Spring again

by frankbeswick

Spring is a busy time for gardeners, but it is ever a time of hope and promise, when the vision of the perfect garden comes alive in your mind.

Gardening does not stop in Winter. Vegetable growers like myself spend time nourishing the soil and preparing for the coming year. But the winter period is a gloomy moratorium, when you look at the empty ground wishing that it were blooming with vegetation. Resolutions for the coming season are made. Mine is to improve my flowerbed, which is not my best point. Then the year turns to the equinox. The day time is longer than night, and you feel the resurgence of spring in your veins. Time to be a-planting. But care must be taken, as climatic menaces lurk in the background. But yes, it's Spring again.

The thumbnail above shows broccoli florets.

First Thoughts

The allotment has not been dead, though in the cold, damp climate of North West England even the weeds have been on strike. Some vegetables have overwintered. I have a few specimens of curly kale, which are destined for soup in the next few days. They dwell in a small bed of brassicas between some specimens of purple sprouting broccoli. Over the winter I have inspected these with some frustration:planted last year they grew large but did not sprout.I toyed with pulling them up, but hope forbade me, but it was a case of "Sprout, you unco-operative plants! Please " Then a small patch of purple at the tip, then another, and they grew, as Spring surged on.  As I write, Maureen is currently flying to Malaysia to see our son, who teaches there, so I am hoping that when she returns in two weeks there will be some lovely broccoli florets to welcome her. 

I suspect that the light has a part to play in the flowering, as the weather in this isle has been inclement, as chill north westerly winds scoured the land, so it was certainly not the warmth that did it. The weather has been wet, but that's no problem. But the rain has flooded the allotment gateway, so we must negotiate the puddle to walk in. 

Buds emerge. My son Andrew and I planted gooseberries this year. I have this fear that what I plant will fail to grow, but the buds are green on the brown wood; and the trees are thus showing the same signs. Apple, pear, damson and plum, all are revealing the life force of Spring. I really must check on the cherries. Rhubarb stalks are standing firm. It's early, but the main variety of rhubarb round here is Timperley Early, not surprising, as Timperley is only three miles away.

But the weeds have started work again. Ground elder! It's a bane. The Romans introduced it as a salad vegetable. They left, leaving behind a few of their genes, Hadrian's wall and some other archaeological remains and the ground elder. It spreads ferociously. The trouble is that it comes from under the nearby road, so I cannot dig up the source of it, as Trafford Council might have something critical to say if they find me with a digger in the middle of one of their roads. So might the police. However, it tastes like parsley, the herb that pushed it out of the British culinary repertoire. There's a use for it! But against weeds it is war without end. 

Jobs done.

My home is in Greater Manchester, the southernmost part of the county of Lancashire. We are  thirty miles from the Irish Sea, a mile from the river Mersey, and only 70 feet above sea level, on flat land. There are advantages and disadvantages to the location. Our low height and proximity to water means that there is less frost than areas further east, but we are known to be rainy, which is no bad thing.But the flat land is prone to winds, for it provides no shelter, so my plot can be a wind tunnel at times. However, we are not prone to flooding, a problem that besets certain parts of Britain, as the Mersey, which is not far away, is contained within its banks by strong defences. 

The climate means that the soil is still too cold to plant in the ground. But my answer is raised beds.Gardeners will note that the soil in well-raised beds is warmer than the surrounding soil, so into them have gone some second early potatoes and onions. Carrots have also been sown, and today I will sow some spring onions. Not only is the soil in the raised beds a bit warmer than the ground is, but the sides of the beds provide  protection for the plants against the wind. 

I have ventured to make my first hugel. Hugels are a German technique whereby vegetables are grown in mounds. It is a kind of raised bed without walls, but the advantage is that you can grow on the sides, whereas you cannot do that with a raised bed.  

But as you see from the pictures, growth is yet limited. All were taken today, 3rd April 2015, and so much soil is still bare. Later you will see the greening.

Raised beds
Raised beds

Explaining the image

Above you see raised beds made of pallet collars, one atop the other. They are filled with rich compost, both purchased and home made, and you can just see the onions. Behind them raised beds is my first small venture into hugel culture, a small mound in which vegetables are grown. In the background are tyre planters. The tyres were begged from a garage glad to be rid of them for free and are filled with compost.   

The Greenhouse has survived the winds
The Greenhouse has survived the winds

The Greenhouse

The wind worries me, and so I had to fasten the greenhouse down firmly. Bolts affix it to slabs, but I added pink grip, a fast drying cement. Besides the greenhouse is a container for bits and bobs, such as netting, that I do not want to leave lying around. Nearby are green water butts for water saving during summer.  Notice the paths, all are made of wood chip refreshed in winter from chip supplied by the council. They  clear unwanted trees and give away the chippings to allotments. Wood chip, an article in Permaculture magazine tells us is a great soil enhancer and enriches the fungal life of the soil.

Looking towards the Fruit Trees
Looking towards the Fruit Trees

The Fruit Trees.

You can see two apple trees. In the background on the neighbouring plot is a vandalized greenhouse awaiting the completion of repairs. You can also see a jostaberry bush. The sheeting in the centreground was moved there by wind, having been stacked near the greenhouse. 

The rhubarb is springing up
The rhubarb is springing up

The rear of the plot.

The rhubarb is sprouting near some planters. The tyre planters contain onions, but behind them are blueberries, which cannot grow in my soil as they require acid soils, so I use ericaceous compost, which is acidic enough. Come to think of it, refreshing the compost in those planters is an urgent need. Those of you who have followed my chats with Telesto about the fox will see where she came to feast on her wood pigeon in the shelter of the planters, crouching away from the wind and prying eyes.  

