Peas, apple blossom and self-sown chard
Hello! How has your gardening week been? Mine has been mostly full of light and warmth, bar a few spectacularly thunderous downpours (mercifully short-lived). I’ve been gardening in a t-shirt with the sun on my arms, delighting in everything from the billowing cow parsley in the hedgerows to the brilliant green flush spreading across the countryside and the ecstatic chorus of birdsong in the hedgerows. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: this is quite my favourite time of the year.
That said: it is starting to feel as if I am beating back the encroaching undergrowth like some kind of latterday Livingstone. The more vigorous wildings round here always get a bit too big for their boots about now.
I don’t mind a few nettles (in fact I positively welcome them: they make a wonderful nitrogen-rich feed, and they are caterpillar nurseries for butterflies like the small blue I spotted, with a little leap of joy, just yesterday). But now they’re starting to take the mick: they’ve spread in rafts from the hedgerows into the middle of my rewilded patch, as have the hogweed – again, lovely things and great for pollinators but a bit inclined to hog the whole place. Now I know how they got their common name. Well: out comes the mattock and I’m doing my best to instill a modicum of balance again. As I said earlier this week, rewilding is not a low-maintenance option.
The tomatoes are a foot high and starting to need supports which is my signal that it’s high time they went into their final growing places. All, that is, apart from the Primabella which I sowed a month after the rest, in March: they are – perhaps predictably – a month behind all the others, and I am about to pot them into their one-litre pots (the rest were at that stage some weeks ago). Well: they are still looking perfectly healthy and I still think they might catch up. We’ll see! In the meantime I am busy sewing hessian sacks into plastic-free grow bags to accommodate them all: full instructions here.
This week I’m in book writing purdah as it’s now only a fortnight or so till the final deadline so it’s a mad dash to the finish line. But I will still find time to talk about my favourite lawn wildlings, continuing our No Mow May theme for this month: and I’m bringing you a new feature too, as I focus on one particular seasonal gardening problem, then open the floor to you and let you ask me anything. So get your questions ready!
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So… what’s happening in the garden?
I have just planted up my third-to-last veg bed with the maincrop peas – ‘Magnum Bonum’ this year. These are the ones I rescued from the mice in my greenhouse, basically by building a mouse-proof cage and putting them in it: it may have been a tad eccentric but it worked a treat and no mousies were harmed. I do like it when I find a solution that helps me garden a little kinder.
The mangetouts are in too. I used to grow early and late peas for a longer harvesting season – the idea is that you sow them at the same time, but the early varieties crop sooner (hence ‘early’) so you pick them and then follow on to the maincrops later.
But peas do take up quite a bit of space in the garden: I grow mine in batches of 80-100 to get the kinds of yields I need (I really, really like fresh peas). And if you’re going to hand over a whole bed to them you want a good return. Early peas, sadly, don’t give you that: they crop lots sooner but the pods are shorter, the peas are smaller and you don’t get as many of them.
So nowadays I grow mangetouts for summer eating: they are truly delicious and incredibly generous, so you get to pile your plate high every day if you want to. They don’t freeze, so I concentrate on picking and eating my fill of sweet, crunchy pods while the maincrops are growing. Then, when those start to produce pods in July or thereabouts I can just shell and freeze them all. That way I get peas in summer… and to eat through winter too.
Seedlings are popping up all over now: including, to my delight, a lot of chard seedlings from the plants I allowed to run to seed last year. Letting chard set seed is a bit of a pain as they grow very tall and take pretty much all summer to ripen the seed fully and let it drop, flopping all over the place in the meantime and generally getting in the way. Next time I’ll remember to stake them. But this year I am not going to need to sow any more chard: I’ll just lift the seedlings carefully with my trowel and transplant them across to where I want them to grow.
The apple trees have blossomed amazingly well this year: I have a hunch we might be in for another good fruit harvest. These almost always follow a very cold winter (which we certainly had – with the frost-blackened plants to prove it) followed by a frost-free spring: again, though it’s perhaps been a bit on the chilly side for April and May, this year has delivered and we haven’t had a frost since early March.
I grow four kinds of apple: this one is Devonshire Quarrenden, an old West Country variety which is super early to crop, and then up in the top strip (among the rewilded orchids) there are James Grieve – positively weighed down with flowers at the moment – plus Egremont Russet and a good cooker, Warners King. I am anticipating much crumble!
Do let me know how you’re all getting on and what’s growing for you! Happy gardening :))
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