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May in the Kitchen Garden

Welcome to the crazy month. It’s just about the busiest month in the kitchen garden…..and we’re having to contend with weather too. We should be seeing the last of our frosts within the next few days…..but we’re not out of the woods yet. I spend my days ping-ponging backwards and forwards to the garden to throw fleece over my seedlings then remove it the next day. It’s a bit of a faff……but worth it to save the plants that are going to feed me for the next year.

If you got your spuds in during March they should be well and truly up by now……and it’s time to ‘earth’ them – earthing them protects them from late frosts but, just as importantly, helps produce a bigger yield by giving the plant new ‘space’ to produce in. When I earth the spuds it also gives me a chance to see how much moisture is in the soil. We haven’t had rain for weeks but, going down a couple of inches (to fetch the soil up and over the spud growth) shows me there is plenty of moisture down there. I won’t water any of the established plants…….I want to encourage their roots down to find the water…….but I will water freshly sown seed beds…..a seed with no root can’t find water!

So I’m watering because we’ve had no rain…….and protecting plants from frosts….welcome to our weather. Meanwhile it’s all GO with seed sowing, pricking, transplanting, potting on. By now the indoor/under glass sown seeds will be ready to prick out or pot on…….and, finally, the first of the direct sowings can start: parsnips, carrots, beans, peas, squash, corn, fennel, salad leaves……and on and on! Told you it was the crazy month!

…….and not forgetting the crops already in the ground: by now, if you have any brassicas left they will probably have blown…….producing clouds of SAM_0944little yellow flowers……if you aren’t in a hurry for the space please leave them in as they provide essential food for the bees making their first forays of the year when, apart from fruit blossom, there is little else around for them to feast on. If you sowed your broad beans last autumn they should be about to burst with pods……….and black fly!!!! Grrrrr……..I do loathe black fly. Either pinch out the tips that the flies love to feast on or spray with a mix of water and soap to drown ’em……..or squish between your fingers………a daily inspection/squish session at this time of year will save a few tears in June……

….it is also the time of year (especially after rains) when the little weeds suddenly look like monsters. There are no short cuts……..perennials need to be dug out…….annuals can be dealt with by regular hoeing (a wonderfully meditative job)……try to hoe at least once a week, even before you see the weeds……a quick tickle once a week should suffice….

…..and, finally, this is the time of year that I start to empty the freezer of last year’s produce: I take stock of what I have left and plan my meals accordingly with the aim of emptying the freezer by the end of June so that it can have it’s annual defrost and deep clean…….before the new harvest starts to come in.

Busy, busy, busy!!! Wouldn’t have it any other way. Happy sowing, hoeing and freezer emptying!

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April in the Kitchen Garden

After what feels like months of thumb twiddling and sitting on hands there suddenly don’t seem to be enough hours in the day – it’s all systems go in the kitchen garden.

April is one of my busiest months: the indoor sown seeds will need to be pricked out (tomatoes, celery, sweet peppers etc), more indoor sowings need to be done (the squash and cucumbers), out on the soil the beds are now ready for some direct sowings. The beds have been SAM_0857tickled over and given some compost and chicken manure then raked over to give as fine a medium as possible for tiny seeds to sit in. I will start to successionally sow the legume bed with various climbing beans and peas starting about mid-April as the soil warms up then every two weeks or so until mid-June.

One of the biggest differences in the garden now will be the temporary structures that need to go up to support the climbing veggies…….the garden will become a forest of bean poles, looking a little forlorn until the plants get going. I love it when the structures go up……they tantalise me with the promise of things to come.

The shed is gradually emptying of all the pots, trays and assorted bits and bobs stored over winter…….so it’s a great time to have a bit of a tidy and clean up……and maybe even get a couple of top coats of paint on.

And, of course, we’re into grass cutting season and weeding time – the speed with which the grass and weeds grow never fails to amaze me. There really aren’t enough hours in the day!

Happy April gardening everyone.

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March in the Kitchen Garden

Last month we were under starter’s orders……this month the tape is finally up and we’re off! But still at a sedately pace.

I love March in the kitchen garden as it’s the month when I finally start sowing seed in earnest and get back onto the soil after what feels like the longest time. It is still far too cold in my garden to be sowing anything outdoors but indoors I will be starting my tomatoes, celery and leeks in the second week and, towards the end of the mosam_0839nth, I’ll start the squash and cucumbers. The window sills will be heaving under trays full of little paper pots…..and I shall bound out of bed each morning to see what, if anything, has germinated and I’ll squeal with delight at every little head that pops up.

The real work, though, will be happening on the soil; a busy month when I’ll be harvesting all the last of the winter crops…..carrots, parsnips and the brasicas…..they’ll come home and be processed for storing (mostly in the freezer). Once the beds are clear of veg I’ll start adding fertiliser, digging trenches, sifting soil and raising mounds. The grass paths will get their first trim of the year. I’ll mark out the beds with sticks to remind myself where to sow according to the plan I made over winter. If I had been able to get the green manure in last autumn it would be getting dug in now too.

