SMALL­HOLDER’S DI­ARY

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

Country Smallholding - - Contents - By Chris Bird

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

Peren­nial broc­coli

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