Slow summer.

I’ve not been getting so involved down this new plot. I keep meaning to spend more time down there, but mostly I’m barely nipping down to empty the kitchen scrap bin and just about keep up with the weeding.

I think there’s a few reasons; first I don’t have the facilities to really grow, and crucially, harden off, at home. I can get things going, but they’re so tender and delicate grown inside that they just get scoffed immediately. I’ve managed to successfully plant a grand total of 1 tomato plant out, from all the stuff I’ve tried to start indoors. The chard, kale, other tomatoes, melons, courgettes, pumpkins and various flowers were gone within days. It’s a bit dispiriting. So everything has to be started straight in the ground, which is slower and later, and it often just becomes slug food in the first few days anyway. Stuff that was totally reliable back in Bristol just doesn’t like it here, and completely fails. It feels like a big step back on the learning curve, figuring out what will do well here.

I’ve got more time now, as Uni has broken up for summer, so I am trying to get on it properly. I’ve got a few things going finally, through a combination of sowing, resowing, slug deterrents, and finally giving up and buying plants.

It’s not all bad though; I’ve been picking broad beans from my overwintered plants for a few weeks, and the garlic looks nearly ready to harvest. The onions are looking good too; back in Bristol I lavished care on the things, and the sets came out about the same size as they went in. I stuck some sets in here, very late, having forgotten to plant them, and they’re all visibly swelling and looking very happy. The runner beans are just putting out their first buds, and the sole surviving courgette has its first female flower (and a few leaves the slugs left it). I should have strawberries too any day now- late, I know, I should have already had some, but I didn’t realise a squirrel would magically appear and snaffle every fruit as it ripened, but the plants are now netted.

The one really exciting thing for me in the last few weeks is; I have BEES again! A swarm, collected from a very nice local couple, who had them in the porch. It was a bit interesting to collect them, as they were somewhat established (they thought the swarm had just arrived, but they were already building comb), and in an enclosed porch with limited access, that meant taking the ceiling partly to bits while balancing on a chair. All suited up in roasting heat.

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Mid collection, from the outside of the porch… hoping they’d go into the box!

They seem like a lovely swarm though, very little aggro, and within a week they’d drawn out 4 frames of new fresh comb, filled half of it with nectar and were laying eggs.

The queen looks good (marked with a red dot for ease of keeping track) and they all seem to be getting on with it properly. I’m just keeping an eye on them now and hoping they’re as good as they look!

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Cornish Spring

It’s been a really, really slow start for me this year at the new plot; supposedly I’ve moved south, to one of the mildest areas in the UK, the place spring arrives first.

Hah.

The weather’s  been so unpredictable, I’ve not been able to get anything much in the ground at all. It’s been either a muddy swamp or frozen. Add that to my lack of indoor cultivation space, Uni deadlines, and, well… I’ve got a few things like potatoes in, but I’m only just really getting started now, in May, over a month behind where I hoped to be. I’m also having to do everything slightly different from what I’m used to.

The little Swedish growing setup has been interesting, some plants seem totally fine with it, but some really don’t.

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The chillis? Fine. Thyme? Loving it, I’ve been harvesting regrowth from a supermarket discount pot since the start of January. Tomatoes, on the other hand, look thoroughly miserable and leggy after a few weeks under the lights, they’re far happier squeezed in on the single windowsill. The melons are pitifully stretched and yellow, but the courgette is green and growing fast. The chard is stretching for the light, the kale isn’t. Quite unpredictable.

I’m having to start off the chard and kale in there because the plot has a terrible slug problem, and nothing I’ve direct sown has germinated at all. At least, nothing a slug will eat. I’ve bought some nematodes to hopefully sort the slimies out, but as soon as the pack arrived, the weather’s turned dry, too dry to apply them. It looks like it’ll get wet again towards the end of the week though.

The other issue I’m a little grumpy about at the plot is the raspberries. When I took it on, the one plant that was still there was the row of raspberries. Pointed out by the site rep, and all; but they must have been sprayed with weedkiller, I’ve had not one shoot from the whole row. Oh well, I’ve got a new bed of strawberry plants in, and I’ll nose round all the shops, maybe I’ll find some bargain raspberries.

My main bad news though was the bees. Was. They didn’t make it through winter. The colony just seemed to dwindle, and by the end of February, when we had a proper cold snap, they were all gone. They had loads of food stores left, but I think there just weren’t enough of them left to stay warm. It’s been a bad year for losses all round.

I’m planning on getting another colony this summer, swarm season is just starting now, and hopefully I’ll be able to get one (or two, I have kit for 2), or get a nuc from someone local. Start again.

