Quickly Now

Backups - left to right: Brassica juncea 'Dragon's Tongue', Brassica rapa var. chinensis 'Rubi', Latuca sativa 'Really Red Deer Tongue'

Time seems to be going past rather fast this semester – so fast the last two weeks have rather blurred into one!

As a quick note for my own records:

Last weeks completed tasks were: weeding(multiple), edging(twice), watering(multiple), planted out marigolds, pansies.
This week’s completed tasks:  weeding(multiple), edging(twice), watering(multiple), nasturtiums out, thinned poppies.

Backups - bottom to top: Brassica juncea 'Dragon's Tongue', Brassica rapa var. chinensis 'Rubi', Latuca sativa 'Really Red Deer Tongue'

As you can see from the above picture, most of my backups are coming along vigorously. They were placed into the coldframe this Tuesday and are being kept well watered in the hope that I will be able to get them out late next week, before we go away on our Study Tour.  I would like to give them all the chance to settle in and get over transplanting shock well before the viva as well as, obviously, giving them more space to grow into!  I am fairly sure the mustard greens (Brassica juncea ‘Dragon’s Tongue’) will not get to full size before the viva but they grow fast and should have gotten some ways towards it before then.  It’s a bit of a monster, with large, crinkly-edges leaves and dark red veins which looks stunning as a foliage plant in its own right – it would be well at home in a potager or informal mixed vegetable and flower garden.

Aliium cepa 'Sturon'My onions are coming along well – they are not quite as big, yet, as those who planted theirs into modules before putting them outside but they’re not far behind with the benefit of not having used up precious bench space.  I’m keeping an eye on these in particular to see whether the pay-off at the end is worth it in terms of harvesting dates.

Vicia faba 'Aquadulce' flower

As you can see, the broad beans have started to flower.  The row which is flowering is the one which was sown indoors and then transplanted out.  The ones which were direct sown are far behind, this year. This is the one plant which I would say has done much better being transplanted from indoors – most others (e.g. Peas –Pisum sativum ‘Bijou’) have ended up not far off the same size whether raised indoors or outside directly.  Asking around, though, this has not been the case for all of the students on the plot so it may depend on variety and how much sun various plots are getting as, with the large hedges nearby, there’s a marked difference in light levels between the rows.

Left: Latuca sativa 'Really Red Deer Tongue', Right: Latuca sativa 'Reine des Glaces' Tropaeolum majus 'Princess of India'

Lettuces (Latuca sativa  right: ‘Reine des Glaces’ and left: ‘Really Red Deer’s Tongue’) sown two weeks apart – the ‘Reine des Glaces’ are getting to a reasonable size now and growing fairly fast in the overcast, damp weather we’ve been having.

The nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus ‘Princess of India’) which I had in the coldframe made their debut this week – some were fairly mature plants whilst others were minuscule (see red circles above) but, having checked back on the three days later, they seem to be doing just fine.   The spacing is fairly wide as nasturtiums like to sprawl as they grow and I’d rather they had plenty space of their own rather than invading that of the pinks nearby.

Plot

Still looking a little straggly, but things are coming along.

 

Maintenance

Weed bucket

The above is what I’ve mainly been looking at in the last week and a half – buckets of small, muddy weeds. A large part of our plot marks are awarded for maintenance – afterall a large part of working with plants is the day to day task of keeping beds tidy and weed free.  Our beds are on public display at all time, so we have to treat them as such – not only removing weeds but mowing around the plots and neatening the grass edges by either clipping with shears or using half-moon spades.

At this time of year I’ve found twice a week clipping only just keeps on top of the grass. Held back a little by the cold spells in spring, it is now zipping upwards and outwards at an almost visible rate!  At first this constant snipping gets a little frustrating, but once you get used to it as part of general plot duties (check plants, water plants, weed, edging) it becomes almost relaxing… and it’s a good workout for the arms.

Onions (Allium cepa 'Sturon') Lettuce (Latuca sativa 'Reine des Glaces)

My onions (Allium cepa ‘Sturon’) are doing well – once the fleece was removed they shot up and are starting to catch up with those on other plots which were planted into modules before being sown out.  There was some discussion about this amongst the students regarding preplanting versus direct sowing – I felt this was an unnecessary step as it takes up precious polytunnel space and means that the onions may have their roots disturbed when planting out which is something they dislike. I also felt that onions are hardy enough to go outside fairly early – though onion sets sown outside too early may rot in wet, cold weather.   However, planting them indoors first does bring them on and those on other plots are a fair size – it will be interesting to see whether mine and other’s ‘direct sown’ onions will catch up or be a  bit behind by viva day.

