Sunday March 1st 2009
St David's day and there are no daffodils out yet but they are very close, especially the miniature ones in the raised bed.
Still not feeling very well but it was a bright sunny day so we went for a walk in the afternoon, just round the local lanes. Plenty of signs of Spring with a pale green sheen on some of hedges, hazel and willow catkins and many different kinds of birds singing.

I heard on the news that some birds were becoming a lot rarer because of changes in the climate and agricultural practices. They mentioned thrushes and lapwings as examples but we heard both singing and calling this afternoon. However it has been some time since I heard a cuckoo or a skylark round here so there is some need for concern even in  our very rural environment

Monday March 2nd 2009
One of the problems of living in an old house is it needs a lot of maintenance. The kitchen is quite old, probably c.1960 and the kitchen taps have been dripping for several years, despite replacing the washers. The trouble is that the seating at the bottom of the tap housing is corroded and even new washers don't work for long.  You can get round this by placing a disk of flexible plastic on top of the seating but it soon gets cut up and the dripping starts again  In the bathroom the hot tap is completely corroded and won't turn on at all.

Last week the dripping of the kitchen cold tap turned into a trickle and I decided we would have to replace the taps so I ordered some new ones which came this morning. I have been putting off this step for as long as possible because I knew they would not be easy to replace. I was right. It  took from 11 am till nearly 8pm to do this. 90% of the time was removing the old taps; fitting the new ones was easy. They were difficult to get at and the nuts fixing the pipe to the tap and the tap to the underside of the sink were completely corroded on.

The pipe attachments eventually came loose after I heated them with a blow torch but this didn't work as well for the nuts directly beneath the sink. The confined space meant I could only turn them 10 degrees at a time and with very little room to get any weight behind the spanner or wrench.  Eventually I got them free enough to get a hacksaw to the tap stem from the top of the sink. There are a few small scratches from this but otherwise everything looks fine and we now longer have stiff dripping taps. Now I need to pluck up enough will to tackle the bathroom taps which look a lot harder, especially as heat and strong arm tactics won't work on a ceramic rather than a stainless stell sink.

At least the weather was cold and wet so I didn't waste good gardening time!!

Tuesday March 3rd 2009
Pat had a hospital appointment for an ECG and heart scan as her GP was a little bothered by her heart sounds and blood pressure. Everything was fine; the sounds were because here heart is very powerful for her age; probably all the walking and cycling we do!! Mine is probably the same, as are my lungs when I am not suffering from asthma caused by the noxious chemicals everyone uses these days. When she came back just before lunch she brought something into the house which affected me almost immediately, my peak flow dropping from nearly 700 to less than 200. This despite her having a shower and changing her clothes as soon as she got back.

I had only just started to feel better from my troubles with the dentist last week and this knocked me back again with asthma, runny eyes and nose and aching limbs. I dread the time when our GP wants to send me to hospital for tests - as I get older this becomes more and more likely.

Desoite being unwell there was urgent work to do in the polytunne. The first of the plug plants I ordered from Jersey arrived yesterday and needed transplanting into 12 cell half trays.

I use a compost made from coir to do this. I soak two blocks, the size of a house brick, in 10 litres of rain water overnight and then fluff this up to make around 15 litres to which I add 2 litres of medium grade Perlite and two scoops of a soluble fertiliser formulated for potting composts. This makes enough for 20 half trays.

Some reading this might be displeased to find I am not an organic gardener. Though I don't use pesticides except in the rarest of instances to get rid of very bad weed infestations I do use chemical fertilisers. It is very difficult to make potting compost with fully organic ingredients, especially ensuring the presence of adequate trace elements. Also in the garden itself I use chemical fertilisers, again because after several hundred years of cultivation I might be able to replace nitrogen and phosphate using animal manures but the essential trace elements are no longer present. I tried for many years to avoid chemicals but recently yields in the vegetable garden, despite rotation of crops and use of large amounts of compost and organic fertilisers, started to fall.

At least I use coir based rather than peat based potting composts. These are a bi-product from growing coconuts and therefore renewable unlike digging out Irish peat beds. I am not entirely convinced that coir is  environmentally friendlier given the need to transport it several thousand miles from its point of production.