Midwinter greens

It’s been far too wet and muddy to do much useful at the plot lately, it’s barely stopped raining here in months. The few broad beans and shallots I got in in November are popping up, with the garlic hopefully soon to follow, but there’s not a lot I can do there right now, it’s just too wet to dig, though it’s noticeably milder than Bristol. The beans are growing very slowly, but they’ve not stopped altogether, like they did in my old plot. Later sowing seems to be the way to go here!

That doesn’t mean I can’t do anything though, and I’ve just bought myself a shiny new Christmas present, to help counteract the lack of windowsills in my flat:

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It’s from a Swedish meatball retailer, and I’m pretty impressed at how bright the lights are. They’re LED, so produce very little heat. There were options for inserts and  hydroponic stuff, but I’m mainly planning to use it for stuff I’ll be moving outside, so I prefer the flexibility of pots. I’ve just got a few houseplant cuttings (a Nepenthes off my Dad and some Spanish Moss) and a supermarket thyme in there at the moment, but I’ll be starting off first of the chillies and maybe a few other herbs on New Year’s day. There’s no sensible botanical reason for waiting until then, it just feels like a nice way to start off the year! I’ve got the heated propogator all set up ready.

Here’s to a great growing 2018!

A new start!

I’ve not been posting lately, because, well, I lost the plot more literally than usual. I moved to Cornwall, to start studying Horticulture seriously. Which is great, I’m really enjoying it, but I went from having a full allotment to only having one usable windowsill, and maybe a space for a few pots in a totally shaded out ‘patio’, if none of the residents of the other flats objected.

Studying plants is all well and good, but it’s just not the same as getting your hands dirty planting your own vegetables.

I asked about a bit about local allotments, but odds are, I’ll only be in the area for 2 or 3 years, and they all said they were full, and there really wasn’t a chance until next year, so I’d pretty much forgotten about it.

Then I got an email on Thursday saying a half plot is available just a few miles away, and do I want it right now?

I pretty much jumped at the chance, so now I’ve just taken on this little plot:

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It’s the square of dead grass, including the compost bin. I think it’s about 1/6th the size of my old plot, but that’s great; I don’t want so much of a challenge as the last plot was, as I really do want to spend a lot of time on studies, but growing vegetables is basically cheap therapy. It’s more social than my old site as well, probably because it’s quite new, not huge, it’s flat, and the plots are far smaller. You can’t just hide out in a corner invisibly. Plus they do barbecues and stuff in summer. It all seems pretty well perfect for me, as I don’t know many people down here yet.

A neighbour had strimmed it, which is great, and sprayed with glyphosate, which is… less great, to be honest, as I do prefer not to use the stuff. But anyway, it’s really not going to take a lot of work to get into shape, and it’s got far better light, shelter and soil (rich, deep and clay-ey) than the old place. I missed their annual manure delivery, but I think I should be able to find it here quite easily.

I found it quite funny looking round, as the site manager kept apologising for what a bad condition it was in. My last half plot, by comparison, looked like this:wpid-wp-1439780938723.jpg

Yeah…

I can’t have my own shed there, but there are two communal ones, one of which is right by my plot, so no worries there, really. It’ll help me cut down the junk hoarding. I can get a little storage box for pots and netting and things.

The bees are not going to be moving there; no livestock is allowed. Instead, they’re staying on a nearby smallholding (yeah, they went to live on a farm) with a very nice local beekeeper, and his hives. The trip down with them was a bit of a nightmare, if I’m honest. I  wound up a bit behind schedule, so it was a bit darker than planned. I was bringing down the last full car load of stuff, and my torch was somewhere in the mess. So I couldn’t get the stupid hive shut up in the dark for ages, by which time they were thoroughly awake, and not happy. There were bees under the roof, on top of the travel screen, which I’d fitted earlier in the day, thinking that would make it easier. Got stung twice getting it into the car.

I didn’t really have any problems once I’d got them in, no escapees while driving, though I still wore the suit the whole way up (with the hood pushed back, so I could put it on in a hurry) but I still didn’t make it to the new apiary site ’til nearly 2am, 2 hours later than planned. They seem to have settled in OK in the new place, and I’m just crossing fingers they overwinter.

So, on the new plot, clearing out the weeds has already begun, I’ll be getting some garlic in soon, and I’m happily planning away for the spring!  Glad I kept most of my tools and seeds now!

Weather. Ugh.

After a very mild and exceptionally dry April, we had a sudden cold snap in the last few days, including heavy hailstorms and that terror of the season, a frost. The kiwi vine got hit hard; it’s lost most of its leaves, though the flower buds look to be undamaged, and the strawberries came off pretty badly; on the 15th, they looked like this:

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Covered in flowers… which now all have frosted centres. So much for the early crop I was hoping for.

