Not very Springy

I don’t seem to have written about growing things for ages. We’ve had a rather sunny April so far and, normally, this would have helped the garden along. However, it has been really cold and we’ve had frosts during recent nights, so the few things that are outside – garlic, shallots and some hardy salad leaves – are making slow progress. The exceptions are the rhubarb, which is thriving as a result of the heap of compost that was piled atop it a couple of months ago and the red currant bush that we moved in March, which I was worried might not survive, but seems to be doing fine. Just this morning, however, I brought one of my small trays of salad greens indoors because the tiny seedlings were looking so forlorn outside.

My issue at the moment is space in the limery. Things that I had hoped to move outdoors by now (in particular the three citrus trees) are still inside. There are still potatoes chitting on the windowsill, and lettuce in pots. The planter I want to use for the tumbling tomatoes remains unplanted because there isn’t room for it inside, so the plants are in pots still because these take up less space. Last year’s chillies and peppers are slowly resprouting, but it’s too early to know which are likely to be worth keeping and which can be “recycled”, so that’s more space being occupied. I’m holding off planting more seeds because I need to prioritise what little spare space I have for potting up things that are already growing. I have a number of things that I would like to get sown, but they will have to wait until things warm up outside… I’m sure they will make up for lost time once they do get planted.

The weather forecast is showing cold nights for another week at least, so it looks like I’m going to have to be patient a while longer.

Prospects

This is one of my favourite times of the year – no, not the biting winds, incessant rain and sodden garden, but the fact that this is when we invest in the future. From little paper packets, we extract tiny packages of potential. That unassuming, dry disk is filled with magic: given a little moisture and heat, life will spring forth. Life, in the form of tiny green shoots that will immediately start using light to grow. Life that will provide food, beauty and oxygen.

On Saturday, after a trip to pick up some compost from a friend who had arranged a bulk order (much saving of money), I planted the first seeds of the year – tomatoes and peppers. Into the propagator they went and now we wait. They are the first of many this year – lettuce, rocket, beans, peas – as well as some plants not from seed – potatoes, shallots and garlic. Not all of them will thrive, but I know that in months to come I will be able to pick fresh food, all of which started from those tiny seeds that I put my faith right at the beginning of the year.

So, if you are feeling glum about the prospects for the coming year, plant a few seeds and just see how much joy and hope emerges with every little shoot.

New Shoots

It’s that time of year again when I’m busy sowing seeds and getting irrationally excited when the little green shoots appear from beneath the compost. Outdoors I have sown salad leaves, carrots and parsnips, although only the lettuces are showing signs of growth yet. As usual, my first sowing of leaves is in the old fish box retrieved from a local beach many years ago.

Indoors, the peppers and chillies that I started sowing much earlier in the year and then sequentially until about a month ago are coming on well (all except one variety which has not germinated at all and must be duff seeds, since they have been kept under the same conditions as all the rest). The ones doing the best so far are the purple jalapeños which were amongst the first planted.

This year we have an additional protected growing space. When Mr Snail moved into the flat he’d rented in Reading, it was full of stuff abandoned by previous tenants. After checking with the landlord, most of this went to a charity shop, but we retained one or two things, including a mini-greenhouse that had been on the tiny terrace. A few weeks back, Mr Snail put it together here in Wales and it’s providing a space for some sorrel frown last year as well as more germinating seeds: peas and various brassicas. Later in the summer, I think I shall put a couple of pepper plants in there to see how they get on.

I certainly wouldn’t have gone out and bought a plastic greenhouse like this, but it seemed a shame not to make use of it and I think it could be a valuable addition, since my wooden cold frame rotted away some years ago.

Inside the limery the carnivores are waking up and the citrus plants are growing great guns, and I’m dithering about exactly when to put them outside.

And finally, in the bathroom the flower on the Nepenthes continues to bloom…

mc flower

Monkey cup flower

I do enjoy this time of year… all that promise of future harvest…

A chilli day

I’m always excited when the first seeds of the season germinate. As always, the first crop to be sown here is chilli, because they really benefit from a long growing season – which we can easily provide in the limery. So here they are:

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it’s chilli in the limery

So far we can see seedlings of jalapeno (standard and purple) and lemon drop (just):

My heart is singing (and it’s nothing to do with the date).

Springing into life 2018

Today is the vernal equinox – the first day of ‘astronomical’ spring. Despite the late snow here in the UK, spring has arrived with glorious sunshine and I have been busy potting up some of the plants that have grown from the seeds I sowed back in January. As with all seed sowing there have been successes and failures – and a minor slug invasion at germination time did for a few of the seedlings. The loofah seeds have not germinated and neither have some of the varieties of chilli, but I have not given up hope yet and I they may eventually appear.

I sowed generous amounts of parsley seed because it is notoriously fickle when it comes to germination. It appears that every single seed, however, has produced a plant, so I will be able to share these with my local friends (a particular pleasure when it comes to gardening). Last year I planted another unreliable germinator – lemon grass. Again, I was swamped with plants and gave lots away. Since it grows to quite a size, I only retained three plants for myself and these have been happy in the limery over the winter. Today they have been transplanted to larger pots and I’m looking forward to fresh, home-grown lemongrass in my cooking for the first time this year.

