The long wet winter is quickly fading into memory now with the sun on our backs and the soil drying out. Though look closely at the garden in GROW HQ and you will see the scars inflicted by the cold and wet. Some of the damage is immediately obvious with gaps in rows caused by poor germination or slug damage and harvests delayed, but in some crops the damage will take a while to show. Shocks early in life, particularly periods of cold, can cause damage that is apparent in irregular behaviour later in life, like some people I suppose (don’t you wish Donald Trump had enjoyed a trouble free childhood!). This can be reduced yield or stunted growth but can also be the unwanted flowering known as bolting that can be a major problem in years like this. Onions, turnips, carrots and various other crops can suddenly decide to send up a flowering shoot when the weather gets warm, leaving you with nothing worthwhile to harvest (unless you are growing for JB in our kitchen who pickles or braises the flowering shoots!). This is a natural response for the plant which thinks the cold spell was a winter, and being biennial they therefore think it is time to flower. This can all be a little dispiriting, particularly for novice gardeners but don’t worry this was an exceptional year – unless Met Eirean are right!
For the three people who have been reading my diary since March you might remember my horticultural unease about putting my lovely chitted new potatoes into very cold wet soil. Most have emerged from the soil now and we were busy earthing them up yesterday, however there were gaps, with no potatoes emerging in particularly wet areas and slower emergence in the slightly less damp areas. I suspect that not only will are harvesting be late this year but the yields will be reduced. Though we aren’t going to take this lying down, we applied extra organic fertiliser along the rows before earthing up, to replace the nitrogen that will have been washed out the soil with all the rain. We will also water the leaves with dilute liquid seaweed, this is a great plant tonic, if a crop is doing badly and I can’t think of any particular cause, I find a foliar feed of seaweed saves the day 9 times out of 10. Strangely the healthiest potato plants in the whole garden are ones growing in the spring cabbage beds, from potatoes left in the ground after harvest last year. These obviously went through the cold of the winter and emerged earlier and healthier than our chitted and carefully managed potatoes. Maybe this was because they warmed up gradually and didn’t go from a warm shed into cold ground? Anyway, I have decided to attempt a trial of potatoes put into the ground in the autumn and left over-winter to emerge in the spring, in the words of that great philosopher Big Bird “sounds crazy but it might just work”.
I look forward to seeing some of you tomorrow for my third garden class of the year. I always look forward to these not just because I get to talk about gardening with people who have paid to listen (astonishing) but I also get to eat the lunch JB has prepared.