Hello everyone! How has your week been? Isn’t it wonderful to have the sunshine back again?
Nature has taken her foot off the brake and my garden is exploding into life wherever I look: the vegetable garden is now very nearly full (beans and courgettes going in this week, and I’m sowing the sweetcorn today too) and what’s already there is really starting to bulk up now. The first broad bean pods are forming, the onions are bulbing, and I have strawberries on the way.
These last from the forced strawberries: I dug these up back in January and brought them into the greenhouse where they’ve been enjoying the extra warmth and shelter ever since. A few weeks ago I started to hand pollinate the flowers – there were a few bees in the greenhouse here and there so I may have had a little help – and now I have strawberries swelling nicely. I will admit to a smidgen of smugness, since all the other strawberries I’ve seen outdoors are still only flowering.
Producing food out of season is a fun challenge, but not something I do if it carries any cost to the environment: I wouldn’t, for example, heat a greenhouse to produce crops earlier than usual, or buy bagged compost to pot up strawberries for bringing inside (even peat-free compost comes in a plastic bag and requires fossil fuel powered energy to produce). But these were a no-cost option: the compost is home-made, and even the strawberries were propagated myself. And the greenhouse is unheated: so that’s cost-free fun as far as I’m concerned. Can’t wait to eat the strawberries.
Anyway: so eagle-eyed subscribers will have noticed the schedule has been a bit out of whack this week. Apologies: I am in that wild state of disrepair that always indicates a final book deadline galloping up.
This Wednesday, to be precise: I am currently pouring out 30 years of experience on to the page, detailing how to grow dozens of different kinds of vegetables using the most sustainable methods available. They’re arranged seasonally, by when you can harvest them rather than when you sow them: it’s quite an eye opener to see how many come under the heading ‘summer’ and how few under the heading ‘spring’. The hungry gap, in early spring (we’re just coming to the end of it now), is the one to prioritise: if you have crops in the garden which peak and are ready to harvest at this time of year, from February to May here in the UK, you will crack year-round growing.
I have managed to find time to share with premium subscribers my five favourite lawn wildflowers, continuing the No Mow May theme this month. And before you do a double take, yes they are wildflowers: we’ve just been conditioned not to see them that way. Read more here:
I am off up to London today as tomorrow I am at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show! Excitingly I am helping on an exhibit in the Great Pavilion, for only the second time since I first started going to Chelsea (over 15 years ago now). The Plant Fairs Roadshow is a collective, pulling together dozens of nurseries, and now eight of them have clubbed together to bring a display to Chelsea. Some are veterans, others are first-timers. They include growers I’ve always admired and can’t wait to meet: I am so looking forward to this! If I get a few moments to run round with a camera I will bring you some highlights later this week.
I’m also still intending to bring you that problem focus post, with an ask me anything strand for you to bring me all your gardening preoccupations so we can try to solve them together! By then I will hopefully have hit my deadline, so I will raise my head from the keyboard and re-emerge into the sunlight, blinking blearily, to resume normal service.
So… what’s happening in the garden?
I am behind…. So behind. It’s a feature of this time of year at the best of times, but even more so when you’re writing a book (why do they always set deadlines for gardening books right in the middle of peak gardening season?)
But the peas I planted last week are scrambling up their supports, needing the occasional helping hand as I tie in wayward strands here and there. Seedlings of every kind are getting bigger by the day, as are the potatoes: I have begun earthing up in earnest now.
For me, that doesn’t (always) mean actually pulling up earth over the stems in the traditional way: I try to avoid disturbing the soil as much as possible, being a no-dig kinda gardener, so I earth up by mulching on top instead and burying the stems that way.
I don’t always have enough actual compost – that’s used up on spring mulching by now – so I just heap up grass clippings after mowing, plus straw, comfrey leaves, chopped-off nettles (as long as they’re not setting seed, of course), well-rotted manure, digestate… just about anything I can get hold of. The spuds don’t seem to mind it being heaped up against the stems so I just go for it and bury them right up to the topmost knot of leaves.
Like all plants in this family (tomatoes and aubergines do this too) potatoes can turn their stems into roots if buried: so if you bury the stems of potatoes they produce more tubers. You also prevent the potatoes nearest the top from turning green and poisonous, which they do if they’re exposed to light.
I am expecting to harvest the first new potatoes in a couple of weeks’ time, along with the broad beans which are still flowering their socks off and now starting to produce some promising baby pods down by the base of the plant. The first harvests of summer: now that is a milestone to cherish.
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May sun - in its combination with cool morning air - may be my favourite time of the year. I'll say different in September