After the rush of growth in a mini heatwave at the beginning of April it feels like everything has gone into slow motion in the garden.I had to get the fleeces and covers out a week or so ago when a frost bit down on us and the cold winds and low daily temperatures combined with minimal rain has meant unseasonal watering. Yes , you read that right, it’s not been raining in this part of Scotland.
When I had the extension built a couple of years ago I installed a rainwater harvester which meant I could collect water from the studio gutters and store it in a 3000 litre underground tank to use in the garden. I got a Hydroforce pressure sensitive pump with the system which meant that when I turned on the tap outside the pump kicked in and I got a decent PSI on the hose and more than adequate to water the raised beds.Being in Scotland and with accommodating heavens the pump didn’t undergo particularly heavy usage. All was well until last Autumn when everything stopped working.I checked everything and ended up sending the pump unit back to the suppliers.Within days I was told the pump was irreparable as it was an internal electrical fault, that the guarantee had expired 2 months before and that I would have to lash out £356 for a new one. Needless to say I wasn’t impressed and with few options open had to bite the bullet and get a new unit. I hung off until last week as I obviously didn’t need it during the winter and if it has a working life like the last one I wanted my money’s worth.As with all things electrical and “complicated” these days it seems the stories of “planned obsolescence” have a ring of truth. I expected more for the big bang in this particular buck and as a unit advertised as being so sturdy and dependable with rigorous factory checks before delivery at least something that could be repaired rather than written off for an electrical fault.Rab , my trusty gardening accomplice was even less impressed as he had to descend head first into the tank to retrieve it and today had to re install the unit and deal with foul smelling water that had been lying in the tank for the last 8 months.I had to hold his legs while he went into the murky depths and thankfully he managed to link it up without throwing up. We now have a working system and I just hope it lasts longer than the last one or there will be two distinctly unhappy gardeners up here.
As I said it’s been pretty dry up here in East Lothian and my new weather station continually reminds me of how little rain has fallen and how cloudy it’s been in recent weeks.I do like watching the wind speeds and directions on the indoor monitor and the little windmill on the outdoor unit looks important and professional.However it’s more of a toy than meteorologically dependable and the frost alarms went off a few times when the websites said “stand down”. It’s always edgy at this time of year and a bout of laziness can be disastrous and ruin weeks of hard work. The “Purdie Bunker”, the huge cold frame Rab put together has proved it’s worth and it’s currently full of young tender plants from the greenhouse that are now hardening off.I’m trying to be as patient as possible and not sticking stuff out in the ground until I feel more confident in the weather.I’ve enough reams of fleece and polythene to put up a good defense against Jack Frost but the laying out of barriers is a major endeavor.
In the last week or so I planted out over 150 perennial bulbs to go with the 100 or so plug plants in the ‘Longshanks’ bed which is about 20 m long. Between them and the dahlias that had to go in a few days ago it’s a big gamble and on the last frost warning the back garden looked like a scene from a Gothic horror film set as everything was draped in white cloth in the darkness.
I sowed more than enough tomato, pepper and chilli seed this year with the intent of trying to grow plants outdoors for the first time. I’d tried some in grow bags last year but late sowing after the ‘Childhood’ tour in May and a lack of TLC meant they didn’t result in much. This year I am planting up the original tomato beds by the greenhouse which have been set up with compost, manure and black plastic sheeting since last October. Back in the day the farm had a remarkable commercial vegetable and herb garden and the tomato houses incorporated the raised beds I inherited when I bought the place in 1989. The tomato houses were burnt down in a huge fire that took out the stables for the shire horses and the cattle byres the evidence of which I discovered in a layer of dark carbon and ashes when creating my own garden. Allegedly a result of some kid playing with matches in the straw barn the story is that it took days and hosts of fire crews working shifts to put out. I can’t get actual dates but I think it was back in the 50’s. It was the raised beds made of local brick that inspired me to follow the theme in my garden and I didn’t realise that those combined with the 2m steel stanchions and the long tall brickwork that used to be above the existing stonewall that I tore down in the 90’s made up an elaborate greenhouse.This year I’m replanting the beds with tomatoes, cucumbers, chillis and peppers and with their back to the warm South facing wall I hope to reap a harvest. My only worry is blight which I keep on reading about is acerbated by rain. I’m not sure whether to build a temporary roof structure to keep the plants safe or to trust to luck. I’m covering most of the other bases. I have 96 marigold plants to act as companions and ward of white and green fly, nematodes to sort out the slugs and plan on keeping the black polythene covers to keep the soil warm and keep weeds down. I also plan on buying some “tubes” of ladybirds once I detect any fly so they can feast and breed and act as another ally in the War.
