Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Taking advantage of good conditions

Boris, Arthur and Gerry were all keen to help in the garden
Boris was behaving very strangely last night and it took a while for me to work out why. It was only in the evening, as my fingers started tingling, that I realised the same may be happening to Boris's paws and nose. However I can explain my tingling, for with the soil soft and workable yesterday I had been digging out nettles. As I threw them to one side, Boris insisted on running after them and shaking them - hence his strange behaviour as he struggled to understand his strange sensations.

The weather this past weekend was somewhat disappointing. We had finally been promised that cold spell we so badly need to set the seasons right. Saturday night was forecast snow and Sunday morning a temperature plunge to several degrees below zero. Somehow we totally missed the band of snow which had others out throwing snowballs, sledging and building snowmen. Maybe because of this, overnight temperatures barely dipped below zero. At least the ground was fairly solid for a couple of days which made a pleasant change from the squelchy conditions we've had underfoot of late. With the Grow-Your-Own group visiting on Sunday, I had been having a bit of a tidy up and had a couple of moments of inspiration.

Twigs and herbs strew the ground
 - an aromatic carpet over the churned up ground.
As I trimmed the herbs which line the polytunnel ( to ward off rodents and to provide a safety zone for the mower blades) I realised I could strew them over the ground as a kind of aromatic carpet to cover the muddier walkways. Pleased with how this went, I moved on to line a muddy path by the chicken pen using a pile of hollow lovage stems. In the chicken pen, I used dryng old catmint stems to line the muddy floor - this should help deter rats too as they reputedly hate the smell.

Broken lovage stems make a good path over the mud.

Yesterday the ground was completely thawed. Thankfully a few cold, dry days had allowed the water to drain out of the soil and it had become more pliable than for a long time. Time to finally get the garlic and shallots in, before a promised low of minus four overnight.

I planted the garlic cloves 4 inches apart in rows 15 inches apart. That's a bit further apart than the rows need to be, but I'm growing something in between. I just need to make sure there's enough space for the hoe. I use a ruler for this as it's surprisingly easy to space wrongly when you're down on your hands and knees with little perspective. I will sow parsnip in between the rows, as the garlic is a good companion for it and will come out before the parsnip plants get too big.
The garlic cloves are planted about an inch deep and it won't be long before they take root and the green shoots appear above the soil. Some are already doing their best to start growing.

Until they get a good roothold, the garlic plants need protecting from the birds' scratching feet and inquisitive pecks. This was the ideal opportunity for me to try out one of my new vegetable cages - more on these in a later post - which I purchased cheaply as part of a 'Black Friday' promotion.

Next in were the shallots - generally the smallest of last year's sets saved for this year. I had about 40 to plant and this was a very quick process with the soil in the right condition. They were simply laid out on the surface at 7" intervals each way and then poked into the soft soil until just their very tips were poking out. Chicken wire went over the top to stop them being pulled out again.

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