What have I been doing most this weekend? Sorting through rubble is what. The soil looks lovely from the top and is chocka with worms but stab it with a fork, wherever you like, and the shock as you hit the rubble layer reverberates back up your forearms.
An hour spent attacking the ground last week left my body aching even though I had barely cleared a square yard. This alone produced a creditable heap of rubble – broken brick, tiles, pots and local ironstone rocks which I then sorted through, like Cinderella separating the terracotta and brick into bags to take to the dump. The local stone I am using to build a raised bed for the squash and courgette.
Digging the whole bed was too much for me so I rang Stuart to see if he would come and give me a hand. Or rather finish the job so that I could get in the potatoes and the asparagus which I had quite forgotten I had ordered. That’s the trouble with ordering in winter. You just go “La la la, lovely veg” and ignore how much work everything requires.
Needless to say I had far too many potatoes for the space available so had to restrict myself to planting one row each from from the Dobies Beginner All Season Potato Collection (Maris Piper, Maris Peer, King Edward, Red Duke of York and Charlotte) and gave the rest to Stuart.
Is it worth growing asparagus?
The asparagus is a bit of an experiment. I planted 10 one-year-old crowns of Gijnlim which Dobies say will be ready for picking next year. Now that will be pretty exciting. That said, asparagus prefers to grow on sandy alluvial soil so I am not holding out great hope on my clayey spot. It had been raining so much I struggled to dig a foot wide and 8 inch deep trench but I had to get them in so there was no option.
Asparagus are strange things, very ancient looking with their starfish roots that must be spread out with great care, each on its own private mound. To counter the clay, I built these mini mottes from gravel and scattered around some of local farmer Julie’s delicious 7-year-old sheep muck.
According to Val Bourne, there is no point growing fewer than 30 crowns if you are to produce a decent harvest. I know she’s right but, as the weeks go by, I am also becoming more and more certain that the whole veg growing business – if you just doing a bit in the back garden as I am and cannot work on it pretty much full time – is more about doing it for love than sense. So a few spears will be fine. Actually, I will be over the moon if even one appears.
The broad beans had to be replanted because of the wood pigeons but luckily a kind friend took pity and gave me some of her spare sturdy young plants. I must make a note not to bother planting direct into the soil again. Far simpler to grow them in loo rolls, see video right, and then pop those straight into the ground.
The Sungold Tomatoes are potted on and outside, the parsley too, the kale is sprouting indoors, the beetroot seeds are outside along with the Cavolo Nero. I am on standby with netting.
Thank you, everyone, for emailing in your moneysaving tips for protecting plants. What a lot of great ideas.
Here are some of the best money-saving tips:
Cut off the ends of milk and water cartons, the large plastic ones, and upturn them over plants fixing them in place with a bamboo cane through the handle or bottle opening. “They are much better than punnets,” writes one contributor, Tricia Wright. Very true.
Another reader, David Walker, sent a picture showing his collection of Pigeon Protectors - milk bottle cloches, neatly stacked together at the end of the season (though, as he points out, that requires drinking the same milk, week after week).
Wendy Strathdee goes one step further, cutting into large plastic office water dispensing bottles - using a hacksaw. She uses them for cucumbers and courgettes and says that they last for years.
Old freezer baskets can reused to form another cloche of choice. Sandie Tapping covers hers with garden mesh to protect young green shoots.
I like this idea particularly because the baskets are heavy enough not to be blown away by the wind or upturned by rabbits and can easily be moved from one plant to another. No good to me though, as I haven’t any.
Another reader ‘sews’ together 18-inch lengths of netting (cut from one 4m by 2m roll) with garden twine to form a length long enough to surround an entire bed. She then surrounds the bed with pea sticks and clips the netting to sticks with clothes pegs. Cuts a piece of netting to form the cover and pegs this in place. It is easy, she says, to remove the cover for weeding. My problem was with flowering plants in a bed which would make this unworkably big. But a nice idea for the veg garden.
The winner, however, is Trisha Ryan. Last year, she writes, she surrounded her plants with holly clippings either laying the leaves in a circle around the plants or pushing in stems to form a protective cylinder of holly. There’s a large holly at the bottom of the field so with Daisy the spaniel to help, not, I collected three trugs worth of spiny cuttings. It took an hour to build enough spiky nests around all the emerging shoots in both new borders. I did this a few days ago, since when it has been windy and rained but mostly the holly stays put. So far no nibbling! Best of all this is a technique that looks good. From a distance you don’t even realise that the green in the border is holly. A great improvement on the plastic punnet arrangement!
A book will be winging its way to Trisha next week. Well done and thank you.
Tiffany Daneff is also the editor of the award-winning intoGardens app - the world's first magazine app for gardens. Visit the appstore to download a free sample or go to the website for more information. Gardening has never looked better or been more exciting. Visit www.into-gardens.com for more info.