Garden Diaries, part 5
Finally, the sun has come out and the garden is awash with light and heat. Looking back from the beginning of July over the past three months, it has felt like the coldest, greyest, wettest Spring we can remember, a long hard climb from the depths of Winter. It couldn't have felt more at odds to last year, when Summer seemed to leap up immediately at the end of March.
The cold weather and wet conditions have made gardening rather less enjoyable than it could have been, but we have still had a productive few months, wrapped-up against the elements and with wellington boots to wade through the mud. We have been building new raised beds, starting to use our new compost bin and sowing many more seeds than usual. The garden has metamorphosised - as it does every year - from sad greyness into burgeoning green, becoming a place we once again want to spend time in: eating, drinking, relaxing.
And we are already beginning to get some good harvests this year!
In contrast to last year’s warm Spring, we have had late frosts this year, even seeing a brief return of wintery snow earlier in the month, and the long cold winter has not left the garden unscathed. The humble beginnings of leaves on the fig have been caught by frost, and we suspect it will be a poor year for the weather-beaten fruit, even with a late-Spring pruning.
At the start of the month we planted broad bean seeds straight into a raised bed, but a month later – with no improvement to the freezing temperatures – we have not seen any signs of growth. We are not too disheartened: the spindly broad beans we planted out and cut back have all started to grow (albeit, very slowly, but we are thankful for small mercies), and it might be to our advantage if the new broad bean seeds don’t grow, since we’ve had the offer of a few Brussels sprout stalks which would go perfectly in their place.
In a brief moment of sunshine, we got outside and started planting-out our potatoes. As mentioned before, we have gone for Purple Salad and Epicures this year. We grow our potatoes in bags, rolling down the rim and fill a few inches of compost in the bottom. We fit in about six seed potatoes per bag, spreading them out as much as possible, before covering them with another layer of compost. As the month has progressed and the stalks and leaves begin to emerge from the compost, we gently cover them again with more compost, which will help produce more potatoes and increase our crop size. We will continue this process until the whole bag is unraveled to its full capacity.
Later in the month we enjoyed a flurry of seed sowing. To save money on pots, we are using lengths of toilet roll innards to create makeshift pots for our cucumber and beetroot seeds. Nearly a month on, we don’t have much to show: the hints of one beetroot – indistinguishable from a weed – and a tiny cucumber plant. Whilst one cucumber plant might suffice for two people, one beetroot certainly won’t. It is too cold to grow beetroot directly outside, so sewing directly into the soil will have to wait until later in the season.
Our courgette plants are healthy, though they look a little smaller than those our parents’ are growing, so we will need to keep an eye on them. We are keeping them indoors overnight and allowing them to acclimatise outside only during warmer days, so they can start hardening up.
Lastly, we have already begun to enjoy the fruits of some of our labours. The rhubarb has produced beautiful earthy stalks, and we’ve enjoyed our first ever meal of homegrown rhubarb. The lovage has come through, as it always does, and has already found its way into many dishes as a wonderful celery substitute. The lemon-balm is happy and much healthier than it was last year, and produces a beautiful tea for lazy Sunday afternoons.
We celebrated No-Mow-May in style: we hadn’t actually mown the lawn all year, and by the end of the month, the grass was almost impassably long and the wild flowers ruled. We won’t write too much about it here since we have a full account on a previous post.
Otherwise, May saw cool temperatures and harsh night frosts. Nevertheless, we were able to get a few plants outside: the courgettes began to take off; the older, established broad beans started to flower, and our second round of broad beans started to poke through the ground.
Elsewhere, early flowers were staring to show. The bees in our newly-established nest/compost heap seem to be enjoying the chive flowers, and we noticed a healthy amount of ladybirds – a first for our garden – that seemed to be particularly drawn to our strawberry plants, which can’t be a bad thing: last year we lost some of our wild strawberry plants to infestations of aphids. Let’s hope the ladybirds choose to stick around!
Finally, the cold, windy weather gave way to a warmer front: Perhaps a bit too warm for some of our plants that were venturing outside for the first time. We planted out the tomato plants as soon as the heat wave arrived, but very quickly noticed the leaves blackening. We immediately assumed that we had blight problem (though we thought it peculiar so early in the season). In order to try and save our tomato plants we cut back the infected leaves, leaving the stems almost bare. However, we learnt shortly afterwards that Sam’s Mother was having the same problem with her plants, and that she suspected that the leaves were being burnt in the unusual heat, and we instantly regretted having been so quick to mutilate our poor plants. However, by the end of the month they had recovered, and the new leaves are coming through green and healthy.
The slugs, which normally only plague our veg patches when the garden is damp, have now started attacking even when the garden is bone dry. We are beginning to place copper tape around the rims of the raised beds in a desperate attempt to thwart them. So far it seems to be working, but it was a little too late for many of our radishes (clearly a slug delicacy), though we have still managed to rescue enough for a few simple salads.
Otherwise, the garden is in excellent health. The cucumber is planted out and already promises its first fruit. The strawberries are ripe and make delicious snacks as we stroll down the garden path. The broad beans are very happy: we have never seen so many broad bean flowers! They are immensely popular with bees. We’ve already had two small harvests, and it looks like there are lots to come. The purple salad potatoes have their first flowers: a stunning purple-blue pop of colour on the patio.
It has been amazing watching the garden accelerate as the weather has improved, and some plants, such as the runner beans and lovage, seem to grow several inches a day. However, when we compare our garden to others’ who are growing their own veg, we can’t help but notice that our garden is a little behind. The parsnips haven’t come up, the courgettes are flowering, but with no fruit. The beetroot is still tiny and the Brussels sprout plants have barely grown at all. I know we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves with others, but we can’t quite work out why things aren’t growing faster – are we getting something horribly wrong? Will we get a good harvest this year?
On a brighter note, the garden is awash with colour. The chives are now fading, but the rose is blooming, as is the cosmos and Sweet William. We have foxgloves and forget-me-nots, and the elder has graced us with white confetti-like blossom this year. Things look good, and it’s been rewarding to finally have a bit of time to sit back with a glass of wine on the patio, enjoy a BBQ and look at the lovely garden we have been working on.