*warning this post contains lots of mud*
As the temperatures were showing utterly no signs of improving here in Orkney. I donned my ski gear, my waterproofs (well you can never tell can you) found my ladies fork and attempted an assent on my vegetable plots at work. I'm lucky to have several secret horticultural hideaways at work. This delights me, but the dogs, however, wish I worked in a butchers. They just don't care for mud, which I'm confused about, I asked for dogs who love gardening at our puppy interview.
So I've a mixture of raised bed plots the 5mx1m plot has been handy for weeds to have a holiday in. Now they've had a notice to quit. I leave weeds on plots or borders for a few days to dry out, I've put too much effort into my soil to just give it away to any weed that passes by. This girl loves mud, the mud stays on the plots whilst the weeds wither and die. Sorry weeds.
Now as you can see - my plots aren't that exciting to most folks, sleepers and mud. But I like it at this time of year when the structure and the mud are the stars of the show. Is exciting! And, as you can see, mid May in Orkney, tree's are still devoid of leaves. Although they are beginning to tease us by fattening up those lovely buds.
Clearing the smaller plots (3m by 1m) involved mainly digging up feverfew, chives, annual and perennial rocket and parsley (all self seeded). Whilst I *could* throw these on the compost heap, I'm a sucker for a self sown plant. So although removed these have been potted up or tucked in elsewhere. Free plants are free plants after all. And, germinating rocket, whilst in some ways a bit of a pest is a clue that the soil is warming up and its time to get a growing.
Nothing goes to waste. Having cleared the ground, last years tomato pots are tipped on the soil. A sprinkle of fertiliser and a look at the note book. I use a three year rotation here, so last years roots are replaced by this years onions. Snowball and Stuttgarter. Onions grow well in Orkney, but they are hard to dry off we don't get the late temperatures to help us along. With this in mind, I have a cunning plan.
I've planted 100 onions in a small plot. My theory is, the spring weather is still cold, so I'm going to grow everything cheek by jowel and thin these out by harvesting them when they're wee over the growing period as smaller onions to eat (stalks and all) like a salad onion. By the time the summer ends I'll see if they are of any size to try and dry off. Here we lift the onions and dry upside down in bread basket or on a table in the tunnel. Autumn is but a blink here. So drying off onions is often a tricky business. So my little onion troups are great in number, closely guarding each other. Bon chance my little ones. I've asked them NOT to tease last years 'Drips' - I'd not embarass them by calling them leeks. It would just be cruel, after almost a year of 'growing', they are still pencil thin. They just didn't go well last year. Having taken advice from monster leek grower (perhaps these should be called 'Floods'?) I'm growing these on and asking them to flower to produce a crop of seeds or 'tiny' leeks on the flower heads to grow in the following year. He seems to have such success doing it.
So my drips can become mother-leeks and make me proud. I also planted 60 shallots, which do really well here. Their spikey punky new growth just looks so bold and I love them. Again easy to pick and harvest when growing if they're 'thinned' down to 4-5 bulbs they fatten the best here. So it really is like a little allium day care centre at the moment. The dogs inform me they don't like onions. All the more for me. The rest of the beds outside have been planted with tatties, its late, and I've lost enthusiasm for battles with elements with vegetable, in 'bare leaved tree May'. With a generally compressed season, I'm leaving the onions and tatties to do their thing quietly outside, I'm off to find a bit of warmth indoors. I don't own a tunnel, but I do have a bit of space in the work ones, the garden guru in charge of such important matters, allows me space. I make the tea and shine the spades and do the paperwork in return.
The cold start has made me retreat into the tunnels to find my fish box heaven and plant up some more veggies in the warm. Now, fish boxes are often muddy garish, unkept, muddy and struggle to find accessories to match. Kinda like myself. These fish boxes have been left neglected over the winter month. Polytunnels are notorious for shedding their covers, so attempting much in the way of winter growing is limted and often a bit fraught. So we allow them to slumber, best really.
When I first started openly growing in fishboxes I've had both odd comments and 'I thought I was the only one' whispered conversations with other converts. As these are picked up free from the tide line, or (and I have paid for them) bought for around £2-5 from reclaimation places or fishermen, they are just such brilliant gardening tools. (As long as you don't mind the aesthetics of them and are happy to haul them from beaches yourself, they're quite an adventure in themselves). They hold between 4-6 grow bags (100-150 litres) of glorious muddy compost and already come pre-drained (for fishing). So they make excellent mini growing plots 1m by 50cm a nice size. Last years boxes needed a top up of organic matter, so hungry, they gobbled up a whole heap of it.
One happy lady with watered, composted, mixed, manured and fluffed up mini-plots ready for planting. The yellow wellies are a nice contrast I think. I'm sulking with my purple ones, they've sprung a proper leek.
Before we headed home, happily unmatching, covered in mud, we stole a peek at what else has been happening in the other tunnels at work. These are not mine, so shhhhhh, we're not really here. But, the spring cabbages are really rocketing (these can't be grown outside in Orkney, they do nothing) but in a tunnel - amazing.
There's some summer bedding here too, far too early for it to go out yet. But, soon. Summer bedding is usually OK here late May/early June but its very risky before, it was 1 degrees last night.
Runner beans are being planted out in the tunnels (again NOT something you can crop outside here, too cold, too windy and just doesn't work) broad beans and some types of peas are about all that does outdoors here, french just sit and sulk unless they're in a sheltered spot. We're nearly in the arctic don't you know, beans are clearly not a fan! And, the strawberries are up and looking great (here) outside they're barely doing much, still slumbering.
I think strawberry flowers can rival almost anything in the garden a perfect combination of white, yellow and green, lush and jewelled when flowering.
These are Cambridge Favourite, a variety which does well in Orkney. Time for home. The dogs inform me, they DON'T like strawberries either, especially if they grow in mud.
I've told them they need to be patient, I'm also growing bones.
Now, that got their attention.