Don’t put all your eggs in one basket…

…or garlic in one bed.

 This years garlic harvest.

So last year we grew garlic for the first time, we went for it, worked out we probably used around a bulb a week and would need around ten extra for cloves to plant for next years bulbs, so planted 60 garlic. All of them came up, and grew amazing well into big, healthy delicious garlic, which we plaited into beautiful strings and hung around the kitchen.

Very proud of ourselves we were. Full of enthusiasm I was planning rows and rows of garlic in my head. It’s a cert, I thought. So easy. Yeah. We will make our fortune in garlic. We could supply the whole of Llani.

This year? Well, what can I say. Hmph. Something went wrong. The lovely damp, dull weather we’ve been enjoying for most of the year probably was the cause. Rust suddenly appeared on all our garlic and rapidly spread. We picked infected leaves off hoping to halt the spread, but eventually, with nothing but sticks in the ground, we had to give up and pulled our tiny little handful of garlic.

Luckily we hadn’t gone for the full field scale mission. We’d only done a few rows, we were never going to make the year’s worth we’d managed before. But still, I was expecting to have our own for a decent part of the year. In contrast to last years harvest (which has only just run out) this year’s looks set to run out some time in the next month.

Boo hoo hoo.

A close lesson me thinks.

At the risk of making this the most depressing blog post ever I could go into our other garden failures – slug attacks reducing our 40 kale plants to stumps; beans which would normally be 6 ft tall and full of beautiful red flowers, if not handfuls of beans, are struggling to clear two foot from the ground; all our fennel chomped before they’d even left their module trays; leeks, fail; strawberries, gone – I saw nothing but one hollow shell. The slugs, as they say, have been having a field day.

Good job this is only practice.

TLP 41 – Seed Swap 3rd March

Years ago, everyone kept their own seeds from one season to the next. This knowledge is disappearing and along with that knowledge many heritage seed varieties are being lost due to the majority of seeds currently for sale being produced by huge multinational companies who concentrate on a very small number of varieties without a thought for where you might be growing the plants or encouraging biodiversity.

This is where the Seed Swap comes in. Perhaps you have a favourite bean variety that you have been growing in the area for years or you need a few tomato seeds. The seed swap aims to create a way of circulating these seeds between local gardeners, and to preserve traditional varieties.

Saving and swapping seeds is also a great way to save money. Especially for people who can’t resit the tempting seed catalogues and  buy a several packets containing hundreds of seeds each when you might only need a few. Instead, just buy a couple of packs, split them and bring your spares along to swap!

If you need some seeds or have spares, please drop them off in the Seed Swap box at the Resource Centre on Great Oak Street. There are some instructions here for how to make a seed packet.

We hope that this community resource will grow over the next few years. Help Llanidloes protect biodiversity and protest against the increasing control of the seed supply by a handful of large companies.

This year sees the introduction of “Llanidloes Seed Bank”, a permanent collection of seeds held at Llanidloes resource centre.  Find out more on the day.

Below is a list of the seeds that are currently available in the Seed  Bank. If you have any seeds you would like to add to the box – please come and see me at the resource centre on a Tuesday morning or drop me an email. I’ll try to keep this list updated as much as possible!

  • Radish – Sicily Giant
  • Radish – Jaune d’Or Ovale
  • Mange Tout – Oregon Sugar Pod
  • Mullein – Aaron’s Rod
  • Coriander
  • Lemon Balm
  • Atocha
  • +LOTS MORE!

What is a seed swap? Take a read of this Ecologist article

TLP 29 – Seed Swap – 5th March

The Llanidloes Seeds Swap event will take place on 5th March, 10am – 1pm at the Resource Centre on Great Oak Street. Poster lovingly designed by The Loop Project below…

There will be lots of exciting varieties of seeds available. Please bring along any spare seeds you have to contribute. Click here for more information on Llanidloes Seed Swap.

On the same day at the same venue there will also be the launch event of “Fruit Trees For All” – a new Llanidloes based project ran by The Llanidloes Allotment Action Group and funded by Environment Wales. The project aims to establish a community orchard throughout the town and will be offering fruit and nut trees for sale at £4 each – half normal price.

It’s going to be a great day. Hope to see you there!

Our Allotment: April-May

This is the second part of our Allotment Diary. If you haven’t read part 1, read it here!

April

Easter was a busy time for re-potting, planting in the polytunnel, growing more module trays (Dill, Vervain, Sunflower, Hemp, Cardoon, Parlsey, Mullein, Sage) and hardening off. Some of the first module trays were now strong enough to fend for themselves in the polytunnel. No slugs or snail attacks as yet although a mouse ate all my newly planted out peas on the 8th April..

