Me showing 20 new Master Gardeners around the Wildlife Garden at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum

Me showing 20 new Master Gardeners around the Wildlife Garden at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum

18th April 2013

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

How time flies – four weeks since I last wrote and I’m pleased to say that at last the weather has meant a more active time in the garden!

Where to start? well as I write this I’m about to set off for some induction training as a ‘Master Composter’ – a voluntary scheme that provides advice and support to households and communities in ways of recycling green waste. It’s run by Garden Organic and Norfolk County Council, the same partnership that runs the local Master Gardener scheme in which I’m involved. I’ll do a post next week about my experiences on the training.

Coincidentally I was asked to contribute to the latest Master Gardener foundation training that took place at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum last weekend. I did a similar session  last year about my experiences of recruiting households and other food growing projects and the sort of things I do to support them. Initially I took this group of 20 enthusiastic new Master Gardeners on a brief tour of the gardens at Gressenhall (you remember that I’m a garden volunteer there?). They seemed to enjoy this and a ‘site analysis ‘ of one of the gardens with the Scheme Manager Philip Turvil. The classroom session also went well, I think. It was fun telling of  my experiences and ideas and some ‘do’s and don’ts’ for the new recruits.

Earlier in the week I called round to one of my Master Gardener households in the next village, a young Mum with a couple  of pre school children, who is an enthusiastic food grower, though needs some advice and discussion of her ideas. We talked about her plans for the coming year, including different ways of growing tomatoes in a Greenhouse, putting potatoes in a front garden border, moving some fruit bushes and what to grow in the six raised beds her husband made last year. Even though some of her crops last year suffered from pests, and perhaps insufficient attention due to her other commitments, she remains up beat and keen to be more self sufficient in food. I must say I came away re – energised myself and what with the final arrival of spring – like weather, I’ve been wading in (or should it be ‘catching up’) with jobs in Old School Garden.

Most of my recent effort in my own garden has gone on ‘cleaning up’ – terrace pavings and pathways, fences, wooden buildings etc. It does seem like I’ve had a good few days of ‘pressure washing’ , but everything does look better for it (along with the cutting of new edges to the borders and grass mown for the first time). I spent a few hours yesterday repainting/staining fences, door frames, gates, shed, compost bins, wooden edges to my raised beds as well as the garage and outbuilding doors. The next thing will be the greenhouse, where the milder weather has meant that I can start moving things out (some tender potted plants that over – wintered plus some seedlings, via the cold frame). I can then remove the insulation and heater and give everything a good wash. I think I’ll remove the top few inches of soil in there too, given I had such a problem with tomato blight last year.

Unfortunately the frosty weather has finally near- demolished a couple of terracotta pots. These have done good service over the years, but (as the picture shows) they are literally being held together by ‘belt and braces’! Once the spring display of bulbs and wall flowers is over, these can be recycled as crocks for drainage in other pots.

One of two Terracotta pots that have just about 'given up the ghost' as a result of frosty weather

One of two Terracotta pots that have just about ‘given up the ghost’ as a result of frosty weather

Though the windowsills are still creaking with the amount of seedlings I’ve started off, again the warmer weather is allowing me to pot up and move things on – I’ve got a pretty good ‘conveyor belt’ of heated propagators/covered trays inside – uncovered trays inside – greenhouse – cold frame – plant out under cloches/fleece- reveal all! As you appreciate it’s important to gradually acclimatise the seedlings to outside conditions and at the same time keep potting on before the young plants grow to fill their containers.

The last few days have seen spring flowering getting underway (at last) and there are now good shows of Daffodils, some early Tulips , Forsythia, Cherry blossom as well as Primulas and one or two other things that seem intent on getting their flower show done and dusted before summer arrives (so I guess that some will not last as long as in previous springs). The weather has also meant that I’ve been able to plant my potatoes (on April 5th to be precise – supposedly a good day, astronomically speaking!). I used fleece to warm the trenches (which I’d previously filled with manure) for a couple of weeks beforehand and have replaced this over the planted potato rows to keep the warming process going. I’ve got a few spare ‘Charlotte’ tubers which are a bit of insurance against furtehr bad weather in the next week or so. It will be interesting to compare how they do with the earlier planting.

 

A few days ago I planted out a few Broad Beans plants under a cloche – I’d raised these in a couple of pots in the greenhouse as my direct autumn sowings were nowhere to be seen. I suspect the seeds either rotted in the very wet weather or the young seedings didn’t withstand the frosty January weather. I now have Calabrese, Cauliflower, Leeks, Celery and Cabbage plants nearing a size where they can be put outside, but we’ll just have to pot these on and keep them protected for a couple of weeks yet, I think, though some could probably go out under cloches.

 

I’ve also experimented with starting off carrots in an 80 plug modular tray this year. I tried this last year, but I think the weather and poor ultimate planting position made for a pretty dismal crop – like many people, I think. Hopefully this year I can plant out the carrot modules once they get to a decent size – they have at least germinated and the plants seem to be coming along well in the cold frame. The idea is to avoid the need to thin directly sown carrots (the traditional method) and enable me to plant out individual carrot plants into neat and efficient rows – we’ll see how succesful this proves to be, as you know that carrots don’t like to be moved around!

Lots of seedlings now ready for potting up- these are Nicotiana

Lots of seedlings now ready for potting up- these are Nicotiana

Apart from activity in Old School Garden, I’ve continued to support the local Primary School’s gardening programme. You may recall that I mentioned some ‘tool use and safety’ and digging sessions I’d held with small groups of children, and these continued up to the Easter break. I’m returning to help them every Thursday from next week, the early jobs being to plant out their broad bean and courgette plants (grown from seed in the last few weeks), potatoes (which have been ‘chitting’ in the classrooms), and sow some wild flower borders.  I was successful in getting some free seeds from the RHS as part of ‘National Gardening Week’ (this week!) and added to some seeds the school already has we should be able to do an area of about 10 m2 close to the raised beds and pond. Oh, and some good news on the pond, too. You remember that I designed and supervised the construction of this with much community help? The School Gardening Coordinator tells me that the project has won first prize in a competition run by the Aylsham and District Wildlife Trust! The prize of £100 will help to support further gardening activity at the School.

Well, I guess that about brings you up to date with my gardening activities of late. I’m glad to hear that you’re getting back into your lovely garden and I look forward to visiting you over the summer to see those superb herbaceous borders of yours!

All the best for now.

Old School Gardener

Other posts in this series:

Dear Walter….letter from Old School Garden, 11th March 2013

Dear Walter… letter from Old School Garden: 15th February 2013

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