Elegant Celebrations

Spring accelerated sharply last week when the weather produced an unseasonably hot and blue-skied summer’s weekend. In response, many flowering trees and shrubs erupted in floral jubilation.

At the allotment, my little pear tree’s buds were the first to burst into white blossom. The Morello cherries followed its lead and today are also smothered in beautiful white blooms.

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Our old apple, fighting disease and recently festooned with amazingly symmetrical woodpecker holes, is taking its considered time, as is its relative, the young Bramley. Both are just now beginning to reveal vividly pink buds.

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I can’t help lingering on the gorgeous flowering trees that seem to be everywhere now – from blackthorn in the hedgerows to magnolias in the front gardens. It is their moment in the limelight; in the blink of an eye the show will be over as the season advances and less showy foliage follows.

Perhaps the tree that has most captivated me this April is a cherry growing on the edge of nearby Abbey Fields. How old must it be to have such a thick trunk and branches with such impressive reach? Despite its obvious age, it still greets the season with stunning abandon.

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Spring on a plate

Asparagus and radish

Asparagus and radish – the first harvest of the new season

Bean, squash and courgette plants may be shivering in the little plastic-covered greenhouse at home, but we are sustained for the moment by the magical emergence of asparagus spears, the fattening of radish bulbs, and the peppery fire of soft rocket leaves. I hunch over the ragged lines of beetroot, spring onion, chard, and fennel seedlings, willing them to shake off the cold and begin to grow!

Under a dome of plastic, sparklers and cherry belles

Take a peek, under the hoops, at what is growing in my little polytunnel:

Radish and rocket race ahead, snug in their plastic tube.

Radish and rocket race ahead, snug in their plastic tube.

Polytunnels are not pretty. The plastic sheeting glinting in the sun, rippling in the breeze on plastic hoops, does not blend easily into the earthy, natural delights of my garden. It’s an interloper, an alien, definitely unnatural and inorganic. It doesn’t belong!

Aesthetically unpleasing, polytunnels caught my eye – and then impressed me. Gee, those heat-trapping and insect-repelling domes really produce the goods! I became envious of several massive, walk-in tunnels that have sprouted up on the allotment. Look at those tomato vines, dripping with non-blighted fruit… Check out those brussels sprouts and purple sprouting broccoli, not a cabbage white on them…

And so early this year – keen to get growing, anxious not to have such a dismal season as last year – when I stumbled across a basic kit of plastic sheeting and hoops for £5, I took the plunge:

7th April. The structure is erected and seeds - lettuce, sorrel, radish, rocket - sown within its protective atmosphere.

7th April. The structure is erected and seeds – lettuce, sorrel, radish, rocket – sown within its protective atmosphere. 

So far, so mixed. All the seeds I planted got off to a great start, especially when you consider that the spring has been very cold and delayed. Then three quarters of my lettuce seedlings, looking so succulent, disappeared. Our dear friends the slugs also like warm and protected mini-environments, unfortunately. But they have eschewed the sorrel, radish, and rocket, which I have begun to harvest. Only slightly deterred – it’s early in the season! – I responded by filling the gaps with misticanza, dill, and parsley seeds.

"Sparkler" radish bulk up.

“Sparkler” radish bulk up.

Am I a convert? We’ll see. I’m thinking of placing my tender aubergine plants, currently in pots on my dining room floor, under the protective polythene arch when the time comes.

Beautiful Garden or Successful Plot – do I have to choose?

And the garden grows

4th May, 2013. Sun and clouds punctuate our al fresco lunch on the allotment with Jonathan.

4th May, 2013. Sun and clouds punctuate our al fresco lunch on the allotment with Jonathan.

Spring at last. Despite the drought of allotment-themed blog posts since we celebrated the rhubarb’s emergence, the garden itself has not been neglected. We’ve taken to the seasonal tasks with some diligence and even gusto: digging over beds, weeding, harvesting over-wintering crops, planting seeds both indoors and out. In fact, at this moment, the allotment is probably in better shape at this time of year than ever before. (Though there’s still the issue of several flower and fruit beds overcome by creeping couch grass that must be tackled soon. Not to mention the weed seeds biding their time, waiting for some warmth to begin to colonize those neat patches of bare earth.)

Some things that make my heart rejoice:

Asparagus! Our transplanted crowns have survived the winter and seem to like their new location. We'll have more than four spears this season.

Asparagus! Our transplanted crowns have survived the winter and seem to like their new location. We’ll have more than four spears this season.

Peas grown in the gutter begin to climb up their twiggy supports and begin to flower. Behind them you can see the broad beans and, further back, autumn-sown spinach.

Peas grown in a gutter at home, then transplanted outside, climb up their twiggy supports and begin to flower. Behind them much-anticipated broad beans assert themselves. And behind these, rows of autumn-sown spinach continue to produce.

 

 

 

 

Garlic loves the cold…

IMAG0372And we love garlic. (A lot. Especially the juicy and flavorful bulbs you get if you grow it yourself. Home-grown garlic is infinitely more delicious than the dessicated and dull cloves you so often buy in the supermarket.)

The secret to a good garlic harvest is to make sure it is exposed to chilly weather. Unlike tender summer crops, garlic requires a period of cold to prompt the individual cloves you plant to grow into chunky heads of multiple segments.

Last October I pushed cloves into newly raked soil in a raised bed. Most of these have grown slowly, steadily through the winter and now are pleasingly established plants, awaiting the warmer months to bulk up for harvest in July.

Garlic sown last October

Autumn-sown garlic enjoys the winter sun.

A few cloves didn’t germinate, however, for some unknown reason. They remain in the soil, looking just as they did when I planted them. Are they in suspended animation or are they dead? I didn’t wait to find out – I bought some more garlic!

“Cristo” is a French variety that can be planted in the autumn or spring. A week ago, during a fleeting bit of sun, I ripped the papery husks off the heads, broke them in pieces, and submerged the cloves in new rows near the ones I had sown months ago.

Not only am I hedging my bets, hoping for a good harvest, but I now have an experiment in progress. What will be the difference between autumn-sown and spring-sown garlic? Will one be more prolific, more fat and juicy? Will they mature at the same time? I’m looking forward to finding out. I just hope the results are more spectacular than last year, when the heads were disappointing, made up of miniscule cloves, more trouble to peel than they were worth!

One of my allotment goals for this year is to master the art of successional sowing – the discipline of sowing seeds little and often, ensuring that you have a steady supply of vegetables ready to pick rather than lurching from famine to glut and back to famine. This methods works well with many crops, especially quick growing ones such as salad greens, herbs, and radish. Let see if it works with garlic.