The plug plants I transplanted today were Impatiens Summer Waterfall. 100 plantlets plus 60 free. I ended up with 14 trays of 12. 168 plants for £9.99 - I couldn't buy the seeds for this price so I consider this a bargain. There is some cold weather forecast for the next few days but hey should be safe enough in the polytunnel. At this time of year its main use is as a gigantic 10 x 20metre cold frame.

Had time after doing this to finish tidying up the chrysanthemums, also overwintering in their large pots in the polytunnel. New shoots are appearing on most of these and there may be enough to propagate a few cuttings later.

Wednesday March 4th 2009

Went to bed early feeling ill, cold, aching and shivery and woke up in the middle of the night with severe asthma and arthralgia. Managed to reverse the asthma with salbutamol but with great difficulty because my chest was very tight and I was unable to breath in more than a tiny amount of air. before coughing on virtually empty lungs. Another bad secondary reaction after the fairly mild primary yesterday afternoon. The aching is much more difficult to treat; alternate 4 hourly doses of paracetamol and ibuprofen take the edge off it but it is still bad enough to make it difficult to concentrate, especially on my software development so I gave myself the morning off

The day was cold but sunny and the polytunnel warm enough to work in so, despite feeling weak after my nocturnal MCS attack I sowed some broad bean seeds in 6 cell trays. Two varieties, Green Longpod which I always grow and a new one I am trying, Violetta, which has purple seeds which it claims don't lose their colour when cooked. We will wait to see whether this is the case. I grow a purple French Bean each year which loses its colour when you cook it but we continue to grow it because it tastes so good.

The new shed arrived this morning. I won't be building it for some time. I haven't even built the base for it yet and only ordered it because they were selling at a winter discount (though in a recession you can never be sure whether waiting longer it might even go down some more). My intention is to build it close to the polytunnel and use it to store all my pots, trays, canes, growing medie and other materials all together near where I use them.

Thursday March 5th 2009
Very cold in the night, down to -2°C outside but the temperature inside the polytunnel should have stayed high enough to protect the newly transplanted and tender impatients plantlets. They seemed OK when I looked at them. Some of the seeds I sowed have already pushed though the compost,, one of the courgettes, the mesembryanthemum, godetia and the aubergine. The nicotinias, sowed on the surface and not covered are also showing signs of sprouting and there are bumps in the compost of some of the squashes and the marigolds. Time to start uncovering the trays during the day for a time to reduce the chance of damping off. I also have a propagating light which emits mainly at the UV end of the spectrum. This also deters the growth of mildew on the surface of the compost and I can leave it on till 8pm to extend the growing period of the seedlings.

Another package of plug plants, Petunia Bolero, arrived by post from Jersey so I transplanted these into 12cell trays. 172 of them.

As I type this the outside temperature is already -2 so it may be even colder by the morning. Hopefully the plantlets will be safe in the polytunnel. maybe investing in a large sheet of horticultural fleece to throw over them when this happens might be a good idea?

Friday March 6th 2009
Well it wasn't any colder than the previous night and the sun warmed up the polytunnel in the morning so well that I took the tops off the propagators before 10am and left them off until after 4pm. More seeds have germinated and soon I will need to think about pricking some of them out into cell trays.

Decided to tidy up the raspberries in the fruit cage this afternoon; some of the canes already have well developed buds on them. The gardening books always make this out to be a simple task. The old canes which bore fruit last year are lighter coloured and dead and can be cut out. The new canes are darker with living buds and only need tip pruning. .

 I don't know about the person writing the book but our raspberry canes are not like that. There are ones which are obviously dead and finished and there are also ones which are new growth from last year with living buds. However there are also canes which grew early last year and flowered at the top in late summer giving us a second crop. These are not dead, except at the top where some fruit was produced; lower down there are some very much alive and swelling new buds. I know from experience that these produce the earliest and best fruit so all I do is cut off the ends.

The only problem with the second crop is that some years they attract large numbers of green-bottle flies. Unfortunately green bottles lay their eggs in cow pats and spend the first part of their life cycle feeding there before moving to fruit instead. Knowing this I don't really fancy eating the raspberries once they have been on them!!

Later in the afternoon I started to turn the last of the compost bins but was interrupted by rain. At least this means it won't be as cold overnight.

