Comings and Goings and turning Green…

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Kale seedling compliments @janpaulkelly/instagram

Congenial it was; and complaisant, almost to a fault, winter 2018-’19 cut itself plenty of slack and although we’ll not venture so far as to say it was derelict in its duty, in its coming and going this past winter bequeathed us one of the mildest, driest winter seasons in many decades.

Temperatures were 2 degrees above average from mid January and all the way through February, with seasonal rainfall amounts along the east coast 50% down on long term comparisons. Temperature and rainfall only returning to normal expectancy with the arrival of many weathered March. Snowdrops and daffodils, hyacinths and squills have all put out fabulous displays; cherry blossoms are in full flower, and plum and apple blossom are on show well before equinox. The Kerria Japonica Plentiflora has certainly lived up to its name with masses of bright yellow bachelor buttons since mid February and the hydrangeas were in full open leaf a fortnight before St. Patrick’s Day. There has however, been a lot of rain the last two-three weeks, but with soil moisture levels quite tolerable for early March whatever spot flooding occurs dissipates rapidly and the open beds are trafficable a few short days later.

Our first full visit of the year to the monster’s measure saw us plant out the red and white onion sets and sow some trays of cosmos, zinnia and pheasant eye seed. We planted out some kale and Dutchman cabbage seedlings and we potted on the cayenne pepper and the Moneymaker tomatoes. We tidied border edging, scattered potash and phosphate granules around the fruit trees and bushes, and broadcast a good many handfuls of chicken manure pellets where we will be planting and sowing in the coming weeks. We have plum blossom and apple blossom, and the gooseberry bushes are leafing up. The blackcurrant buds are tight yet, but the redcurrant has burst bud, and there is bright new red growth on all the rose bushes.
Close inspection of our raised beds has betrayed some remedial work we need to undertake in the short term; we will re-seal the shed exterior as soon as we get a dry and mild run of weather and there is still have a run of fencing that needs to be righted. As with every other allotmenteer and gardener we are about to move up and into top gear, and it is rewarding to be able to say that here, right at the beginning of the growing season we have already benefitted from the monster’s measure having enjoyed a couple of weekend pickings of Timperley Early rhubarb before March is out.

This afternoon’s temperature hit 16 degrees with moderate westerly wind which is more than pleasant for this time of year. There shall be cooler and colder days a while yet, and we’ll certainly have frost after dark for a good month still, but winter has set its sights northward.  The new lambs are coming and the Brent geese are going, and the monsterjust as with the Celtic spirit we celebrate this weekis greening up in style…

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Plum TreeBlossom by @janpaulkelly/instagram

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Gardener and Expectation…

Gardener Expectations

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Sunny Side up: pumpkins ripening under cover

As with the seasons, the garden is not required to be in harmony with the gardener’s expectations of it. Gardening and allotmenteering is a process of learning to work with what you have, and this year -more than any other in recent years – both the garden and the seasons have challenged even the most experienced gardener and Plantsman; but what a year it has been to date.
An old adage says that if you always expect the worst, then everything else will be a bonus, and whether or not you agree with the couched principle of this succinct aphorism, the experiential irony is not lost.
Skeptical commentary aside however, the year to date has presented us with both the best and worst of gardening times, and there is still one full quarter portion to run.

As usual, the arrival of the New Year heralded a new chapter in the gardener’s almanac and diary, but it was not too long before the great gardening expectation was consigned to a much longer than expected stay in winter’s stasis chamber, whence it seemed winter showed no shadow of parting at all. Yet depart it did, and in what seems little more than the blink of an eye the sheaves and sisters are being brought in…

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Jams and Chutneys and Sauces and Relish August 2018

And we too have been busy with the bringing-in…

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Moneymaker Tomatoes & the last of this year’s Rhubarb
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Parsnips and Peppers and dew drenched Florence Fennel
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Parsnips, Beans,Blackberries and Squashes

Keeping Cold: a view to a chill…

Crisp, clean and crystal clear, and conjured from unobstructed air the first frost of this winter season greeted all worm catchers yesterday morning. Cool and bright and star-shiny sheer the winter’s first offering of season’s secret ministry glossed most low lying grassy areas and hardened exposed shallow pools. Though our met service had forecast frost, this was no sharp event and certainly no f# affair with much of the crystalline magic dissipating with the first rays of early sun. The cool air exposed all al fresco breaths in bamboozled bewilderment, and as though having seen it all before car windscreens glared with vague subfusc opalescence, awaiting intervention with kettle or pot to clear their view to the chill.

