Seedlings aplenty

purple tulip

Spring has well and truly sprung and the days are so much longer, meaning we’ve been spending more and more time outside and getting ahead before everything explodes into life. The recent bout of unseasonably warm weather has accelerated us out of the arctic-tinged days of early spring and right into the belly of the season that kick starts the growing year.

In the past few years I’ve been making a concerted effort to fill our borders with plants for every season, and this year we’ve enjoyed even more daffodils, hellebores and the most sumptuously jewel-coloured tulips in the borders. It’s a kind of therapy that has lifted me out of my winter-induced slump – the colour, the scents and the warmth gradually weaving threads of joy through my veins.  Already the alliums are shooting up and in a month or so we’ll be getting ready for the stunning display of purple sensation that should complement the bees’ favourite, Himalayan crane’s bill along with the round-headed allium sphaerocephalon.

Cristo garlic

Usually at this time of year I’m lamenting about how far behind I am with the planting, but even despite Spring’s early surge, I’m keeping up. I have really high hopes for this year. Really high hopes. The onions are already in and looking strong and healthy, the shallots are in and looking promising. We’ve got parsnips on the go, and in the greenhouse – which was completely out of commission last year – is crammed with seed trays and pots.

Each morning, as the sun swings round from the east, higher into the sky and bathing the garden in a watery light, I take a trip down to the greenhouse to see what’s unfolding. The day to day progress of my little seedlings is astounding. In the course of one day I’ve seen squash and courgette plants almost literally burst into life, casting aside the hard cases of the seeds as the thick, sturdy seedling leaves push through the soil. They’re now growing and growing into strong plants and I’m actually where I should be in the growing season.

Rondo peas

Seeing my greenhouse and veg plots come to life after a quiet winter… well, there’s a certain special kind of satisfaction in that, isn’t there? The next job is to get the polytunnel up this summer. We will get there!

Small, and Not-So-Perfectly Formed… But Packed With Flavour!

The title of this blog post sums up most of my vegetable harvests so far this year. With not much on the menu to start with – mostly potatoes, onions and garlic, the yields have been spectacularly small and poor.

Grow your own potatoes and garlic - Picasso Potatoes and Cristo Garlic

Just a snapshot of the kind of yields I’m harvesting – some potatoes are a decent size, but many fall under the ‘pebble’ size category. The garlic is small, but packed with flavour.

But putting my positive hat on, I can vouch that my homegrown veg might be a disappointment in the size department, but not so in terms of taste – everything I’ve eaten so far is packed full with flavour. The Cristo garlic may not have swelled to gargantuan proportions as it has done in previous years, but just two small cloves of my homegrown garlic have literally transformed my cooking. The depth of flavour is second to none, and I have never come across the same in shop-bought fare.

I once made the heinous mistake of buying organic garlic from Tesco without reading the label… only to find that it had been shipped all the way from China. The garlic itself was bland, bland, bland, so there was no consolation for my purchase. So although my garlic harvest will likely only sustain us for a few weeks at best (we must use at least one bulb a week), for that short time, I shall be able to revel in the almost-indescribable deep, multi-toned, fragrant richness that comes from my own homegrown yield.

The onions – well, they’re rather pathetic, if I’m honest. It’s my own fault – I barely prepared the soil, bunged in slightly soft onion sets and hoped for the best…. and was promptly met with a miserable start to Spring, and a sustained heatwave where our soil turned to sand. Must do better.

The potatoes have been a mixed bag – yes, they’re small, but boy are they good. The Picasso in particular have peaked my interest, as they’ve somehow evaded the perpetual blight (no, not that kind of blight) of scab that I had resigned myself to facing each year, on account of our sandy soil. But no, the Picasso have proven me wrong and emerged from the earth as modest-sized hunks of cream and pink, a little rough around the edges but generally no worse for wear. That’s a success in my book. Their flavour is outstanding, and as a roastie/mash spud, they’re up there with Maris Pipers, Desiree and Roosters. I’ve even go as far as to say that they might actually oust our perennial favourite, the Maris Piper, as my favourite roastie spud… the creaminess of Picasso is out of this world, and if you haven’t given them a go, then they come highly recommended from me!

The Majestic potatoes were not so lucky and seem to have succumbed to scab – but a cursory scrub and peel, and they’re good to go.

The raspberries are finally beginning to ripen, and the plan is to scrump a few apples from the windfall from our neighbour, or just ask around generally if anyone has any cooking apples spare, and put together a nice apple and raspberry strudel, or crumble. As a gardener, Mum is often handed bags of cooking apples from clients, who are desperate to give away surplus, so I imagine we’ll have a fair few coming our way within the next few weeks. Cooked apples are one of my favourite foods ever ever ever. In fact, we’re thinking of getting a couple of cooking apple trees in to replace the ancient Victoria Plum – last year or the year before, it gave up the ghost after about 90 years.

Remember when it used to rain?

I have become somewhat of a compulsive weather forecast checker over the past few days. You see, we’ve had no rain in about a month. Or at least, that’s what it feels like. I can’t actually remember when the last time some H20 fell from the sky, but then, I can’t really remember any further back than about 2 weeks ago.

I know I’ve been absent, but to be honest, all I’ve been doing in a Smallest Smallholding-type way is watering plants and forgetting to repot my peppers and chillis. Everything is pretty much getting on and growing quite happily.

I went away for 4 days to Cork in Ireland (with other crazy Harry Potter-obsessed friends and some lovely Americans, who all made for one EPIC weekend of fun and frolics – see pic below, click to enlarge!).

And when I came back, my onions seemed to have grown about half a foot taller, my squash plants had exploded and the beans had scrambled further up their bean poles, and flowered. It felt like I’d been away for weeks, rather than days. A couple of days ago I started digging for gold, AKA digging up my charlotte potatoes. My yield is definitely lower this year, probably in part to the DISTINCT LACK OF RAIN.

Yes, it’s getting to me a bit. I feel more than ready for it to just chuck it down. And when it does (because, let’s face it, at some point it just has to), I’ll more than likely be standing out there, sucking it all up (not literally) like the crazy vegetable-growing vegetarian weirdo harry potter obsessed cat lady that I am. I just feel like it *needs* to happen soon, or I’m going to start getting twitchy. It’s a strange, compelling feeling. Maybe I need to do a rain dance with some bamboo canes.

And whilst you let that image ping about in your brain for a while, I will digress. Last weekend I ate my first ever homegrown raspberry from my Polka raspberry plants. Good grief. Talk about fresh and zingy! I cannot wait for the first proper crop. My plan is to grab some meringues, crush them, add some ice cream, and tip a few raspberries on top. As pretty as they are, I’m not bothered about presentation. It’s all about taste. Pure unadulterated, non-supermarket fare.

Saying that, I may hold back on the ice cream somewhat. I’m in the middle of a healthy eating kick that’s coinciding with my running. Before I went to Ireland, we managed to run for 20 minutes non-stop. For a beginner, that was a big deal. That gives me hope. After a brief 1 week hiatus, I’m back on the training programme and feeling optimistic that 2010 really will be the year that I got a grip and sorted myself out. Seems to be working so far; I no longer have a vampirish (topical!) pallor, my clothes are actually starting to sag in all the right places (meaning I’m toning up, but unfortunately this means extra expense in replacing them for smaller – yes! smaller! – sizes) and I’m no longer walking around with the weight of the world on my shoulders. It’s a strange feeling.

Anyway, best sign off. I have a weather forecast to check. Rain, anyone?

Weight: 10 stones 12

Edit: Have checked forecast. Rain due tomorrow, apparently. HURRAH!