Saturday March 7th 2009
Quite a nice day; mild but windy later in the day and it eventually rained a lttle in the evening
A good day for some warm gardening like digging over the rest of the vegetable garden apart from the areas still containing crops of parsnip, broccoli and leeks. These are nearly finished and we will then enter the lean times when Pat needs to buy vegetables or use the surplus we placed in the freezer last year.

Pat cut back the dead stalks in the herb garden to expose the new shoots of peppermint, spearmint, chives, marjoram, oregano, thyme and fennel. Despite the frosty winter the parsley has survived and the sage will soon have some fresh new leaves. The other herb we grow is basil and the new seedlings have now germinated in  the propagator. Later I will sow some more parsley which is a biennial so needs replacing each year like the basil but, unlike the basil the second year leaves can be plucked until the new plants are  well established. I have tried several times to grow rosemary and lavender as well but they never seem to survive the winter.

It stayed warm enough in the polytunnel to leave the propagator lids off and the propagator light on till 7:30pm. The more I can do this the better the seedlings will grow and the less likely they are to damp off. Nearly all the first sowings are now germinated and some will soon need to pricked out into cell trays.

Sunday March 8th 2009
Woke up to a really sunny spring morning. We decided to go for walk but just before we set off it came really dark and windy and started to pour down. Eventually it cleared up so we went for our walk in the afternoon instead.

Usually I take my camera whenever we go out but just for once I didn't, thinking there probably wouldn't be anything new to photograph since last weekend. I was wrong. Hovering just ahead of us as we walked along one of the back lanes was the male goshawk and it was joined by the larger female, both close enough to get some really good shots. A few sedonds later they were spotted by some rooks who started to mob them - yet more good shots. At least we know they are still together. Maybe in the next few days I will be lucky enough to see their courtship dance. Two years ago they performed this over our garden but I didn't have a camera then. I will certainly be ready for the opportunity should it happen again.

Monday March 9th
A cold blustery showery day but with sunny intervals.
Went to the dentist's to have the crown fitted. I was only there around 15 minutes and hopefulkly won't have any reaction to any chemicals I came in contact with.

Started to prick out some of the germinated seedlings. The godetia and mesembryanthemum. The books say to wait till the first true leaves have appeared before doing this but I prefer to do it as soon as the stems are long enough to handle with fully swollen seed leaves at the top and a single forked root at the bottom. You need good eyesight and a very gentle touch to handle them at this early stage, teasing the seedling from its neighbour without damaging the root or the stem. making a hole with the finger of your other hand and gently pressing the compost round the stem so that most of it is buried.

I used 20cell trays for this; 10 trays each so that is 200 plantlets. I will keep the remaining seedlings for a few days to replace any which don't take. No risk of frost for a few nights so they should be OK to leave uncovered in the polytunnel. They will probably need moving into 9 cell trays before moving to the outside cold frames in late April. A lot of work but I find it very satisfying.

Tuesday March 10th
Weather a little warmer and less windy but still with the odd shower. It was quite cold overnight but didn't penetrate into the polytunnel.

Not feeling very well. I am not sure weather I am getting another cold or it is just the tree pollen which usually affects me at this time of year. Continued to work in the polytunnel, pricking out the African Marigolds in 20 cell trays; these will certainly need moving again when they get bigger. Also moved the first of the courgettes into 6 cell trays; these will end up in larger pots or directly planted into the polytunnel border later.

That leaves room for 4 more lots of seeds to be sown:

Cosmos Sea Sells.  Salvia Scarlet King.  Dahlia Showtime and Zinnia Elegans Zebra mixture

Wednesday March 11th
Much warmer overnight. Overcast during the day with a high of 12°C. A few sunny intervals lifted the polytunnel above 20°C in the afternoon. Still not very well with runny nose and sore throat but well enough to work in the polytunnel.

Pricked out both lots of basil, the broad leaved and the mixed. Even at this early stage the colours and leaf size of the mixed seedlings is obvious but even so I pricked all of them out to make sure I get the full range.

I usually plant some first early potatoes in the polytunnel border at this time each year. This year I am going to try planting them in pots instead. I chose Arran Pilot since this is the one which has the largest shoots after chitting them since they came in January. I am using 10L pots with 5cm of a sieved soil and compost mixture placing each tuber on top of this and covering with another 5cm. As they grow I will add more of this mixture to earth up the shoots in half the pots. The other half I will use sieved compost only. For fertiliser I am using the same one I use for the potting compost.

