We have strange weather to match the strange times. April started like a lamb, with warm sunshine and ice lollies all round, only to give way to weeks of dry frost; now as we tip into May we are hit with rain and blustery winds – I think of it as Cornish weather. All is confusion: one part of me trips trying to keep up with the changing season (the trees are vividly green now and the garden has grown lush in the space of one week), but then I’m also frustrated at the lack of progress as the cold keeps my veg seedlings small.
But then do I always feel this way at the start of May? I cling to the idea that the veg plot will be lush and productive with broad beans and salads by now, but the truth (every year) is that there won’t be anything to crop for weeks. Daffodils can still be in bloom in June in these parts, and May is the season not of the bean but of the tulip. It’s a good job we don’t have to live purely off our crops, because we would never make it through the Hungry Gap of late spring. This weekend I visited the Tulip Festival at Morton Hall, near Redditch, and this shot of their super-expensive veg patch rather eloquently proves my point: not a leaf of spinach or rocket in sight, but plenty of very elegant spring bulbs.
In the meantime, I am obsessed with my seedlings. Obsessed. The trays inhabit three areas depending on the need and size of the plant: The babies begin life near the windows of the sunroom, then some make it to the cold-frame, and when they are big enough the trays are propped outside in rows against a sheltered wall. This is not a foolproof system by any means, but it’s the best I can do with the space I have. The inside seedlings germinate well but risk legginess and sunburn, whilst the outside babies have been battered this week with rain, wind and hail. Every morning and every afternoon I check their progress, give them a turn, move some out, move some back in again, give them water, see who is happy and who is struggling. All is a tentative dance to keep up with the weather. It’s a challenge I love, a way to keep fully engaged with the rapid changes of spring.
The only crop that thrives currently are the rocket and lettuce seedlings, which I planted into the veg trug under the plastic cover to keep the squirrels and cats off, but of course it’s added weather protection too. We’ll be able to start cropping these in a week or two.
So whilst I wait for the plants, attention is focused on plot architecture. The hopolisk went up this weekend, ready to take the weight of the four hop plants. Normally we would put in a load of hazel poles at the same time, to support the climbing beans and sunflowers, but this year coppiced hazel is impossible to find. Instead we are trialling a new system of climbing the French, runner and borlotti beans up hop twine, which is then fixed into place with this nifty bit of wood that Matt whizzed up on his CNC machine. It’s all held together with a steel leg pushed deep into the soil. It’s kind of like a May Pole, but using beans rather than ribbons.
These are an experiment really – the hop twine will surely take the weight of a bean plant (especially if I’ve grown it – my beans are always terrible) but the spacing between each plant may be a challenge; they will jump and spread to the neighbouring twine. One thing is certain though, and that is that this device will last loads longer than the hazel poles.
Also this week:
Allotment and garden: Bought 12 beetroot plugs only to discover that there were actually 50+ seedlings in there, so I pricked them out and re-potted the lot. We will have Russian levels of beetroot come September. Planted out peas in a burst of seasonal enthusiasm but the lack of rain means they struggle. In the garden, tulips are in bloom and the alliums are on the cusp of glory.
Cooking and eating: Asparagus; Jersey royals; Smoked salmon and spinach tart; Red gooseberry and almond sponge (using up last year’s fruit); Choc chip cookies.
Also: Visited Morton Hall Gardens & Winterbourne House; got hailed on twice in two days; re-reading Brideshead Revisited.