Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Climate change observation

I was reading earlier (here) interesting and challenging observations about the potential impact of climate change at olliesplace.  That set me to thinking how we, the little people, caring for our few square feet of the planet might have a role to play. That translated into rather a long comment on their blog (apologies to olliesplace for my ramblings). I thought I'd copy my comment here:

Learning and adaptation in the face of climate change seem to be crucial. The effects on agriculture, horticulture and all aspects of life will be, it seems, profound and at the same time difficult to predict as to their nature and timing.
I wonder if all of us involved in care of the land, on any scale, might have a further part to play in this. 
Is it possible (Maybe through IPCC, or perhaps more locally at first) to agree a common, small basket of indicators of change, readily understood and observable by gardeners, farmers, naturalists and similar for recording, submission  and analysis, either in a responsible government department, meteorological agency or university. This would allow very detailed mapping of change, it's extent and nature, for the purpose, not of finding yet further evidence for global warming (though it may do that) but specifically to allow detailed understanding of the impact and speed of change.
There is an assumption that climate change is gradual. Yet evidence exists (Greenland ice core studies for example) that it can "flip" in very short time spans.
Such changes need to be observable, understood and capable of being acted upon by all of us on the land. 
Knowing of change helps planning in cropping and animal care. We know already that carrying on as before is not an option, changed growing conditions, different pest problems demand flexible approaches.
Just a thought, maybe it's already being done, and I've missed it?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Beans, learning from mistakes

When our daughter took on an allotment with her partner, we did warn her to be prepared for some disappointments, from the weather, or deer, or pigeons - not everything we plant ends up on the plate.

I just had a reminder too that things don't always go well, and it's my fault.

Because the all the window sills were full I put some trays of beans (french and runner) in a greenhouse, which has just enough heat to protect from frost (and it was down to -1.2 Celsius air temperature here last night). There they have sat for a couple of weeks doing hardly anything. Out of 4 trays only 3 seedlings have appeared and the seed parts, as they emerge, look brown in parts, I think they have just been lying there too cold and in danger of rotting.

So now I have put two in a warm propagator and two on a by then vacant window sill. So, fingers crossed! 

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rain, did I say Rain?

It is pouring down this morning, lashing against the windows and, of course, watering the garden, so I shouldn't complain.

We seem to have had quite a pleasant sunny Spring, just like the last two years which then flowed into (sometimes literally) a wet summer. So what to expect this year? Well, who knows, I don't. But we did hear in France last year that the farmers there expect a wet and cooler summer in years with an extra full moon, which the last two years had and ..... this one doesn't. 

I also saw this on BB's nature notes which seems to put the trees in step with the French farmers. 

Time will tell!

Saturday, April 25, 2009


We have wind and rain forecast (there was some rain overnight, but not as much as I would have liked for the vegetable beds, hoping for more later - but not midday, as it is our friends' daughter's wedding near Dorchester and it will be so much more pleasant for them without umbrellas!

The wind set me to thinking and so I have updated the topical advice on the right.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dare I say this?

I transplanted Tenderstem Broccoli on Tuesday and Pacifica Broccoli today, with underplanting of various lettuce, all netted over now.
Then today weeded, yes weeded, the rascals are popping up everywere in all the beds. Amongst the red onion sets I found 8 salad leaf plants self-seeded from a previous season, I checked, they seem to be Mustard Greens 'Red Giant', so I dug them up and planted them in the tomato greenhouse amongst some other salad leaf plants. Then I netted the onions too.
Saw the first shoot of asparagus and carefully weeded that bed too.
So I've netted where I can, I have trays I'm waiting for seedlings, all beds planted as much as I can, lots of tidying done.

Dare I say I am up to date - yes I know, tomorrow will probably reveal something I forgot.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Garden Swallow

Catching the sun
Posted by Picasa

Garden Swallows

Here are a couple of the swallows over the garden yesterday afternoon
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Swallows and (not Amazons) Blackbirds

On the same day that I saw shoots from my early potatoes - guess what? Yes, swallows swooping and chattering over the garden and the farm next door.

Mind you, in the midst of spring fever the blackbirds blotted their copybook by helping themselves to two rows of parsnip seedlings - or some tasty treat in the soil around the seedlings. I was trying an experiment this year; because parsnip seeds are so slow to germinate, I had sown them into toilet rolls and then, after germination planted them out still in the rolls. I wonder if the birds liked the cardboard? (See more information in an earlier post below).

So, I've just sown some more (direct into the soil and under a net), there's always something to catch up with isn't there.

