Diarist Chris Bird prepares for an apple grafting fest and expends a lot of energy planting myriad willow cuttings for a future basket-making venture
The transition from the winter hiatus to the spring planting frenzy always takes me by surprise. Suddenly there are 101 jobs to do in the garden — preparing new beds, sewing seeds and transplanting seedlings, removing weeds that have benefited from the mild weather and adding more compost to the no-dig beds Karen, my partner, and I established last year.
For an atheist I have a remarkably strong protestant work ethic that constantly tells me nothing will grow unless the soil has been liberally sprinkled with my sweat. I believe that no-dig beds are more productive and save a lot of hard work, but it doesn’t feel right. Nevertheless, I am trying very hard to not dig.
Another way to save time, money and effort in the veg garden is to grow perennial vegetables. Annual vegetables must be raised from seed every year, then transplanted and protected from slugs, pigeons and bad weather. The plant puts a lot of energy into its basic structure before finally producing a root, leaf, flower or seed that we can eat. Then you have to clear away the old plant leaving bare soil behind.
Perennial vegetables produce a crop for several years with very little help from mankind. We have already had several pickings from our Nine Star cutand-come-again broccoli and the globe artichokes promise to give a good crop later this year as well as being beautiful architectural plants.
I have just sown Hablitzia, a sort of climbing perennial spinach, and I hope to acquire perennial kale and Babington’s leek. Jerusalem artichokes
— we call them fartichokes for obvious reasons — are not strictly perennials, but just try getting rid of them once they are established. So we are looking forward to gardening with a lot less effort as the years pass.
There are also worrying signs in the garden. Broad beans planted in the autumn have grown steadily right through the winter and have been flowering
since early February. However, as I write this in mid-April, there are still no signs of any beans. Is this due to the decline in bees and other pollinators that we hear so much about? I know several local beekeepers have lost colonies through the winter. The problem was not cold but heat. A warm February woke up colonies before there was sufficient nectar available to feed them and they starved before beekeepers realised the problem and gave them supplementary feeding. I hope to start keeping bees again this year, but that story will have to wait.
Lou Lou has a chat with one of the pigs