Busy, busy, busy..yep, Aprilís in full swing and thereís no shortage of things to be doing in my garden. One pair of hands, raised bed frames needing soil and a whole lot of seeds demanding to be planted! HELP!
My Garden Angels aka WWOOFERS!
Well, lady luck and good karma swung my way when a couple of Ďwwoofersí rocked up on site. Wwoof is basically an acronym for World Wide OppAnnotunities on Organic Farms. If youíve got the time and enjoy rural life and are interested in learning more about organics, it is the ideal way to travel. In exchange for a few hours work every day, you get a place to stay, home cooked food and lots more. Wwoofing opens up experiences you canít find in a guide book, gets you well away from the beaten touristic track and is the best way of having cultural experiences and living and working with locals and believe me, thereís no shortage of colourful characters on the wwoofing scene.
After all my own far flung wwoofing adventures, it was a real delight that the garden gods sent me my willing Seattle side kicks ,Trent and Kelly.We had a really fun day excanging travel and gardening stories whilst getting stuck in and getting those beds filled, despite Peterís endeavours to distract us!
A gardeners prerogative to change their mind!
If youríe like me, the more time that you spend in your garden,the more your plans and plots will progress and diverse! I had an initial plan in place till our fancy new shed arrived casting a shade over one corner of my plot for at least half the day. But hey thatís life, you canít control everything so I modified my plans to ensure shade tolerant crops are now going to go in that corner. The good thing about my raised bed vegetable garden is that plans and layout are not set in stone, so can easily be adjusted. In case you have a shady area in your garden, hereís a few veggies that could grow without full sun all day: Lettuce and salad leaves, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Peas, Brussels Sprouts, Swiss Chard, Rhubarb, Spinach and Kale.
My Edible Hedgerow
Since there is no fence between our plots, I decided to create a living boundary but have no intention of wasting valuable space on non-native non-food bearing hedging shrubs. Sur why would I, when I can plant an edible soft fruit hedge instead? Feeding two birds with one stone - a hedge and food all at the same time! The only potential problem is that Peter might forego his patio and take up foraging in the summer!
The Ground Work
If you fancy your own edible hedge, select a site with full or partial sun, good air circulation, and well-drained soil. Dig out all perennial weeds and enrich and condition the soil by digging in plenty of organic matter such as compost or well rotted manure. Your hedge will be there for a long time, so best do the job right to begin with.
There is a long list of interesting edible hedge species you could select from, eg. crab apples, wild plums, blackberry, elder, hazel and cob nuts, dog rose, soft fruit etc. The goal is to plant them close enough together that they create a hedge effect but not so thickly that they drown each other out.
It is best for the plants and your pocket to plant hedgerows in late Autumn/ Winter as plants are dormant and available bare root. You can still plant stuff in Spring, but from about the end of March, plants will be budding and you will only be able to buy potted plants which are more expensive.
Iím a big lover of soft fruit so I decided to stick with a pure fruit hedge and hopefully Iíll be berry berry happy with my vitamin packed boundary by the end of the summer!>Iím a big lover of soft fruit so I decided to stick with a pure fruit hedge and hopefully Iíll be berry berry happy with my vitamin packed boundary by the end of the summer!
I bought my raspberries in pots with bundles of 6 canes in each, which I separated prior to planting. Raspberries are available in Summer and Autumn Fruiting varieties and I went for the Autumn ones. Why? Well, apart from the joy of fresh raspberries in the late summer, thereís no need for the hefty great post and wire supports youíd need for Ďnormalí Summer raspberries, because autumn varieties donít grow as tall and are more or less self supporting.
If you have a big garden you could grow Autumn raspberries as well as the Summer sort to extend your raspberry season from late June till mid October. But in small gardens I personally would just stick to Autumn varieties. Autumn Bliss is a good reliable one.
To create a hedge effect, I planted my single canes in two rows with approx 1 Ĺ feet spacing each direction. I planted the canes in a zig-zag fashion. For the planting depth, I just aimed for the old soil mark on the stem to be at the same level as the ground after planting. To do this, I dug a shallow hole, about 30cm (1ft) wide and 8cm (3in) deep and stuck them in.
