Home & Shop Companion #0074
letter from a small corner of far away
Dear Lynn, dear Everyone,
We have had a nice drop of rain in the last day or two, about an inch I would say, enough to thoroughly wet the ground, and, in a few places where it has grown lush and tall, to partly knock down some of the grass for hay. So today while the ground was soft, I hoed down the rows of carrots and parsnips to cut through the weeds. Up until now, the soil has been hard and dry, hard to hoe and hard for seeds to germinate, so the carrots are thin in the row but the parsnips, sown a month earlier, are doing alright. Nonetheless, everything is smaller than might be expected because of the cold and dry spring.
In the field, I have now cultivated down between the vegetable rows three times, once just before we went away in mid-May, then at the end of May, and again this week. This time I started with the onions, the L shaped tines on the outside of the cultivator really helping to avoid undercutting the onion roots, the upright part of the tine also being the outside edge so it is easy to see where you are going. Lucy is getting better at row work, perhaps because of the bigger plants, or perhaps because she knows she is expected to. We then went through the fallowed beds to cut through the weeds, particularly the thistles, though they do tend to move round the duck foot shovels in the centre of the implement whilst keeping the deeper part of their root in place. It makes me think I should make one wide blade the whole width of the cultivator for tackling the thistles. With that done, we went to the potatoes, and only then did I realise I had left the spanner at home, so I couldn’t remove the outside tines. Instead I put the cultivator as narrow as it would go and gave it a try. It actually worked quite well, the upright sides of the L shaped tines cutting a vertical slice off the edge of the potato ridges. The ridges look a bit strange with their upright sides, but I only saw one tiny potato dislodged by the process.
On top of the potato ridges there are still a few weeds, mostly small ones between the plants, but where I ran out of potatoes, the weeds have made the most of the space, a reminder of how much a vigorous crop supresses weed growth, so I hand hoed that row too, and will probably do the other rows another day. Now that a few days have passed since the sides of the ridges were knocked down, the potatoes should get ridged up again, but they are also coming into flower, an indication that they will soon be ready to dig for new potatoes. Since I do this by hand, I might leave one row not ridged up, because it is only more soil to move with the fork, but the other rows which will remain in the ground longer will probably benefit from the extra soil, and I will benefit from having knocked back the weeds one more time.
On the far headland of the vegetable patch the grass is growing tall so over the last week I have been confining Lucy there each morning for a few hours to eat it down. She gets about six square yards of new grazing each time, as well as part of where she grazed before, just so she can turn around, then after she has been with Molly on the track for the afternoon she goes back in her usual part of the field at night. Electric fencing is great for getting awkward corners tidied up, as cutting the headland would be fiddly with any machine, and the grazing it affords allows more of the accessible grass to be cut for hay. After I leave Lucy on a little headland patch, I have been hand weeding a row of onions on my way back towards home, and another row on the way to collect Lucy, so the redshank growing in the onion rows is now gone.
The garden at home is also not as advanced as some years, though the early potatoes, not so early this year, are now tall from the compost and an occasional watering. Just now, mid-writing, I popped out and dug up a couple of plants and we will have enough for our evening meal. In a way it seems a shame to uproot such a good big plant for just a few small potatoes, but by the time we have finished our meal, I am sure I will have reconciled myself to the idea! In the same bed as the potatoes are the squash family of plants, started in the greenhouse until the frost disappeared, and now growing away nicely. They were a bit pot-bound because the late frosts prevented me from planting them out, so you could almost see the courgette plants breathing out in relief when planted in the ground, take a couple of deep breaths and then let rip, sending out ever bigger leaves almost daily and no doubt spreading out wide underground, though it will be a day or two before the first fruit is ready to pick. In between I often sow or plant out a row of lettuce which will be eaten by the time the spreading courgettes and the running pumpkins start encroaching, and then subsequent sowings will be amongst the root bed. Next to the pumpkins, some of the peas are starting to pod, the broad beans too, they are almost big enough to eat, and the climbing French beans are at last twining themselves up the canes. The brassica are the least impressive crop this year, germination was poor and the slugs seemed to home in on them when the plants were shivering after being planted out. So this week I have sown some more broccoli and kale, so we hopefully will have some later on.
A small success, rescued from a poor start, have been the tomatoes. For the first time in years we bought some plants after all our seed was sown but very few germinated. They were in the greenhouse in April, but some got frosted, and some of those died. Then on a gardening programme they showed how you can take the side shoots which you usually pinch out, put them in a vase of water and they send out a mass of roots. You can see in the picture how many roots were produced in six days, and they are now happily growing away next to their bigger parents in the greenhouse. Their fruit will be late, but welcome when they come.
William Castle is a violin maker, farmer & SFJ contributor who lives in Shropshire, England.