To Be Done

Planting the remainder of the beds, those that are not raised, is the main priority. Peas will be planted in succession for a short period to stagger the harvesting time. I am thinking about where to plant the sweet corn, probably just near the raised beds. Sweet corn is a bit of a quandary. I like corn on the cob, and have had some success, but not every cob produces a full complement of seeds in our climate. Corn is a warm weather crop, and we are not in a warm climate. I would like to grow it in greenhouses, but it is wind pollinated and so needs exposure to moving air, otherwise the pollination does not happen. Cauliflowers are a favourite vegetable with me, and so some will be laid down when the weather warms up, along with kale, which resists slugs well. Protecting the cauliflowers against the ever-predatory wood pigeons is urgent, as these little beasts gobble the heart out of a cauliflower. 

I need to plant up the greenhouse, but it is a matter of timing. Too early a planting can result in disaster, if a late frost destroys the crop. Tomatoes can be turned to black mush by a simple frost. It has happened to me once before. I need to spruce up the greenhouse, tightening bolts after winter, before I plant. 

There is a small greenhouse to be erected. Andrew, my horticulturalist son, will help me. His fiance [due to be his wife in June] is off to her native Portugal to see her mother, who is too unwell to attend the wedding, and so Andrew will be alone. It is good to have a thirty three year old helping with any digging, though it brings home forcefully to me that I am in my mid sixties and slowing down, but still very fit for my age. 

But as an allotment committee member [vice chair] I cannot guarantee being able to work undisturbed. The ever-busy and wonderful secretary, Barbara, sometimes comes to discuss an issue, such as the vandalism of the neighbouring greenhouse. Moreover, I have just been elected to the area committee [Urmston Allotment and Garden Society.] Official role, site representative; unofficially, trouble shooter, sent to resolve issues in the most peaceful way possible. You may be surprised that the grumpy individualists who till allotments can be quite quarrelsome sometimes. 

You have had a glimpse into the life of a plot holder on a small, but friendly allotment site.The council allotments officer likes our site, because we never give her any trouble. We are short of space and money, though Barbara is a Godsend, as she busies herself trying to obtain grants and hold events. We won an award last year for progress made. This year we want best allotment site in Trafford. It's  a hard task, but we live in hope. 

I had better work on that flowerbed!


All photographs were taken by Frank Beswick

Updated: 04/03/2015, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 12/22/2023

I always preferred roses.

DerdriuMarriner on 12/21/2023

The first paragraph in your introduction considers that "Gardening does not stop in Winter. Vegetable growers like myself spend time nourishing the soil and preparing for the coming year. But the winter period is a gloomy moratorium, when you look at the empty ground wishing that it were blooming with vegetation. Resolutions for the coming season are made. Mine is to improve my flowerbed, which is not my best point."

What flowers do you generally favor in your flowerbeds?

Might you not have mentioned elsewhere that your wife prettifies the back yard with her own garden? What flowers would she tend toward?

frankbeswick on 03/22/2023

There are a few trees showing, e.g hawthorn and I think elder. But I would have to look around a bit. We recently saw a nuthatch on a tree in the park. Bumble bees are active, we saw some today when gardening in the park.

DerdriuMarriner on 03/22/2023

Cardinals and grackels have been in the south yard foraging -- among box elder, Chinese chestnut and silver maple seeds -- for whatever the already-growing grass shelters. I hear bluebirds, ovenbirds and tufted titmice even as I not yet see where they are or what they eat.

It may be in the 80s (26.67-plus Celsius) tomorrow! No wonder the grape hyacinth shows its purple so attractively near all the yellows of shrubby chamaecyparis, forsythia and spirea and of first-to-bloom daffodils.

What shows up already on your, eastern (Atlantic) pond side?

frankbeswick on 02/24/2023

Flowering time depends on where you are in Britain, which is an island nigh on nine hundred miles long, if you measure it from the Scillies to Shetland. I am in North West England, which is about halfway up the country, and the daffodils are flowering nicely.the flowers in the Isles of Scilly start maybe late January.

DerdriuMarriner on 02/23/2023

The daffodils on the south side of the front porch and on the north side of the slippery elm tree look -- since last week -- like they are going to bloom any day now!

How soon would you say that the earliest-blooming spring flowers will open on your, eastern side of the (Atlantic) pond?

DerdriuMarriner on 05/14/2022

Thank you for the expert experience and expert expertise ;-D!

frankbeswick on 05/14/2022

You have mentioned four vegetables that are hard to grow in window boxes because of their size. Rhubarb is a non-starter because it develops a large crown and takes up much space. Cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli [all the same species] can grow in large pots. Corn needs a square space where there is exposure to air flow, as corn is wind-pollinated. I don't think that any cereals have been successfully grown indoors. In the UK Adam Henson, a television presenter on Countryfile, and a farmer, tried to grow rice in glasshouse conditions, but the experiment was a complete failure. Low light levels at his latitude, somewhere in the early fifties [Southern England] ruined the crop and made it susceptible to fungal infection.

DerdriuMarriner on 05/12/2022

Thank you! I intend to keep all this helpful information in mind as I look at floor-, porch- and window-boxes and sills as easier, simpler gardening projects this spring. (I know it's spring because I finally saw my first fireflies, two each on Tuesday in the south grasses, two each on Wednesday in the west grasses, perhaps two each tonight in the north grasses?!).

But also, I meant to ask you, How would broccoli, cauliflower, corn and rhubarb do in porch- or window-boxes and pots?

frankbeswick on 05/12/2022

My experience with corn is that it can be hit or miss, for some cobs are better than others. However, different varieties will produce different results. I have seen a field of corn in South West Scotland, which surprised me, but I discovered that farmers often grow it as a fodder crop.

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