March contents: Taking care of Nature is taking care of our health and our children's future.... The Totally Terrific Tomato Festival is sadly not happening this year!... Why IS genetic diversity in tomatoes important?.... It's time to start sowing as it's officially Spring!... How I sow my Tomatoes - and other tender crops.... Use Peat-free Seed Composts...... Potting on Tomato Seedlings.... Purple Potatoes... Other crops etc..........
The latest 'must have' accessory in any organic polytunnel potager - a Robin singing in your peach tree.
Taking care of Nature is taking care of our health and children's future
Do you know someone once said to me - "You could have a lovely aviary here"! Why on earth would anyone want to shut birds in a cage to keep them from flying away? I could never do such a cruel thing - and I don't need to - because my Robins are only too delighted to keep me company in the garden all year round because I take good care of them. Little did I think two years ago when I was clearing the rapidly developing jungle of brambles and weeds beside my polytunnel that the baby Robin who found all this activity of great interest would become a bit of a favourite on Twitter! The jungle had sprung up in a rather neglected bit where I'd put a lot of pot plants and cuttings for shelter over a while before they found a home - as you do - and I hadn't got round to tidying it. Then I broke my ankle March, couldn't do a thing for three months, and with the mostly mild wet winters of the last few of years, the brambles and general mess was growing at an exponential rate! I was utterly charmed by a dear baby Robin, who appeared as soon as I started on it, and got under my feet the entire time I was clearing it. He must have been hatched in a nest somewhere in the 'jungle' there, and he spent several days grabbing every woodlouse and beetle he could spot! But the best thing was that HE had clearly spotted a very useful pet human, an alternative 'Mum' - who would not only provide him with regular easy meals, a sheltered spot to groom himself or to hunt for insects in wet and windy weather - but also somewhere safe to hide quickly from the Sparrow Hawks and Buzzards which are constantly hunting over here due to all the biodiversity - the birds and small mammals - which our organic land attracts.
The most enchanting thing now is that he's also introduced his wife to me, who I think may be the same female as last year. They seem to be nesting in the same place, high up in the Ivy in an old Hawthorn tree at the north end of the polytunnel, which they regard as heir particular territory. Now she happily shares his regular mealtimes too, eating from my hand several times a day and taking it politely in turns. Such dear little birds - money couldn't buy the joy they bring me every day, and I hope also to the other people who view them on Twitter. I've seen them both collecting nest material recently, so I think that Mrs Robin may soon disappear for a few weeks to incubate her eggs and raise their brood. So in another few weeks there may hopefully be some new recruits to the polytunnel pest control brigade!
|Robin and I having a working lunch in the polytunnel||Assistant Robin scrupulously checking for woodlice and other pests||Robin posing in the afternoon sunshine and singing sweetly after work|
Robin's antics since have proved without doubt (if there ever was any!) that polytunnels aren't just good for our physical and mental health, as I'm so often saying, but they also provide constant entertainment as well - in the form of all the wonderful biodiversity (Robins included) which they can attract if we plant them as I do - with flowers and herbs to attract beneficial insects, as well as food for us! Every day Robin's antics make me smile or laugh - and he's clearly done that for many other people too. I'm really thrilled that he has, because right now we all really need something to cheer us up - especially me, having lost a couple of dear friends recently. There seems to be so much depressingly sad news almost every day about climate change, plastic pollution of our oceans, pesticides in food, or the dreaded Covid19 pandemic - which is still such a worryingly unknown quantity, despite it having been with us for over a year now. Perhaps my friendly Robin has also helped to make many people appreciate all the more how much we need Nature for our mental health, appreciate the wonderful biodiversity which we share this planet with - and be even more determined, as I am, to do everything we can to save it. My friendly trusting Robin may be only the tiniest fragment of feather, bone and undoubted intelligence - but he is also a symbol of something much larger on a planetary scale - that we need to start taking greater care of the Nature which we share this planet with. He represents the reason why I have been an organic gardener and farmer all my life.
