There always has to be a plan. Whether or not it’s a plan that will be carried through, that’s another matter, but plan this season there is. A large part of it is based on the fact, alluded to in my previous post, that although the ground in the greenhouse is healthy and normally productive, it does tend, during periods of inclement weather (which aren’t unusual in Cumbria) to become overly damp. For an instance, if there’s a lot of rain early on in the growing season I hardly need to water the potatoes at all. I’ve sort of figured out that certain crops, the bushy ones especially, don’t like getting overly damp and although it isn’t difficult to manage the administered watering process I have no control over the rain. Consequently I’ve decided this year to grow much more in tubs and off the ground.
To facilitate this I needed to create some raised platforms, strong enough to handle the weight and robust enough to cope with the watering. As is the case, on every occasion, the materials are never far from hand for any job on this old farmstead. A dozen or so “farmers friends” (18″ hollow concrete blocks) and two sections of the redundant village hall stage have now been utilised to provide growing tables. An added benefit, as my old bones become creakier, is far less time spent scrabbling around on my hands and knees fighting the unwinnable battle against chickweed (surely as hardy as knot-weed in its own way). In previous years I’ve always started my tomato seeds off in Normans airing cupboard and brought them on in front of his patio doors, before transplanting them directly into the greenhouse. Somehow it didn’t seem appropriate this year. I’ve just sowed them in trays & set them in a warm dark place at home, but a decent sized cold frame, something I’ve never before felt I needed is going to come in very handy. Timber and good quality poly-carbonate sheeting (that’s another story) being readily available, all I needed was a man with the necessary skills. Good old Dave, as good with saw, drill, hammer & screwdriver as he is with an old engine or a piece of glass.
It’ll be a week, maybe two before I start to put the cold frame to good use. A cold snap wouldn’t surprise me, we’ve been known to have snow and hard frosts even into April. I’ve lined the “floor” with compost bags. The fact they’re black inside serves a dual purpose, they’ll protect the timber from the worst of any water contamination and black absorbs heat which, early in the year, is no bad thing. It reminded me, as I was fitting it, of a story which I may have related before, but here goes; when I was in Dubai I’d occasionally go to Jumeira Beach on Saturday. When it was hot it got packed with ex pats, Saturday is the last day of the weekend in the Islamic world. One particular very hot day I was lying in the shade, people watching, when a young Arab couple came & sat down on the sand not far from me. After a short while he went for ice cream, resplendent in his pure white dish-dash. She remained sat, covered head to toe in black robes, with only here eyes visible. When he returned she took her ice cream, lifted her veil with gloved hands and ate it under cover. I though at the time how uncomfortable she must have been, it was probably 40deg or more. When they left the beach she walked, dutifully, behind him. Don’t tell me this isn’t a form of misogyny.
After applying much thought and consideration I’ve changed my mind about the strawberries. I’m going to keep them in two of the beds but I’m reducing the numbers of plants in each one. I’ve also had a long suspicion confirmed. I accept that a certain amount of the strawberry crop has to be lost to birds, although I do put nets over the beds to minimise the effect. What I hadn’t realised, until a verbal slip up and a little probing, was that my maintenance man has a love of strawberries that passes all understanding. I think he sets out with the intention of just taking a couple, but can’t help himself. Blackbirds, I apologise. Dave, temper your strawberry habit with a little caution.
After cleaning out the trough and giving it a rinse with a mild Jeyes Fluid solution to hopefully kill off any lurking harmful bacteria I topped up with 300 litres (when packed) of 30-70 compost. I’d cleaned and trimmed the roots from around 80 or so viable plants, placing 50 at decent intervals. There are still plenty of viable plants left so the trough nearest in this picture will be set to strawberries for another year. The third trough will be re-composted and I’ll plant it with lettuce and other leaves. Let’s see how that goes.
Shorter, wider apart potato stitches this year, another change, should lead to a plentiful supply of new potatoes from mid May through to September. 5 seeds to a row, four rows planted at fortnightly intervals & if they all produce spuds that should be around 20 weeks supply (give or take). I’m toying with the idea of replanting the stitches with main-crop and seeing if I can’t get some decent autumn/early winter results, but that’ll be very rain dependent.
More of the same really, the formula, certainly as far as tomatoes, potatoes & beans seems to have worked well so far, consequently, although I’m making changes to the layout and some of the planting I’ll leave my fertilisation process as is. This stitch will accommodate a purple climbing bean, (not Borlotti) a broad bean and a frnch bean I’ve grown successfully before which works as a more than adequate runner bean substitute and is far less “stringy”.
Comes a time, even for a retired person, to put down the tools, take up the camera and head off for a stroll. Although the weather hasn’t been too shabby since the rain stopped It’s strange to see so few people about. It’s noticeable too that, rather than people craving the company of others, apart from the odd exception those I meet on my rambles seem to be more readily avoiding human contact. Although I’m an old curmudgeon I’m also a gregarious person at heart and have always enjoyed chance encounters with other walkers; however, during recent trips to Grasmere, Thirlmere & Derwentwater not only has there been far fewer people around (certainly far less than in other lock-downs) the few I have seen have seemed reticent to even pass the time of day. Either my face is putting them off, or all this nonsense has knocked the stuffing out of them & walking, rather than the joyful experience it should be has become perfunctory. Whichever it is, I hope it isn’t now so deeply ingrained that we won’t be able to do all the things that make life worthwhile in freedom and without restraint of any kind. I don’t subscribe to the “New Normal”.
You might be wondering about the muddy wellies. It chucked it down for four days, the sides of the tomato trench collapsed and the newly tilled “grund” turned into a bog, keeping me from my greenhouse for nearly a week. A drainage trench seems to be the next major job on the list.
Next Time; tomato seedlings, glass replacement and, if I can be bothered, drainage.
© Colin Cross 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file