Dimwit

I’ve been shattering gender stereotypes. You know, the one about the female of the species being good at reading instructions.

I’d been wondering why the climbing french beans I sowed weeks ago hadn’t germinated. Mr MBaF suggested “maybe you should put them in the greenhouse?”. “Nah, they’re supposed to be outside” I scoffed. Later, in a moment of self-doubt, I checked the packet….

Sow in pots on a windowsill or in a greenhouse.

Oops.

So, sheepishly I popped them in the greenhouse and low-and-behold, the first one popped up the next day! Most of them have now appeared, just a few days later. Plonker.

French beans popping up happily in our little greenhouse

French beans popping up happily in our little greenhouse

Similarly, the young tomato plants that I’ve now potted up outside shouldn’t even have been sown until this month because I’m growing them outside. Pah! No wonder they’re shivering in today’s cold winds!

Tomato 'sweet olive' in the brrrreeze

Tomato ‘sweet olive’ in the brrrreeze

Reminds me of the time I cooked hot cross buns without fruit (missed that line of the recipe) and took three attempts to make profiteroles (missed out a whole process…twice).

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Be careful what you wish for…

The weather this month has been unseasonably stable. April appeared to be rebranding – shaking off its showery reputation.

Already I’ve been wishing for rain and complaining about having to water the plot – this wouldn’t normally happen until mid-summer, but our free-draining ground is parched.

Of course it wouldn’t last!

Looks like the showers will set in for April’s final throws. Just as Mr MBaF finishes his week of night shifts – boohoo. 

Small, but perfectly formed

I’ve grown cauliflower once before – 2 years ago – and they were pretty humongous. Too big really; we couldn’t get through the crop before they bolted (shot up flower stems to produce seed).

This year, my small crop of four plants (Dad’s leftover seedlings) has been largely ignored – hidden under netting all winter. Recent cursory inspection revealed none-too-healthy yellowing leaves, and no obvious large white curds in amongst the leaves. But still I didn’t really have a close look.

Then this week I removed the netting (I figure the butterflies and pigeons can’t do much damage now it’s harvest time) and discovered something peculiar had happened.

Two of the cauli plants had more than one stem, and on top of each was a mini curd. They were in pretty good shape – no pest damage, nice and white and tightly packed – but shrunken.

Portion-sized cauliflowers

Portion-sized cauliflowers

A quick look at my books and top Google results didn’t throw up the answer to what’s going on. Though on the RHS website it says:

Cauliflowers do best in very fertile soil, and digging in a bucketful of well-rotted manure or organic matter before planting, and raking in 150g per sq m of Growmore or other general purpose fertiliser, will help growth. Firm the soil by treading before planting.

If growth is checked, at any time during growth, they produce small, deformed heads. To avoid problems, plants well the day before transplanting and make a hole deep enough to hold the plant with the lowest leaves at ground level. Fill this hole repeatedly with water. This will fill the hole with soil and ensure the plant is sitting in a large area of moist soil. Firm the soil very well against the roots

Space summer and autumn cropping types 60cm (2ft) apart and winter cultivars 75cm (2.5ft) apart; spacing 30-45cm (12-18in) apart, provides mini, ‘one person’ curds.

I didn’t do much prep for planting – though the area had been manured last season and I did firm the soil. I think the mini-ness must have come from close spacing, but it doesn’t mention the multi-stem effect.

Regardless, I’m very happy with the result. Mini cauli’s are perfect for my little family – one of whom is small, and one of whom is big but not a big fan!

Mini cauli’s mean we eat fresh, and don’t waste any. I must make a note to plant them close next time!

Beanpoles and pea sticks from the local woods

Lower Woods is an ancient woodland that we’re lucky enough to live very close to. It’s got a vast amount of hazel coppice, and the woodsman sells the winter’s coppice products to gardeners.

Woodland products are available to buy all year round, but last weekend (11/12 April) were the ‘official’ spring sales.

Bamboo canes are perfectly adequate for supporting climbing beans and netting is fine for peas to clamber up. But it feels good to buy local products, hazel poles and branches look much more attractive and they may do better to withstand the winds we get up here.

