Friday, 4 May 2012

Successes and failures

The garden is in full growth now May is here, especially with warmer weather following last month's excessive rains.

This is a difficult time. There's still much to be sown - late peas and broad beans, early French and runner beans, summer and winter squash, and fast-growing annual flowers. The early spring sowings need to be potted on, which multiplies the watering. Pests are proliferating - slugs are active, especially after rain - and aphids reproduce near-infinitely. The weeds that you didn't pull up in April are twice the size, and the bare patches of soil endlessly sprout fresh ones. With little to harvest, this is a time that tries the gardener's patience, where the faith that you're doing the right thing, and will be rewarded in time, is all you have.

Well, not quite all. There are pleasures to be found. It's spring, after all - growth is lush, the winter's grimness forgotten. In my part of the world, I can count on more than 15 hours of daylight each day at the beginning of May - more than enough to get everything done. Temperatures are reliably pleasant - even if the weather is not.

So I'll share with you a few pictures of the highs and lows of my own garden, which is by turns life-affirming and soul-destroying. I am rewarded for the effort I have put in, and chided by the parts I've neglected. Salutory.


My potatoes are perhaps the happiest crop this year - to think I didn't grow them in 2011, and only chose to this time on a whim. One bag was earthed up for the first time two days ago, the other three got their second topping up. The two most advanced have been fed with homemade nettle food - nettles steeped in water, which provides a good range of nutrients, but stinks like bad drains.

Perhaps this is the year of the cherry. It's too early to tell - fruit fall wiped out most of last year's crop, and the last few were taken by birds. Netting can prevent the latter, but it's up to the trees whether any fruit ripens. The early broad beans are just coming into bloom. Not a sign of blackfly so far - I escaped entirely last year - so this is a success. Again, whether the fruit sets is beyond my control.

The first tomatoes I potted up at the end of March, and have lived on the warmest windowsill since. They are sturdy, and not far off being ready to plant in their final positions.


I took a chance and repotted later tomatoes and chillies in the greenhouse, and even dicier I left them in there overnight. They haven't been harmed by cold, but they haven't thrived. Of course it's not as warm in there as on the windowsill in the house, but worst of all, slugs have taken a shine to them. They graze young plants down to the ground, and every day I see more attacked. Well, it must end - I will eradicate them, one way or another.

The first (purple-podded) peas have finally taken off, after seeming unhappy for a few weeks. The ones I put in the back (normal green-podded peas, above) have started suffering injuries - molluscs again. It's reminded me one major reason why I never succeed with peas - once they finally get established, they lose shoots, leaves, and even pods to snails and slugs. I probably won't grow them here again.

The bane of my front garden: couch grass. It treated the weed-suppressant fabric I laid under the new raised beds with disdain. I am trying a double layer, but can't rule out stronger solutions. At least it's good for wildlife, and theoretically edible (I saw a neighbourhood cat nibbling some recently - perhaps I could recruit cats to eradicate it?). Last year's chard has produced three pickings despite this, and is still growing. I intend to lift the plants, remove the weeks, and replant them in fresh soil.

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