Well, hello there folks. That's been a strange couple of weeks hasn't it? I apologise for the late mail but I have had the luminous vest on since last week as I've been packing orders in the warehouse. As you might imagine demand for vegetable growing products has gone through the roof meaning our fabulous staff have been struggling to keep up.
I hope you are doing OK and if confined to barracks are managing to keep yourself amused. At least the weather is steadily improving with the garden on the verge of bursting into life. You may be happy to know that gardening is on the government list of 'essential retail outlets' so hopefully we can continue sending plants and helping in your garden where we can. We are also still here for help, advice, or even if you're just bored and fancy sending me a mail. My personal email is email@example.com, I guarantee I will reply and will always look forward to hearing from you.
I did manage to get out in my garden on Sunday and have a few things to talk about but before we get into that I have a couple of housekeeping items to get out of the way if you will indulge me for a moment:
Vegetable seeds & seedlings We have had to mark vegetable seeds and seedlings out of stock for a few days as we were concerned we wouldn't have enough to fulfil new orders. This is just a temporary measure to allow us to catch up and does not effect existing orders.
We will have both up again soon, seeds probably tomorrow. I know many of you are looking for seedling plants which, more than likely, we will be able to help you with also. I would expect plants to sell out fast once they go up so will send out a mail giving prior notice to give members a head start. Remember we are continually sowing new trays so even if we don't get you sorted in the first batch we will have more to come.
Phones We are sorry but due to the number of phone calls we are getting we simply can't keep up. I have put a message on the phone asking callers to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your mail won't disappear into a black hole, Niall and Meg are responding to all emails and usually have a response within the hour.
Delivery time As I am sure you will understand we are very reluctant to get new staff into our warehouse and are dealing with over double the normal number of orders. That is fine, we're tough, we can cope. I'm just mentioning it as your order may take a little longer to reach you than it normally would, we're currently looking at 5-6 working days. We very much appreciate you patience with this.
New readers I know many of you lot are experienced growers but due to the numbers of people required to stay at home we now have a larger number of first time gardeners on our mail list. We had great plans this year to cover building a large perennial garden, and hopefully we still will, but I must be conscious that new gardeners might need the basic 1.2.3. of vegetable growing.
Hopefully we can keep a useful mix for everyone. For new gardeners, I will try to bring you through the year in a step by step way, please feel free to mail me if you have a query or want me to cover a specific topic.
A quick tip for beginners We have been taking calls from new vegetable growers for years and I can tell you the same thing comes up all the time as follows:
Don't over estimate how much you can grow in the space you have available. If you are starting with a couple of raised beds stick to more compact crops so you can fit more in. Most members of the cabbage family like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussel's sprouts need a lot of space so are best avoided. For example, you could fit around 200 carrots in a 6ft by 4ft raised bed but only 3-4 full size cauliflowers. Capiche?
Similarly potatoes take up a lot of room, the yield you will get from a 6x4 bed will not be worth it if you only have one or two beds, you're better of using the real estate for more productive crops.
Smaller crops include salad leaves like lettuce (many different types), oriental leaves (rocket, mizen, leaf mustard etc...), beetroot, carrot, radish, spring onion, turnip. Many herb varieties are also space efficient crops like parsley (curly and flat leaf), coriander, basil, chives, oregano and thyme. Avoid woody herbs like rosemary, sage and mint as they will take over.
Smart small space growing also takes advantage of crops that you can pick from and keep producing. In salads this is referred to as 'cut and come again'. The trick is to pick the outside leaves while avoiding the centre as this is the growing tip of the plant. Swiss chard and perpetual spinach are also excellent 'cut and come again' vegetables that will produce new leaves when picked.
What am I doing in my garden now? Not enough, I'm packing boxes! Joking apart, I'm sowing seeds mostly. If you are able to sow indoors in trays, now is the time to start off vegetables that will be planted outside. Most vegetables take around 4 weeks from seed to a seedling large enough to plant out, my last frost date is around the beginning of May so I'm sowing 4 weeks before that.
Above you can see a handy tip if you are sowing small seeds; a sharp crease in a piece of card lines your seeds up nicely, you just push them over the edge with a pencil one by one. This method is accurate and quick; if you are a new grower and whip this trick out you'll look like a pro!
Planting Broad Beans I did manage to get some broad been seedlings planted on Sunday which is the first live plant to venture outside. I have been bringing them out of the tunnel in the daytime for a week to harden them off; I also knew we had a 'warm' few days forecast with nightime temperatures well above freezing so they should be fine.
In this case the plants were about right but if you have broad bean seedlings that have got a bit tall and gangly you can bury the first set of leaves and stem to produce a stockier plant, otherwise the stems can break on a windy day.
Technically it was my daughter Anna who (reluctantly) planted them after a snap tutorial from yours truly (15cm between plants, 45cm between rows). I guess that is one benefit of having everyone 'locked down' at home, there are more bodies available to (reluctantly) do things.
Sweet Soil While weeding and preparing the bed for the beans I came across a load of potatoes I had forgotten about, some lovely red skinned 'Setanta', all in perfect condition. I also found plenty of other odds and ends including mussel shells, avocado seeds, egg shells and bit of seaweed which shows there has been plenty of organic material added to the soil over the years.
I know I mentioned it last week but it's a good example of how good mulching is for your soil. After weeks of heavy rain this soil should have been unworkable yet, after only 2 days of drying, it was light and crumbly and perfect for planting. It also smells great; I tried to interest Anna in some amazing 'Dad facts' about how sweet smelling soil stimulates serotonin production but wasn't very successful. When I asked her what she thought about this golden nugget of information she said "I don't like this anymore, can I go in now?"
Broad Bean Supports Broad beans are tall, top heavy plants and will likely fall over in strong wind or heavy rain. To support then you can build simple 'boxing ring' style structures with twine and whatever you have handy as supports, in this case some broken shovel handles. You're best to do this now as it's a lot more fiddly when the plants have filled out.
A good tip here is not to jabber away to your daughter while hammering the posts in to avoid hitting your finger with the hammer.
That's about it for this week, stay safe, stay well and stay happy.