website by clicking on the generic links. You may particularly like: vegetable seedsvegetable plants, flower seeds, flower plants, herbs, fruit and equipment. And don't forget their regular mailings and special offers online. Just keep visiting so you don't miss anything special.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Arrival of the snow

Song thrush feeding on our bird table

Hard on my decision to continue reclaiming the various mini-gardens within our acre of ground (as described in my ‘Plans & Dreams’ post of 29th December) comes the snow. Not as heavy here in our part of the Cotswolds as in other areas of the UK, but more is forecast with freezing temperatures and icy winds. I am pleased to have an adequate bird-feeding station within sight of the kitchen window, and a good supply of bird-food. And I am reminded that NEXT weekend is the RSPB’s ‘Big Garden Birdwatch’. Helping garden wildlife is fun - and it couldn't be easier. Over the weekend of 26-27 January 2013, we'd love you, your friends and family, to get involved in the world's largest wildlife survey! As an activity that started life as something for the RSPB’s youth membership to do in winter, Big Garden Birdwatch has grown into fun for all the family. All you need to do is count the birds in your garden or a local park for one hour then tell us what you see. Discover how to take part here.

As to my garden reclamation, I had actually already started work on the overgrown beds and have managed to clear one very small jellybean-shaped bed of nettles, dead sage bushes and a self- seeded elder and was ready to dig and enrich the de-natured soil to grow perennial onions – scallions (bunching or salad onions) which will overwinter. ‘Lilia’ is particularly good as you can use the tops as green leaf and leave the bulbs to swell. ‘Kaigaro’ is also worth trying and was outstanding in Dobies’ trials; it’s a mild-tasting, white bunching onion, with very healthy foliage (eat that, too), maturing 10 weeks from sowing.

A juniper weighted down by a heavy snowfall
Although I can’t be clearing at the moment, there are tasks that all gardeners should do in times of snowfall. When snow is forecast, ensure overwintering veg, potted plants and early hellebores are protected with fleece, netting or cloches, and knock snow off evergreens that will otherwise become misshapen from the weight (wear waterproofs or you will become soaked). Check that wild birds have water as well as food, and watch you don’t slip on icy paths and driveways – seems unnecessary to remind everyone of this but a fall now could prevent gardening for quite some while.

Sorting seeds (in the days when I grew more than just Dobies seed)
I’m making use of this enforced indoor time to organize my seeds – initially, I place them in a storage box with card dividers to separate the months; then each week, I check the monthly section and pull out the relevant seeds, for sowing outdoors, in the greenhouse, or on the kitchen window sill. And whilst I am waiting for the snow to go and the weather – and soil – to warm up, I am creating a new-style garden journal to record my sowings and plantings. The one shown above will be dedicated to my salad beds and the jelly-bean perennial onion plot. I take brown paper bags which I decorate with appropriate paper table napkins whilst the pages on which the records are to inserted are prepared with strips of decorator’s masking tape, coloured with water-soluble crayons sprayed with coloured inks for a mottled effect.

The new garden journal I am creating (this is the onion / garlic page)
Discover More: To allow you to read the blog post without clicking backwards and forwards between the blog and links on the Dobies website when you want to discover more about a product or topic (and also links to other external sites), we are now listing the links at the end of the post. Any words that you see in bold type will have a link in the list that follows. We hope you find this useful.

And in general, check for all seeds, plants and other topics on the Dobies website by clicking on the generic links. You may particularly like: vegetable seeds, vegetable plants, flower seeds, flower plants, herbs, fruit and equipment. And don't forget their regular mailings and special offers online. Just keep visiting so you don't miss anything special.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

When dreams become reality

Clearing some of the wilderness last week
Whether you are reclaiming ground, starting from scratch or re-planning an existing garden, turning dreams into reality requires a certain amount of foresight and strategy. But where to begin, particularly if you are new to gardening? I looked back at the blog posts and statistics for all I have written on this Dobies blog over the last two years and noticed that the topic that still attracts the most attention is anything to do with layouts and cropping.