It is tradition to get the potatoes in on St. Patrick’s Day, the 17th of March – I’ve never been organised enough to do it on this date until this year – so we’ll see if I get a better yield for getting them in earlier. They have been chitting away for the last four weeks and have lovely, short, sturdy chits on them. Don’t worry if yours aren’t ready – I have sown mine as late as early May and still had good results.

And if we get some decent sunny days the shed will get a lick of top coat….and maybe a tidy.

Happy March soil time and seed sowing.

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February in the Kitchen Garden

Are you managing to contain your excitement? Are you resisting the urge to start too soon? Are you resisting temptation as the garden shops start to fill their shelves again?

I find February one of the toughest months as a kitchen gardener; it’s hard to get on the soil because of the weather, it’s too early (cold) to start the vast majority of the sowings, the seed catalogues have lost their appeal after the 17th reading and, besides, I don’t need any seeds.

It’s also the toughest month for me as a scoffer of fresh hosam_0749me grown veg; apart from a few greens and root veg I’m now relying heavily on stored produce….the bottled toms are serving me well and I’m so glad I put in all that hard work at the end of last summer to get them stored but…..every February is the same……at this time of year I start to long for fresh versions of the summer veg; a fresh tomato, fresh (not frozen) peas, fresh beans, fresh fennel……the list goes on……

So, yes, I find February the toughest month. I will busy myself with jobs away from the soil; the fence still needs building, the pots and trays need cleaning with a solution of tea tree oil for its anti-microbial properties, the paper ‘pots’ need making from discarded, scrounged newspapers….there is much still to be getting on with.

I may even sow just a sprinkling of seeds. This is very early for me – I normally don’t start until mid-March – but I’m trying celariac and sweet peppers this year and they need to go in now. I won’t use artificial light or heat but rather rely on the the light and warmth of a south facing window…..and hope for the best.

Hang in there folks……we’re under starter’s orders!

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January in the Kitchen Garden

I love January in the Kitchen Garden – a whole new year to play with and get excited about. The days are short but there are still plenty of things to be getting on with.

This month I shall continue with some of the structures and landscaping. I’ll do some tool maintenance: get edges sharpened, oil hinges, fix loose handles etc. When I visit the garden I’ll keep an eye on the crops still in the ground and remove anything that looks diseased…….I’ll also do the same with my stored harvests……a quick, weekly, check over to remove spoiled veg now will save heartache at an entirely ruined store later on.

My big job for January, though, is to sort my sam_0648seeds and make the plan. Ooooh – I love it and get overly excited at the prospect of all the new veg to eat as the year progresses. Being something of a nerd this a highly organised exercise…..I start with a plan of the garden and write in where each veg will be grown – quite an easy exercise as it follows on from the previous years successes just moved a bed over…..and anything I didn’t enjoy gets dropped. Then I start to go through my seeds, in order of the beds they will be planted in, to see if I need to buy anything.

Over the last couple of years as I have learned more about my plants I have been able to save more and more seed… the shopping list is quite small. I buy organic seed from three small companies who have full trace-ability for their growing conditions etc…..I also buy seed from plants grown in the UK…..not only because they should be more acclimatised but because there will be less miles involved in getting them to me (I am passionate about trying to reduce the use of finite resources such as petro-chemicals). I never have an excess of seed – just the amount I need for my own eating needs – but, if I do have a really good harvest of seed I exchange them with friends and double the joy.

Once I have all my seed and my plan the rest is simple (!!)….I make a list of times to sow (indoors or out) and stick it on the pinboard at home…….and then practice patience. I generally start to sow indoors about mid-March to time my plantlets to our last frost at the end of May. I don’t use heated propagators or growing lights for the (eco) reason above – I work with Mother Nature and she generally rewards me with yummy things to eat.

Happy January planning folk and, when you can, step out into the garden and enjoy the blasts of fresh air and birdsong.

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If you haven’t already done so there’s just enough time to get some garlic sown.

I have used cloves from my own crop harvested back in July; they’re a hard neck variety which means I’ll get a flower stalk in the spring (or ‘scrape’) which tastes great in a salad – bonus! Plot oct 15 018

I plant them about 6 inches apart with about 10 inches between the rows and about an inch below the surface of the soil. Choose a sunny site with good drainage and keep it weed free. Once planted I cover the bed with some netting to deter the birds from tugging on the newly emerging shoots (do they think it’s a bed of worms?).

I rotate my crops on a four year plan with the aim of preventing any build up of disease.

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Kitchen Garden jobs this week – early October

The days are getting a little shorter….but the to-do list is getting longer:Cold-food-004-1024x768

Remove/compost plants which have stopped producing.
Dig over the empty spaces, weeding as I go (esp. perennial weeds!)
Prepare empty beds for sowing of green manures.
Sow green manures.
Sow garlic.
Sow overwintering broad beans.
Continue to harvest (leave enough time to cook/bottle/store).
Prepare spaces for storing/get bottling equipment ready.
Check winter crops for disease/pest damage etc and remove/burn diseased plants if any.
Dead head flowers to prolong/start gathering seed from those gone over.
Clean bean poles/other supports ready for storing.

If time: dig out new bed (!!!)

Browse seed catalogue.
Plan new shed.