Earlier this year, I put compost on my bed. It was homemade in my own garden from veg waste in my kitchen. I tossed it out onto the bed and spread it around. I was amazed to see the amount of tea-bag bags (the paper-ish covers that contain the tea) partially decomposed, although the compost was 6 months old.  I am still picking them out of the bed! Note to self: Shake the tea out of the bags, placing the tea in the compost and the bags in the brown bin. They do decompose eventually.

Tea Bag covers in the compost

Tea Bag covers in the compost

I sowed dwarf beans at home in my kitchen.  The grew well and I hardened them off outside in the garden.  It should be mentioned that my garden is beside the sea, about 50 metros away.  This means, as my story will show, that the temperature is slightly milder than further inland.  The Countrywide Allotments are about one mile further inland.  When I felt that the beans were hardy enough, I brought the up to the Allotments and planted them.  Unfortunately, that slight difference in temperature made a sad difference to the little plants.  They were wind-whipped and broken, and they all died.  Never one to be daunted by such occurrences, I started again, this time planting the seed straight into the ground.  I await results.  It is much warmer now – and about a month later in the year.

Dwarf beans, wind-whipped and broken

Dwarf beans, wind-whipped and broken

Family events kept me away from the allotment this weekend, but I had time on Sunday evening to do a quick inventory of what is growing at the moment.

In the lovely weather in the middle of April we were all out planting seedlings. The ensuing cold weeks did away with the beans, but it was pleasing to see that everything else is doing well, although growth is slow due to the lower temperatures.

Potatoes are coming up nicely, there are various cabbages, onions, garlic, broad beans, beetroot, fennel, radishes, beetroot  and even some courgettes under a giant homemade cloche.   The birds have been a bit of a nuisance for the cabbage growers and we hide cabbage and other tender greens under netting and in a large netted cage. The broadbeans were also sown under netted tunnelling.

In the greenhouse we already have some small tomato plants and what looks like a cucumber?

The apples and the blackcurrants are in bloom and there are 5 big buds in the artichoke which will soon be for the pot!

With the grass cut, our recently erected shed and a new picnic bench behind the apple trees are looking great.

Here are some pictures. The Cycle against Suicide event at RTE had just concluded and you can see the marquis on the green in front of the allotment in one of the photos.

10 May 2015

The wonderful guys and girls at GIY Headquarters publish regular newsletters with growing tips, recipes and other news for beginning, intermediate and advanced vegetable growers.

Please see the link to their May newsletter here, with a nice article on the ‘Give Peas a Chance’ initiative.

GIY International May News 2015

On the subject of ‘Give Peas a Chance':  I also received my cup of earth and 5 or 6 marrowfat peas and brought it into the office. From now on I’m going to bring all my seeds to work! Not only did they germinate twice as fast as the peas I had already sown at home, they very quickly grew into nice, tasty looking pea shoots.  I had intended to bring them home to eat, but one of my colleagues thought that was cruelty to peas and she has adopted them to grow on in her garden! Mission accomplished, and three cheers for GIY!

Love peas at work

Weeds in your garden are wildflowers in a different location. There are many wildflowers/weeds in the RTE allotment.

Dandelions, creeping cinquefoil (very pretty but extremely invasive), ragwort!, at least two types of thistle, dock, plantain, scutchgrass, hawkweed (I like them), buttercup (not too much), nettles, willowherb, shepherds purse, brunel, small coltsfoot, cowslips, the list goes on.  Getting to know your weeds can also inform you about the quality of your soil. On the allotment there is no sign of the weeds of poor soil, like bindweed or mares tail. Some garden flowers became weeds – the borage in my plot two years ago became weeds to other gardeners last year! We also saw love-in-a-mist (not sown by us) and a small variegated nasturtium.

There is no need to take a total extermination view.   There must always be room for wildflowers in and around an organic garden, for example to attract beneficial insects.

Spring is not only a busy time in the garden for sowing seeds, it is also the best time to tackle weeds. They have just started growing since the winter and are easy to hoe or pull out. If you are able to distinguish baby weeds from your little seedlings you’re on a winner, because you can use the hoe.

