January Garden/Allotment Stuff

A French bean, yesterday.

A French bean, yesterday.

I’ve been busy growing things this month: hoping that stuff won’t get too tall and spindly before I can get it planted. I haven’t really grown much from seed before, although I’ve brought on plenty of young plants I’ve been given. This growing from scratch thing, though, that’s a whole different ball game.  Packets quote germination temperatures and all list different ways that things need to be planted, watered and warmed. I bought a soil thermometer, which fascinates me. Then I bought a thermometer to stick on the outside of a window to tell you the outside temperature. Then, yesterday, I bought a min/max thermometer for the growhouse. It will not only tell me the current temperatures but, as the name implies, a minimum and maximum temperature reading from the last time it was reset. Oh, and humidity too. It’s a slippery slope…

These were sow by the 2013 season but they're germinating quite well.

These were sow by the 2013 season but they’re germinating quite well.

Most of the windowsills in my house are covered with pots and mini propagators and nearly everything has started sprouting, a week or so after planting.  The digitalis and leeks remain defiantly invisible, but then I was expecting that as they have longer germination times. The leeks, at least, can be boring outside in my little grow house.

Almost all of the seeds I have are pound shop bargains or packets I’ve been given. I know I can grow around 9 tomato plants in my back garden, without any trouble but I’m also going to try growing some in the polytunnel to extend their season. I might stick a couple of plants on the plot itself and just see how they get on.

One thing that isn’t looking like a huge win is the pound shop fruit bushes. The blueberries, in particular, look deeply dead upon soaking. Given that the picky blighters demand ericaceous compost, which I’ve had to buy specially, I’m not amused. I’ll plant the pathetic looking twigs anyway (I know they’re dormant right now but they seemed to largely disintegrate when soaked) but I fully expect that they won’t grow, so I won’t expect much from it. They may surprise me but they really are looking pretty pathetic. Apparently you should grow various different types of blueberry, to aid pollination. I think I’ll actually go out and choose some more expensive but more established stock in the hope that will make a difference.

I am watched while I tend to the garden, in case I uncover treasures.

I am watched while I tend to the garden, in case I uncover treasures.

I’ve bonded with the garden birds this month. I got rather hooked on BBC Winterwatch’s bird feeder cam, learned more about what the current advice is on feeding wild birds and am now going to have to add bird food to my monthly budget.  I’ve always been oppressed by fond of my avian overlords robins, but I didn’t know that they were ground feeding birds, or that they don’t like to stand side on as they eat from a feeder. They like to face the front, and quite a few feeders now sell adaptors that allow robins and tits to eat from the same feeder.

Nobody told my robins this, though, so they didn’t know. They have therefore hovered like fat, red-breasted hummingbirds, used the feeder they’re not meant to use and have ninja-kicked spiders from the slats on my shed door during my time here. I felt slightly bad for not knowing, since they took to the new ground feeder so quickly and I have been rewarded with much singing.

Apparently, robins like this sort of thing.

Apparently, robins like this sort of thing.

I even bought a special robin-friendly feeder for meal worms and suet treats. They (there are two living in the hedge) still regard it with suspicion and it took a couple of days for the larger one to land on it – he’s been doing fly-by meal worm raids without touching down but he lands briefly now.  I suspect that the Alpha is an older male: one that gave me great amusement last summer as he watched me restore the garden. I think the Beta is probably a young adult female: it’s smaller and much more timid, but of course I could be totally wrong. The smaller one still chooses to use the ‘wrong’ type of feeder, although I’ve noticed that sometimes it goes up to the hanging ones if the pigeons are on the ground feeder. The robins are much less bossy about the feeders now they have their own supply on the ground, so more small birds are getting a look in.

Pigeons. I’m not a fan. I have no problem with the pair of collared doves that hop up and down my fence and they don’t seem to chase the smaller birds away. Pigeons, though, are flappy, clumsy, greedy creatures who send even my bossy little Alpha robin fleeing to the hedge, so the timid wren, dunnock and Beta robin don’t stand a chance. I resent the rate at which just two of them will hoover up the food, too. They’re not endangered and I’ve developed a bit of a thing about them.

I say “a thing”, it’s more a slow-burning hatred that will one day see me shaking my gnarled fist (I’ll have to get one of those) at the sky as I chase them from my garden. Perhaps a small exaggeration but they irritate me enough to spend £20 on a large metal guard to go over the top of the ground feeder.  The holes in the mesh should allow in the blackbirds and anything smaller, but keep out the pigeons.  It’ll keep out the collared doves too but I’ll make sure I leave some food for them outside the guard.  They won’t starve – unless the magpies move in. They should also be kept at bay by the guard.  It’s a pity that it’ll interfere with my view of proceedings somewhat, but I’m not choosing special food and keeping everything scrubbed to feed pigeons. So there.

The other reason for spending £20 pandering to wild birds was their tendency to use me as a human shield. I appear in the doorway or at the window and the pigeons fly off.  The smaller ones (that is, both robins, 5 assorted tits and a pair of blackbirds) then immediately fly in and stuff their faces while the pigeon shuffles nervously on the fence.  I haven’t got time to provide avian close protection services, so a guard seemed like a better idea in the long run.

