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The cascade of splashing water in the Japanese Garden pond can lull me into a trance sometimes. It’s slightly masked by the water margin foliage that’s doubled in recent weeks but that sound with a breeze whispering the maple outside the window can be so calming even when there’s a storm blowing though the office.
The big rains finally came the other day and it was the first night in a while where I didn’t have to wander the raised beds and containers copying my shoulder physio exercises with a hose in my outstretched arm. The temperatures have kept me on nervous edge and even today when I was planning on docking the outdoor tomato plants in the beds and checking the techniques online I read a warning to hold off until the end of the month. Between those, Simone’s celeriac seedlings and the leeks my patience has been slightly tested as I wait to sink them into the well prepared raised beds.
Last night I planted out a mixture of cabbages in the ‘Fence bed’ that last year was used for the first time and grew me a decent herd of turnips. It was planned for the leeks but a bit of Google gardening had warned me about planting out the Chinese cabbage in a bed that last year had held the purple sprouting broccoli (PSB) They may be raised beds and the soil/ compost bulked up every year but not following good crop rotation and especially with a brassica that’s prone to the ugly club root disease could provide long term problems as it takes years for the fungus to die off. That particular bed is already in quarantine as I stupidly grew garlic and leeks 2 years in a row and picked up a nasty dose of Leek rust that also takes 3 years to kill off. I should have put potatoes in it this year but the PSB took ages to mature and again my impatience got the better of me and I planted up the tatties in another bed.
Crop rotation is putting plants that aren’t related into successive beds to avoid building up of diseases and benefitting the soil. That’s the simple explanation and in fact it’s a lot more complex and frustrating trying to keep the cycles going as certain crops mature at different times and sometimes it feels like I am organising the deck of an aircraft carrier in a war zone as one crop is lifted out and others land from the ‘Purdie Bunker’ cold frames. Raised beds can help out as soil is replaced and organic matter added every season but there’s still a chance of an accident as happened with the Leek Rust that wiped out the garlic in that particular bed 2 years ago.
On finding out that the Chinese cabbage was particularly susceptible I elected at the last minute to put it in the ‘Fence bed’. After setting in 20 plants I realised that was going to have to net it against cabbage white butterflies and decided to add the Savoy cabbages. They’re planted a bit close and in the 5 metre by 1 metre bed there’s about 45 plants in total. The Alaskan Savoy’s are a first this year and grow well into winter. They are a beautiful grey and blue colour and look magnificent when fully grown. They are in the middle row with All Year Round Savoys at the back. They’ll be hitting the pot in autumn so the space should open out for the Alaskans. The Chinese cabbage is a favourite of ours for stir fries and should be first out the bed as long as it doesn’t go into shock after transplanting as we should have sowed it directly into the soil.
I find a lot of good ideas come from intuition and I was pleased to find that both the savoys and Chinese cabbages don’t need that much direct sun and actually benefit from shorter days in full light. The ‘Fence bed’ has the southern side blocked by a panelled fence but after about 3 in the afternoon it catches the sun as it starts to sink. It should in theory be a perfect site for them.
So the ‘Fence bed’ is packed out, the quarantine bed may take the celeriac and I have to wait on the early potatoes taking off and out before I lay in the leeks which still need to grow on a bit in their modules. That leaves me with one 2 x 2 metre bed free and it looks destined for greyhound cabbages which will go in with fingers crossed as it had brassicas in 2 years ago although the soil has been well bulked up with new filling
I still have PSB to sow as well as more kale and there’s a crowd of dwarf French beans needing to be sown including our favourite Borlottis. The peas are now out in the ’50 pence bed’ where I’ve used a planting technique I read about in #Grow Your Own magazine. I’ve already used it in the ‘Ruin Bed’ by the old building that belongs to the Main House.
It’s called the “3 Sisters” method and involves using sweet corn in small blocks with runner beans planted at their roots providing nitrogen and squashes and pumpkins between the blocks to provide ground cover against weeds. It’s an ancient growing techniques used by native American Indians for thousands of years. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Sisters_(agriculture)
I didn’t follow the planting rules exactly but think I’ve managed to find an imitation that should do the same job. The ‘Ruin bed’ has sweetcorn that’s been grown in 2 sowing sessions from the greenhouse but the ’50 Pence bed’ was planted direct with seed. The squashes are ‘Hokkaidos’ and the pumpkins ‘Kakai’, well known for their seeds. The peas in the ‘50p’ bed were grown in peat pots before planting out to give them a better chance and are in with the broadbeans and more peas sown direct into the ground last week. I’m interested to see if and how this works.
The ‘50p’ bed is earmarked as a strawberry bed this autumn as the present one although now flowering is getting tired after over 5 years of repeated use. That’s the new brassica bed next year.
I found a site that provides on line garden design and planning including rotation guidelines and crop suggestions and as my head is birling trying to keep the crops spinning it may prove useful as I set my eyes on next year.
Another big job is moving on the chillies and peppers in the greenhouse as the roots are starting to grow out the small peat pots. It’s the right time for the move up and I’ll be giving away a lot of plants this year as I have as always completely over sown. The temperatures rising and now the focus returns to the greenhouse as it has to be arranged to accommodate a large crowd of pots and containers. This is its last year in the present state as it’s starting to fall apart after 14 years of loyal service and despite coats of paint it’s all getting a bit shoogly and ramshackled. The idea is that this autumn/ winter, if we can afford to finance it, to extend it another 2 metres or so and give us more space to work in and grow some other indoor plants we can’t grow outside up here.
For now it serves its purpose and the 4 cucumbers we have in grow bags are already setting flowers and forming fruits with one of the ‘Longfellows’ already having to have the lead shoot snipped just as it reached the roof. The tomatoes I always have angst about and am never quite confident or sure how to deal with them. It’s a science unto itself and I just have to go with a mixture of Google gardening and instinct.
It’s a full on endeavour just now and Simone and I find ourselves out there well after 8pm still trying to deal with demands from the Green. With rain and sun finding a balance now there’s slightly less worry on that particular weather front and the rainwater harvester and water butt have taken on some fresh intake with the new pump doing its job well so far. Having new hose points meant that Liam and I have had our water fights and Simone gets a bit annoyed when the battle enters the kitchen but everything is pretty harmonious here in the Shire.
What made our day was the arrival of the herb plants from Germany today that we’ve been waiting on for months. Simone was overjoyed at finally being able to plant out her own herb garden that she’s been planning since Balcony days in Karlsruhe. It’s more of an apothecary garden and not filled with just common garden kitchen herbs. Although the thymes, sages, mints etc are all present and correct the plants that arrived today are all pretty exotic with most of them from Chinese and Asian backgrounds. More on them in another post as we wait for them to root on down and reach for the skies.
Its perfect timing as we both returned to the gym for the first time since pre shoulder operation in February and with these herbs designated for super healthy smoothies together with our vast spinach, beetroot, carrot and kale harvests coming on line it should be a buzzing summer.