Hello Folks, the pace is hotting up and we’re closing in on the really good part of rough vegetable gardening, apart from the harvesting that is; it’s time to get things in the ground that aren’t already in the ground and it’s time to tidy up one area that has lain dormant for the whole of the winter. At one end of the greenhouse I have three raised beds, I generally keep two of them for strawberries and one for salad leaves. Strawberries are really hardy plants and will mostly stand a winter under glass with little or no tending. I occasionally give them a little drink and when a couple of sheets of glass got smashed during Storm Dennis, I tucked them in with the fleeces I usually keep to cover the young tomato plants during the April and May nights, when it can still get a little cold.
In 2019 the two beds to the front of this picture were set with strawberries, with the furthest one being the salad bed. This area is where my main focus has been this last week. Although strawberries are tough little buggers I still like to rotate them and thin them out a bit, making sure that I keep the strongest to grow on. They put out “runners” throughout the growing season and I always keep a decent number of them, in a tub, to replace any plants that look to be past their best. I’ll finish this job this weekend, all being well. Flowers are already appearing and I’m anticipating a decent crop. The salad bar will now be in the centre bed. I have no idea what breeds my strawberries are, there are at least three different ones, but they always crop well, especially in years 2-4 (so far) in a new bed. I plant them in growing compost on top of a layer of soil which I’ve fed with organic chicken manure to encourage root growth. I feed them a couple of times a month throughout June, July and August.
There’s always a job that needs doing which isn’t the most fun, sieving soil for the strawberries is one such task, but I let it take me as long as it does, if that makes sense. I usually need around 20 buckets per raised bed, but it saves on buying compost and it retains nutrients and moisture more efficiently. I don’t use sieved soil for the salad bed, which generally takes one 50l bag of compost.
Some of the peas, three broad beans and a runner bean were planted on Monday last. They mostly seem to be doing well, but I have others at pre-germination stage should I need them. If not there is always at least one willing taker for a couple of veg plants, whatever they are. As you can see, although I applied weedkiller in late February and then weeded hard when I dug this section over, as soon as moisture is introduced the chickweed starts to make its seasonal appearance. It doesn’t matter what I do, I can’t get rid. I hoe a lot, which knocks it back, but I need to get round to finding a more permanent solution, if that’s at all possible.
The first of the potatoes I planted 3 weeks ago has shown itself above ground. It looks to be nice and healthy, which gives me hope of a decent crop. This is a Charlotte, I think, which is a “first early” and good all round new potato. I should be harvesting them in 8-10 weeks. It’s a balancing act now where water is concerned. Too much and the crop won’t be at its best, too little and the top of the plant will tend to bolt and the fruit will be small. I generally water every couple of days from now on, dependent on how hot it gets, this usually works out well.
Several of the plants on the potting table are now ready to go into the ground (see the image at the head of the article), I’ll start to plant them out this coming week, which means I’ll be busy. I was weeding along the tomato stitch and came across a cluster of small but strong looking tomato plants, a couple of inches high, that must have self seeded over the winter. I carefully took them up and have planted them in pots to see if they’ll hopefully grow on for planting out. I think I might well need them, unfortunately my experiment with the seed I brought back from Greece seems to be failing, as you can see in this picture. Even though they’re covered overnight and it has consistently been over 28 degrees in the greenhouse during the day they’ve lost their colour and are starting to wilt. I think it isn’t just about the temperature, I’m not sure the soil is to their liking. Back to the drawing board with this one I think. The Italian St. Pierre are holding up better, which is a positive thing.
One of the joys of taking a rough approach to my vegetable gardening is the propensity of some plants to self seed and, no matter what the privations of the winter brings, they spring up often in the most unusual of places. This is the area surrounding the tub where I keep my spare strawberry runners. A decent sized bed of very tasty rocket has established itself all around the base. It must have sustained itself on the small amount of water from the tub. I’ll get around to weeding it once it’s developed a little more, it always makes a tasty addition to salads and I sometimes use it in curries if there’s no spinach or broccoli leaf to hand.
Next week, along with all the other jobs listed, is tomato planting time, assuming we don’t have a cold snap and it’s the climate and not a blight that’s affecting the toms I mentioned above.
Happy Rough Gardening.
© Colin Cross 2020
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file