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Tweed swede and Tender & True all on a bed of fast fading rocket

Last winter’s first frost did not occur till quite late in the season; with November and December both recording above LTA (Long Term Average) temperatures the first frost of last winter did not settle till 5th January this year.  So,  we’ve had the first frost of last winter and the first frost of this winter ten months apart and in the same calendar year. This year it seems winter is settling in early: we’ve covered and cleared what we needed to, and we’ve started to harvest and use the autumn and winter stocks of swedes, parsnips and kale. We’ve greased the bolts and oiled the latches, and we’ve stacked and stored the planters and pots. And while still trafficable and feasible to do so we turned sod on that area where we had scattered wildflower seed last spring and summer in the hope that exposure to the harsher elements of the coming season may just tame its unwieldy clumped lumpiness. The constancy of Mrs Dirtdigger’s deadheading drill together with the relatively mild October weather meant we still had some blooms to brighten the monster’s visage on our recent visits, but, we thinks the creeping crystal carpet may have put an end to this.
Still, it’s good to feel this early seasonal chill, and ideally our wish would be that this first frost is but a precursor to a winter of some sustained wintry weather; maybe not too much though (mindful to be careful of what one wishes for), but, as most gardeners should have learned, the earthen canvas in which we cultivate our dream performs best after a period of vernalization: rhubarb stools and gooseberry bushes; blackcurrant, apples and pears all benefit from a measured stretch in Mother Nature’s chilling cabinet, and much the same can be said of the early spring bulbs and flowering perennials.

So, just as we here at monsterinthecorner prepare to cover and muffle and wrap our bodies up against the elements of the coming season, our hope would be that the monster itself stays quite cold. And safe in the knowledge that most gardens invariably survive the wintriest of storms, our wish is that our little plot keeps cold, and does not get too warm, for once tender shoots have been top-dressed and strawed, spring’s cheery show creeps best from chilled sod…
So, stay chilled, keep cold.

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All 2lb 2ozs of winter parsnip root
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Another pair of swell parsnips

Tah Dah!!!! This Year’s Sowing Diary

Although the Monster has its own sowing diary page accessible through page link up above, now that we’ve completed most (if not all) of this year’s plan we thought we’d copy and paste and place  a copy of this year’s diary as a posting in its own right,

We literally began from scratch at our new plot in January, and since then we’ve been doing this

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Basil; this year’s basil filled Barrow Bug

February 1st 2017     Bedfordshire Champion onion seed

March 1st 2017   Bunyard’s Exhibition broad Beans

March 5th 2017  sowed Cosmos ‘Cosmonaut’

March 5th planted 4 of Lidl’s best bare root Redcurrant 

March 4th 2017 Planted Plum tree ‘Opal’, and Peach tree ‘Red Haven’ both from Lidl

March 10th 2017 Ailsa Craig onion seed

March 12th planted replacement rose bush: David Austin Rose, Young Lycidas

March 18th 2017 sowed Basil, Misto Mix and Classic Italian

March 19th 2017 broadcast green-manure mix; phacelia, red clover,

March 28th 2017 sowed dwarf sunflowers ‘Topoline’

April 8th broadcast poppy seeds and cornflower seeds  Greenfingers Day

April 21st 2017 sowed Giant Yellow sunflower seeds

April 22nd sowed Moss Curled parsley, and dill seed

April 23rd sowed Bright lights Chard, Fire-bird Spinach, Tuscan black Kale, Italian Giant leaf parsley and Tom Thumb mix nasturtiums

April 26th sowed Wild Rocket seed

April 29th sowed Celeriac ‘Monarch’ and ‘Akito’ ridge cucumbers. Mrs dirt-Digger planted out all of the cosmos, dwarf sunflowers and autumn beauties, plus some marigolds gifted from one of our new allotment neighbours…

April 30th sowed Parsnips ‘Tender and True’, Radish ‘mixed jewels’, Italian giant-leaf basil and mixed lettuce varieties. Also planted up and potted on some fennel seedlings and pepper seedlings gifted from an allotment neighbour.

May 1st sowed Pumpkins ‘Big Max’ & ‘Jack o’Lanterns’ purchased in Toronto in August last year; Beetroot ‘Solo’; planted up Shirley & Moneymaker tomato plants, pepper seedlings and sowed ‘Gold Rush’ courgettes. 

May 2nd sowed Grandpa Otts (ipomea; morning glories)

May 13th sowed Northern Blood Reds and White Lisbon spring onions (scallions)

June 1st  Longhorn Wax dwarf french beans plus successional sowings of lettuces and radishes

June 3rd Kale, Scotch Green dwarf

July 2nd Spring Cabbage, Durham early

July 5th  Swede,Tweed

et voilá.   All sowings for this year complete