A few weeks ago, before things in the limery had actively started to grow, I decided to divide some of my carnivores. This was a little nerve-wracking as I’ve never done it before and I was not sure how they would respond. Several weeks down the line, however, I’m happy to report that they seem to be thriving, and there are lots of new pitchers (for the Sarracenias) and sticky leaves (for the Droseras). Several of these plants are destined for a friend who lives locally, so I’m delighted that the operation has been so successful. The tatty old pitchers from last year (or even the year before) look very sad compared to the vigorous new ones. The plants that I didn’t split are also springing back into life and it looks like flies are going to have a very hard time if they come into the limery this year.

There’s still more potting up to do and plenty of new seeds to sow later on in the week. I love harvesting, but the promise of abundance at this time of year really does lift my spirits.

Chilly and Chilli

The first germinating seeds of the year are always special, in particular when their toasty conditions in the propagator are in such stark contrast to the outside (poor garlic under that net tunnel):

Apparently spring is coming!

A right old caper

Years ago I planted some nasturtium seeds in the garden… I have never needed to do so again, because they self-seed every year and I continue to get them growing all over the place. They provide a riot of colour, good ground cover and they are edible. The leaves can be added to salad or used in cooking (nasturtium leaf pesto, for example) and the flowers are also edible and look stunning as a garnish. The seed pods too are edible: until now I’ve never harvested them to eat, although I have eaten them elsewhere.

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today’s little harvest

Today I had a bit of a headache and decided to go out in the garden. Looking round I noticed the abundance of nasturtium seeds. So I picked some – it didn’t seem like many, but turned out to be about 140g. Consulting the River Cottage preserves book, I found that to make a couple of small jars of “nasturtium capers” I only need 100g, but that they do have to be soaked in a light brine for 24 hours before they are pickled with peppercorns and herbs. I, therefore, can’t actually pickle them until tomorrow. In the mean time they are soaking and I no longer have an excuse for not getting on with some work…

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24 hours to go

 

 

Sunny gardening

Us Brits are well known for being weather obsessed, so you will forgive me for telling you that the past few days have been glorious. The weather has been lovely and so this weekend has been all about planting. I had intended to complete my sketchbook contribution this weekend, but the timing of the good weather made it ideal for planting some of this year’s crops. The forecast for next weekend (when there are two bank holidays) is poor, so crafting is much more likely then.

In the past few days I have (whist wearing my new apron) potted up tomatoes and sowed lots of seeds: squashes, courgettes, a variety of purple sprouting broccoli that sprouts in the summer, chives, parsnips, asparagus peas, various lettuces, mizuna and rocket. I’ve cleaned out pots, weeded and removed brambles. From the shed I retrieved a plastic bin with a lid and filled it with nettles and water to turn into nitrogen-rich liquid feed – it gets stinky, but it’s good stuff and it’s free. And I planted a whole raised bed with potatoes and netted these to prevent Max (who I think is some sort of potato hound) from digging them up and eating them.

I’ve also been admiring the growth of other plants in the limery – lettuces, melons, lemongrass seedlings and carnivores:

The sun has gone in now, hence finding the time to write, but I am feeling very satisfied with my activities. What have you been up to this weekend?

Sowing and growing

Life is flourishing in the limery. Seeds that were sown a few weeks ago are developing  nicely into young plants – lettuces, tomatoes, sweet peppers and melons:

I sowed more seeds over the past few days, including the first ones outside. The latter is a pea variety called “Carouby de Maussane”, a mange tout with red flowers that is going to grow up the pea obelisk that Mr Snail created (I think most people use them for sweet peas, but I prefer to grow edibles). A few days of sunshine has given me the chance to weed one of the raised beds and that’s where the peas are.

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only planted yesterday, so no germination yet

 

Unfortunately one of the things that is flourishing in the limery is the cluster-fly population. I really don’t want to use chemical pesticides, but the flies have arrived before the carnivorous plants are doing their stuff. However, the recent sunshine has encouraged pitcher growth and so I’m hoping that soon the Sarracenias will be munching their way through the flies. I grew some from seed last year, so I’m especially pleased to see one of the youngsters producing a vigorous pitcher already. The sundews are also showing signs of growth; in particular the Drosera dicotoma looks like it’s going to be a force to be reckoned with in the very near future (I think of it as living fly-paper). The Venus fly traps are growing too, but never really earn their keep apart from providing interest!

Amongst my favourite seeds to plant are the squashes, but I’m hanging on for a few more days so they don’t get too big before it’s warm enough to plant them out. And then there’s beans and borage and all sorts of herbs…

Three Things Thursday: 23 March 2017

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

Inspired by Emily of Nerd in the Brain here are my Three Things Thursday.

First, a new vaark for a new friend. I made this little creature on Sunday and on Monday it went in the post to make a new friend smile:

A new vaark ready for the world

Second, seed saving. Last year I saved seeds from the melons that I grew. The variety, Green Nutmeg, came from the Heritage Seed Library and so it’s particularly pleasing to have a new generation germinating this year. I have loads of these seeds, so if anyone in the UK would like some, just let me know and I’ll put a few in the post.

Green Nutmeg melon seedlings

Third, a rare carnivore. I have lots of sundews and pitcher plants in the limery, and whilst they present some challenges, they generally seem to be doing ok. The Venus Fly Traps are a bit more of a challenge, but I have three small ones. My favourite carnivore, though, is much more tricky to care for. The Monkey Cup can’t stay in the limery over winter as it’s too cold – it has to come and live in my office on the window sill. I’m very happy, therefore, to be able to return it to the limery this week and to note that it’s getting bigger and looks really rather healthy:

Monkey Cup (Nepenthes ventricosa x talangensis)

So, those are three things making me smile and for which I am grateful this week – what about you?

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