It may be freezing outside but the sun is shining and the most beautiful blue sky greeted us this morning. After months of grey weather it feels as if a heavy weight has been lifted. Everyone at our allotment feels it too since in the past couple of weeks there's been more activity than in the past six months combined. There are people digging in manure, planting onion sets, building raised beds, strimming pathways, and even a few beginners starting up for the first time. If the weather continues to be as lovely as this through this spring and summer I think our allotment is going to look amazing and be the most productive that it's been since the summer of 2010.
I've been making good progress with installing more raised beds and have also been bringing down quite a few wheelbarrows of manure and mushroom compost. So far I've built frames around about half my beds and am getting fairly quick at putting them in. That saying, the ground wasn't frozen last week so it might be a bit harder to bang in the corner stakes when I start up again. I'm pretty much out of wood now so hope that the land thaws out before I manage to bring in more supplies.
Already I can see that my work is paying off since the rain we've had in between each of my builds has shown that the soil and compost is being contained by the wooden frames. Erosion control is the main reason I'm putting so much effort into this project and it's wonderful to see a plan working out.
My perennials are showing signs of life again and not only is the Rhubarb coming up strong but flowering bulbs and Alliums are showing healthy green shoots and leaves. Among them are a row of Welsh Bunching onions and chives that nearly getting to the point where they could be harvested. Both have proven to be extremely easy to grow and versatile - bunching onions can be used in the same way as either chives or green onions and both grow large flower heads that bees and insects love. It's also easy to save seed from both and I was able to pass some on to Caro at the Urban Veg Patch over the winter. I'm sure she'll enjoy them just as much as I do.
Welsh Bunching Onions are one of the most productive and hardy crops I grow and I can't give them enough praise. Though I love to use ordinary green onions and grow rows of them in the summer, bunching onions are more hardy and dependable which means that I'll be using their greens from late March to November. And as mentioned before, they're perennial so don't require seed sowing every year. Once they're established they grow into large clumps which can be divided and shared with friends or transplanted to other parts of the garden. I also recently found out that they're not Welsh at all but come from Russia. Apparently the term 'Welsh' used to be used to identify anything foreign.
As the years progress I'm becoming a great fan of perennial crops. Don't get me wrong, I love sowing seeds and growing annuals but perennials often produce food that require less work. Take my globe artichokes, for example. I gave them a total of about an hour of work last year yet they were my star producers of 2012. If I were able to grow more crops like them then I could cut down on the amount of time I need to have a productive garden. Though I'd love to spend several days a week working on my allotment in a more traditional manner I just don't have that kind of time any more. That's where some of the teachings of Permaculture might help me out. As a start, I'm planning on introducing more perennials and using mulching as a way to decrease the time I spend weeding.
One perennial that I love eating is Asparagus. In 2010 I planted a row of them but have had mixed results - the top of the row does well while the bottom produces very little. Though it's taking a chance, I've decided to put more in, this time preparing the soil much better than I did the first time around. I think that my issues with the first lot have to do with planting the asparagus at the lower end of the bed too deep and not incorporating enough sand or organic material into the heavy clay soil.
I didn't want to make a big spend on the crowns so sold an unneeded item on Ebay and then used the money to buy crowns from a nursery. They're one year old Connovers Colossal crowns and arrived together in a little bag that I kept in the garage before planting out. The first step in preparing their new bed was in ripping up an old pathway that separated my first asparagus bed from my rhubarb. A couple of weeks ago I dug a trench down this pathway and built a raised bed frame around the whole area. Since then I've put two wheelbarrow loads of well rotted farmyard manure into the trench along with a third of a box of bonemeal.
Last week I dug it over again then made a ridge of soil/compost along the centre of the trench. After spreading the asparagus crowns out along the ridge about 18 inches apart I then buried them four inches deep. Some experts say to bury them deeper but I'm not going to chance it with my heavy soil. Besides, as the crowns push themselves up I'm now able to apply more compost since the raised bed frame will keep it all contained. Now it's time to see if they take and from what I remember, it might not be until the beginning of May before shoots appear.
I've also decided to plant a lot more fruit bushes and canes this year, starting with the blueberry bushes I purchased last autumn. The four bushes have been overwintering in their pots next to the front door and last week seemed the perfect time to put them in their permanent spots. I was also able to acquire a free blueberry bush from a friend at the site who had decided to give up her plot - by pure chance it turned out to be the same variety as two of my own bushes, 'Blue Jay'. So all five were laid out in the approximate areas I wanted to plant them before I prepared the holes. As you'd have it I had to move one to a different place half-way through the process since I realised that my redcurrant bush will likely grow much larger and crowd the new guy out.
Planting the bushes started with marking out their locations then digging the holes. Each was double the diameter of the root ball/pot and I dug just a little deeper than the height of the pots so I could fluff the soil up. Each hole I then filled with water and allowed to drain before adding a spade full of well rotted manure and a cup of bonemeal. After mixing well it was time for the bushes to go in. You don't plant them any deeper than they are already so the top of the soil in the pots is the top of the soil once planted. After a good watering in I mulched them with more manure and am hoping for the best.
I also have to mention here that we have quite acidic soil at the allotment and that I've seen other blueberry bushes thriving on our site. If you'd like to grow blueberries in your garden you'll need to either test your soil for acidity or plant them in containers where you can control the acidity of the soil.
Next up on my perennial plantings will be two beds of mid-summer fruiting raspberries called 'Glen Ample'. I bought twelve canes through the Kings Seeds Allotment Seed Order last year and was wondering if they'd ever arrive. Fortunately they appeared in the post a few days ago and I'm planning on planting six of them at the allotment later this week. The other six will go in a bed at home that we'll need to do a bit of work on to prepare first. I've seen how invasive they can be so plan on lining their areas with thick plastic sheets to keep their suckers contained.
Have a lovely day :)