May – full of drama and growth!

A garden at an edge of a drying green

It’s been a month since I last posted – and as you can see from the above panorama, I have managed to populate most of my limited growing space…but it has not been without hiccups!

Hedgehog trapped in the netting

As soon as I submitted my last post, some real drama hit my little patch! Remember how proud I was about protecting my freshly sown bed against the neighbourhood cat with the netting? Well – it turns out not to have been such a good idea as the net made for a perfect hedgehog trap! We found this little fellow struggling to get free in the middle of the day. It took me and my crochet scissors about an hour to cut most of the netting off from amongst its spikes and its neck but we still had to call SPCA to remove the rest of it and have him looked over.

So two lessons learned: 1. Use fine mesh netting such as enviromesh – very expensive but worth it. And 2. WE HAVE A HEDGEHOG!!!!!! (for all things hedgehoggie, including advice on how to keep your garden hedgehog happy, it is worth checking out The British Hedgehog Society website)

The rest of the month was much less eventful – mostly plants doing lots of growing…or not growing enough.

Luscious potato oca plants in bags

My potatoes are ahead of everything else – almost can’t believe that they were just little sprouts at the beginning of May! They are fully earthed up now and I just need to make sure they are watered and fed…Both oca varieties have also sprouted nicely in my mini-polytunnel and have been transferred to the open air as the frosts are now gone (they are in smaller pots in front of potatoes in the photo).

Seedlings growing in bags in a small polytunnel

Most of the seedlings have also now moved on from my widowsill to the garden. I still keep them under cover, especially at nights, as they are all real heat-lovers. Courgettes of both varieties are doing fabulously. So would the runner beans if their tops hadn’t broken off as they rubbed against the cover of the polytunnel after I potted them up:( I left the injured plants in place but also put some more seeds in the bags as a back up. Optimistically, I also planted out my dwarf cucumbers in the bags. Normally they would not be planted outside in Scotland but I really miss my Polish gherkins and I hope to make them work with judicious use of the cover. They are looking good for now.

It has not all been rosy though – only the Scarlet runners and the Bush beans germinated, with a total failure of the varieties for which I only had older seeds. I decided not to plant out the bush beans either as I think I am running out of space!

A bunch of raddishes with some soil still attached

I have also started harvesting! This is the first lot of raddishes I pulled up from my salad boxes – of the French Breakfast variety. Beautifully peppery but rather dimunitive and not many of them bulking up properly. Unfortunately, this is the only variety out of three which gave any crop at all, with the Icicle bolting early (probably overheated in the polytunnel) and the Sparkle 3 failing to germinate due to the advanced age of the seeds. I really like raddish so I will persist with some more – I have planted the Frenchies around the courgettes to make better use of the space in the bags. The salad mix was also a bit of a disappointment – mostly because the snails and slugs have been snacking on the more tender leaves. So far we have one clear winner on the salad-box front – pea shoots! Germinating perfectly, seemingly snail resistant and absolutely delicious! There will definitely be more sown soon – might even try the marrow peas as suggested by Cathy.

Pea shoots on the kitchen scales

Since we are talking about harvesting – I have started weighing all the bits and pieces that I have grown since March. As you can see they are not massive, but I am hoping that by the end of the project next year, they will add up to something rather more substantial! And every gram means a serious saving on our carbon emissions. According to Climate Challenge Fund a kilogram of home-grown food causes only a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions compared to the shop-bought equivalent!

Mark Williams preparing a foraged meal under a tree

To add some other local ingredients to the miserable crop last month, I have also been doing some foraging. It was mostly the two traditional spring favourites – nettles and ramsons (I wrote about foraging for my ramson and nettle frittata for Greener Kirkcaldy). But I also decided to widen my spring foraging range by attending a workshop with Galloway Wild Foods on Balgay Hill in Dundee. Lots and lots of new ideas! My favourite new salad ingredient – garlic mustard!

Mint planted in an upcycled Boston sink

It seems that my gardening bug is catching – here is a mint bed we set up with my lovely neighbour in her old Belfast sink. We are hoping it will make for very nice enhancements to our gin & tonics over the summer. The mints came out of my old herb bed (they were just too invasive) and have now been replaced with a mixture of parsley and a range of different silverbeets. I think the silverbeets are starting to come up – hope the slugs will not get them all!

Comparing pH test strips

Thanks to our Soil Phosphorus workshop I also managed to test levels of phosphorus and pH in my garden soil and the Discovery compost I use. Although the tests were only approximate, I was happy to learn that the pH for both was just above 6 (that is near neutral) which is great for most veggies. The bioavailable phosphorus was also adequate for growing veg in my garden soil (despite it being very sandy), and it was at least 10 times the required levels in the compost. Perhaps it is time to seriously start looking for a source of top soil to get the compost and its nutrients ‘diluted’ a little for the next year’s plantings… For more about soil phosphorus and the testing see our workshop report here.

So – this is it for May in my bag garden! I think it may be time to give my balcony a bit of tlc…

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