When I haven’t been pandering to birds, I’ve been gathering things I need for the allotment, trying to find a cheap water barrel, since I’ll need 2 or 3, and planning what needs to go where.  January saw my allotment plot gain a proper set of guttering for the shed: something which was needed to prevent the mud underneath the roof becoming a bog. I’m hoping it will be a bit less soggy when I get back there.

I’ve bought a long, narrow raised bed and liner to sit on top of my flower bed – stuffed with a heavy clay soil, bindweed and leylandii roots. It’s useless and I’ve given up trying to do anything to improve it, so I’ll just start from scratch, over the top. I haven’t decided whether to use some or all of it as a seed bed to bring on plants in my south-facing garden, to put out on the plot. Or I might just grow a combination of flowers and veg that doesn’t need deep soil – I’ve only got a 15cm deep bed. It should be fine for most things.  I’d like to grow some taller things that will give the birds some shelter, as well as attract insects on which for them to feast. I’m thinking some sweet peas might go well there and it can help screen the hedge.

The main raised bed. Double the height of the new one.

The main raised bed. Double the height of the new one.

Raised beds can be expensive and making your own from scratch is usually cheaper, but I’ve been keeping an eye on deals and got a super price on a bed kit and liner.  It arrived yesterday – before I even knew it’d been dispatched. Good old Harrod Horticultural: they’re well worth checking out, although their prices on general things aren’t always the lowest.  My existing raised bed is about four years old now and is still going strong, so I had no hesitation in using their ‘allotment’ range again.

It’s currently sitting in my living room, smelling of trees and sapping me of the will to assemble it. I’m quite tempted to just keep it in a corner and to sniff it every now and again. I probably wouldn’t though: it’s a little weird and a lot impractical. It might wait until the weekend, or I might put it together tonight in the kitchen if I can’t sleep. Photos will follow, anyway.

I’ve managed to afford the bargains by saving money where I can. I’ve found the best prices, bought damaged box items for big discounts and worked out where I can save or use something else.  I’d like a potting tray, for example, but they’re £8 and upwards, online, and the massive ones I like are nearer £20, so I will use an old paint roller tray for now.  It’s not perfect but it’ll do and at some stage I’ll get a proper wooden potting table.  It seems sensible given how much of my time is clearly going to be spent potting things up.

Less than a year ago, my garden looked like this.

Less than a year ago, my garden looked like this.

Talking of pots: I won’t need to buy any of those for a while. Well, not unless I get a massive one for a tree. Yes, after complaining for years about the amount of light the trees blocked out as they overhung my garden, I now feel bad the the shelter for the birds is greatly reduced.  I’m thinking of getting a dwarf apple tree and growing it in a tub to constrain its roots. The blossom would be pretty and my nephew’s got a three apple-a-day habit, having hitherto refused to eat anything that looked like it might be made of fruit or veg. So it would come in handy. 🙂 I’ll also grow some Old Man’s Beard, because it’s a winter clematis and because the fluff makes excellent tinder, as does clematis bark.

Pots though: I have a ton of them and I know I can make small planters and self-watering modules from milk and other drinks bottles. So unless I’m growing something incredibly fussy (and I’m not inclined to introduce yet another thing to the garden that’s going to dictate terms to me) then I shouldn’t need another one, ever. I’ll get some more containers for the patio when things are bigger, but even the cracked pots can be re-used as crocks to line the bottoms of the new ones to aid drainage.  In the meantime, I’ve been scrubbing the plastic ones clean, ready for the seedlings I’m bringing on.

Lots of pots need lots of labels. I’ve made the mistake before of labelling a tray filled with multiple pots, and then losing track of stuff and not being entirely sure what I was growing. I had a pack of the white plastic ones, which was quickly exhausted, so I made some from cutting up yoghurt pots. I went through the grow house today and pulled out all the old ones as I haven’t ever thrown them away, I just stuck them in a pot. Most of them came up clean enough to be re-used, after a quick scrub.  A few had been marked on both sides, or had labelling that wouldn’t come off, but after a scrub with a damp microfibre cleaning block (Magic Eraser-type thing) they were cleaned well enough to be re-used.

Seed labels

So, the plot has been dug, ready for the first plants to go in. I’ll see about putting down something to warm the soil if I can.  If February is desperately grim, as it so often is, then there’s the polytunnel and I’m going to try and squeeze a walk-in growhouse into the garden for when the weather gets a bit better. I can let stuff get quite big in there if I can’t get it in the ground, and my garden is a lot more sheltered than the allotment.

More from me, later. 🙂

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About SAM2.0

You'll want me on your team for the Zombie Apocalypse.
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One Response to January Garden/Allotment Stuff

  1. susiebeans says:

    Fab read! Love garden birds – you’re tons kinder than me I chuck a handful of seeds onto the path and let them fight amongst themselves 🙂
    Susannah x

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