Sowing seeds in the Spring sun. There is something about the first sustained Spring sunshine which you can take advantage of, not trapped behind a desk admiring it from a distance but standing free amongst it. Seed compost, seeds, pots, potting bench and starting something new – the best parts of Spring.
The positive mental effects of gardening are well publicised but the flip-side of having a passion for gardening which is sustained in the dark days where activities are limited is hard on the soul. I think the dormant seasons, where sunlight hours are few and far between, affect gardeners more as they are finely attuned to the wonders of what can happen when the sun comes out.
Today was a day of sun and being out. The morning was spent sowing seeds into pots and trays, lunch lying on the grass eating sandwiches in front of the tulips (our mini version of Keukenhof) , afternoon sowing carrots as the next stage of Experiment 17.1, tending to the garlic, onion and shallots, removing brambles which had spread while we were looking the other way and removing the horticultural crimes of the previous owner of the plot.
Today was a day of sun and being out. The day before the timekeepers artificially give us a day of sun. A spring day of sowing, sun and sandwiches. Spring is special. Every day is special but the dark days of Winter make the light days of Spring extraordinary.
After several months getting the majority of the upside of the plot into shape I have now got the courage to take on the upside down of the north west corner – here there be monsters.
The previous owner was obviously aware of the monsters as he used several nefarious methods to keep them down. However, after several years of neglect by the previous occupant, and it seems just giving up and retiring to a safe distance, the monsters are most definitely winning. The tarpaulin that he had put down has taken into the Upside Down and assimilated.
My first incursion will be to try and separate the weeds, brambles, grasses, tyres, concrete slabs, ants nests etc from the aged tarpaulin then working on and improving the soil without removing what goodness still persists there. The ultimate aim is to create raised beds where vegetables and flowers can be grown without too much soil depletion or letting to many of the monsters get through.
Because of the desire to grow plants at the earliest opportunity and to find ways to reduce what is a momentous undertaking I am going to try and clear as many offending items as soon as possible and then try three ‘pain free’ approaches to develop beds that share similar DNA.
The three methods are No Dig championed by Charles Dowding, Sheet Mulching with a cardboard weed barrier and Lasagna Gardening which shares many of the characteristics of the first two and is often used online interchangeably with the term sheet mulching. I believe, however, that there are important differences between the three.
At a glance all three share a focus of minimal disturbance of the ground, killing weeds by depriving them of light and building soil fertility on site through control and maintenance of layers of organic material. However, I believe they also have important differences. The Lasagna method can be differentiated from the other two by a greater intricacy of layers and a predetermined focus on varying layers of nitrogen and carbon, while sheet mulching has a prerequisite of a biodegradable weed barrier and a lesser focus on intricate combination of layers. No dig in contrast shares elements of both but in most cases the weed barrier is removed by hand or planted through rather than let to degrade naturally.
It will be hard to make any initial predictions on which will give the greatest short, mid and long term benefit. Therefore, as I clear the bad lands of the north west corner I am going to create three different beds with one for each method, report on my findings and see if any general recommendations can be made. No pretensions of science just anecdotal evidence and to see what might help the new plot owner who takes over a wilderness rather than an allotment plot. I will try and grow something in each bed in the first year, not because I think it is a short term solution but to see what benefits can be achieved in each stage.
Therefore, one of the major experiments of the year begins with the scaling of the north west corner and the improving of the upside down.
Tonight was part self-education and part catching up. The pile of seed packets that I needed to sow with the passing of every week wasn’t getting any smaller and within that pile there was nothing familiar.
Last year I self-taught myself about sowing vegetables and became a little bit wiser. This year I am continuing my education and trying to learn about cut flowers for additional credit.
I started confidently, filled the various root trainers, pots and trays with Grochar Seed Compost opened the first packets and boom . . . what the hell. Everything was different. Gone is the familiarity of vegetable seeds, the simplicity of one seed one mini pot then pot on etc. Now I was faced with what looked like dust, kernels and alien spawn. I was not set up for this.
So day 1 of Cut Flowers 101 I realised that I need a few new approaches, I am going to learn a lot and I may have to add vermiculite to what feels like a ever growing science lab in the shed..
If you believe what you read, though several people at the moment urge you not to, now is the time to pot up your dahlia tubers.
This morning, six tubers arrived from Sarah Raven’s online shop (three each of Karma Choc and Cafe au Lait). I then read Sarah Raven’s section on Dahlias in The Bold and Brilliant Garden at the library (never forget that libraries gave us power), watched Sarah Raven’s video on potting tubers while actually potting the tubers up in the bathtub. Finally, I watered the tubers using an old tonic water bottle and a bottle top waterer purchased last year (the bottle top not the tonic water) from . . . you guessed it . . . Sarah Raven’s online shop. Therefore, It is hard to argue with C. that Sarah is not becoming the third person in our marriage.
However, other than the advice I gathered from Sarah, in her many forms, what I takeaway from it is how a passion for growing plants and / or vegetables engenders a passion for not only trying to do things right but also a passion for improvisation and making things work whatever the circumstances. Heath Robinson contraptions which would never appear in a RHS publication become perfectly reasonable approaches to problems faced in the mind of an intrepid gardener. A potting bench is replaced by the bathtub, a long flower bench in a polytunnel is replaced by a plank of wood across two Ikea chairs in front of the window. Gardening has such a power that it makes you get round problems and not give up when the ideal scenario is not in front of you.
The bottle top waterer is a way that suppliers are helping the space deprived modern gardener. The bottle top waterer is becoming an indispensable piece of kit for me as more indoor space is taken up by assorted pots, trays and propagators. If I keep the watering can indoors it is only another thing to trip over. The old plastic bottle with waterer top has become such a go to that if I went to a garden centre and were shown to the watering cans I’d be surprised not to see a range of old plastic bottles taken out of the recycling bin.
Gardening has the power to change not only your mind but how you approach the everyday. I hope Sarah agrees.
According to the Met Office the 1st of March in the UK is the first day of the meteorological spring. Therefore it seems logical to have a spring clean. In preparation of a busy weekend sowing seeds I decided to wash the small growing on pots (I use these growing on trays – I forget the brand name but they are regularly available – as it suits my style and for some reason find it easy to plan successional sowing) without trying to make too much of a mess.
Filled the bath with warm water and a weak solution of detergent
Brushed off any persistent dirt off the pots with a brush I had found under the sink
Let the pots soak in the bath for 30 minutes or one episode of Community on Netflix
Cleaned each individual pot
Drained the bath of the detergent water and then sprayed the pots with shower water to get any residual detergent off
Let the pots dry off
Watched a few more episodes of Community and then remembered I’d better clean up the mess I had made before C. got home