Saturday 28 February 2009

28 February

Panic attack as I realise March is upon us tomorrow!

I have more to say about lime and potatoes, but the time for pontificating is not now. Its time for action! Here's what I've been up to today.

Liming the Brassica patch:

You will notice that I settled for a mug to measure out the lime, having found it holds just under half a pound of flour, in our kitchen before I left for the plot.

Preparing a bed for the onions and broad beans in the 'Other' zone.

The pallet with the wire netting covering it is a device I have cobbled together from materials I had to hand. In previous years I have planted onion sets only to discover that they have been uprooted. I have three theories as to how this could happen.

1. They are attractive to birds who can't resist giving them a tug
2. Mice or voles.
3. The ground freezes or hardens and root growth forces the set upwards rather than the roots down.

No 1 is my best guess, but my contraption should solve 1 and 2 so we will see if it's really three. Another help with No.2 is the visitor I had while I was working:

Tuesday 24 February 2009


These are our "heritage" potatoes: About ten years ago we went to a Potato Day in Galashiels (run by BOGs - Borders Organic Growers) and bought amongst other varieties some Ballydoon. We were so impressed with this new potato (and it is an early variety) that we told everyone about it and passed some on to a few people. But then we ate all ours and despite visiting various potato days in years since, never found them again. (A search suggests there is one farm in Ayrshire that is a certified producer - I've contemplated visiting them). But my Sister and Brother-in-Law have responded to the tale of woe by letting us have some of the strain that they have been keeping going, from a few tubors we gave them. Last year we planted these descendants and this is the next generation which we have reserved for planting this year. I set them out for chitting in pride of place in our back passageway today.

Note: Certified seed potatoes are safest for avoiding disease build up and disappointing returns. My view is that if you experience any problem then revert to 100% certified seed. But limited experiments add to the variety and excitement of the gardening experience. So, for instance, I am quite happy to take some of the supermarket "speciality" potatoes and plant them to see if I can get a good return in a premium product. In fact our best year for potatoes has been the one where we left it too late to buy seed potatos so bought a sack of Cara potatoes from a local organic shop. The sack had the name of the farm, just some 30 miles or so away. We figured the growing conditions would be a near approximation to ours. The results suggested our assumptions were valid.

Potato days seem to have become more and more popular and I returned from one in Edinburgh on Sunday to hear a report of others on the radio. I felt alot better about paying 13p per tubor when they are 18p in London! No Ballydoon, but I bought late varieties Robinta and Sarpo Mira just because I don't know about them - in addition to some old favourites (Edzell Blue, Sharpes Express, Kerr's Pinks). I'll have no difficulty filling the roots zone this year, but will I manage to squeeze in my carrots and parsnips?

Monday 23 February 2009

Let's Talk Lime

There's one topic that all too easy to overlook, and that's LIME. I admit to not paying enough attention to the subject, and judging from my activities yesterday I have suffered for this neglect. Liming isn't fun. Best done in the Autumn or Winter it's too scientific for some and yet I find it fraught with uncertainty.

To get to business: How is one to know how much lime to apply to your plot?

1. Establish the current pH

2. Calculate the dosage

3. Apply it

1. There is a fiddly procedure requiring chemicals and test tubes
followed by a rather subjective colour comparison. Alternatively there
is a more expensive metre. Like all meters it is only as good as the
calibration. When I read the following I felt that sinking feeling "
Sorrel, creeping buttercup, nettle, dock and mare's tail are all signs
your soil is becoming or is too acid" But at least that was advice for free. All the same I feel the need to get a meter - and to use it for a systematic survey of the plot this year. (Yes I should have done this last autumn)

2. Here's the difficult part. How much do I need to raise the pH by 1?

The back of the packet the meter came in says 300g per sq m (10.5 oz per sq yard)

Several guides say 275g - 850g (0.5 to 1.5 lb)

The lime sack (J Arthur Bower's Garden Lime) says 100-200g (3-6 oz)

So all in all there are vagaries about both the assessment of the pH and the dosage required.

3. Now the fun: spreading it over the surface and raking it in. Don't do this on a windy day (That ruled out last weekend). Who has a weighing scales at their allotment??? And what if your lime sack has absorbed water (as has happened to me) Answer - Calculate how much you need to apply for the whole area you want to treat as a proportion of the full bag of lime you have and do your best spread that amount as evenly as possible over the area. It is not an exact science, but you won't be far off the mark. You'll do a lot more good than the harm you do when you don't get around to doing this task for another year.

The lower case 'p' stands for "potenz" (potential) and the upper case 'H' stands for Hydrogen. So it's 'pH'. Besides PH is public house.

Monday 9 February 2009

Edinburgh in the Cold

Frozen Canal - Here's an idea of the weather in Edinburgh

Recent events have proved to me that there is more to the conspiracy theory than we think. Having declared my intention to get on top of things at the plot I have been thwarted on successive weekends, first by the flu and then by the weather. Next weekend is spoken for (we are visiting family), so it will be nigh on a month between visits. Just to cheer me up here's a picture of a primula that grows happily in our garden. It seems quite happy to be left to itself and produces a cheerful display each spring, even before the snowdrops.

Tuesday 3 February 2009

Seeds in Rotation

Reading over my last post I see I forgot to mention that the twin reasons for rotation is to a. keep down pests (who like a steady supply of their favourite food)and b. keep up fertility by varying the nutrient demands made on the soil.

Now, big excitement as my seed order lands on the mat. I did an inventory of leftover seeds this year and just plugged the gaps. So including p&p the order came to just £13.40. Some seeds, particularly brassicas, are viable over several years. (Parsnips are notoriously bad keepers and have to be bought fresh each year.)I still have seed potatoes to buy (not by post). Otherwise I have more than enough already to fill the whole plot.

The picture is just to give an idea of what seeds go in which zone. Of course the roots look a bit sparse because that will mostly be potatoes! Given that I have ambitions to fill the Brassica patch this year maybe I have under ordered in this area. By design there are several varieties of cabbage which mature at different rates so as to extend the cropping season. (But I might yet grow a few swedes and try some broccoli.)

Another task I have done this year (in addition the the seed inventory) is to make list of the sowing times as listed on the packets. I'll spare you the detail on that, but suffice to say that in about 4 weeks time I'll start off the 'Roots' patch by sowing parsnips and the 'Others' with broad beans. In the meantime I've got lots of preparation to do!

Yes we had snow in Edinburgh yesterday and today is just rain and slush and horrible.