Our family has many traditions. Pyjamas at Christmas, forgetting anniversaries and tearing-up of lottery tickets each week. My favourite tradition of the year, and also the last, however, is the ordering of seeds on New Years Eve.
Armed with seed catalogues (marked like a Radio Times before Netflix was dreamt of), spreadsheet open, glass of rum in hand and grand plans in my head (getting bigger with each glass) I place order after order. In the first few years I stuck to the big suppliers but in the last two years my tastes have become more eclectic. Seeking out the specialist for that elusive seed type or village show favourite.
I cannot lie I still get the majority from one or two big names – they have never let me down – but I look most excitedly towards receiving that order from the little retailer, the one seed type supplier. The Soul Brother record shop vs HMV.
Every seed supplier in the UK is probably an independent but the hunt for that rare seed type reminds me of my younger days when I roamed record shops for that elusive indie LP or import. In a dream world, you will be able to go into seed shops like the record shops of my youth and flick through seed packets. Asking the assistants if they have got that latest tomato seeds or any new releases from Sea Spring.
Anyway my glass is nearly empty so wishing you a happy New Year, a great 2018 and may all your seeds grow strong and healthy.
I never stray too far from Alan Buckingham’s Allotment: Month by Monthbut if you do not want to get the most out of May here are some links and videos to help out this month. Plus some important dates to keep you busy for each of the 31 days.
Loseley Park Spring Garden Show; A day of inspiration, colour, plants. and gin We are fortunate to have Loseley Park around the corner from us. Each time we visit there is something new to see amongst the now very familiar five gardens. The plans for the allotment this year have been touched by the white and vegetable gardens. Next year we will try and capture the colour they have achieved this April.
This weekend is the Spring Garden Show with approximately a dozen nurseries and Loseley’s own. This Saturday we picked up some bronze fennel, some replacement borage which we were too quick to remove last year, Rudbeckia Goldsturm which is to make up for the failed germination in the growhouse this year and a bottle of Silent Pool gin to help avoid dehydration. However, we were tempted by plenty of herbs, sweet peas and seedlings but did not have enough hands to take them all back.
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.