Luckily, I hadn’t yet succumbed to the temptation to plant out my tomatoes in the greenhouse, and even brought them back into the house overnight when I realised how chilly it was, and I don’t think anything else at the plot got damaged. Even the grape vine right next to the kiwi looked fine, I think it got just that bit more shelter from the shed.

I did have one nice surprise at the plot today; the legless lizards were out in force! I think I only saw one of them last year, and I was worried the slow worms had abandoned my plot, but I uncovered one (a bit camera shy) in an ant’s nest, under a bit of plastic.

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Then, when I’d repositioned the plastic to where I needed it (it really couldn’t stay there, however much I like slow worms), I picked up a stack of tiles to weight it down, only for another slow worm to suddenly fall out the pile into my hand. I think he was OK, but we both got a bit of a shock!

The bees are looking great at the moment; they’ve found some great nectar source, though I don’t know what. Loads o’ brood, quite a few drones hanging around, and they’re actually storing potentially harvestable honey for the first time! My plot neighbour has 2 out of 4 hives starting to swarm, so I’m keeping a careful eye on ’em, but no signs yet. I’ve got the second hive made up now in any case.

Now just fingers crossed for no more cold spells!

Changes are afoot…

Last blog post I mentioned that there was a possibility that I might have to quit the plot this year; well, it’s gonna happen. I’m going back to university (I dropped out after one semester from a degree course years ago) to study horticulture. I’m pretty excited about the whole thing, but it means moving away from Bristol to a totally new part of the country, and leaving my plot behind (and taking out huge loans, but I’m trying not to think about that bit).

I’m planning on trying to take the bees, though I have no clue where I’ll be staying as yet (it doesn’t come with student accommodation), so everything’s still all a bit in the air.

So, there’s going to be a whole lot less planning for the plot this year, there’s no point in growing the pumpkins that I usually dedicate half the allotment to, as I won’t be there to pick ’em. I’m going to just try and maximise what I can get before I go.

It’s all looking pretty good at the moment, we’ve had some unseasonably warm weather, and it’s been very dry, but stuff’s popping up and flowering like mad.

Even the kiwi vine’s giving it a go, after three years of doing nothing. There’s something like 4 flowers, but it’s trying!

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The garlic’s looking huge, I’ve never had it looking so advanced this early on. The stems are already the same size as the max they reached last year. I just hope the bulbs are equally impressive.

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The blossom has been amazing, and we had glorious sunshine for almost a week, so the bees have been raking in the honey, and the fruit crop will be bumper to match.

Unfortunately, the bees seem to be trying to build comb and store honey in daft places, and they were not pleased with me at all yesterday when I discovered this and had to break it all down (it was basically making it impossible to get into the hive). I had to give up mid inspection as everything got covered in honey and angry bees. Luckily, they’d cleaned up and calmed down today, so I did get to check them properly. My plot neighbour’s bees are already starting to swarm, so I really did need to check!

One other thing I tried, to try and make sure I get the best from the plot before I go, is try pruning the raspberries differently; someone mentioned to me ages ago that you can make autumn raspberries fruit earlier by chopping the stems halfway down, rather than cutting old stems out completely. With nothing to lose, I gave it a go:

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Yup, they’re autumn fruiting, but they’re all coming into flower at the same time as the summer ones! It may not normally be a useful trick (who wants a glut then no autumn fruit?) but it works!

March Mumbling

I’ve been taking a bit of a break from gardening lately, due in part to a very busy month (I went to Barcelona for a week, then pretty much spent the rest of February working), but also because there is a possibility that I may be moving away, and therefore having to quit the plot this year. It’s for a good reason, if it happens, but every silver lining has a cloud, or something along those lines.

So, I’m in that annoying limbo where I keep thinking it’s time to get some crop going, then wondering if there’s any point if it may just go to waste (the site is currently undersubscribed, so the plot could very well be left empty if I do go). I’m currently thinking I’ll prioritise stuff that’s early harvest (I should get most of the summer here either way) and stuff I can move to a pot, but also sowing the easy stuff like parsnips that don’t take up too much space or time, and not bothering with sprouting broccoli and the like. I don’t think I’d be missing out much on that, by the way, even if everything does fall through, as the blasted wood pigeons have successfully pulled the nets off my brassicas three years in a row now.

I have been starting the first few things off inside as well; tomatoes, peppers and sweet peas, and I have made it down the plot twice this week now it’s warming up a bit, and sown the first broad beans, planted onion and shallot sets and started prepping a few beds for planting, so the season is starting. I’m also trying to take cuttings of everything, in the hope that, if I do move, I can at least keep a few things going in pots.

I also went to a seed swap today, with the noble aim of thinning out my seed collection and giving some other people the chance to grow them. Hah. I did manage to come back with slightly fewer seeds than I went with, and I only bought shallot sets (and a rather nice slice of cake), which is perfectly acceptable, right?