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.
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.
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.