It's the end of May, the garden is in full flow and there is lots to talk about. Weather has not been great – cold, dry and breezy - but we've had a good dose of rain over the last week.
Main crops in the greenhouse are now the vigorous vines, the fast-growing tomatoes, cucumbers and 3 big boxes of basil. The energy of the grape vines is quite extra-ordinary, so we have a constant task of keeping growth under control by pinching out the growing tips that try to creep through the roof.
Out in the big garden the year has been quite successful although one or two batches of seed seem to have been useless (you only find that out when it's really too late to do much about it!). One batch of parsnip seed was brilliant but the other pretty well failed to germinate. Same problem with some of the French beans (see below) and Petit pois.
To make things easier let's go through the crops in alphabetical order. We must begin with the wonderful apricot tree. Just 4 lovely golden apricots last year (a couple of years after planting) but this year it looks like a bonanza crop – so many fruit they will need thinning. Hurrah – we are going to have quite a feast and the plum trees (5 of them) are also looking good this year.
We planted the French beans on our last course – to demonstrate the wonderful automatic seeder. The idea is to measure out your square of fleece first then you can easily sow the marked area in a matter of minutes with the seeder.
We rotavate the area first in the morning to knock back any remaining weeds then cover the sown seeds immediately with the fleece. The fleece is the easiest way to prevent the birds from gobbling up the young shoots as soon as they germinate. Our resident army of voles take their share of course but, as you can see, a good proportion of the seeds make it successfully to the 2 leaf stage.
We are growing a lot more brassicas this year – hoping we can keep the white butterfly at bay, although one crop of Pak Choi has already fallen prey to some very hungry thing. The green demolition netting seems to do the trick and so far, the material has not degraded significantly in the sun (fingers crossed). Here are some of the cauliflowers, growing fast as brassicas do, and the seedlings of the next round of brassicas almost ready to be planted out as soon as protection is ready.
Another new crop this year is celery – in various shapes and forms. We started all the plants in the greenhouse but they are all hardened off and planted out now.
In the city garden we have a great mixture of crops – onions, carrots, beetroot, salad, sweet corn and runner beans. The soil here is much lighter (more sandy) so we are hoping the carrots will do well. Note the robust support structures we always use for the great runner bean crop – totally resistant to all summer gales!
Opposite the greenhouse and next to the patio area we have, as usual, a mass of flowers (artichokes and horse radish are beside the old telescope). Not only is this great for the bees but it helps support the hover flies and makes our picnics more enjoyable. We have sweet peas germinating now in the greenhouse – so they will add to the summer blooms later.
Last year our garlic crop was quite successful so this year we've decided to grow much more – and in the warmer inner garden it should do well.
Also last year we were lucky enough to be gifted some young self-sown beech trees from Hatty who helps in the garden. Most were about a metre tall but rather leggy after (probably) growing in shade. As always, we try to stick to a basic rule with trees that the stem with leaves should be kept shorter than the roots. This is because too many leaves transpire too much water for the roots to support.
It may seem a bit brutal to cut the saplings down to about 20cm but, as you can see, they have all survived and are now doing well. One other thing to remember when you are planting a beech hedge is that you do not need to plant a double row (which many so-called experts advise). Not only is this not necessary but it would also make effective weeding (with a scythe) virtually impossible. Remember each of those little saplings has the potential to become a huge beech tree – a double row is good for the profits of the nursery man but does nothing to make growing a good hedge easier.
Last year we produced a great crop of sprouting broccoli in our netted “walk-in” cage. So we can't grow brassicas again there this year. Instead the calm and humid conditions in the net make a great place to grow celery and salad crops.
Onions are what we always call a “bullet proof” crop. The sets go in early and the vigorous growth makes it easy to keep weeds down. Their cousins the leeks are doing well too after careful puddling in by Maxim.
Below (last slide) are the parsnips that germinated so well – with a good spacing after the seeds were sown so carefully by Cecily – so very little thinning has been needed.
We are very pleased this year (and somewhat surprised) to find our big sowing of peas has germinated well WITHOUT being decimated by birds and voles. This is the first time we look like having a really good crop of peas at Christon Bank – the wires provide support and deter the birds and pigeons.
(Update 8th June: Something has in fact got in and chewed on about 1/3 of our crop. The wire has been pinched together at the top to dissuade the birds, but we will have to keep our fingers crossed. Such is life in the garden!)
The runner beans always produce a great bonus of green vegetables for the deep freeze. They are just about to send out their tendrils to climb up their strings (again there has been very little slug damage this year).
Very nice to have our resident robin back this year. Certainly not shy, he'll come very close and watch every move on the look-out for bugs.
Notwithstanding the perils of other garden visitors, Cecily has done a great job growing healthy salad crops this year – first in the greenhouse and now in several spots around the big garden. We have Butterhead, Baby Gem and a mixed bunch of Lollo Rosso, Oak leaf and an interesting waxy, bitter leaf. Rocket has been harder to get started - strange as it normally shoots up just like a rocket!
We have plenty more greens coming on – chard and spinach, not to mention the army of brassicas waiting to be planted out.
Finally, we come to the very productive strawberry bed coupled with the madly vigorous thornless blackberry. All in bloom now and soon to produce a good crop of fruit. Netting must be installed to deter voles and birds as these ripen.