The other early potato, Lady Christl, is nearly ready to plant outside.

Thursday March 12th
Mild night and day with sunny intervals. Afternoon reached 12°C outside, 18°C in the polytunnel. I have definitely got a bad streaming head cold, hopefully it won't go onto my chest.

Continued to prick out seedlings, French Marigold, Hungarian Pepper and Squash Crown Prince. Room for more seed trays in the propagator so sowed Aphrodite Parsley and Pansy Swiss Giant.

I also decided to sow the melon (Sweetheart) and cucumber (Socrates which is a Petita type producing two half length fruits to each node) These I sowed directly into cell trays, 6 for the cucumber and 12 for the melon. They need a much higher temperature to germinate, around 25°C, so I try to do this when mild weather is forecast for a few days. They usually germinate fairly quickly provided they are warm enough and then the temperature can be turned back to 18°C again.

Friday March 13th
Another mild night and mostly overcast day. Pricked out the Basil and Nicotinia.

The miniature narcissus on the raised bed are starting to flower and there are a few flowers on the Aubretia. It won't be long before the main daffodils and narcissus are flowering. I will take some pictures if we get some sun.

Saturday March 14th
Still fairly warm out of the cold westerly wind. Not much to do in the polytunnel till more seedlings are large enough to transplant so Pat and I spent most of the day moving and sawing up more of the branches from the pollarded ash tree. We finally uncovered one of the herbaceous beds which now needs weeding before the plants that should be there start to grow.

Sunday March 15th
Woke up to a warm sunny morning and it stayed that way most of the day apart from  a few partly cloudy spells. Went for a walk in the morning and it was really springlike with the birds singing and the buds beginning to burst on the trees. We saw several bumble-bees and even a tortoiseshell butterfly feeding on the early spring flowers.

I pricked out the Coleus and Arctotis. 4 of the 6 cucumber seeds and 8 of the 12 melon seeds had germinated overnight - I said it would not take long. Hopefully the rest will germinate overnight and then I can turn the heat down on the propagator mat. There are still only 8 Shirley and 2 Bejbino tomatoes germinated but plenty of the Marmande tomatoes. Looks like we will have plenty for cooking but less for salads this year.

Room for some more seeds to be sown:
Helichrysum Large Double Mixed
Calendula Touch of Red. I grow calendula every year but this is a new variety for me. The usual red and orange flowers but with a red tinge.
Lagurus Bunny Tails. I make a point of trying something new each year and this is it. A dwarf annual grass with cotton-like plumes.

In the afternoon I dug over an area between the road and fruit cage where some of the potatoes were grown last year. Some of this I had already cleared and planted onion sets late last year. these have survived and are now growing strongly. More onion sets I started in 12-cell trays in the polytunnel last January and these are now growing well and can be planted in this new area to grow and ripen after these earliest ones. There are still some heat treated sets yet to come to give us the onions to keep over next winter. We eat a lot of onions and I try to keep up well supplied all the year round.

Meanwhile Pat made a start weeding the raised bed and then picked a second lot of rhubarb for this year and we had a delicious rhubarb crumble with our evening meal. Much tastier than the first forced stems we had last week. If the weather stays fine I will finish this weeding and start on weeding the perennial borders tomorrow.

Monday March 16th
Another mild sunny day so started to weed the perennial beds. Rather boring but needs to be done.

Tuesday March 17th
A colder overcast day so back to working in the polytunnel.

All 12 melons seeds have germinated but still only 4 cucumbers. I will give them one more day before turning down the heat.

Pricked out the rest of the nicotinias and sowed some perennial sweet peas and green celery. Also some of the brassicas; summer broccoli and calabrese, minicole cabbage, red kale, early winter broccoli and brussel sprouts. They don't need the propagator heat; just the slightly higher and more even temperature inside the polytunnel. These will eventually be planted inside the fruit cage, otherwise the pigeons will eat them. I like the sound of wood pigeons; I just wish they had different dietary tastes!!

I suppose the same applies to blackbirds and thrushes which would eat all the raspberries, strawberries, cherries and blueberries if they weren't inside the fruit cage. But they sing so sweetly, especially the thrush who was singing all afternoon in the oak tree not far from the polytunnel.

