Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Up the Garden Path - Looking at apple bloom

Today    was the first day I noticed apple bloom in the garden. Yes, our apple tree seems to be coming into flower. It seems a lot earlier than normal, to be honest with you. And the crab apple hasn’t had flowers yet, even though it has had leaves for a while. But still the pinkish white blossom is delightful. It sets my mind to the future. We don’t really do what the books say to our apple tree.

Now, for the best possible crop you are supposed to think the apples, and also prune them in particular ways.
We inherited out current trees in a state of some neglect, since the previous owner of the orchard kept horses which ate their bark. We replaced the horses with Hebridean sheep, which taste better but also like a bit of apple tree bark. The resulting mess means it is not really worth our time to prune the apple trees or, for that matter, to thin them out. We find the Hebridean sheep manage to thin anything out within thinning distance of the ground.

That said, even though we don’t do anything to the trees, the sheer quantity of apple trees means we manage to get a large enough crop for our purposes – which are apple juice and apple and blackberry crumble during the autumn and winter months.

One thing I haven’t noticed so far is the elderflowers coming out. They may do soon... but not quite yet. Every year I plan to make some elderflower cordial, I even have a decent recipe, but that never quite happens. In amongst weeding, cutting the grass, and sowing plants I never seem to have quite got the time to do what I want.

But I hope that will change in time.

Now, one thing I think every gardener should have at this time of year is... yes... sting cream! We have a supply of insect sting cream (brand not mentioned) and you should have too... preferably in a standard place. Because that way, when the inevitable wasp sting occurs, you are protected. When you are rattling in flower beds it is inevitable sooner or later you will get stung, or ant attacked.

So, there we go... the health warning. 

Grass cutting duty comes again, inevitable as spring gets older. But, amongst all of that, make sure you take some time to rest and recuperate in the garden.  I guess I’ll speak to you again ;)

Monday, 4 April 2011

Seed bed Preparation – for sowing outdoors

Developing a proper seed bed can be quite physical work. You need to dig the bed thoroughly in the winter. Probably double digging is best, but the reality is that often only single dig. This may include an application of lime, or manure, if at the appropriate stage of your crop rotation. Either way, you leave the bed to break down over winter, and come to it again in the following spring when the ground has dried out. You shouldn’t work on really sodden ground since it will damage the soil by making it too compact.

You will need to dig the bed over, removing any perennial weeds, and once you have dug it over you need to do something that will make you look like a bit of an idiot.

You need to get your fork, and whack the surface of the earth like a madman. Some people try to level it out with a rake, but a rake is really for getting the stones up on the top of the soil. Bashing the soil with a fork will make it nice and level, breaking any clumps up.

The resulting soil will be a perfect seed bed.

In order to  get the best results when sowing, I generally suggest making a furrow with the handle of a hoe, and then sowing the seeds. Rather than pushing the soil back onto the seedlings, I think using compost is a better idea. Because the compost looks different to soil, you get a firm mark of where you have sown. This makes weeding a doddle.

The problem with sowing seeds outdoors is that even if you have a perfect seedbed, there will probably be seeds that are in the soil, so unless you mark the rows properly you won’t know which of the seedling are weeds, and which are plants. With a compost marker, you will be able to use your hand hoe to decapitate the weeds leaves before the plants have a chance to establish. This helps you maintain the perfect seed bed with much less effort.

On top of that, one thing you always need to do is mark the variety and time of planting on a label. While there are labels for pots, these can become lost. There are better options in garden centers, or you can cut up a plank from a garden center into small sticks. Write on the sticks with a permanent market, and just paint over the writing every year. 

One final thing... it is often better to water the soil before you sow rather than after. You don’t want to wash any of your seeds away.

This is coming up to the perfect time of year to sow plants outside... we haven’t had a frost here for weeks, and we don’t expect any more. So have fun J

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Up the garden path - Sheep, nuthatch, cherry blossom and ebooks.

Hello and it’s a superb Saturday today, with glorious weather. I have been taking it easy in the garden today. Less weeding, and more wandering about picking daffodils. And looking at the cherry blossom. Well, that’s not the only thing to report on the garden front... the hawthorn bushes by the house have come into leaves. 

They are very small at the moment, but are as vibrant green as they will get all year round. One thing people don’t realise is that you can use hawthorn leaves in salad – they taste a little nutty. And I guess people will think you are a little nutty for trying them. But they do taste really nice.

The crab apple tree leaves are bright red at the moment; it is always funny how bright they are – almost like autumn. The crab apple always surprises me, because I always think it should flower before it has leaves – but it never does.

A brief walk shows that bluebell leaves are poking out, thousands of them in a nearby wood. They are not flowering yet. But give them time and they will be very impressive.

I was watching the bird feeder today and saw the first nuthatch for a while. It was feeding upside down. It seems strange to see it again, I didn’t think they were supposed to be in the country at this time of year and haven’t seen them for months. Still I am not a bird expert. So I guess I was wrong.

The Bird Cherry is flowering away, completely covered with blossom, and I can smell grass cuttings. So, it feels a little like we are in the middle of spring. I noticed the daffodils are now all out in flower. That seems early to me. They are supposed to be out at easter holiday, but I don’t think we will have many then. They will have already finished. White anemones are flowering where we planted them a few years back, not a complete success – we had planted a lot more than came up- but the ones we did manage to grow are starting to become thicker bushes. And we still have hopes for really thick clumps. Maybe in a few years.

Our vegetable sowing is a little behind. We have done some, but not as much as normal. Life is busy J
And I have been writing a pretty comprehensive booklet about growing carrots. It should end quite large... and for sale on Kindle for a dollar. I don’t think it will make me rich, but it is worth a try.

In the meantime, we are almost on top of the weeds in a lot of beds, but we still have the flower beds to do, so I guess tomorrow weeding will happen ;)

Have you noticed how much better gardeners world is on TV at the moment? It is almost like it used to be – a normal gardener in his own garden. That’s always quite interesting.

Our three new lambs are doing well, as well... gambling along, without a care in the world. 

Hope you have a good time in the garden... this is the best of times in the garden, not yet too hot, and with birdsong, and new beautiful flowers popping up every two minutes.