Early Polytunnel

On the 10th we planted out the potatoes in trenches, sowed parsnips inter-cropped with radishes and planted out the different Mints we had received into large pots. Leanne also had a mouse attack (RIP Peas) and the horseradish we’d planted out in the wild came a cropper.

A visit by another Cordingley family member for a few days around the 17th April meant we could get some more beds dug and the weather was unseasonally warm (although April is now known as the Welsh summer). We dug a perennial bed which would soon be home to asparagus, jerusalem artichokes and sorrel.

DSC_0159

The 19th was a special day as we harvested our first salad of the year – 42g of lettuce, mizuna and turnip greens and a solitary leaf of mustard. Very tasty it was too!

First Salad

As an experiment we built an outdoor salad bed about 1.5m square to Charles Dowding’s specifications. We didn’t want any nasty weeds in the bed so we dug all the soil out, put slate around and then added horse muck, riddled soil, rock dust, grass clippings, compost/soil mix and then a bag of compost in that order.

Salad Bed

By now everything was getting a little stressful as we were counting down to our wedding as well as gardening. During that days before we left we germinated loads more seeds, transplanted spinach, moved lettuce and beetroot to the outside bed as well as planting radishes and lettuces outside. Then on April 28th we set off for the Peak district for our wedding. Leaving the plants to fend for themselves (with some grateful help from others in the community).

May

We arrived back on the 4th April for a brief visit before leaving again on our honeymoon. We were amazed how everything had grown; the salad outside was great, no nibbles. We picked loads from the polytunnel for dinner: rocket, mizuna, turnip greens, dill, coriander, spinach and radishes. Lovely! We did a little weeding, repotted tomatoes and chillies and disappeared again for 10 days.

Growing

Despite some hard frosts in our absence, the fleece came to the rescue and saved the potatoes. The outdoor salad was untouched by slugs and growing really well. Everything in the polytunnel was growing almost too well, some things going to seed. There is more salad to eat than we know what to do with!

Polytunnel May

DSC_5627

Our Scarecrow also found her home outside too.

Scarecrow

But the gardening continues. Leeks were planted out (some bought in/the home grown were a bit of a failure), more module trays of spinaches, lettuce, chard, mange tout, basils, coriander, parsley.

The potentially last frost took place on the 27th, we planted cardoons outisde with cloches to stop the rabbits eating them. Leanne harvested nearly 100 outdoor radishes and made a Kim chi out of them, I made a radish top soup which was very green and very tasty. The parsnips have popped through. We still have too much salad to eat… The compost was restacked with hot grass clippings and seems to be working, I dug the final bed which will also be a Charles Dowding-esque bed with slates and no weeds…

Radishes

We left for the Dark Mountain with a carrier bag full of salad (having given 3 carrier bags to other people!) – we might turn into a mizuna plant in our next life…

June

June 3rd – I write this on a sunny June morning. Outside the onions and leeks are slowly growing, the new potato plants are looking vibrant. The carrot, parsnip and beetroot seedlings push tentatively towards the blue sky above. A mole has tunnelled under the jet black compost of the outdoor salad bed, disturbing the roots below but hopefully not destroying the lettuces, spinach, chard, beetroot, radishes and rocket that will be filling our salads and sandwiches in the warmer weeks ahead.

The perennial bed has rhubarb growing and asparagus stalks which look like fragile miniature Christmas trees. Neither can be harvested this year, we wait for the years to come to be able to enjoy their bounty. The newly planted sunflowers, courgettes, peas, beans and sprouts are starting to grow whilst the scarecrow tries to fend off the onslaught from birds, mice, rabbits, moles and chickens…

It’s been a very good start to our first growing year.

Our Allotment: December-March

How time flies! It seems like only yesterday that we were unpacking the transit van into our new little flat in Llanidloes with the wood burner firing away. Now the sound of screeching swifts fills the air, the front door is ajar and the summer pollen is wafting through the window. (OK I wrote this last week, it’s now raining!) This post is about how we have started to learn how to feed ourselves. We make no pretence of being anything like self-sufficient; but would we like to self-reliant-ish. This is the start of an exciting journey, every minute we spend reconnecting with the soil rather than blogging and looking at facebook means more empowerment in our own futures. We want to learn important life skills and that isn’t how good you are at powerpoint presentations or conference calls.

We moved here with hopes to grow some vegetables but arrived too late to really get anything growing over the winter. For that you need to have planted veg earlier and it was probably a good idea that we didn’t try as last winter was one of the longest, hardest and coldest of the last 50 years. This two part blog post is a little update of what we’ve been up to over the last six months.