The lettuces (Latuca sativa ‘Reine des Glaces’) above, will need thinning out shortly – they’ve come on well with this overcast weather interspersed with sunny days.  The second row hasn’t come up yet (Latuca sativa ‘Really Red Deer’s Tongue’).  The first row of beetroot (Beta vulgaris ‘Albino’) I sowed had still not appeared by Tuesday so I resowed them – the second row, though, is coming up well; I may actually have some beetroot at the finish line.

Planting out the pinks (Dianthus chinensis-hedwigii 'Black and White Minstrels)

 

This week I planted out my pinks (Dianthus chinensis-hedwigii ‘Black and White Minstrels’).  The risk of frost has mostly passed and whilst the weather hasn’t been very sunny it has been wet and fairly warm.  They had been hardening off in the cold frame for a week and then I moved them into the shadier side of my plot for a week. By this past Friday, many were starting to show roots at the bottom of the pots – definitely time to move on.  I marked out the areas to be planted more clearly with my trowel, loosening the surface for contrast and then laid my plants out, evenly spaced to check how they looked and make sure I had enough.  Once everything seemed in order, in they went, followed by a good water.

It’s important to water in new transplants even if, as this weekend, the forecast is for rain.  Until they new  fine root structures are established they will require very easily available water and, as the ground at The Botanics student plots is rather sandy, rain doesn’t actually keep the soil very moist for long.  The less stress put on newly transplanted plants the better and a damp/overcast weekend will at least benefit them by making sure they’re not scorched or dried out between waterings.

My areas for planting (see theme and design) are marked out with little Cornus twigs which are barely visible but give me an easy way to quickly plant out and seed areas.  The three red arrows in the above picture point to the opium poppies (Papaver somniferum ‘Black Peony’) sown directly a few weeks back.  The seedlings are starting to show their true leaves, now and will need to be thinned in some areas and bulked out in others.  These three areas should contain only around 12-14 plants each at full size – you can see there are far more at the moment but after the disasters with germination rates on some of my other seed I was taking no chances.

I hadn’t really noticed it when I was taking the at the plot but the arched rectangles are fairly visible now – I can definitely see them in the photograph.  A lot of my plan relies on planted blocks – this have left me feeling a little behind in the last few weeks as a lot of the other plots have strong structural areas in their designs which are already looking amazing just now and mine seemed to look weedy and bare by comparison. It shows how important having some winter / spring structure can be to making an area look good!  Although the main aim is to grow plants well its also a learning experience which has encouraged me to think about how various techniques work when in a working garden.

The nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus ‘Princess of India’) are coming on well in the coldframe and some of them should be ready to go out shortly – though a few were resown and are still fairly small.  The Calendula (Calendula officinalis ‘Neon’) should also be ready soon too – they’ve been moved from heated bench to the polytunnel and will progress to the coldframe this week coming. Most of my ‘backup’ plants – Latuca sativa ‘Really Red Deer’s Tongue’, Brassica juncea ‘Dragon’s Tongue’, and Brassica rapa ‘Rubi’ are coming on well – stunningly coloured cotyledons are giving way to true leaves.  The one which is being a little slow is the Atriplex hortensis ‘Red’ but it is a little more slow-growing than the others, so fingers crossed that once it gets going it’ll shoot up.

Cordons

Last Saturday (28th April) I finally worked up the confidence and got my cordon sweet peas (Pisum sativum ‘Midnight’ and ‘White Supreme’) out – worry about the cold, the size of the plants, and the beasties which like to eat young green things meant I’d left off planting them out until a little later than usual but I feel more confident planting them now than I might have a few weeks past.

speas1

First off, I dug a trench with a slight angle towards the canes.

speas2

The plants were placed in, tilted toward the canes (one per cane) and their roots spread against the side of the trench carefully.  The pattern for my peas will be white-white-black-white-white-black etc. as I ended up with more than double the number of ‘White Supreme’ than ‘Midnight’ – this is perhaps not that surprising given that ‘White Supreme’ is an excellent cultivar, holding an RHS Award of Garden Merit.  Once the plants were placed, the trench was then carefully back-filled and the plants gently firmed in.

speas3

Because I’m not completely cured of my worries, I’ve surrounded them with simple, temporary open-topped cloches.  In a few weeks I hope to take these off and start tying the peas in to the supports.  There were a few ‘spares’ which have been left at the end of the rows just in case – it’ll be interesting to see if they fare much different from those which were cloched as I didn’t have enough bottles to give them covers too.

peas1

I also managed to get my mangetout (Pisum sativum ‘Bijou’) out – though the fleece I put on to protect it caused the supports to become a sail and fall over later that night.   They’ve since been rescued and none are worse for wear despite their ordeal.

One other job which has become more prominent as the last few weeks have gone on has been grass clipping – although we all share duties for the general area, the edges of each plot are maintained by each student individually.  I used a half moon on mine a few weeks ago and as of this week am having to cut the edges with edging shears 1-2 times per week.  It’s amazing how fast the grass grows with the least bit of encouragement from the sun!