Friday 31 January 2020

Pristine peacock

I know that it has been a relatively mild winter so far but I was still surprised, on the last day of January, to come across this peacock butterfly in pristine condition. 

Thursday 9 January 2020

Late pak choi

I was rather late sowing pak choi for a winter greenhouse crop. I didn't get round to it until well into October (the end of August or early September would have been more appropriate). I sowed them in modules and although they germinated well they were slow to leaf up. However, now they are looking very promising and I finally transferred them from the modules into a greenhouse border (fortified by my special reserve compost). I expect to be able to start cropping from them in four or five weeks and they should continue until I need the space again in late spring.  

This is a crop well worth growing, especially if you see the price of them in supermarkets. These are severely trimmed and the small plants are generally packed in cellophane. This is painful to see as when we once lived within striking distance of a big Chinese grocery, thick bunches of pak choi (and other asian leaf vegetables) were cheap to buy. Alas, flown in from afar.

All the more reason to grow your own. The seed is readily available (Wilkos, 50p at the end of the season discounted price). Actually this is the best time to grow them as they are cool season plants. They are prone to bolt in high summer temperatures and won't tolerate drying out. Pak choi are easy to germinate and are surprisingly hardy, even tolerating a degree of frost. They can be grown outside but you will get a better crop undercover. They like a rich soil and kept well watered.

Individual leaves will be picked off
when they are ready, and in this way
the plants will keep cropping for
 a couple of months at least

Sunday 5 January 2020

Climbing out of the valley

Although there is still a lot of winter ahead, the turn of the new year does feel as if the bottom of the valley has been reached and the climb up out of its shadow is underway. Daylight has noticeably begun to lengthen. The main way for me to determine this is noting what time the hens need to be shut up for the night. They take themselves in on their own, of course, prompted by the descent of darkness. A couple of weeks ago they were all in by 4pm but today it was nearer 4:20pm. This part of the daily routine moves gradually later and later and by mid-summer I won't need to shut them in until nearly 10pm.

At this time thoughts and energies increasingly turn to preparations for spring both in respect of livestock and for vegetable and fruit growing. And indeed the more ornamental flourishes within the smallholding.

The feeling of ascent has been helped by the current cessation of the seemingly constant rain (except the relapse last Saturday overnight) as well as a few days when the sun also came out. In addition, by our back gate there is the reliably delicious scent of the evergreen Christmas box (sarcococca) shrubs planted adjacent to it. Their tiny yellow-tinged flowers provide a powerful aroma for anyone coming or going.

Sarcococca or Christmas Box. I'm not sure the variety.

Today the focus was on the asparagus bed. This had already been cut down, weeded and the soil ridges tidied up. The task now was to cover the lot in a generous layer of compost and manure. I have five 20' rows of asparagus which required two barrow loads of compost per row. Its a winter job I rather enjoy. The pay-off comes in May and June with a new crop of fresh asparagus.

I'm able to generate a good supply of compost. I have five large main composting bays and I know I will use four of these for the winter manuring of the vegetable plots over the next couple of weeks. The fifth bay is currently being filled and will be ready for use this time next year. I also have a separate supply of my 'special reserve' of extra quality compost that I save for the greenhouse beds, the perennial borders and for reinvigorating a bed or row once a crop has been lifted and a new one is to replace it in the same space. The special reserve is made in a number of the green plastic composting bins with lids, and in which I fuss a bit more about what goes in to produce a well rotted, weed seed free, crumbly mixture within a year.

Because I poo-pick the hen houses each morning to keep the bedding fresh for longer I visit the compost bins at least once daily so I also keep a check on how they are doing. Yes, things definitely feel on the up as we commence 2020.