Today I racked up the grow bags in the greenhouse as safety should the outdoor plants fail. I’ve got 150 tomato plants overall across 8 different types. Indoor I’ve got the dependable “Moneymakers” (3), “Alicante” (3),”Castalutto” (3) and “Super Marmand” (6) – the last 3 types all “beefsteak” – and “Grushovka” (3) – a very rare Russian tomato that is a tall bush type ( bought from “the Real Seed Catalogue”). I’ve got “Ailsa Craig”, and “Latah” earmarked for outdoors with the remainder of the plants although I’m going to try a “Latah” in a pot in the greenhouse just to see how it does as it’s a super early type.
I also have “Wautoma” and “Longfellow” cucumbers in a greenhouse growbag with others destined for either the bed or the ‘Purdie Bunker’. Courgettes and aubergines are also being split up between residences but I’m looking forward to the yellow climbing “Shooting Star” courgettes this summer.
While I was populating grow bags with Rab Simone was moving the chillis and peppers on. We learned that rather than moving them up to big pots that to take them up in gradients to help roots develop was the ideal set up. Again a myriad of types and a healthy return on sowing means we are overcrowded. “Pyramid Rainbow Chilli”, “Basque Chilli”, ‘Early Jalapeno”, “Amanda Sweet Wax Pepper” and “Yellow Monster Long Bell Pepper” from the “Real Seed Catalogue” suppliers as well as our own “Long Toms” from our seed and “Mixed Sweet Peppers” give us a great choice and a recent present ( Thanks Joe Beer) of some “Yellow Bonnets Chillis” to be sown mean our partiality to hot spicy powders will be well served this year.
I’m having a crack at sweetcorn this year and that together with the “Kakai” pumpkins and the seed grown from last years batch are all nestling in the cold frame waiting on the move to the beds.I’m fast running out of space and looking at the early potatoes urging them on so I can get a bed emptied and filled again. I still have to sow my special kales , the Purple sprouting broccoli and others and it looks like I’ll be holding them off in large pots waiting to crop the mass of garlic and onions in late June.Working out a rock festival line up is easier! 🙂
The various peas and beans are still pushing up the earth in peat pots as I want to make sure they are “adult” enough to handle any slugs and pests before they hit the ground. Together with geraniums and phlox plants and all other things bright and beautiful they have to wait till the time is right and the gamble is short odds. Even the potatoes are nervous both in the raised beds and in the crowd of bags we set up along the front garden wall. It’s just turned May, we live on an island and weather ambushes are all part of the glorious game of gardening.
I am working on music business stuff as well but for those of you out there who are reading without yawning this is the big set up as we all know. I should have been out there on the green front line on Saturday but decided that it was time to take in a bit of nature. For the first time ever I walked from Haddington to East Linton along the banks of the river Tyne. It’s only about 7 miles or so and turned out to be a glorious wee adventure. Simone, her son Liam, Rab and Brodie the Labrador and I spent a wonderful few hours following the riverbank and ending up in the Linton Hotel for a few beers and a delicious and well deserved meal that wiped out the calories we’d lost on the hike.
I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to make this trek and both Simone and I agreed it should become a regular saunter. The old mills, the ominous Hailes castle, the woodland paths laced with the aroma of wild garlic and sprinkled with the bursts of colour from wild flowers, the deep dark fairytale pools, whispering shallows below glorious yellow bursting gorse bushes, crowds of ducks with excited broods and a lonely imperial heron that commanded the river, still as death on a rock, all added to the adventure. I felt allowed to ignore the greenhouse for an afternoon.
I try and keep a garden diary but there’s too much to write up. I’m reminded every day about how lucky we are to have this together and how wonderful nature truly is.
A blackbird now sings from the whitebeam just as the LED lights pop off in the greenhouse. It’s 5 degrees overnight tonight. The sentries stand down but are ever vigilant.