About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Planting out

After feeling that I've got behind for some time (and I really have), I've been very busy in the garden over the last week. My poor tomatoes - the ones that friends kindly gave me after most of mine got eaten by slugs - have been straining to get out of their small pots for far too long. The trouble is, planting out tomatoes isn't so much out as a complete transformation of the greenhouse. The shelf gets dismantled and the tomatoes go into compost bags on the floor, with plenty of space for vertical growth. Of course, at the time the tomatoes needed their space, the shelf was full of things that needed to go somewhere else. Or in some case, things that could do with a bit more time in the greenhouse, but were getting in the way of the tomatoes.

By early June I decided that, tender or not, everything could go outside. We did have a frost on 12th June the first year we lived here, but that notwithstanding, I think it should be pretty safe by now. Of course this meant doing the work of planting them out.

I had in mind to use one of the beds I'd originally earmarked for beans as a Three sisters bed. This is a companion planting group learnt from Native Americans that consists of sweetcorn, climbing beans and squash. A friend had given me some sweetcorn seeds and a few of them had germinated. After slug damage, I had six left, which is not very many but perhaps enough to give it a go. I also have Hokkaido squash, which require a huge amount of space, apparently. Gill had given me a piece of tree to use as a bean frame, so I added that in (she wanted to use it in her garden, but it wouldn't fit) and Barbara gave me a tromboncino climbing squash, so that could go in the middle.

This plan is all very well, but first I had to remove the broccoli that I'd left to set seed. The seeds weren't ripe enough to harvest, so I just discarded the lot. I looked at the tough, woody stems of the broccoli and thought, Those'll need shredding if I want them to compost. I looked at the compost heap and thought, I need more wood for side slats before I put anything else on there, or it'll fall off all over the potatoes. I put these two thoughts together and used the broccoli stems as side slats on the compost heap.

If I didn't have steps there is would be quite hard to get things onto this heap now

With the broccoli out of the way, there were some difficult decisions to make about the flowers around the edge of the bed. Some of them had encroached quite a long way into the space I needed for vegetables. Compromises were made.

The three sisters. It's hard to believe these plants are going to fill this bed.
I'm not at all sure I have sufficient density of sweetcorn for pollination.
Assistance may be required.

I've been steadily working my way along the other bed, that is, neither potatoes not legumes. The parsnips and shallots are looking great, though I'm not sure what's happened to the garlic. I think most of it didn't survive being rolled on. I've added leeks, which are small enough to be almost invisible, pak choi, cabbages, courgettes, fennel and celery.

Veg, various

You may have noticed the slug defense rings around particularly tender and tempting plants (slugs are very keen on brassicas, and the fennel and celery are rather small)...

...which are not 100% effective.

One ex-cabbage. It's the only one that's been eaten so far.

I also turned my attention to the bed above the patio.

Patio bed. Mostly poppies (and this is after planting)

I'd originally envisaged this as a herb bed, but that didn't quite work out. The oregano and thyme are doing well, and the sage is just about hanging in there, but parsley and chives got slaughtered. I'm having another go, this time with salad vegetables. How I think these will survive when herbs didn't, I don't know.

I started by weeding an area clear. As I was tugging out a handful of vetch, I was startled by something bumping into my skirt then landing by my feet. I looked down to see a large frog on the patio, who sat there for a moment before disappearing into a hole in the wall. That is a most welcome resident in the garden - I don't want to destroy his (her?) habitat. That's a good excuse not to get carried away with the weeding. Once I'd got a reasonable sized space clear, I planted out my seedlings. I have Welsh onions, which I'm disappointed to learn are not actually from Wales at all. According to Wikipedia,

"Welsh" preserves the original meaning of the Old English word "welisc", or Old German "welsche", meaning "foreign" (compare wal- in "walnut", of the same etymological origin). The species originated in Asia, possibly Siberia or China.
Never mind. They're perennial onions, anyway, which I think would be a very useful thing to have established in the garden. The other plant is purslane, which I believe is a weed in much of America, but not common here. It has the highest Omega 3 content of any vegetable, and having tasted some of the young leaves, they do have a slight oiliness about them.

Purslane and Welsh onions, with vetch

Finally, as if I didn't have enough to do with my own garden, a neighbour offered me the use of his garden this year, as he's away a lot and not likely to do much with it himself. This seemed like a good opportunity to try something I've been thinking about for a while, especially when someone on a forum offered seeds for sale: Sugar beet. Though this is a major agricultural crop in the UK, it's not much grown in gardens, so it's very difficult to get seeds in small quantities. The ones my forum-friend was offering came from America. I've heard that early sowings can be prone to bolt, so I planted a few early in the hope that they'll do just that, and I'll be able to save seeds for next year. So far, they're mostly getting chewed, in preference to the weeds all around them. They're hanging in there, though, so there's hope yet.

On Tuesday afternoon I went next door and dug out one of the raised beds. Yesterday I went back, added compost, and planted out my seedlings. Knowing that the roots can grow up to a foot long and weigh up to three pounds, I was planning on giving them plenty of space - about a foot separation in each direction. Quickly checking the seed packet before going out, I was surprised to find that the instructions said 4" row spacing and 3" spacing withing rows. Surely that can't be enough? Cue some online research...

Since sugar beet's an important crop, there have been many trials to address the question I was asking. Unfortunately for me, the results were mostly reported in yield per acre. This is useful if space is the limiting factor and seed is cheap enough to be effectively unlimited. My situation is the opposite; I have a very limited supply of seeds and as much space as I can be bothered to dig. Also, farmers tend to have very wide gaps between the rows, and closer gaps between plants, which I found hard to translate to my garden plot. In the end, after much study, I planted them slightly more closely than I would have done otherwise; one foot between rows and about nine inches between plants within each row.

50 sugar beet seedlings

In case you can't see them in that photo, here's a closer view:

Tiny little beets

I've also sown some green beans and the rest of the peas, along with nasturtiums. You can hardly see them now, but once those nasturtiums get going, they should be spectacular.

I've sown peas in both these beds

The tall plants on the right are parsnips, flowering, and in the bed on the other side of them are a few leeks, which I've also left to flower.

Tall flower stalks of the leeks, just about visible amongst the weeds

I need to clear that bed for more beans, and maybe another squash or two, but the sweet rocket is so pretty!

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