self-seeded honesty in the orchard
self-seeded honesty in the orchard will have beautiful seed heads in the Autumn

At last – sunshine! And warmth, sufficient to sit outside; sufficient for my courgette seeds to germinate in only a week after sowing. Foxgloves (Digitalis) in the courtyard potager are flowering, grown from plant plugs supplied last year; their tall green spikes ‘navigating’ towards the sun. Everywhere are the signs of a late Spring – a hum of bees in the orchard, and in the wild area by the ‘eco-garden’ a female blackbird collects a beakful of moss, tugging it from a thatch of over-wintered plant detritus. She hops into a tangle of honeysuckle growing through a Jargonelle pear. Cow parsley and honesty have colonized the space around a century-old fallen apple tree – a magnet for orange-tip butterflies. Wild flowers and weeds abound in this acre; tolerating their existence whilst keeping them under control benefits the garden, bio-diversity and the environment.

Courtyard Potager in sunshine
the Courtyard Potager two weeks ago; potatoes, salads and garlic thrive in the sunshine

The sheltered courtyard potager is flourishing: the potato and salad beds – now two-tier double depth – suit me fine; good for potatoes as they can be properly earthed up; we should be eating them soon. And did you know that if you select any ‘early’ variety, they mature in less time than maincrop and can even be planted in the Autumn to eat at Christmas? Fine for planters, too. I’m experimenting with potting-mixtures, having been given some by Dalefoot Composts to trial; peat-free: wool and bracken double-strength. (You can buy Dobies compost here.)

salad bed when the fleece was removed
the salad bed last week (sparrows dust-bathed when the fleece was removed!)

Double-depth beds for salads was perhaps not quite such a good idea – they drain so well that it is difficult to keep the young seedlings growing to their maximum potential. And the day I forgot to cover the bed with fleece. the sparrows had a field-day amongst the newly emerging beet and spinach! I’ll have to re-sow and keep that part protected with twiggy prunings. But the radish (‘Jolly’), rocket (‘Runaway’) and ‘Greek’ Cress all sown on 21st April are doing really well in their mini-strips and already providing snippings for the salad bowl – ideal for cut-and-come again, as is the mixed lettuce which was sown much earlier under a cloche. The shallots, too, are at last ‘moving’; they did not like the cold and wet of early Spring.

digging out weeds
digging out weed – before composting the annual weeds, the hens
will enjoy scratching through them – in their run, not on the plot

I can never make sufficient of my own mulch, even though I compost everything I can. My bins work really well for soft prunings, vegetable waste from the kitchen, and weeds. Though not all weeds. Yesterday, whilst removing the spent purple-sprouting broccoli plants that have only just finished cropping, I dug over the bed to remove the annual red-deadnettle that I had left flowering to attract early insects. That, and other annual stragglers, went into one bucket, but the invasive perennial winter heliotrope that had wormed its way into the bed on creeping rootstock went into another, destined for the bonfire – productive of a potash-rich residue perfect for top-dressing.

two bean towers in place
two bean towers in place

The broccoli and weeds have denatured the soil – a top-up with compost was essential; for this is to be the ‘climbing bean’ bed (runners and French) this summer and should have had my own decomposed material dug into it, but supplies are short. So liquid seaweed feed and mulching will have to suffice for this year. I’ve divided the bed into four quadrants, with a tower in the middle of each, each formed from two purchased bent canes supported by a long upright in the middle. The whippy end of the bent canes do not quite reach into the bed, so I lashed them firmly to stakes (roofing batten offcuts) with hessian string – those knot-tying exercise of my Guiding days in the 1950s still come in handy!

four productive beds with their surrounding sheltering
four productive beds with their surrounding sheltering shrubbery
(taken this morning, Saturday 26th May, 2012)

I walk into this enclosed and protected patch . which a year ago was just an idea on paper. I touch the scented leaves of herbs, sit under a cloudless sky and make notes of more tasks: sow some annual flowers between the beans. Covering the soil surface with growth will eliminate the necessity for weeding. I contemplate the greening of this late Spring, and the joys of gardening in any productive plot. Contentment.

(All seed links are Dobies, but links provided to Dobies products are in many instances similar to what I use, but not identical; they are provided as a useful facility for readers.)

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