It’s also a lovely shopping experience, and the woodsman delivered my purchases straight to the allotment for free!

Bean poles and pea stick sales at Lower Woods

Bean poles and pea stick sales at Lower Woods

The resident Jack Russels lazing in the sunshine

The resident Jack Russels lazing in the sunshine

While we were there, Miss MBaF and I took the dog for a walk – it’s his absolute favourite place in the world!

It was great to see the garlic in lush leaf, the bluebells and blackthorn starting to flower and the primroses, wood anemones and cowslips in bloom.

Wild garlic galore

Wild garlic galore

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Blackthorn blossom

Blackthorn blossom

Toddler-friendly allotment jobs. Part 2.

Unless it’s harvest time, Miss MBaF can take some convincing to join me at the allotment. I don’t tend to drag her there if she’s not keen – it’s really not worth the stress – but yesterday she said she wanted to help me sow the peas, so this morning I gently persuaded her and ….well, OK I dragged her there.

I don’t subject her to time-consuming gardening jobs – as with everything in toddlerdom, it’s all about quick-wins. So, having already dug over and prepared a passable seed bed for the peas (I figure it doesn’t have to be the finest tilth, when the seeds are so big), we got straight into the action.

Seed packets are fiddly, so I put a handful of the dried peas in a little trug and showed Miss MBaF how to put them in a line along each side of the row. And then I left her to it.

Miss MBaF sowing peas

Miss MBaF sowing peas

The result was patchy, but she’d kept inside the row (apart from the handful she threw goodness-knows-where). I spread the ‘busiest’ areas out a bit when she wasn’t watching, and then we did the same with a short row of mangetout. I raked the soil over the seeds and then Miss MBaF enjoyed collecting water from the trough in her little watering can, and giving them all a good soaking.

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While Little Miss was busy with the sowing, I got to work filling up the first of the ‘raised beds’ I’ve added to the plot for her. These are two old car tyres that I found in a pile of discarded furniture and play equipment behind our village school. I thought they would be a great size for her to plant veg or flowers in. Unlike most little people, she’s not that keen on getting too messy, so with these she can stay on her feet and still ‘garden’.

Car tyre 'raised beds' for Miss MBaF

Car tyre ‘raised beds’ for Miss MBaF

As you can see she’s already decorated one of them, and maybe we’ll get around to doing the second at some point. So far, she’s said she wants to grow carrots, tomatoes, a sunflower and ‘pretty flowers’ in them. There’s not much space, so we won’t manage all of that.

Today we planted some garden centre-grown flowers for another quick win. They might get replaced later in the season, but I thought it might inspire her to see some ‘prettiness’ quickly.

The plan was for her to dig the holes and put the plants in. However, I noticed some red ants running about on the soil, so I did the digging and planting while she got the plants out of their pots and did the watering.

Dianthus, scabious and something with a name I forget in the first planted tyre

Dianthus, scabious and something with a name I forget in the first planted tyre

Hopefully, there’ll be lots more toddler-friendly tasks to come this season!

Root of all evil

I once heard (or did I dream it?) that bindweed roots used to be known as ‘the devil’s guts’.

If your plot doesn’t suffer from it you may not understand the agony and ecstasy of bindweed.

The agony: today, seeing the first of the year’s green shoots of the stuff. Standing proud, heart-shaped leaves curled into the stem before it flattens out and STARTS. TO. SPREAD. You know you shouldn’t, but you gently pull. And it snaps off in your hand. You just KNOW that underground it’s gonna branch and branch and send up five shoots to get you back for that one you just broke.

A sodding bindweed root peeping up from the soil

A sodding bindweed root peeping up from the soil

The ecstasy: when you dig, and you find buried underground that satanic intestine. You forget about the digging, you get down on hands and knees and you start channeling like a mole to follow that damn root through the earth. After several inches BINGO! You’ve found the trunk that your branch was attached to, with loads of other branches attached. It’s like finding the secret lair of your evil nemesis. Gently, gently, eeeease it out – and leave it on the soil to die a slow death in the drying sunshine…..mwa ha ha hahaha

Or is it just me???