I hope this morning finds you all well and that the current restrictions aren’t bothering you too much. I must admit I am itching to do something outside the home / work loop but am still feeling very grateful for what we have, especially the garden. As usual I don’t have as much done as I would like but am still making progress with the garden slowly filling up as seeds get sown and seedlings are planted out.
I don’t know what it is like where you are but my garden has not seen rain for weeks. It would be very rare that I would need to water outdoor crops but I find myself mooching around with the hose most evenings making sure any new seedlings don’t dry out. I am starting to see the soil shrink from the edges of the raised beds which means they are getting very dry so, unusually for this part of the World, I am also hoping for some rain.
Sowing or planting in dry weather
If you are sowing or planting out in dry conditions and the soil isn’t moist below the surface it is a good idea to soak it thoroughly and leave it for a few days before working it. While working waterlogged soil leads to compaction and should be avoided, working very dry soil creates such fine particles that it can form a hard crust and become compacted when watered.
Remember, planting seedlings is a shock to the plant, they will need plenty of water until the roots get established. You are better off planting in cool, dull weather rather than full sun; if you’re in a period of warm, dry weather, plant in the evening.
Make sure the soil you are planting into is moist as well as watering the seedling trays well so the plug plant root ball is well soaked. As I said last week, always make sure the soil is pushed in firmly around the plant to give good contact between the roots and surrounding soil so they can get to work quickly. If you are planting brassica seedlings like the cabbage above make a pool of water in the planting hole and let it drain away before planting.
Niall will have a seizure when he sees this photo as it is evidence that I have pilfered one of our PKS bronze rakes from the storeroom. Niall, if you’re reading this, I couldn’t find anything else suitable and I have broken my old rake.
I’m not going to go into what is so special about these bronze ‘rakes for the rich and famous’ now but suffice to say it is an absolutely beautiful handmade tool that is supposed to benefit the soil as it works through it. I am pretty sore on rakes so figured I might as well get (steal) a good one.
The reason I needed it, amongst other things, was to prepare my carrot bed for sowing which I have been watering for the last week. Carrots can be tricky to grow for many gardeners which is all down to the type of soil you have. Carrots are roots (obviously) and do best when they have the least amount of work to do. As they grow down and bulk up, they need to push the soil aside; the lighter and easier pushed that soil is, the better. Ideally you want a light, sandy soil with plenty of organic matter worked in.
Like any sensible thing, a carrot will also try to go around an obstacle rather than through it so will fork or grow at a different angle to avoid a stone or compacted clump of soil. If you want nice straight roots and don’t have deep, stone free soil it will need to be cultivated and raked through (with a very expensive rake) to remove any stones.
If your soil is not suitable for carrots (heavy clay, stony), you can cheat by digging mini trenches about 30cm deep x 20cm wide and filling them with compost. The carrot tap root will grow easily in the compost while gathering nutrients from the surrounding soil. Alternatively build a raised bed or use a large pot filled with compost, sand and a slow release granular feed.
Carrots don’t need feed myth
It is true that you shouldn’t add manure before sowing carrots as the roots will fork as they grow toward the nutrient pockets. You should also avoid high nitrogen feeds as this will cause lush leaf growth at the expense of the roots. I think this has led to the misconception that carrots don’t need a fertile soil but this is not the case.
Ideally you should dig in plenty of well rotted manure months before sowing but this may not always be possible, especially in a smaller garden where the space may be used by something else. In my case, this bed has only just been cleared of kale which we have been harvesting through the Winter and that I let go to flower as food for the bees.
If your soil is lacking in nutrients you can use a granular feed provided it is well mixed in and used sparingly. I use blood fish and bone as it has a good natural balance for carrots being relatively low in nitrogen yet high in phosphorous (NPK is 3:9:3 so 3 nitrogen, 9 phosphorus and 3 potassium). Phosphate is good for root growth so a good choice for carrots. Blood, fish and bone is also slow release so won’t give a big flush of weak growth. I spread a good handful every square metre and rake it in deeply and thoroughly, removing stones as I go.
Sowing Carrot Seed
Carrots are sown in drills (mini trenches) only 2cm deep in your stone and weed free seed bed. I find it much easier to make short drills across the bed rather than long ones along it’s length as this makes them easier to weed and thin out, both essential jobs.
Carrots are sown with 3-4cm between plants and 20-25cm between rows. Carrot seeds are small and fiddly so it’s not easy to sow are the required spacing but it is worth giving it your best shot as this reduces the amount of thinning you will need to do later on. The aroma given off when thinning carrots attracts the carrot root fly so the less you can do the better but I’ll cover all that when they come up.
It will take about 2 weeks for carrots to germinate so requires a little patience. I will need to keep the bed moist and weed free while I am waiting and will also add a scattering of wildlife and pet safe slug pellets as a single night attack can wipe out the whole lot.
Frost damage on potatoes
You might remember I mentioned a coupe of weeks ago that you need to be careful about late frost and cover emerging potato plants if a cold night is forecast? Well, guess what? I didn’t heed my own advice.
Above is one of my ‘Mayan Gold’ plants looking decidedly ‘Mayan Black’ after a night below freezing. The photo is quite close up so the plant is smaller than it looks which, as it happens, is a good thing.
Potatoes which have just emerged will handle a little frost damage as there is still enough energy in the tuber to grow more shoots. Larger plants with more foliage will take a harder knock as more energy has been expended already and there is less juice left in the tank for new growth.
If you have suffered mild to medium frost damage on potatoes the plants will likely revive although the harvest date will be delayed. I would remove any dead leaves and make sure they are covered with fleece until all risk of frost has passed. After 2 weeks, once they have recovered, earth them up while adding a light dressing of our friend blood fish and bone as the phosphorous will help build up the root system.
A quick tip on fleece as shown (too late!) in my garden above; staple to a length of timber each end which makes it much quicker to lay out flat and easier to roll up and store (you roll it round the timber batton).
That’s about it for this week, stay tuned for more info and images from the Quickcrop garden next week!