Finally, got around to writing this blog post about my gardening exploits this past weekend. The weather was delightful, dry and sunny and it was the perfect opportunity to set to and put my plans for a vegetable/fruit bed into action. I reported in previous posts how I had decided to convert the ‘Big Border’ in the middle of the garden to grow produce and I have moved a few plants but it really needed a concerted effort and focus to progress it properly.
I did managed to buy three bags of farmyard manure before the lockdown and I have been saving them for the vegetable border. I spent Saturday working through the first section of the border, just over a third of the border. Many snowdrops were lifted, luckily its the ideal time to move them in the green; perennials were moved mainly to the border on the other side of the grass path; some camassias were relocated to the slope and I have to admit that a significant number of camassias have gone to the great compost heap in the sky. Now some might be shocked by this but the camassias were taking over the border and their large leaves and bulbs make it challenging to grow much else so the time was rip for a cull.
This is the border at the end of Saturday. I add two of my precious bags of manure, dug it all over and raked it. I’m going to try to not walk on the border having worked so hard on the soil.
Sunday was planting day which was very exciting. Raspberry canes went in along the top of the border by the grass path. I had bought a couple of pots of canes before the lock down but then realised on Sunday that I now had 10 canes and if I placed them the appropriate 1ft apart I wouldn’t be able to fit them in. So I have thrown caution to the wind and have planted them in a double row with the canes planted at 45 degrees to the ones in the adjacent row, so its a kind of zig-zag, if you see what I mean. The fruit section was expanded with a rhubarb, some relocated Sweet Cicely, a Gooseberry Invicta and half a dozen Strawberries.
The Veg are represented by four Potato Sharpe’s Express, three Broccoli, Shallots started in pots, some Lettuce Little Gem seedlings. In addition I have sown Rocket, Beetroot and a salad leaf mix.
Here is the Little Veg Bed at the end of Sunday all planted up and no space to spare. I’m now planning on extending across the border as I will hopefully have Courgette, more potatoes, and Sweet Peas to plant as well as other salad seeds.
And to just finish off my happiness we have good steady rain on Sunday night so the border has had a good soak.
I can’t believe how much I have enjoyed pulling this border together. I’m really excited about the prospect of finally making veg growing work so watch this space to see how I do.
To say I am chuffed is an understatement. I have grown cucumbers!!! So far we have three large fruits with more coming on. I am so pleased because this isn’t the first time I have tried to grow cucumbers but I have always failed in the past.
My eldest son adores cucumbers, in fact when he was little they were the only form of vegetable he would eat. He gets through at least two a week so growing them myself would be a real result. The last time I tried, probably two years ago, the plants germinated and grew on well to start with but then I planted the one plant I had decided to keep into a huge pot. I stupidly thought that as they grow large vines they would need a large pot with lots of compost etc. However, I think in hindsight I drowned the plant. I have since read that this is the reason when you pot up plants you just go to the next size pot. Too big a leap means the plant can’t cope with the amount of moisture etc – well I am a little unsure of the science bit.
This year my first cucumber seedlings were destroyed by an early outbreak of white fly. They sucked the moisture out of the shoot and the plants just stopped growing. So I started again and put up yellow sticky cards to catch the white fly. I nurtured all four seedlings and this time they grew big and strong. I then succumbed to that failing that so many of us gardeners succumb to and failed to discard any of the seedlings. I thought two plants would be ideal but I had better keep one more just in case, oh and then it seemed a pity to ditch the last one!! So I have 4 cucumber plants but where to put them?
My greenhouse is tiny (3′ x 4′) so two cucumber plants would be more than enough especially as I have tomato plants in there are well. I decided to put the other two plants in my cold frame. Luckily it is a vertical one and you can remove the shelves. As you can see they are going really well, in fact they are actually doing better than the ones in the greenhouse, if not a little behind. The greenhouse plants may have produced three large fruits between them but the new fruits have gone yellow and fallen off. I am assuming that this is due to the heat as I am too lazy to shade my greenhouse. It may be that the plants have used all the nutrients from the soil producing the fruit they have so I will give them a good feed and wait and see.
There are lots of fruits on the cold frame plants all of different sizes so I can only assume that the cooler conditions are more beneficial to the plants.
But even better than the satisfaction of having grown the cucumbers is the triumph that my discerning son says they taste better than the shop bought ones and are far more enjoyable – result!
The art of fruit-growing is all a little obscure to me. However, I am an eternally curious person so leaped at the chance last week to visit the top fruit grower in the country. This visit was an unexpected bonus when I was on my pests and diseases workshop. We popped 5 minutes up the road from the garden we were based in and found ourselves amongst acres of spanish tunnels full of cherry trees.
In my ignorance I didn’t realise they grew cherries under these tunnels although it makes perfect sense as they are protected from the birds and also the tunnels bring the crop on quicker.
Our host spent some time telling us about how they use bees to pollinate the crops. They work with a local chap who brings the bees in. I was fascinated to learn that different bees work in different conditions – but then doesn’t that apply to most workers!! Honey Bees need warmth to work at their best whilst Bumble Bees will work in cooler conditions and therefore get the blossom pollinated more quickly. However, of course there is the issue of the bees being attracted to other crops so the fruit growers are keen to get their crops pollinated before the bees get drawn to the rape crops.
This year they are working on a project with Mason Bees. The bee supplier has catch boxes which are put in the tunnels. The catch boxes are full of tubes just like the bee nesting boxes you can buy. The Mason Bees will lay an egg in the end of the tube and then block up the tube with dirt. I believe they will keep doing this until the tube is full of eggs each in its own capsule, but I may have made that bit up. Once the bees have finished laying eggs and pollinating they either go off to find pollen elsewhere or they die. Therefore the bee supplier looses his supply. What they are hoping will happen this year is that the Mason Bees will lay eggs in the catch boxes while they are busy pollinating the cherries and then the bee supplier can collect the catch boxes and he will have a replacement supply of bees.
We heard about the strict controls that are in place when the crops are harvested. All the pickers have to use sterilised hand wash whenever they go in or out of the tunnels. There seem to be endless audits and checks that they have to go through and M&S seem to be the most stringent but then they do pay well. The grower has even sent off samples to be tested for E coli to show their crops are fine and as a gesture of goodwill especially in the current climate with a lot of concern over E coli. He said there was no real likelihood of there being a problem due to the way the plants are watered.
All the time we were talking the pickers were returning from picking raspberries. The farm generally employs Bulgarian and Polish pickers. When asked about employing locals we were told there was just no interest. Sadly the wages paid are a lot of money to the Eastern Europeans but the English do not see it worth their while especially with such a generous benefit system available* A sorry state of affairs I think but that is a huge debate and we wont go there.
The grower reckons the cherry crops are about 10 days early and they were actually starting picking that day. Their trees will crop for about 6 weeks due to the variety of aspects they have on site. The farm is located on the top of Herefordshire hills and the tunnels run down the side of the hill so the cherries at the top of the tunnel will ripen quicker than those further down the tunnel. They they have east facing tunnels, south facing tunnels and different types of covering to the tunnels (but I got lost at this point) all which affect the speed of ripening.
Having talked to us for an hour whilst we stood amongst the cherry trees our host gave us permission to help ourselves to cherries. They were superb, so sweet. As a final treat we went up to another tunnel where the variety produced even bigger cherries which you had to eat with two bites. The skins were soft and the cherries even sweeter. Strangely I lost all my appetite for my cheese sandwich! I now have a new appreciation of the work behind one of my favourite fruit crops.