Sunday, 25 April 2010

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit...

It was, I know, too good to last.For the last few weeks, the garden's been bedecked with colour: sapphire, amethyst, garnet and gold, as pretty as a book of hours. This unusual state of affairs has been down to a distinct lack of rabbits, only a few rather haggard individuals having survived the winter. The pest control officer tells me they've been hit by a disease, not mixy but something equally fatal.
Alas, poor rabbits. I almost felt sorry for them, but the memory of the marmalised espaliers is still too fresh. And now, they're back!
Yesterday morning, there they were, four baby buns. Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Dough Head (there's always one).
Yes, they're cute. No, they haven't started on the flowers (yet). But we all know that they will breed like, well, like rabbits.

Dear God, please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
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Saturday, 17 April 2010

Let There Be Light

One of the reasons I became a gardener is that I need lots of sunshine. Most Winters I'd happily hibernate and by February I'm hanging on by my fingernails. This year's been not bad though, and I put that down to lashing out on an SAD lamp and an alarm clock which simulates dawn. No more abrupt awakening on bleak black mornings for me. It's worked like a charm, and despite all the hassles of recent months I've remained reasonably unruffled. You may be cynical but all I'm saying is that sunlight gives me energy.
So it is with plants.Sunlight powers photosynthesis,  the mechanism which turns soil, air and water into plants. Once your seedlings have germinated it's important that they receive adequate light, or they will put their energy into stretching towards the light instead of becoming strong and stocky. Professional growers spend huge sums on artificial lighting as it's a cost-effective investment. 
We don't need to go to these lengths, unless we're trying to grow giant veg or unseasonal crops or living in areas with low light levels. If you're growing seedlings on a windowsill a reflector will help, or simply being patient and sowing two or three weeks later will make a difference. Low light levels and high temperatures are an unhealthy mix, so it's better to turn down the heat. Slow steady growth will be more pest and disease resistant than plants which have been forced.
Here endeth the lesson. Hope I've not bored you, but I do feel this subject is neglected in most books.


Saturday, 10 April 2010

At long last - Spring!

As I was locking up the other night I noticed one of my favourite rhodies had suddenly burst into full bloom. Hurrah, let's hope this five month winter is finally over! Sure enough, buds are opening , birds are singing and believe it or not I'm happy to see the weeds are growing. The wheel turns, even if it's grindingly, achingly slow sometimes.
I'm going to spend to-day zhuzhing-up the front garden and making a start on my cut flower patch by planting sweet peas. I usually go for the sugared almond shades, but this year I noticed "Miss Wilmott", for sale. It's a lovely mixture of hot colours. A dwarf form, "Bijou", is also ready to leave the cold greenhouse, I'm going to try it in a large pot placed at head height so I can savour the scent.
In the vegetable kingdom I was delighted to see cauliflower, broccoli and leeks had germinated without the help of heating; I've grown so used to using heating mats it seemed little short of miraculous. It will be interesting to see if they catch up with the earlier sowings I made.
Now, please don't misunderstand my interest in peat free compost. I've driven across Ireland, which I love, and I can't see that destroying peatbogs is necessarily a bad thing. The trade has been instructed however to cut back on the use of peat and to give it up completely by 2020. And I know this winter may have made some people cynical about global warming, but as we're on the same latitude as Moscow this winter will seem mild if melting ice caps dilute the Gulf Stream. So I've got to find an alternative. The experiment of using leafmould with a pinch of blood, fish and bone as an alternative to peat seems to have been successful, there's no difference between the tomato and lettuce seedlings I pricked out into this mix and those in a good quality commercial compost. Those who're looking for peat alternatives might want to check out biochar; sold under the name of "Carbon Gold" it has had good reviews in Horticulture Week. I'm certainly going to try it as soon as it's available. 

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Happy Easter one and all. The picture below was the view from the living room window on Thursday. The blizzard had also taken down the phone and power lines but at least I could still make a cup of tea on the camping stove. We've lost 35 panes of glass from the greenhouses just from the sheer weight of snow, and of course it's stopped work on the new poly tunnel which is being built to replace the houses we lost in January. So we're nearly all out of space and we've still got loads of stuff to do. I'm hoping it will thaw soon so I can put the hardier plants outside in order to free up room for those hideous pom-poms on sticks, the African Marigolds. I've cut down the amount of these over the years, but there aren't many plants which flower non-stop for four months without dead-heading. If anyone's got any ideas on Parks bedding, even if it's turf over the lot, I'd be glad to hear your views.
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