In all of human evolution - we have never put as much pressure on the natural world as we are doing now. Everything from the minutest soil microbe, to the largest animals on land or in the ocean, or the food we feed our children, is being affected by the pressure we are putting on Nature due to the way we live and produce much our food. Intensive industrial chemical agriculture is putting immense pressure on Nature globally, and also on human health, from the diet of often unnatural, industrially processed foods which so many people now eat. We must learn how to share our space better with Nature on this finite planet, and to take better care of it before the damage become irreversible. We need to understand that the food we naturally evolved to eat - organic food - is what keeps us humans and all of Nature healthy. Scientists are warning that unless we try to put less pressure on Nature - then deadly pandemics will undoubtedly become more frequent.
The Totally Terrific Tomato Festival will sadly not happen again this year but sow those tomatoes anyway!
Dr. Matthew Jebb & I, with the 2017 display of tomatoes displayed in the beautiful glasshouse at The National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin. The 2018 and 2019 record-breaking displays were bigger and even better - taking up the whole Teak House as you can see at the beginning of this blog post.
So why IS genetic diversity in tomatoes important? - Whether we grow them or not, most of us eat them!
March is always such an exciting month in the polytunnel - it's my horticultural Narnia and a very 'alternative' world to the one prevailing outside! In there it's a very different story, spring is already everywhere. Primulas, narcissi, violas, feverfew and wallflowers flowering at both ends, and in the little gardens planted around the foot of the grapevines halfway along the sides.There were even a couple of bumblebees in there over the last couple of weeks - anytime there was a rare mild day and the sun warmed the tunnel! I'm so glad that as always, I'd planted some early flowers in there to attract them in - the scent of primulas and wallflowers is wonderful when I open the door. The peach buds are already swelling and In three or four weeks they will be in full flower. Encouraging bees to visit the tunnel to do some of the pollination by growing flowers for them will mean plenty of juicily delicious peaches again come July - although that seems a long way away right now!
This is how I sow my Tomatoes - and other tender crops
Use Peat-free seed Composts
Potting on tomato seedlings
Protecting seedlings while providing good air circulation is key
Shading small seedlings is important from now on
Keep a careful eye out for slugs or other pests in propagating areas
- Calabrese broccoli 'Green Magic' making good side shoots after central head cut
- The overwintered calabrese 'Green Magic' (from Unwins) has yet again come up trumps (sorry!) and it's done really well despite a much colder winter than last year. On the very worst nights it was covered with a several layers of fleece. It's such a sweet variety and not just good for lightly steaming but also really good raw for dipping individual florets into hummus or any avocado dip. It's a terrific variety, thoroughly reliable and long- cropping all year round both in the tunnel and outside. It's the only one I b other to grow now in the tunnel. I sowed two dozen last month in the propagator - one dozen will be planted when big enough into the tunnel, and will crop by May. The other dozen will be hardened off and planted outside, which will make them crop about 3 weeks to a month later in a normal year. This is a good way to spread the cropping time of any crop.
- I like to be able to pick an interesting and varied salad every day all year round so I'm really grateful for luxury of a polytunnel. There are still plenty of lettuce, endives and other leaves of various sorts - mostly loose leaf varieties that have cropped really well all winter. 'Lattughino' is one of my favourites - with crispy bronze-tinged leaves. Jack Ice is another - rather like an Iceberg but a loose-leaf type that you can pick all winter and then allow to form quite a nice heart from March onwards. 'Veneziana' an unusual sword shape Cos type and delicious, 'Belize' is another good one - an oak leaf that will also form fat hearts now. Fristina is another excellent crispy loose-leaf type. Good old 'Lollo Rossa' is great for some reliable red colour - and also the Cos varieties 'Marshall' and 'Nymans' - one's really spoilt for choice these days with so many new lettuce varieties every year - but you don't have to go for expensive F1 hybrids - some of the 'value' mixes - like B&Q's are fantastically cheap - 60 cents for 1200 seeds! Great if you're watching the pennies - costing almost nothing per lettuce! The value mixes mostly contain older varieties that are easy, colourful and reliable for all year round growing - either sown thickly for baby leaves or as individual whole lettuces. The endive pictured here - an old Italian variety 'Riccia Pancallieri' is very bitter when green - which I don't like - but if you blanch it by covering it for 2-3 weeks under a large pot as the old Victorian gardeners did - it is beautiful and really delicious in a late winter salad - with a nice fruity/sweet dressing like my walnut oil/cider vinegar/honey & orange dressing which goes with everything and is full of healthy omega 3 oils. The photo above of the blanched and un-blanched endive side by side really shows what a difference blanching makes!