Monday 11 December 2017

Sun brings a tan – plus a ton of work

The warm weather was welcome after that long winter, but this is no time for sunbathing – there are jobs to do, says Michael Kelly

This is no time for sunbathing - there are jobs to do in the garden.
This is no time for sunbathing - there are jobs to do in the garden.

Michael Kelly

I arrived back home to Waterford after a week or so away and couldn't wait to get out to the veg patch to see how things had progressed in my absence.

We're nearly halfway through the year now, so this seems like a good juncture to do a mid-term report.

Everyone has been obsessed with how cold it has been this year, and GIYers have more reason than most to complain. But let's put that behind us.

The warm weather was a long time coming, but it's all the more welcome as a result. It has given everything a boost of growth, but that means there's far more watering to do, particularly in the tunnel and potting shed where temperatures can reach more than 40C on a very hot day.

Germination rates of any seeds sown now are rapid – the carrots I sowed outside in early June poked out of the soil within a week (the same seeds sown in April or May might have taken up to three weeks).

In the potting shed there's a heap of seedlings that really needs planting out now (a job for this weekend) – runner and French beans, kale, seakale, courgette, squash, Florence fennel, beetroot, turnip, leek, lettuce, sweetcorn and more.

Generally speaking, all seedlings require careful hardening off before planting out, but in warm weather that shouldn't be as much of an issue.

I reckon the veg patch outside is at least a month behind where it should be, but there are signs that things are kicking up a gear.

In the allium bed, the garlic is nearly done. It's hard to believe that these were sown more than six months ago.

The leaves are starting to yellow. A good rule of thumb with garlic is to harvest when at least half to two-thirds of leaves on each plant are yellow.

Interestingly, we still have about 10 bulbs hanging in the kitchen from last year's harvest.

I always say that garlic is a relatively easy veg to become self-sufficient in, even if you don't have a huge garden. About 40 bulbs sees us through the year.

The onions and shallots are also growing well. They will shortly be joined in that bed by the leeks.

The broad beans and peas have also been very slow this year, but have put on a remarkable growth spurt in the past few weeks.

I saw an interesting idea at Ballymaloe Litfest for supporting broad beans. It involves laying some sheep fencing wire flat on the ground so that the plants grow up through the large square holes.

As the plants grow taller, the sheep fencing is lifted up in stages (remaining horizontal) and attached to posts at either end of the row.

I can't vouch for whether it works yet, since the plants aren't tall enough to require support but I'll keep you informed.

Incidentally, surveying the row of little pea plants I was reminded of something Kitty Scully told me at Bloom – she grows an extra row of peas just to eat the little tops in salads.

I dug my first new potatoes this week. This is a little premature (the plants haven't flowered yet), but I was in a supermarket doing a shop and couldn't face buying potatoes when I have four beds of them in the garden. They're only pebble-sized, but they're delicious.

The cabbages I sowed outside are starting to look like they're well established, but they're a way off eating. The famous Everlasting Cabbage plant in the same bed is really struggling to take off – not sure what's the matter.

A bed of phacelia I sowed in the spring has just started to produce the most beautiful, bee-friendly purple flowers.

In the polytunnel, the tomato plants have started to progress, as have three clusters of runner beans.

Regular watering is key with the tomato plants, and check regularly for side shoots to pinch out.

We've been abundant in new-season green leaves for a month or so now – lettuces, rocket, spinach and chard.

My early sowing of calabrese is almost ready, which is good because the purple sprouting broccoli outside is finished.

We've also been harvesting kohlrabi and beetroot for a couple of weeks, and I have six heads of cabbage that are hearting up well and seem on the cusp of greatness.

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