Most weeds haven’t started to flower and can be added to the compost heap without a thought. For example, dandelions bring up a range of nutrients with their deep roots, and, if not in flower, are a great addition.   Nettles are rich in nitrogen. Small weeds can be left to wilt on the ground or on the edge of the vegetable bed and so become green manure.

When gardening time is limited, you have to prioritise. This is my order of attention. Yours might be in a different order, that’s fine, as long as you have a plan.

  1. Any plants I didn’t sow that compete for nutrients or space with plants I did sow. Weeds in a vacant area of the bed I tend to leave alone, unless they are category 2,3,4 or 5.
  2. Any weeds big enough to provide shelter and breeding space for slugs and snails along the edges of raised beds or near vegetable beds.
  3. Ragwort, dock and thistles.
  4. Weeds creating runners or with invasive root systems in or near a vegetable bed (buttercup, creeping cinquefoil, scutch grass)
  5. Weeds that may look harmless on their own, but are capable of creating lots of seedlings (dandelions, certain thistles, ragwort)
  6. Weeds that may look harmless on their own, but are capable of creating lots of seedlings (dandelions, certain thistles, ragwort)

Green and brown manure

Growing a green manure crop is recommended as a way to keep your soil covered in winter (nature abhors a vacuum). Digging it in improves the structure of the soil and gives the nitrogen used in growing the crop back into the soil before the growing season.  There is a choice of green manure crops, such as mustard, clovers, vetch (from the bean family) and rye grass (dangerous!).

Lovely Stuff!

Lovely Stuff!

Garlic growing on dug-in phacelia

Garlic growing on dug-in phacelia

In 2013 I grew it for the first time but the only green manure seed I could find in early November was mustard.  A disadvantage of growing mustard is that it is a member of the brassica family, so you use up the cabbage slot in the rotation. It grew a bit too strong for my taste, with long thick stalks. The leaves can be eaten, but I’m not a fan.   I ended up cutting the stalks in early spring and putting them in the compost and then using another batch of compost from home to put on the plot.  (Here’s a photo of mustard growing in another plot this year.)

Mustard green manure

Mustard green manure

 

In 2014 I made sure to get my first choice of green manure early in the year, a phacelia and winter vetch mix from the Organic Centre in Rossinver.  (250g for €4, loads of seeds!).

I already knew phacelia as a pretty, blue flowering ground cover loved by bees before I learned of its usefulness as green manure.  It has attractive feathery green leaves, which after sowing in October resulted in a nice green cover by Christmas.  The winter vetch is a member of the bean family, so double nitrogen.  Unfortunately not much of the vetch came up for me, it may have been a bit slower to germinate, but I suspect birds and the mice helped themselves.

Phacelia close up

Phacelia close up

phacelia

phacelia

I dug some of the phacelia in during the Christmas holidays to plant onion sets and garlic.  It is recommended to leave it alone for a few weeks, but I wanted the garlic in before the frost and the onion sets were not getting any better sitting around.  In mid February the garlic is coming up fine, the onions are a bit slower, but I had planted them nice and deep against bird damage.

Don’t try this at home:

On 21 February 2015 I dug in some more of the phacelia and covered that and the rest with newspaper and cardboard (to add carbon) and then I spread a thin layer of shop bought farmyard manure mixed with a small amount of very mature cow dung (very mature, not a bit of a smell, lovely stuff, thank you John B.!)  over it.  I hope it won’t make too rich an addition, but I felt the soil had become a bit hungry and ‘scratchy’ last summer and could do with extra nutrition and bulk. Just for the hell of it I layered in some ripped up excess leaves of the artichoke to add more fibrous material.

Work in progress

Work in progress

Reading it up on the intranet (of course afterwards) mixing brown and green manure can have consequences to do with surplus nitrogen and I won’t be making a habit of it. We are still a few months away from planting or sowing, quantities are small and I’m counting on exposure to the air on top and the work of the worms at the bottom to give the result I’m aiming for.

22 February 2015

Hilde

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