Wednesday March 18th
Another mild dry day with sunny intervals.

Another shipment of miniplugs arrived in the post, Begonia Destiny. So I pricked these out into 12 cell trays. Continued weeding the perennial beds.

A cold night is forecast so I need to cover the transplanted seedlings with propagator tops or woven white polythene overnight.

Thursday March 19th
It was cold overnight but bright sunshine soon warmed everythere up again.

A fifth cucumber has germinated and 3 more Shirley and 2 more Bejbino tomatoes so it looks like we will have enough of these if I can keep them going. Turned down the heat on the propagator to 12-15°C again.

When I uncovered the transplanted basil seedlings I discovered nearly half of them had disappeared with a slimy trail between each missing cell. A slug had somehow climbed up onto the benching in the night and eaten the young plants. Looked under each tray on the bench but I couldn't find it so, reluctantly I sprinkled slug bait on the surface of the bench to hopefully attract and kill it. Fortunately I still have some seedlings left in the original tray but unfortunately none of these are my favourite dark red aniseed tasting variety. Only 2 of these are left - obviously they are the slugs favourite as well!!

Started to clear several years worth of ivy and leaf mold off the woodshed roof otherwise the weight might cause it to collapse. I started this last autumn but gave up after being attacked by both ants and wasps nesting in it. I found a few ants and a queen wasp but they were cold and torpid so no threat.

Friday March 20th
Spring Equinox today and it certainly had the weather for it. Bright and sunny all day but with a light cold breeze. Over 20°C in the polytunnel by early afternoon but another cold night is forecast so everything was covered again before the sum went down.

Continued to move the debris from the roof of the woodshed. 60% finished after another 5 hours of work. I must remember to do this every year rather than leaving it to accumulate and tunring into a big job!!

Saturday March 21st
Still good weather for March but not as good as recently. At least the temperature will be more even without frosts at night.

Planted out the onion sets I started in trays in the polytunnel in January. I do it this way to give them a good start and to prevent the birds pulling them up if you plant the sets straight away outside. Setton, Sturon and Hercules. There are two more sets still to come which are heat treated and give the onions we can keep over winter. We still have a few left from last year but Pat usually needs to buy some before even the overwintered ones are ready.

The Broad Beans have germinated so I have moved the trays up onto the racks to keep them away from any mice now that they need to be left uncovered. Time to sow the first early peas. I am trying Excellenz again; you may recall I tried sowing some to overwinter last autumn. They germinated but didn't survive the frosts and snow unllke the Aqua Dulce broad bean which is fine and should give its usual early crop. I sowed 2 peas to a cell in 10 20 cell trays which is 400 seeds; about 2/3 of a packet. The rest I will so in situ later for a later crop but these first will stay inside till they are growing well. Usually this gives you 2 or 3 weeks start on outside sowings and they don't get dug up by mice and magpies as soon as they have germinated.

The Arran Pilot seed potatoes I planted in pots are through. Once they reach 5cm I will start to add more soil or compost to the pots. More of both the Shirley and Bejbino tomatoes have germinated, thank goodness. We now have enough tomato, cucumber, pepper, squash and courgette plants and probably too many melons. Maybe i will try growing some outside, assuming the weather will be better than last year?

Prepared part of one of the borders in the polytunnel for sowing some early salads and vegetabless tomorrow.

Sunday March 22nd
Started sunny in the morning but became duller by lunchtime and showery by late afternoon. At least the risk of cold nights has gone for the next few days at least.

As promised sowed some short rows of salads and quick growing vegetables in the polytunnel; yellow and purple top turnip, beetroot, spinach, orange and red carrots, cut and come again lettuce, salad leaves, spring onions and radish.

Went for a walk round the back lanes in the afternoon before it rained

Monday March 23rd
A miserable overcast and showery day with a cold wind. Did very little apart from rearranging some of the seedling trays in the polytunnel

Tuesday March 24th
Slightly better day so made a start on the strawberry beds inside the fruit cage. We grow 4 different varieties to extend the season and have a three year cycle. They are planted in raised beds of rotted compost about 2 square metres (0.9 x 2.3) and 20cm deep. Every year I prepare 4 new beds and move runners from the 2 and 3 year beds into them, 16 plants to each bed. The oldest bed is then cleared and used for growing other crops, mainly brassicas which also need protection from the birds in the fruit cage but there is also room for other crops such as french beans and salads. In this way we have a 3 year rotation both for the strawberries and the brassicas which is essential to try and keep them disease and pest free. The compost has just about disappeared after 3 years but has improved the soil for the beans which put nitrogen into the soil for the brassicas. That's the theory but I don't fully stick to it as we need more room for the brassicas than the beans.