I have to tell everyone

I went out to see how cold it was this morning and guess what - my first two potato shoots have appeared overnight - they are Anya.

Welcome to the world Anya!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Compost and soil

After swapping comments with Compostwoman, a few lines on compost, and soil generally, seem in order.

I did a talk at our Horticultural Society a couple of momths ago, entitled "Why Organic" - quite a proportion was on soil; for it's like the character from Beyond Our Ken, or was it Round The Horn, used to say: "The answer lies in the soil."

So much of what we do as organic gardeners is devoted to helping improve the quality of the soil isn't it? Depending on geology, geography and historical use of that ground, we all start with varying types and qualities of soil, from pure sand (the part of Wirral where I grew up) to pure clay (in part of my Dorset garden now). The chap who once lived in our house, before the lady we bought from, looked after a neighbour's garden when we first moved here, so I had long chats with him over the hedge and I was delighted to learn that my veggie plot had once been home to a couple of pigs - they're great for turning over the soil and manuring it.

What is needed to improve the soil? I'd say time and crop rotation. It has taken me 6 or 7 years to have a good soil.

Crop rotation is always advised to prevent the build-up of diseases isn't it, and it is also the basis for continual soil improvement.  I use a 4 year rotation: 

1. Potatoes, which have lots of manure and compost added to the soil; followed by: 
2. Peas, beans, onions, shallots and garlic which all like the moisture retention of the left-over organic material added for the potatoes (and they get mulch round them too), and in the case of peas and beans (if you leave the plants and especially roots in the ground to rot back in) fix nitrogen in the soil, ready for the next hungry crops in the cycle: 
3. Brassicas which get loads of compost added ready for them, so by the time the last in the cycle arrive, the soil won't be as fertile. The last is: 
4. Roots and if there is too much soil fertility they fork like mad - great for the funny vegetable in the Summer Show, but a pain in the kitchen! They like low fertility compost and a mulch. Then it's back to 1. potatoes again and so on ...

On top of that if there is bare soil and there is time for it to grow plant green manure and if there's not cover with a mulch (garden compost, leaf mould, chopped straw).

Even a very small plot can follow a rotation, so if you are starting with just a couple of beds (you can mark each into half - there's your 4 for rotation) you don't have to miss out on the marvel of soil improvement.

At just about every stage there is plenty of organic material to be broken down in the soil and keep the worms happy, and if they are happy so is the soil.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


It's mild and drizzly out there and a post on Somerset Seasons made me think I should share something about that most dreaded garden companion, OK - pest: slugs.

As a member of Garden Organic (used to be HDRA) I really do try, in all ways, to follow good organic practice, and so was an avid experimenter with each and every method of slug control to avoid using slug pellets. None worked very well, but a combination of torch-light slug patrols and beer traps (don't they get smelly if you forget them!?!) created a sort of stalemate.

Then one year I was looking through my Organic Catalogue (online too) and saw Advanced Slug Killer. I have to admit to being sceptical. Would they harm other life on the plot, what about slimy slug remains lying around, chemical residues and all the rest. So I looked into them and found that they are certified for Organic use and are not harmful to wildlife, pets, children, or me.

I have been using them ever since and would have to say that they work pretty well, I do still get some occasional slug damage, most noticeably on some potato varieties (yes I have tried Nemaslug) but I now feel we've moved from stalemate to an acceptable balance.

A Follower!

Settling down with my nettle and fennel tea, I go to the Blogger dashboard and there is something new - a follower, how exciting. I have no idea whether my musings ever get beyond my own plot, but of course I wonder and now there it is, thank you Compostwoman!

Friday, April 17, 2009


Living not far from the Somerset Levels, how could we not have some willow. Ah, well, we nearly got into a mess with it, literally. Having planted some too close to the house we nearly mucked up our drains, because it has very invasive roots, which will go to great lengths (and depths) seeking out water, so we had to cut down a stand of willow we put in a couple of years ago.

Nothing goes to waste though, I have been cutting and stripping lengths to use as hoops for the netting on the raised beds. (Stripping the bark off, hopefully to stop it rooting amongst my veggies). 

The other thing it's useful for is making supports for sweet-pea. Willow weaves quite easily, if you just soften it by dragging it round your knee, or a round fence post - but don't do that with the lengths used for uprights.

Above, you can see one I just made for a tub of sweet pea.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tidying Up

Not as exciting as planting and sowing, but still important. So today it was hacking back the jungle at the side of the tool shed - amazing, there really was a path under there. 
All the unused pots and trays are nice and clean and stacked and I can even get to the back of my shed - though a friend said it wouldn't be that way after a week!

