Friday, August 27, 2010

Would you like brussel sprouts with that?

One of the great things about going away, is coming back with fresh ideas. Amongst first things I did was turn some of the parsely into a bright green pesto that has been used on everything all week. Spring can seem a bit like scurvy season and we're scratching like chickens for greens. The brussel sprouts have come into their own, by virtue of there being no competition. The last scraps of four seasons lettuce to the left; they overwinter without being bitter and come away for just this time. I lost quite a few in Autumn to grass grub and slugs and birds. Have stowed away good intentions for this year to be dusted off and practiced in March.

Monty Don says somewhere that it is not so much 'what' or 'where' in gardening as 'when' that counts and I'm beginning to agree. Onion sets below case in point. Red onions to the right were planted at the end of March. We could be eating them for spring onions now if it was allowed. Five weeks later the white onions on the left went in. The birds were hungrier and pulled alot of them out and the heat was going rapidly along with daylight hours. I planted more than this but onion seed is like parsnip and needs to be fresh to be viable. I also purchased this seed from a cut price chain store. Good intentions to not do that again will be stowed away for later retrieval. These are in the glasshouse because the frost pushes them out of the ground outside. Onions need as much growth as possible before the longest day so that's why I Autumn sow to get a head start.

A few signs of Spring. The peony shoots just beginning. Some gardeners here don't clip back their perennials in Autumn, choosing to leave the dried foliage for frost protection in Spring. I have done that through neglect with the hellebores in particular and they look terrible. The little flower heads are just coming through amidst a mass of rotton foliage; it's not dry and crisp and should have been cleared away. Good intentions formulated but not yet activated.

The hazelnuts are flowering, the only thing flowering apart from a little blue weed, Speedwell
in the garden that is a welcome call for the bees. This is the first year that the Whiteheart have flowered. Last year it was only the pollinator Merv. de Bolwiller.
Here is my first sketch and I'm completely happy with it. Bill normally names his paintings but I've already called this sketch "Rolling Back the Years" . I think the girls who've just seen me will all agree that Bill works with a flattering eye. I'm thinking of an array of my favourite gardening tools in the background.
I finished planting the new potatoes this week, 7 beds @ approx 120 seed potatoes each. The yield, from memory, is around 500g per shaw when they are very first dug in late November. By Christmas it will be maybe 750g. Mostly red kings which are a well shaped, lovely flavoured potato and a few of another variety with a speedy name; it's either Sprite or Swift and all I can remember is that it suggests a fast, early potato. A crow bar, wiggled around to create the hole is the perfect tool for planting. These are too close to mound up and I plant as deeply as possible to minimise any greening of top potatoes. The soil was marvellous and I quietly congratulated myself as I went. Every effort spent on it has repayed me lavishly. Have planted some tomato seeds and begun to rehydrate the glasshouse. The soil cannot absorb too much water at first and it needs to be taken slowly. I'm trying some new tomatoes this year; recommendations welcomed.
Parsely Pesto
2 large handfuls of parsely, stalks removed
1/2 c olive oil, 1/2 c parmesan cheese, 1/4 c nuts (cashews)
2 cloves garlicPosted by Picasa

Thursday, August 12, 2010

'now we see as in a mirror, dimly'

Looking 50 boldly in the face, (the approach of it, not the event) I commissioned a portrait, grandly in oils; a sign of security and self acceptance. I have been quick to criticise women who don't face up to their age and I marvel at the filter of denial that the mirror seems to be seen through. Marvel not. When it came to securing the image of how I wanted to be seen, guess what? Nothing was suitable and everything made me look too old.
The artist tells me he is in a new phase. In the last one he looked for beauty and put it in. Now he is embracing the wilderness. O Oh.
Well I've sorted out a young thing outfit and console myself with the concept of Dorian Grey. That didn't come out of nowhere.
Anyway, it is enough to be seen through the eyes of love.

Today it rained which seemed a good time to pot up some strawberries heeled in the glasshouse. They travelled by handbag down from a North Island flea market, wrapped in newspaper and rootbare. They have spent more weeks than I care to admit to stuffed in the ground as opposed to planted. I've potted them up in my woodland mix: wood chips, leafmould, blood and bone and a bucket of garden dirt. The dirt widens the range of micro activity around the roots and introduces the same flavours (for want of the right word) the plant will meet when it gets to this garden. Now that they are in pots they can beef up a root ball and then be hardened off in the shade house before going outside. The details will make the difference.