First thing this time was to find some healthy runners to plant into pots for Sarah when she visits in a few weeks time. Only 12 plants because she only has an ordinary back garden.

Wednesday March 25th
Another poor day. Very little done outside.

Some more plug plants, 72 Gazania Vanilla Cream, came and I planted these out in 12cell half trays. Also moved the Shirley tomatoes to 9 cell half trays. 17 of them which is more than I thought was possible two weeks ago. Even the Bejbino have finally germinated some more seeds - there are now seven plantlets but I will leave them a little longer before pricking them out.

Thursday March 26th
The day started wet and windy but improved for a time in the afternoon.

Made a start on the strawberry beds by moving the breeze blocks from the oldest beds to the other side of the area to build new one, filling each bed with 4 barrow loads of rotted compost. It started raining again before I really got going with this.

Friday March 27th
A better day. Still windy bu less showers.

Finished preparing the strawberry beds and planted them with runners from the 3rd and 2nd year beds, planting a few extra into pots in case some of them don't take. The weather is ideal for this since the intermittent showers will keep the compost wet while the roots grow into it.

The Lady Christl seed potatoes are now well chitted so these have now joined the Arran Pilot in 10L pots in the polytunnel. Once the weather improves it will be time to start planting out the rest of the potatoes outdoors.

Saturday March 28th
Kirstin and Mark came to visit today. Not a very good day, cold and windy but it did improve a little in the afternoon so we all went for a walk over Whixall Moss. No photographs since it was rather bleak and dull but we got some exercise and a lot of good fresh air.

Frost is forecast so covered everything up in the polytunnel

Sunday March 29th
Woke up to a sunny morning with hardly a cloud in the sky, hence the -2°C frost just before dawn.  British Summertime starts today so there will be an extra hour in the evening to do a little more work if needed. Still rather cold when not in the sun though.

Planted the first of the seed potatoes outdoors, Kestrel, and covered the area with black woven polythene to warm up the soil and keep the weeds down till the shoots emerge.

Sowed leek seeds in a tray in the polytunnel. These will germinate without needing a propagator but still quicker than sowing outside. One of the vegetables which needs a long time to grow- we still have a few of last years crop still to eat.

Made a start on building a twin-wall polycarbonate box to place inside the polytunnel to hold the cucumbers, squashes, melons, peppers and tomatoes. They are getting too large to be kept under propagator lids but there is still a risk of the temperature falling below 5°C even inside the polytunnel. If this going to happen I can close the box to make a greenhouse within a greenhouse to keep it warmer overnight.

Monday March 30th
Finished the polycarbonate box and moved the larger squashes and courgettes, and the tomatoes and peppers inside it. The cucumbers and melons are still small enough for the propagator but not for long.

In any case I now need the propagator to start striking chrysanthemum cuttings from the pots I have kept overnight in the polytunnel. Not all of the stools have produced enough growth for new cuttings but those that have I am taking up to 12 4-8cm new shoots from them. These go into cell trays containing a 50/50 mix of vermiculite and coir, stripping off the bottom leaves and dipping the stem in hormone rooting powder. They don't need much heat to help them root, 10°C should be enough so it is likely most of the time the heating mat will not be on.

Tuesday March 31st
Another warm day. I know I shouldn't complain but last week's showers were nowhere near enough; two of our five water-butts are empty and the others are only 3/4 full. I hope this isn't going to be like last April when we completely ran out of rain water and I needed to refill the butts from the well.

The heat treated onion sets have arrived so I planted these out into 12 cell trays to start them off in the polytunnel before planting them out. Hyduro and Red Baron. The heat treatment is supposed to stop them bolting in late summer and produce large ripe bulbs to keep over next winter. This usually works well.

Finally pricked out the Bejbino tomatoes, 7 of them which should be enough. Also the pansies and calendula. Continued to take cuttings from the chrysanthemums.