Thursday, 2 April 2009

Little green shoots

Don't panic, I may be involved with the local business groups but I'm not about to get political. The only little green shoots I'm interested in here are those on my fruit trees and bushes. The rhubarb is beyond shoots now, having been shut up in inside a pile of old tyres to force it grow lean and pink and sweet. Forced rhubarb is delicious but you need to rest the plant for a season or two after doing it. We had a nice, small, but nice rhubarb crumble for dessert last week. I can safely say, it's worth the effort!
All you need to do is find a nice mature root of rhubarb that has been growing happily for at least one year. Then , about February or early march, after giving it a good feed and a big pile of stable manure before putting a cover of some sort over the crown. You need a cover such as a pile of four or five car tyres or an old dustbin. The lack of light plus the warmth from the manure makes the new shoots reach up for any small spec of light and lack of light means the stems don't get such a deep red colour like plants grown in open ground do. The lack of chlorophyll means the plant produces more sugars and less starch, giving a less acid taste when cooked.
The rest of the plot has leapt into life with the warmer weather and increasing daylight. The seeds from the last couple of weeks are almost all through the soil now. Carrots , Chard and Turnips are well on the way, Oriental Radish, Kale, Iceberg Lettuce and Spring cabbage are all following along nicely and the Raspberry canes have new shoots at the bases too. The Blackberry has been wound around the old bed frame support since December and now is covered in shoots and fresh leaf, as are the black and red currants.
I still have a large selection of seedlings at home, in and just outside the mini house I keep in our south facing front garden, although two of the Butternut Squash plants have since gone to my Mothers garden and two more have been planted out on the plot.
I only sowed a few seeds of Purple sprouting, Spring Cabbage and Sweet Dumpling only a week or less ago but the brassicas are up already. I think the heat from the south facing windowsill may be too much as they are leggier than I'd like. I may move the propagator to a back room instead.
I won't be sowing anything else this week, at least not until I can prepare more soil but the successional sowing of Broad Beans has come up just as the first sowing is reaching about six inches high. That would fit in nicely with the plan to have a crop of follow on beans just as the first sets are exhausted. On the same note, I have now planted out my second early potato seed, in two trenches to follow on from the first earlies I planted some weeks before. The maincrop will follow in another week or so, depending on the weather and how much time I get on the soil.
It's looking to be a very mild, even hot summer this year, hopefully continuing into the early autumn and extending the season for the later plants such as the squashes to ripen. The main failing point for a lot of first time growers is that they don't ripen the fruits or don't plant early enough to allow ripening. Many will grow the fruits to a good size but then cut them from the vine and try to store them, only to find they rot quickly. Again, ripening is the key. Leaving the fruits in a good sunny spot for a few days while the skins dry and take on a nutty, golden hue is vital if you want to store the squash over winter. There are two main types of squash however, the summer and winter or storing squash and the summer squashes don't keep for long but have a softer skin which can be left on for cooking and eating. Because of this they don't need to be dried and ripened but can be cut and eaten within minutes. If you think of courgettes as summer squash and butternut with their hard skins as winter squash, you will see the difference.
My editor at the local newspaper called me out of the blue last week with a rather unexpected question. Her unusual enquiry involved chiropractics and the spring rush of activity. It would seem that there has been a rash of complaints from people queueing up to see the doctor because they all dashed out at the first sign of good weather and started clearing the garden of rubbish, digging the borders and pruning the hedges. All this enthusiasm is great but what few people remembered is that while the garden was lying dormant and the tools were growing rusty over the winter, your muscles were also out of action and your joints were seizing up. The sudden demands on muscles that haven't been exercised for a couple or more months plays havoc and before long, stiff backs and sore muscles are the order of the day.
My advice was that gardening is like any other exercise and we should all warm up before tackling the task. A few good stretches for the back and legs will help defend you against too many problems when digging and planting. A few warm up bends for the knees and back again before sowing in the soil and before moving heavy pots or bags of compost will be a wise precaution and don't forget to warm up before your start reaching out with the shears or hedge clippers.
A little preparation such as we do with seed beds and planting holes, is never time wasted in the long term. Prepare your body and you'll enjoy the gardening after you finish as well as during the work!

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