Ideas - which became reality - in my 'square foot' plot
(double click on the image to view it at a larger size)
Begin just by looking, making notes, taking photos and thinking. “What do I want to achieve?” Assess critical factors such as plot orientation, neighbours, overhanging trees, soil, shelter, prevailing winds, and weather in general. Take rough measurements and sketch out a plan, checking such things as intercropping (early salad leaves can be sown in the spot where runner beans will be grown later in the season). Indeed all spare ground can be utilised in one way or another; I grow perpetual spinach in every conceivable space to feed my hens; a good tonic for them.

A beautiful garden of herbs and roses in Germany, taken in the summer
of 2012 along the banks of the Mosel river
Think flowers as well as vegetables, and herbs, shrubs, trees, fruit and all the other aspects that make a garden what it is; including somewhere to sit and enjoy what you have created. Make a habit of taking camera and notebook whenever you visit ‘beyond the garden gate’ – you never know what will take your fancy, be it plants or the way they are interspersed with paths, and the structure of beds; random or geometric; on the level or raised. What you see may be on a grander scale than you have space for, but adapt and incorporate what you can. Even if you are basically a veg man (or woman), remember the importance of attracting suitable wildlife – and that includes bees to pollinate your crops, toads, birds, hover flies and so much more.

A very complicated plan of a three-year project - double click to be able to read it at a larger size
The plot that I am currently clearing (known as the ‘Physic Garden’) has seen many re-incarnations and here – back in around 1990 – was the only space I had to grow veg. It had been an old chicken run in the '70s, so the soil was rich and plants thrived. Being a large area, it could not be accomplished overnight and was indeed a three-year plan to grow veg, herbs, and a ‘cutting garden’ of flowers. Luckily, I kept a written and photographic record, to which I still refer with some nostalgia, for circumstances beyond our control have resulted in the horrible mess you now see in the top picture!
See plan above - these were the left-hand rectangular beds in all their former glory

Sketch awaiting notes
(current planting 

explained below)
My little ‘Dobies Garden’ – or ‘Courtyard Potager’ is a garden in miniature and was planned from the start on a three-year rotation basis. The four metre-square raised beds are surrounded not by courtyard walls but by a long-established shrubbery, wild but tamed. The edible part has seen two seasons since it was created from another semi-wilderness and last Autumn I re-evaluated my long-term plans to allow for other things I wanted to grow beside vegetables. It is the most sheltered of all the mini-gardens within our acre of ground, and as my husband grows nearly all we need to eat in his large 60ft x 30ft plot, I intend now to concentrate on new varieties or ones I am trialling for the first time. So top left has over-wintering cabbages which will be replaced by salads for spring and summer; top right is planted with unusual edible herbs under-planted with self-seeded wild rocket that emerged when I cleared the bed from last year’s dwarf beans. Bottom left will be dwarf and runner beans in 2013 whilst bottom right has seen the most significant change: it is my new cutting patch and is filled with Spring bulbs which are already emerging, wallflowers and a scattering of hardy annual flower seeds.

When I first published this two years ago there was a link to the pdf file 
on the Dobies blog - the link has now expired; either 
click on THIS image, which has been updated for 2013-2015,
or if you would like it emailed to you, 
leave a comment and it will be done
(so long as you leave an email address of course)
Of course, the first year you plan a garden, anything goes but rotation IS important for vegetables as different conditions are required by the various ‘groups’. Additionally, one crop grown year after year in the same position can lead to disease or a build-up of specific pests. Rotation to my mind is much harder in a large plot than when you are using marked-out beds, or ad-hoc throughout the garden. Just ensure you keep a note of what you plan to grow in each mini-location. As my various gardens are reclaimed, they will be filled with Dobies flowers, fruit and produce - further blog posts will report progress. Best of luck in 2013 with your own sowing, planting and cropping whether veg, fruit or flowers.

Check for seeds, plants and other topics on the Dobies website (click on these links). You may particularly like: vegetable seeds, vegetable plants, flower seeds, flower plants, herbs, fruit and equipmentAnd don't forget their regular mailings and special offers online. Just keep visiting so you don't miss anything special.