Also took a few feet off the top of the hedge round the flower garden, we might get some sunny days to sit out, so can't have it all in shade. The hedge round the veggie patch I layed winter 2007/08 is shooting quite happily, so I must have done something right; the flower garden hedge will be layed next winter.

Laying a hedge breathes new life into it, prompting new growth from near ground level, and making it as stock-proof as any fencing and thickening it for birds and other wildlife. There are many different styles in the UK and I learned the Devon bank method, there are more artistic styles, but this one suits mine. The picture above, left, is one corner of the veggie patch showing the hedge I layed with this spring's green growth showing nicely.

Have a look here for a very posh layed hedge, much more neat than mine.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Raised Beds

You might have noticed in the pictures of the mesh, that I use raised beds and I thought some comment on them might be helpful.
Why have raised beds at all?
The main reason is to allow soil structure to develop naturally without being walked upon or dug unnecessarily (naturally some crops, especially potatoes - unless you use a no-dig method - have to be dug up). I find they make it easier to organise the plot and to manage crop rotation. I am using straw on the paths in-between, so I can walk round the beds whatever the weather. That little bit of height makes access a easier and improves drainage, it also makes it easier to apply crop protection - such as fleece or netting.

I made the beds about 7 years ago using untreated wooden boards from a builders' merchant. They worked well, but by last year were badly rotted. This winter I replaced them with scaffold boards (scaffold companies will supply retired boards - for a charge). These are also untreated - as I don't want preservatives leaching into the soil.

Fixing them together
Last time I hammered in corner posts and nailed the boards to them. The posts were the first thing to rot. This time I have used no posts, but instead joined the boards with metal brackets. I also laid them on damp proof membrane - no idea if that will help slow rotting, I just thought the membrane would reduce the rising damp.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


If you grow parsnips you'll know they seem to take for ever to germinate! Well, a friend suggested sowing them into compost-filled empty toilet roll tubes. Luckily he suggested that months ago, so I had plenty of time to collect enough. 
I filled the rolls with a general purpose compost, packing them, standing up (the rolls not me) in seeds trays and kept them indoors till I saw a few germinate, then I put them, still stacked in trays outdoors. About a month ago I planted the rolls into one of the roots beds, though some had still to show signs of germinating. 
By this weekend most have happy little parsnip seedlings flourishing. In the few which don't I have just sown some fresh seed.
I am trying two varieties new to me (I usually sow Tender and True): Cobham Improved Marrow and Gladiator F1. All the Gladiator germinated, it was the Cobham where I had to fill gaps. For more information on them see: Cobham and Gladiator
Not that I'm wishing my life away, but can't wait till next winter for roast parsnips!

Cold and clear

The rain clouds of yesterday have cleared overnight to reveal a lovely spring morning. Spent the rainy day cutting the 100 m of mesh into sections, using a soldering iron. Turned out to be quite a lot of work, but hopefully the result will be plenty of pest-free cropping.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Crop Protection - mesh

I have just taken delivery of 100 m x 3.25 m of Wondermesh (Mid-range: M24), to replace Enviromesh which I have been using for 7 or 8 years and which is now getting a few holes. Not that I need 100 m, I'll be sharing with my daughter for her allotment and with friends in the village. (You can find Enviromesh here.)

The two photos above show the hoops in place for the netting and then with net in place.

The intention had been to get some second-hand mesh, but I found an offer on by Wondermesh (find them here) for new netting of a finer gauge than I'd been using and it is working out quite reasonably.

Why netting?
I have tried hunting caterpillars, with twice-daily forays among the brassicas, and still ended up fighting a losing battle with the rascals. Once I started using netting I found that, not only were the cabbage whites excluded, but some other pests too, so I have been a convert for a while now. The only down-side really is that it's less accessible for weeding.


I didn't really post the welcome at 3:34 am, I have no idea where in the world Blogger thinks I live!


It is a rainy day in Dorset, if it wasn't I'd be out on the veggie patch, sowing some more seeds into beds, finishing off the paths between my raised beds and preparing a greenhouse for tomatoes. 
Since it is such a wet day I thought I'd start this blog, just as a way of adding another organic vegetable grower's voice to the world of gardening.
I have been growing vegetables on and off for over 20 years, for the last 7 here in West Dorset, where I have been growing organically most of the vegetables we need and giving a few away. I make mistakes, have some successes, learn from others and try things out. Hopefully this blog wil be a forum for me to share those experiences. 
Your comments and experiences are equally valid and most welcome.