We now have over 16 hours of daylight and there is no lack of sunshine, but with the northerly winds the temperature barely rises above 12°C even on calm days. Even with this lovely weather the vegetables beds are still empty and forlorn. The main crop potatoes were planted at the end of April as were the shallots and onions and they are just emerging – in beautifully straight lines as I did not plant them! Still no sign of the parsnips but the first wiggly row of carrots is making a very tentative appearance. Impatient as ever I have broad beans, Florence fennel, some early cauliflowers, beetroot and lettuce (Winter Density) sheltering under enviromesh and growing very, very slowly.
The garlic and autumn shallots, planted in January are coming along nicely, but if we have bad weather forecast they might disappear under a mesh tunnel. A series of severe westerly gales in May 2011 destroyed my entire crop of garlic!
In the polytunnel the atmosphere is a balmy 25°C (if not ventilated it will shoot up to over 35º) and the vegetation is lush and verdant. We are now harvesting new potatoes, spinach, rocket, lettuce, mizuna, radishes, carrots and Florence fennel. Perfect ingredients to make a spring salad to go with the first lobsters of the year. A minor digression: mayonnaise (made with free range eggs, Scottish cold-pressed rapeseed oil, a squeeze of lemon, and a touch of English Mustard) flavoured with some finely chopped fennel fronds is a magic combination with shell-fish.
The night-time temperatures still drop to 1 or 2° which makes growing some of the tender crops: tomatoes, aubergines and peppers, tricky. As our growing season is short they have to be potted up or in the raised bed by early May – even though the conditions are not ideal. I’m still struggling to get these to grow really well, I suspect that variety is the secret to success this far north.
I’m still experimenting with the succession of vegetables in the polytunnel to ensure that we can achieve something which resembles self-sufficiency. As the outdoor vegetable beds don’t produce a harvest until the start of June (if May is warm) and from September onwards we’re down to brassicas, leeks, carrots and parsnips, there is a long “hungry gap”. Maximizing the potential of the undercover growing system right is vital if we want to eat anything green after Christmas. As one crop is harvested there are always young plants or a packet of seeds ready to fill the space. With this repetitive cropping maintaining the soil health and fertility is important. After each crop is removed we add garden compost and a top-dressing of slow release organic fertiliser – this is either nitrogen or potassium rich depending on the crop. I will also use liquid seaweed to help maintain the micronutrients and have to help the tomatoes along with a liquid feed that is high in potash and magnesium. Fortunately our very freely drained soil means that we don’t have a problem with the build up of mineral salts.
We also need to be vigilant and try to keep the aphids under control – hand squishing is good, if messy, liquid soaps will also work. If a plant gets badly infected it is removed to the compost heap (no last chance or appeal it has to go). I also plant Tagetes in the tunnel to encourage the hoverflies, sadly ladybirds are as rare as hens teeth here.
The wind is moving into the SW in a day or so bringing severe gales and heavy rain, so my queue of plants waiting to be put out grows longer and longer. If the weatherman is right I’ll be confined indoors, catching up with the household chores and getting more and more grumpy. If it is really bad I might even blow the dust off some half-written blogs.