December

We spent the winter months preparing our beds. When I say “beds” I mean grass. And not just any old grass; grass on a slope incorporating such delights as couch grass, dandelions, bindweed and nettles. Oh and sticky damp clay soil too!

Grass

On the 10th we attempted to design some beds optimally for the available space. We had wanted to make raised wooden beds but for now we just raised the level of the beds and lowered the paths. You don’t want to be stepping on your beds ever! Then hopefully we can just add organic matter to the top each year and never have to dig them again. Joy Larkcom recommends soil paths wide enough for a wheelbarrow to pass through the main area of the plot with little side paths maximising the space available. So off we went with a tape measure and some string and measured it all out. We ended up with something that looks a bit like “211”.

Then we had to dig it all out. We took the top layer off and stacked it all next to the fence to create a turf stack. The idea being that all this would be covered for 1-2 years leaving the stack to rot down; the weeds to die and eventually end up with a nice pile of top soil. Luckily a bit of frost made it much easier to slice off the top layer of grass/soil. Once most of the top layer was gone, we covered the beds in cardboard, and then added a layer of manure/grass clippings to the top and then covered it all with compost. In hindsight I wouldn’t have done this again as we just ended up picking out chunks of cardboard when we came to remove the weeds. On the 18th the ice came and winter was thrust upon us. We left the beds hibernating for the winter, the carpets suppressing the weeds and left winter’s icy fingers to break everything down for us….

The beds

Turfstack

On the shortest day of the year we prepared the polytunnel by removing all large stones, riddling the bed and adding a good layer of leaf mould. We did this as the snow drifted down from a white sky and settled all over the garden.

Snow

January

Not much happened outdoors during January. The winter evenings were spent wrapped up on the sofa in front of our wood burner flicking through the Real Seeds catalogues and imagining the taste of all the vegetables we were going to grow in the year ahead as the temperature outside plummeted to as low as -20c.

February

More digging. We didn’t think it was going to be easy and part of our philosophy is to use our own muscle power rather than relying on machines. Digging the ground for a couple of hours on a crisp winter’s day is actually very enjoyable, costs nothing and beats the soulless fitness centre. We dug over each bed twice to carefully remove any perennial weed roots. I can’t pretend that this was that much fun! And despite all the work we put in, we still keep finding dandelions, thistles and buttercups creeping up amongst the vegetables. At least we’re learning what baby perennial weeds look like in the wild..

Digging

We riddled the polytunnel further and added manure at the back to break down for cucumber planting. We also took a trip to Machynlleth to the annual Seedy Sunday – a good chance to swap seeds and listen to seed saving talks.

Not much life yet, just the potatoes chitting away in egg boxes on the window sill.

March

With dry warm weather during the day, we began to improve the paths and slightly terrace some of the beds using slates from the old house roof and large branches. We are eager to progress with actually growing things but the cold nights and short days forced us to be more patient! Next year we should have lots of overwintered oriental salads and brassicas but for now we’ll just have to buy them from the shop.

Beds

A most welcome visit by Leanne’s Dad and Elaine on the 9th of March allowed us to build a new 2 bay-compost heap. We used old pallets, nails and managed to build a passable bin in the space of an afternoon. One bay was filled completely with annual weeds, food, manure and left to rot down. Compost is the ultimate building block of the garden, we have had to buy in compost this year but with 14 acres of land, one would hope that we could produce enough good quality compost for the whole community, not just our beds…

Compost

The top herb garden was cleared down and rearranged, this took 4 of us nearly 2 days so a lot of weeds were extracted from the soil. Still in maintenance mode we cleared leaves (which should have been done in the autumn) and filled the leaf mould bins.

Herb Garden

By the time of the Spring Equinox, the daffodils were starting to come into blossom. I followed the advice of Charles Dowding’s Salad Leaves for all Seasons book and planted two module trays of seeds that should be good for late Spring eating. These included lettuces, spinach, sorrel, pea, coriander and dill.. We also sowed our first row of land cress, rocket, turnip green, mizuna, radishes directly into the polytunnel.

Salad in polytunnel

Meanwhile Leanne built a cucumber frame, planted out some mange tout, peas and beans as an experiment in the polytunnel as well as radish, rocket and carrots. Leeks and celery were sown in seed trays and more beans and peas in toilet roll tubes. Her other plants included Lupin, Sweet Peas, Parsley, Calendula, Nasturtium, Giant Sunflowers, Tomatoes, Dill and Chilli.

Polytunnel

By the end of the month things were starting to sprout; we hadn’t really thought things might actually grow so it was exciting to see all the trays coming to life.

It was also about this time that a new visitor turned up in the house, befriended Leanne, and asked if they could hang out in the allotment on a permanent basis. Who were we to refuse such a request…

Visitor

You can read Part 2 here.