April in the garden
This month my dear old little workhorse rotavator has been busy again, preparing beds for spring planting and knocking the emerging “City Garden” into shape. In the last couple of weeks we've planted onion and garlic sets, all the potato crop (Charlottes, Desiree and King Edwards) and four packets of parsnip seeds. Lettuce and rocket have been sown both outside in the garden and inside in the warmth of the greenhouse (it was a crazy 30 degrees yesterday in afternoon sun – it was just 5 degrees outside!).
Already the lettuce and sweet peas in the greenhouse are 10 cm high, the tomato seedlings are just showing and the first of the courgettes is spreading its two big leaves. On the back wall of the greenhouse the big vine is just stirring into life and out in the garden we now have our first new blossom on the young peach tree (it grew like a mad thing last year).
Whilst the rotavator takes care of weeds in our substantial seed beds there is no escape from hand weeding around and under the soft fruit bushes and asparagus. The smaller weeds can be tackled effectively by hoeing but creeping buttercup, couch grass, nettle and docks must be forked out by hand. By taking good care to make a thorough job of this before the summer gets under way we should make the task of keeping on top of things much easier later in the season.
Our New “City Garden”
To the south of the existing garden we are preparing a “model” town garden. Our idea is to demonstrate what can be done to create an efficient (labour saving and productive) garden in an area just 6.3 by 4.8 metres. There are already hedges on the north and east side. We have planted a new beech hedge on the south side and laid paving stone pathways around 3 sides. Not only do the paved areas deter slugs, they also provide additional thermal stability (frost resistance) and all-weather access to work in the garden free of mud and soil compaction. This area has been scythed a couple of times each year for the last 3 years so we are experimenting to see if the turf can be converted to weed-free tilth, first deep digging and then (in dry weather) several passes with the rotavator.
The cultivated area inside the slabbed paths is just 20 sq metres (around 200 sq feet) in size. It took me 2 hours of comfortable digging to turn over all of the turf. I found on old golf ball about 20 cm deep! The idea is to leave the large square sods to dry out so they can be mashed up into a decent tilth by the little rotavator.
It took about 4 dry days for the sods to dry out sufficiently for a trial pass with the rotavator. Pretty rough work, I have to admit, but the rotavator is a tough little machine and it only took a few passes to knock the sods down to a reasonable tilth. Of course there were plenty of tufts of broken turf to rake off – in fact I took 2 full wheelbarrows off to the compost heap. It will be interesting to see how this works out! Planting will then require robust varieties – perhaps courgettes and potatoes just to clear the ground in the first year.
The Magic of Broccoli!
At last, the magical broccoli has sprung into life, producing wonderfully tasty purple sprouts which, to my view, taste even better than asparagus. We have been feasting on this largess for the last few days – and there will be more to come from these magical plants. Sprouting broccoli really is the greatest of the vibrant brassica family. Once you have battled through the summer against the white butterflies and then through the winter against pheasant and pigeon you will feast on a bonanza of caterpillar-free early greens.
The Majesty of Nature
I could not finish this section without mentioning the wonderful garden and arboretum near us at Howick. Here is just one shot of the magnificent spring flowers.