March 2006

After a long warm autumn, with good plant growth – the brassica patch really benefited from this – we were threatened with a seriously cold winter by some forecasters. It started, but fortunately failed to stay and apart from some damage to the softer (unhardened) growth - leeks and cabbage – all has returned to normal.

The autumn sown broad beans, having escaped the attentions of the mice (I’ve seen a couple of cats around about) and kept their heads down during the cold snap, are now emerging: a couple of months late but very welcome. The carrots are finished and most of the parsnip but now the kales and sprouting should get going as the days lengthen.
Last year the celeriac, calabrese and cauliflower did particularly well and the lettuce cropping eventually got going after the leather jackets had flown. (I’ve yet to find an answer to the leather jacket problem – so any suggestions are welcome). To help improve the long term condition of the soil in the polytunnels we undersowed the tomatoes, aubergines and peppers with trefoil. Good idea? – in the short term we established perennial weeds and the restricted air movement around the plants led to increased fungal attacks. Now working on some refinements for this year with different approaches for the differing crop requirements.

In the winter the pigeons have become particularly ‘attentive’ to the brassicas, kales and sprouting especially. This has required us to cover them with mesh – again! I say again as shortly after planting last year the 1st brassicas were severely attacked by flea beetle so required covering (they were at the time just about managing to survive the pigeons). The beetles stayed around a long time, then along came the butterflies, so the mesh stayed on. On all summer; only coming off before harvesting started in the autumn. I think we will see an increased roll for crop covers of various types in the future!

This year we plan to plant more raspberries as they seem so popular, and to try to keep up with the demand for winter salads we hope to increase the area grown in the tunnels by a half. We are very much looking forward to our 1st harvest of asparagus this spring.

As I now delve deep into the seed catalogues trying to separate the fact from the flannel in my search for the best organic varieties, I wish you all a most productive year.

Soft Fruit

Did you know you could still be eating our own organic fruit? We have frozen raspberries and redcurrants and plenty of blackcurrants. Blackcurrants are an excellent source of vitamin C which is particularly important in preventing disease. Useful through these winter months. Despite being boringly good for you I found some excellent recipes; blackcurrant and apple pie , blackcurrant fluff (an upmarket fool) and even as a sauce to accompany beetroot, made with 1-2 tbsp blackcurrant jam heated with the juice of half a lemon and poured over diced beetroot. Apparently good hot or cold!

Meanwhile we still have some work to do towards this year’s crop! The raspberries are now neatly tied in and a new row planted. The Autumn Bliss will be cut down in February and a new row of them planted too.

Then the bush fruit all needs to be pruned. The gooseberry bushes are well established now and should give a reasonable crop this year (assuming we don’t get another late frost!) and at last you can get out your gooseberry and elderflower recipes, etc.The strawberries are all weeded and tidied up and waiting to grow. We will be planting some more later in the spring, as we do every year as the plants only usefully produce for 3 years. JANE


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