What a run of exam season weather we have been having recently and now thankfully we are getting a good soaking! Having been away on Bere Island for the Bio – blitz (while the rain poured down) I was delighted by the explosion in growth over the last few days.
It’s taken quite a bit of adjustment to get to know the new tunnel-how much to water, controlling ventilation and finding a balance that suits the majority of the plants. Earlier in the month it had been getting much too hot with temperatures above 37 degrees with the doors closed. So the doors are now partially opened for most of the day and the watering is always done in the morning so the tunnel is dry at night when slugs are most active. I think it’s a good idea to keep the watering consistent and observe how the plants are doing, adjusting this for different beds. I stick the hose into a 10 litre watering can with a rose head and water using this. As the can emptys I have time to remove the rose head for watering into pots and around plants that need a good soak. A typical watering is about 10 litres per 1m2 approx about 4- 5 times a week for this good weather. That’s about 40 litres per m2. This of course will vary depending on the day. Today for example is overcast so after checking the moisture in the beds it didn’t need anything. A good heavy soaking once a week or if I’m away a night also helps, for this I double the quantities. As the plants are filling out into the beds evaporative losses are not so bad as they were last month. The whole watering/ ventilation thing is definately about practicing and adjusting. A light dressing of grass clippings can help to reduce watering as can keeping the soil mulched if it’s bare soil your looking at. One thing for sure in the tunnel if something isn’t working you need to change the watering/ ventilation really fast.
This pic was taken before the weekend in the tunnel, it’s the second cucumber of the year and the plant is doing really well. The sideshoots are removed once large enought to handle. A little tip is to remove the tiny cucumbers that grow near the bottom of the plant as they won’t have much room to grow and may rot when they touch the soil. Wrapping the plant around the string gives easy support. When the plant reaches the top it can be trained towards the door .
The first of the courgettes have coming along in the tunnel over the last week or so. They are really tasty when picked small. To encourage larger courgettes leave a small paintbrush in the soil nearby to dab the pollen from the male flower onto the female flower. The best time to do this is in the morning when the flowers will be open. You can recognise a male flower by the absence of a cougette behind the flower and a female one will have a courgette. Leaving the doors a little open during the day will encourage the pollinators such as hoverflys to do this also. If you have hogweed growing nearby outside this will attract them.
To get water down to the roots of a tomato plant a sunken pot does the trick.
The chilli peppers like it hot and dry. This one is a Yolo Wonder. This and the red basil will tolerate a dryer hotter area near the polythene on the south side of the tunnel.
Some more unusual plants- Oca , machua and tree spinach a friend gave me, soon to go out into the garden.
Some hoops and a little scafold netting to provide shade for seedlings and germination in the tunnel. With the tunnel door open during the day germination is fairly quick. I have introduced a blended sowing compost with finer and coarser particles. Seeds are quick to germinate this time of year. The little 6 and 9 packs from summer bedding are good for a continuous small supply of single and multi sown seed.
Overall I’m happy enough with the tunnel, perhaps a drip feed irrigation would be helpful as well as as some fixed ventilation and insect access in the top half of the doors.
There were a number of 5 foot deep trial pits covered in the garden. These will be good for a bit of Hugel culture on our light sandy soil. Placing soft and rotting wood from the pile in the field into the pits helps to lock up carbon and provides a slow release source of plant nutrients for many years. The soft woody material absorbes and stores moisture meaning watering should be unnecessary.
Adding layers of plant material to fill the gaps and harvesting a very rough compost to use in the upper layers.
To finish of a few inches of well rotten manure and in go some Pumpkins etc. These can ramble over the dry mounds.
The green kuri pumpkin is absolutely flying and the runnerbeans transplanted on friday have taken off with all the rain over the weekend. There are 3 of these in the garden . A little bit of old flooring helps to prevent the grasses and creepers growing into the bed. Knowing what’s down there is rather exciting for the potential of this plant.
In this little west facing bed, I planted some raspberries. Using an edging tool I cut a mini cliff to define the edge where the grass grows. This old technique of air pruning will prevent the grass and buttercups etc from growing horizontally into the bed as long as a 3 to 4 inch drop is maintained at the edge. To finish off the bed I will apply thick layers of newsprint and a mulch of woodchips the same as used on the paths. I tend to use wood materials as mulch on woody plants and composts on herbacous plants.
Potatoes growing in rotten manure are doing really well.
Outside the back door is a little herb bed. More recently while space is available I stuck some bunching onions in the gaps.
The beds are starting to look a little less bare now. Some plants in this area include Caucasian spinach, Lovage, Camomile, apple mint, fennel, lupin, sweet pea, courgette, kale, cat mint, strawberry and bay. Some sources of compost/ manure have had grass seed which is coming through. This can be re-mulched as the beds build up. In some ways these grasses are helping to hold the edges of beds together while plants are establishing.
Down in the raised beds the peas are in flower and it won’t be long now before some are ready to eat. Fried, sliced radish is quite nice also.
The beds have been regularly topped up with mulch of various sorts and hand weeded. Liquid nettle teas and seaweed dust has also been used over the last few weeks. Nettle tea is fantastic stuff and easy to make by submerging nettles in a net or compost bag in a large bucket of water for up to 2 weeks. Dilute 10 to 1 before use.
To keep the chickens out while the plants are establishing a low fence of chicken wire and bamboo does the trick. No bunnies so far in the garden. The ducks enjoy patroling between the beds in the grasses.
On the question of grass
Grass is amazing for its ability to tiller and out-compete other plants. The”lawn” to the back of the house is “improving” as such with regular mowing with a push mower. Who needs a gym? Personally I quite enjoy some space in a garden put down to lawn that is a space to throw the ball for the dog or eat or sit out on . Areas of lawn beyond this use are hard work to keep as grass and a meadow is the way to go if you don’t want to plant it up with trees and shrubs etc.