Late Winter – Signs of Spring

I spotted this ladybird enjoying some sunshine on a spinach leaf in my polytunnel on February 19th. The utilitarian structure has a range of habitats which provide shelter for many ladybirds and other beneficial creatures including a toad and spiders. Some are not so welcome of course, such as the odd slug and woodlice!

After months of unseasonal mild weather, over the past few weeks we have finally had wintry frosts and even a few very light snow showers. I was concerned about my small plum tree, Lizzie St Julien, whose first blossoms opened on March 1st but it seems to cope with frost well. This plum produces very delicious, incredibly sweet fruit in early July.

There are many delicious vegetables to pick in the garden and  allotment including leeks, brussels sprouts, flower sprouts, red and white sprouting broccoli, perennial kale and chicories. I grow two different rhubarbs, unknown varieties as they were gifts. In the back garden an early rhubarb is almost ready to start cropping, grown from a clump which grew in Charles’ previous garden. The allotment rhubarb crops later and is just emerging.

In the polytunnel I am picking salad leaves, broccoli raab, parsley, chervil, kale, very sweet spinach, mustards, chard, some beetroot leaves and my first carrots, sown in September and grown in a pot. The taste of a freshly pulled carrot is amazing! Cabbages for spring greens are almost ready – I will leave some to heart up. There is also one rogue kohl rabi.

 

At home, we are supplementing the fresh vegetables with stored including onions, garlic, oca, chillies and squash in addition to the bottled and frozen summer and autumn produce (tomatoes, aubergines, apple sauce, tomatillo salsa, berries, chutney, jam, dilly beans, basil pesto, ratatouille…) Charles has red and yellow beetroot, Charlotte potatoes, celeriac, shallots, swede and apples too at Homeacres, all stored in his small packing shed in recycled boxes and paper sacks. We have only just finished eating his stored red cabbage.

This squash is Galeuse d’Eysines from Real Seeds which I grow every year as I think it is beautiful. It is large and distinctive, not as delicious as an Uchiki Kuri or Crown Prince but it does make good soup with spices, chilli and coconut. Unfortunately Real Seeds are unable to supply seeds for this squash in 2016, but I have 3 left over from last year so hopefully they will grow. I do not save seeds from my squash because I grow so many varieties, they would cross pollinate.

In the wild places, fresh nettles are emerging (good in soups, smoothies, potions, for the compost heap) and the pungent leaves of Wild Garlic.

I made the pesto for our gardening course on March 5th. Other dishes included vegan sugar free parsnip and apple gardener’s muffins, uchiki kuri soup and 8 different seasonal salads. Here is the one I made from the last red cabbage, turned an amazing bright violet by a lime dressing.

In the greenhouse sowings of aubergines, sweet and chilli peppers have been pricked out and are growing well on electric heat mats along with salad seedlings for the front garden. Plastic propagating lids with ventilation holes add extra protection, especially as the greenhouse is quite old and draughty with some broken panes the need repairing. They also protect seeds from mice. Less frost tender plants are on a bench opposite, which can be heated but that is not switched on yet. I really need to wash the greenhouse glass soon to make the most of the light.

Indoors, I am experimenting with growing Thai Blue Butterfly pea flowers, a tropical climber. The plan is for them to eventually grow in the polytunnel. The packets said 8-10 weeks to germinate but mine started emerging in just over a week. They are being potted on much, much earlier than I had anticipated and are not frost hardy so for now they are living in pots in my house. I am designing additional frost protection for them for the polytunnel as they will not be happy in here for long and I am running out of windowsill space for everything! Fortunately I have spare seeds if this earlier sowing fails.


It was new moon yesterday,  so I’ll be busy sowing  over the next two weeks. An exciting time, hope I don’t run out of space…!