The last day of May and a busy day planting vegetables out into the garden. Courgettes, leaf celery, celeriac, red cabbage, cauliflowers and a few purple sprouting broccoli plants. The latter brassicas have gone into the new vegetable area. I have netted them all. This is something I haven’t done here in Ireland to date. It was however, essential when we had an allotment in the UK, to prevent the pigeons eating everything! We have a pair of resident pigeons now and we are not sure if it is these or the rabbits that have been eating all the tops of the lupins we put down as a green manure. So I decided it would be better to be safe than sorry. The netting will, I hope, also reduce the number of eggs the large and small white butterflies will be able to lay on the plants. There are still more plants to plant out but that is another day’s work. For now I’ll admire the blue irises, which are flowering well in our little flower bed.
I am always impatient at this time of year, hoping, wishing and thinking plants should be growing faster and better! A prime example are my tomatoes. They finally got out of the upstairs shower yesterday, where I had them growing in pots waiting for the completion of the greenhouse. While the greenhouse isn’t finished the glass is mostly in and so we created a bed in the middle and planted in the tomatoes. There are small, weedy plants which should have been planted into bigger pots all long time ago. Whether now, with a little but of TLC, they can recover I do not know – but even a few green tomatoes are a valuable chutney crop!
On a positive note, the polytunnel is looking bright and colourful, with flowering sage, calendula and comprey. We are also harvesting our first mangetout peas and yesterday enjoyed our first Charlotte potatoes. The ones we harvested where in a large back pot and were a good couple of weeks ahead of those on the ground.
Outside pear, plum and apple have all set to some degree. The hope now is that most will remain on the trees for us to harvest in the autumn.
Carrots and parsnips have germinate well but the carrots have suffered quite a bit of slug damage. The beetroot has not done well and of the hamburger parsley I can only find a handful of plants. Whether this is a result of poor germination or slugs I am not sure. It’s the first time I have tried to grow these and I have read they need a long growing season so I probably won’t try setting more. The beetroot, on the other hand, will hopefully be set again over the weekend!
The other day, a female bullfinch was in feeding the long grass close to our flower meadow / orchard. She didn’t seem able to fly and the kids wanted to help her. So after we took her photograph, I gently picked her up and checked her out. There was no obvious damage and she was pretty perky. We don’t have any cats (except for an odd feral one that passes though) so it seemed better to leave her to fend for herself. She was eating the dandelion seeds heads and there were plenty about. There are a pair of sparrowhawks that nest in the woodland below us, but they are more likely to take a bird in flight or from a bush. There was no sign of her the next morning so we hope she recovered and flew off.
Nearly all the apples have finished blossoming, the James Grieve is the last. The photo below was taken two days ago. The butterfly is a Green-veined White. Yesterday, the weather was finally suitable for walking our butterfly and bee monitoring transect, that we signed up for over two weeks ago (see post below). I was disappointed to only get three bee species and only five bees in total. On the positive side there were six different butterflies and at least twenty nine individuals.
Meanwhile, the chickens have joined the ducks in their new home. For the last few years, we have had to keep them in a moveable ark because we lost some to foxes and mink. A mink once killed our whole flock. Even in the ark, one fox still tried his best to get them (in the middle of the day too!).
Now with the electric poultry fence, we hope we can keep them all the poultry safe. The chickens are certainly enjoying their new freedom and within five minutes of being released from the confines of their ark had made themselves a dust bath in some bare soil. Dust bathing helps the chickens keep their feathers in good conditions and is thought to help with ectoparasites.
Work on the greenhouse has been going well. It’s looking big! Our Polish friend Jacek, who is helping us build it, is an excellent carpenter. So it’s not only going to be functional but it’ll look good too. I am already imagining tomatoes, cucumbers and other goodies.
We started with a concrete foundation and on top of this have built a concrete wall, two blocks high. A concrete sill was then create on top of the bricks so the water will run off.
In the meantime the wooden frame was being built and this has now been placed on top.
Hopefully by the weekend it will be all glazed (we are using horticultural grade glass) and ready for planting. The tomato and cucumber plants are in pots ready and waiting. Of course the gardening books tell us cucumbers like it more humid and warmer than tomatoes. But for this year we’ll try both together and see what happens. In future years, I can have the luxury of choosing the polytunnel to grow one and the greenhouse to grow the other.
We have gone over budget with the whole build but we see the greenhouse as an important investment in growing more food for the family. And as far as the kids are concerned we could never grow enough cucumbers!!
In the polytunnel the broad beans and mangetout are both flowering well. The carder bees (Bombus pascuorum) are very busy fertilizing the mangetout as well as visiting the sage plant that has also just started to bloom. I love these little bees, they are the real workhorses of the garden. Even on the dullest of days you can spot them. Yesterday there was hardly a gap between the showers but they were still in and out of the tunnel most of the day.
The garden seems to be full of birds gathering food for young. Blackbirds, starlings, robins, a little dunnock and probably some of the most striking, a pair of bullfinches. I got a somewhat blurred photo through the kitchen window of the male. He was making his way from dandelion head to dandelion head, happily munching his way through the seeds. The whole garden is full of their wispy seeds clocks at the moment. I have seen the goldfinches eating the seeds too. The only place I tend to remove dandelions from is the vegetable plot as when they are in flower they are also valuable to our pollinators.
Even though it was a cool, dull day here yesterday the bees were really active particularly on the curly kale and ragged jack which are flowering at the moment. The majority of the bees visiting were the Common carder bees (Bombus pascuorum), but there was also a Buff-tailed queen (B. terrestris), Garden bumblebees (B. hortorum) and Early bumblebees (B. pratorum).
Today is another cool and this time damp day so spent the morning in the polytunnel clearing out the purple sprouting broccoli and creating some space into which we planted some salad vegetables. If we got a bit of heat now things would really take off. There are lots of seeds germinated and sitting in their seed trays waiting to get growing.
One nice little find this morning were a few bluebell flowers under one of the birch trees. We had planted some bought bulbs last autumn. We also collected some bluebell seed from a local native woodland and put them in pots under some trees last autumn. They have germinated and are looking great but it will take a couple years before they will flower.
Later in the afternoon I saw a red tailed bumblebee (B. lapidarius) queen in the garden. I did not see this bee in the garden last year when I first started to record our pollinators, so I am very pleased.