Preparing the ground

Over the course of the last few months we have been working hard to get things ready for the spring. Most people assume that this time of year we have very little to do but this is the time of year we use to catch up and occasionally get ahead.

hedge laying

As you can see, we have small reservoirs around our no dig beds. This was our hedge laying course run by our Ranger team who have made a fabulous job of turning our native species hedge into an attractive habitat for wildlife.

Since last October we have been adding manure, wood ash, our own compost and green waste to our organic, no dig beds. And although this wet weather has recently put a stop to it we have prepared and covered about 90% of them ready for use in the spring. We are still harvesting leeks, cabbages (both Savoy and Red) and brussel sprouts from the field. From the polytunnels we started harvesting Florence fennel and wonderful spicy salads. The fennel is particularly early having been brought on by the mild December we experienced. In fact as I write we have had no more than 5 real frosts all winter!

 savoy Tunbridge Wells-20121217-00040 florence fennel 1 may 13

This has, and will cause us a few problems later in the year as certain crops need a period of Vernalisation,  (a period of low winter temperature to initiate or accelerate the flowering process). Plants such as blackcurrants and garlic benefit from a prolonged period of cold as it causes garlic to divide into its traditional clusters and blackcurrants to bear more flowers. This is true of most of our traditional fruit bearing crops.

I found an interesting article relating to flowering times of certain plants and how their dates of flowering have been either brought forward or set back by weather conditions in any given year. It covers a variety of garden plants, shrubs & trees and it gives a good idea of how much times can vary over the years.

IMAG4260 IMAG4262

Oxford University Press

Work on our Raspberry canes has nearly finished. Our Canes are about 5 years old and in your garden setting would most likely continue on for several more years. Due to the intensive cropping we put them under I expect ours to need replacing within the next 2 years at the outside. We started to lose canes last year so this winter we have been splitting some of the more successful clumps and replanting them where we had gaps.

The rows have been thoroughly weeded, the feeding and mulching system we installed last year proved its worth. The only real pest of a weed we have had to deal with has been the dreaded creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens) whose roots were easy to pull up through the fertile, friable soil. This year we won’t be able to feed with manure as we have run out but we have huge amounts of our own home made compost and council green waste that we will use instead. Once we have top dressed the clear rows we then cover with straw to prevent weed growth over the coming season.

fruit 1 IMAG4213 fruit 2

We use this same method for our loganberries and hybrid berries.

Our rhubarb bed has been receiving some attention since Christmas and we are using upturned rubbish bins (clean and dried thoroughly prior to use) to force about 10 of our plants. We pile woodchip around the base of the bin to ensure no light gets in. Our first crop will be ready for our restaurants opening week on the 15th March. Some of the older plants have been divided and replanted to ensure healthy vigorous growth in the coming years and any spare have been potted on to be sold at our farmers markets which start in May.

The Ranger team have also joined us on the veg plot this week. Every year they run hedge laying courses, a valuable skill, that creates good thick hedges which are not only natural barriers to cattle and sheep but provide fabulous habitats for wildlife. Last year they started on the hedge that lies at the bottom of the plot. This year they have managed to finish the part on the public side and moved on to the area at the bottom of our new Orchard.

Talking of our orchard, we have exciting plans to turn the area over to an annual meadow underneath. We have already sown some wildflowers in the autumn but in the next few weeks we plan on adding a clay mix to include yellow rattle, which weakens grass and will allow the wildflowers to preside. Sowing must take place in the next few weeks as it germinates late February to early March. This will be joined by our gorgeous native field poppy, cornflowers & oxeye daisies which will dominate for the first few years to be gradually superseded by more perennial species as the root growth on the apples becomes more mature.

Some jobs to think about in your own garden

If  you haven’t already done so, now is a good time to start sowing your broad beans, ‘ Super Aquadulce’ is a cold hardy variety that produces a good early crop.

This month really is your last chance with garlic. If planted now your crop, depending on variety should be harvestable by late June to July.

Shallots can also be planted out from now on.  ‘Longor’ is a good hardy variety but leave ones such as ‘Red sun’ untill March.

From March onwards you can start sowing your parsnip seeds.

Make sure any ‘volunteer’ tubers from last year’s potato crop are removed and preferably burned as the will carry blight spores which will infect this year’s crop. Never be tempted to reuse them, it’s far better to buy in clean seed potatoes each year.

As you do your spring clean make sure any stems from your brassica crops are buried deep into your compost heap, this will prevent populations of mealy aphid and whitefly from re-infecting your new brassica crops.

Hope your all enjoying your gardens and hopefully the wet weather hasn’t affected you too badly.

Louise Nicholls

Senior Vegetable Gardener

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