I was quite pleased with them until I looked back at an autumn file photo of my own runners. The light looks so different and maybe that is partly why the greens are warm.They are also growing vigorously, another point of difference between the two.

Moving right along I dug in the last bed of black oats. Normally the ground should be left for 3-4 weeks before planting else young plants will be starved of nitrogen by the decomposition process. Last year it was a month before the seed potato threw up shoots so there is my 3-4 weeks. However, there is always an however, by the time the seed goes in next week it will be two weeks later than last year. Will they sprout in two weeks and suffer? Will it matter? We can only wait.

Timing is all important with a green crop. There are premium times for each plant to be dug in, some flowering (broad beans), all pre seeding I would guess, and the softer the plant the easier it is to chop up. You could haul the tops off to the compost and with oats there is a thick root mass so still plenty of organic material for the microorganisms to work on.

The other thing is that after a month of decomposition you start to lose the goodness. So many things to consider or ignore. My primary aim has been to get a 3rd crop rotation before new potatoes go in again (and again and again) and the soil is definitely the better for it.

We had a family interview for Louis' LIA (language immersion award) and it was interesting to see ourselves/myself through yet another lens. One thing I hadn't thought about is that our main family recreation is eating together. No wonder it is so important to have great crops of new potatoes and strawberries upon strawberries upon strawberries.
I'll give Monty Don the last word which applies equally well to gardening or any other past time.
'It is important to remember that having made your own planting rules, you are free to break or change them. In fact it is probably vital to do so, otherwise you risk disappearing up your own rigidly controlled horticultual nether regions. ' Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 6, 2010

Summer Pudding

The Japanese talk about a rice stomach that nothing else can fill. We have always had 'pudding seats' and I think that was what swung the idea to plant gooseberries: gooseberry pie. I'm getting ahead of myself because this is a blackcurrant for which there are only three things I need to know: blackcurrant cordial, blackcurrant-pie-the-all-time-family-favourite-pudding, and blackcurrant crumble. Make that four: summer pudding.
These are the self same currants that missed a year's pruning and consequently gave me a lot of grief, zillions of tiny currants that nobody could be bothered picking properly and in the end we left the lions share to the birds. Such tiny thorns on the rose bush of gardening are a marvellous agent for change and sure enough, I remembered the pain sufficiently to prune and prune hard.

There are three years growth here and I wonder if you can make out the difference. It's very easy on site because the oldest growth is thicker, darker and has many side shoots. Take all of these out straight away with loppers. The next layer are strong shoots with evidence of last years berry crop and normally I would take all of these out with secaturs, the wood is softer and thinner. The remaining branches are the new growth from last year that will fruit this year. Leave seven of them.

In the end, the new growth was so spindly that I picked out the strongest seven two year olds and next year we will get back to fruiting on year old wood. There is more than one way to prune blackcurrants and this method does not fit the text books. However we have 75 bushes which cuts us some slack in production. This is virtually the only care they get, apart from mowing the grass between the rows and the grass around them is sprayed once a year. (I have seen a companion planting with comfrey work very well as a weed suppressant and nutrient package.)

Can you see there is a crown at the base from which all the shoots come up and to which the branches are cut back? There will always be a bud or two left at the bottom which will come away this year for next. I should think the harsh pruning gives us less fruit but they are large, shiny and beautiful and command the respect they deserve.

I squeezed those gooseberries into the little red car on Thursday for a long drive home and what great plants they turned out to be underneath the wrappers. That tangle that looks like straw is a mass of roots and a bucket or two of compost and a peck of wood ash later, however much a peck may be, they are ready for spring. The potash in the woodash encourages fruiting rather than leafy growth and they like it.

Final picture, the triangle of three, the circle of ash defines them. They are on the south side of the fruit trees, don't need full sun and replace the red hot poker that I took out in Autumn.
I'll give the final word to Mole from Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows who is discovering the 'joy of living and the delight of spring without its cleaning'.
'Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said 'Bother!'and 'O blow!' and also 'Hang spring-cleaning!' and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel...till at last, pop! his snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.' Posted by Picasa