Gooseberries & Blackcurrants
Both were postitioned in the same way by planting them in a single row. I just dug holes deep enough to plant them at the same depth as the pots they were in and wide enough to accommodate the root system with 3 to 4 inches of extra room. I spaced the holes 3 feet apart to create a hedge effect but you could plant about 6 feet apart if you want to grow individual specimen shrubs.
Water, Water, Water
Once all the above were planted, I gave them a good drenching to help the plants settle and for their roots to establish. This is super important, especially in dry spells which once in a while we do actually experience in Ireland!
The Finishing Mulches
If you have compost or well rotted manure handy, now is a good time to give your newly planted or well established soft fruit a top dressing. I just lightly spread well rotted manure around the base of the plants, ensuring the manure wasnít touching the stems and then covered the entire bed with straw to keep the moisture in and to prevent light from germinating any lurking weed seeds.
Sow a Little Sunshine!
If you are prone to reading the back of too many UK seed packets youíd be led to believe that you should have half your garden sown by now. Panic not as realistically in Ireland, the ground and temperatures are only right in April. Now donít get too overwhelmed but hereís just a few of the delectable edibles you could be sowing right now:
Salads, spinach, peas, broad beans, carrots, parsnips, radishes, calabrese, white cabbage, red cabbage, brussel sprouts, scallions, kale, beetroot, celery, celeriac, leeks, parsley, courgettes, pumpkins and so on and so forth!
Iím a real believer in starting small and grow what you like to eat and Iíd advise any first time grower to select a few basic easy to grow crops and take it from there.
In theory, all vegetables can be sown directly in the ground where they are to grow but generally I tend to sow as many seeds as possible in module trays to get them established in a protected environment before they are transplanted out to brave the elements. I direct sow fast growing hardy seeds such as peas and beans and the root crops such as carrots, parsnips, swedes, turnips and beetroot as they donít respond well to transplanting. However, all other seeds should do much better if you germinate them under your watchful eye in a controlled enviromnent well away from the sly hungry slugs and wicked weeds!
This week I planted broadbeans and podded peas direct in the ground.
All seed packets and vegetable growing books will have different guidelines on spacing etc, but hereís what Iíve tried:
Broadbeans Ė an excellent beginner veg that you wonít find for sale in a supermarket!
I dug over my bed and sowed Spring broad beans that I got from Irish Seed Savers directly in the ground , 5 cm deep and with about 25cms spacing between seeds in each direction. I planted 3 rows, so as to create a block effect. I will support the plants at a later stage if necessary.
Again I dug over my bed and marked out 2 rows with about 2ft between them. Then I made a shallow drill about 4cm deep and placed my seeds about 5cm apart. Plants need support so Iíll be sure to put a support structure up before signs of the first tendrils.
For both of the above, I threw in a few extra seeds closely spaced at the end of the last drill, just in case I end up with gaps in my row so at least I have a few spares for replacing.
And then onto a more tender crop:
Courgettes Ė easy to grow, prolific producers so be warned 2 -3 plants should be sufficient for a family.
I sow my courgette seeds in small pots so as to raise them into little plants before transplanting. I used 7cm pots filled with seed compost. I watered my pots before sowing the seeds and then placed one courgette seed on itís edge in each pot about 2cm deep. Next I covered the top with a sprinkle of compost and voila ready to go.
Even if I only want 2 or 3 plants, I always like to put on few extra seeds just in case some fail to germinate and sur if I have a few extra plants, they make great gifts for my garden friendly foodie friends.
All going good, my courgettes should be sturdy plants with a few leaves ready for planting in about a months time, when hopefully the fear of frost will have passed.
At this stage I needed somewhere warm, ventilated and protected to place my freshly sown pots and once again handyman Sean to the rescue. He whipped me up a cold frame (see Seanís blog) in no time. In the absence of a cold frame, propagator or tunnel, place your pots and seed trays on a sunny south facing window sill. I was so delighted with my cold frame that I put on a few brassica seeds aswell..oh happy sunshiney sowing days!
Keeping it Contained
In between being a busy bee in the garden, I managed to go online and find myself a great deal on an old cattle trough. Peter looked horrified at the gaudy sight of it so I best get my thinking cap on and plant it up with some delectable edibles to prove that itís not good to judge a growing container by itís appearance!