Anyone for toast?

This is my new invention - a sweet pea toaster (otherwise known as an old cardboard box with two slots cut in and filled with compost). Like most of my slightly hair-brained ideas, it's bound to have some really obvious fault that I never anticipated, but for now it's working just fine. The aim is to plant the whole thing in the ground once it warms up a little (-5 overnight last night, so this may be sometime), as the cardboard will just rot down eventually and it means the roots suffer minimal disturbance. Over-watering is the only danger I can foresee at the moment, as this may result in my toaster becoming a soggy mess, but it hasn't suffered this fate yet.

The clocks jumping forward last night meant I was on the garden a little later than planned, but the lighter evening allowed us to work until nearly 7pm. It's been a very productive day, with David, me and Caitlin (who dropped in to say hello and ended up staying hours, even helping clean out the chickens, which is beyond the call of duty for most) getting loads done.

We cleared the last of the beds of weeds, which was a mammoth task that took hours, then levelled it ready for planting shallots and garlic, which are now in (the shallots under fleece to stop the rooks pulling them all out again). I think I'll cover the rest in green manure for a while before the leeks go in later, to keep the nutrients in and suppress the weeds a little.

David was relieved to discover that his rustic front gate actually fits the gap, as it was a bit touch and go for a while. I love the fact that it's made from a piece of the ash tree up the back of the allotment that needed pruning, so it's not gone far, staying a part of the garden. There's still a bit more to do on the structure, with cross bars etc. but it's going well (see below for work in progress).

The rhubarb (below) has just started to sprout, and the plant in our own garden that I forced this year has already given us two lots of beautiful white/pink stalks which hardly needed any sugar at all.

The weather at the end of last week was awful - cold, blustery and wet - which was a slight disadvantage when it came to conducting our worm survey for OPAL. This is a national survey being carried out to see exactly what types of worms we have where, so I thought it would be good to be involved. Katy from Newcastle University came out to work on the survey with the Greenfingers Club and it was utter madness, with all our forms blowing all over the place, packets of mustard and vinegar ending up in bushes and children going slightly bonkers, as they do when it's windy for some strange reason.

Identification was mainly carried out in the polytunnel, where it was a lot easier to hold on to both the worm and the identification sheet. We had a lot of lob worms, and some grey ones too and a few others that I've forgotten as the club took the results sheets off with them....however, we are planning to do another one on a calmer day, so I'll make sure I have more useful data for OPAL then.

The children loved it, despite (or maybe because of) the chaos, and loved learning that there were actually 1,000s of different types of worms (apparently one in Central America is the length of a bus). We never spotted any of those for obvious reasons, but with some of the over-enthusiastic holes they dug (which were supposed to only be 10cm deep) I'm surprised we didn't encounter any Australian ones.....

Dig in

It's amazing how the time flies once the sun comes out - I thought I was about a week behind with the blog, when in fact I'm nearly a month. Despite me being a little dozy with my blog-keeping, as the days start to get a little longer, everything else feels like it's waking up from winter.

The crocuses and daffodils are now out, as is the random purple iris which I thought I'd accidentally dug up last year. I know Spring is really on its way when the fresh green shoots begin to burst out on the willow fences and dome (see below). The willow dome also treated us to a great display of pussy willow earlier this month which was all too fleeting.

Today was a beautifully sunny one, and even warm enough to be out working without a jacket. The allotments were full of life, as all the fair weather gardeners began to creep out into the outdoors again after hibernating all winter. I know I'm a little mad to be out in all weathers, but I still maintain that you can only fully appreciate how it all fits together if you see your garden through every season, and even a cold, snowy day is perfect polytunnel weather!

I began what I thought would be a fairly straightforward job this afternoon - weeding the strawberry bed, digging up the runners to replant elsewhere. However, I didn't fully appreciate quite how many docks had wrangled their way into the strawberry roots, nor that there were dozens of runners ready to be moved. I also foolishly let the chickens 'help' and amazingly only one got a fork through its foot (no lasting damage) before they were shut back into their run. I finally finished just as the sun was setting, but the advantage of the late finish was the perfect peace and quiet all around, with just the birdsong for company, as I took a few minutes to pause and soak it all up.

Elsewhere on the garden, I've lined the herb bed with membrane and Maria and I planted about 20 hawthorn and other mixed hedging along the orchard edge, and also taken out some of the dastardly docks and replaced them with wildflower seeds instead.

I've been using our new hoe to prepare trenches for the potatoes, and the earlies (Red Duke of York and Sharpe's Express) are now in, along with half the Dunbar Rovers (2nd earlies) and the rest will be either in the Greenfingers area or in containers around the garden.

It's sowing time once again and the broccoli, brussels sprout, calabrese and summer cabbage have all gone in, which is just the start. I always forget how much I love sowing seeds - it's like magic when the tiny shoots begin to appear.

The Greenfingers Club have also been busy: digging the base for our wildlife pond, preparing the ground for the mini wheat field, and sowing peas for our Garden Organic pea trial.
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