Darsham Nurseries Cafe, potager, kitchen garden, vegetables from seed, harvesting vegetables,
The Daily Dibber

Kitchen gardener for the Darsham Nurseries Cafe. Seedaholic. Grower and lover of food and flowers.

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Trials, Tribulations and Triumphs 2017 Part 1

It’s been a busy time both in the potager and the polytunnel, hence the delay in writing this post.

The successful harvests started in March with kale, mustards, turnip tops, salad, Salanova, spinach and herbs.

 

These kept coming on a grand scale, in April lots of pea shoots were added to the menu.

 

Then spring onions, radishes, radichetta, rocket, and edible flowers were regularly harvested.

 

Just as the kitchen started to run out of enthusiasm for kale, radicchios were ready.

 

April was the start of the artichokes, along with lots of broad bean tops.

 

In the spring we reached out on social media and recruited an amazing eclectic bunch of volunteers, well matched to the existing staff members. Much was achieved, many laughs were had and lots of knowledge continues to be shared. They quickly got to grips with the art of potting on, taking cuttings and dividing mature plants. Seeds were sown and vegetables were planted. Each one of them has contributed enormously, in all aspects of gardening on site. Bonding occurred through sweaty days, mutual failures and successes. We have become a tight team, now comfortable with each other’s eccentricities. No I won’t list them, but let’s just say that talking to yourself is far more common than you think. Who knew that it was possible to whistle out of tune?

Suzi gave the cut flower bed a seasonal make over and created a hazel teepee in the south border. She achieved 100% success rate with her cuttings of Salvia ‘Amistad’. These will be ready for sale soon in the nursery. Sue had a lovely afternoon tweaking the edible flower bed, which is already being used by Tori for her delicious waist expanding creations. Her natural gentleness with seedlings is solely responsible for the tricky Iceland poppies that can be seen currently in flower in the potager and café beds. Her habit of saying “Well done you” to every successfully transplanted seedling has now become the norm.

 

Brigitte overhauled the herb bed and could be found regularly arm deep in the compost heaps saving plants and rehoming them. Her polytunnel skills are now immense. Michael passed the fitness test with flying colours when he spent a day planting tomatoes for the cafe. In the allotment, he was set loose with a strimmer and free rein to improve the profitability of the space. His background in hedge fund management made him the obvious candidate! The broad beans will be harvested soon and the agretti is doing well. After a long discussion on the merits of different crops, pumpkins were decided upon. A pumpkin a day in October will provide the most profit per harvest for the small space. Anna, Luke, Tracie and Tina’s contributions became integral to the success of the vast number of thriving potted annuals and perennials in the polytunnel.

In the polytunnel we have greatly expanded our range of annuals, and lots of rare and interesting varieties will be arriving for sale in the nursery over the coming weeks. Annual Asters, Amaranth, Didiscus, Omphalodes, Setaria, Leonotis and Ageratums will be ready soon.

Inside the polytunnel the trial of indoor grown agretti is very successful. They adore the hot, dry conditions and my aim of daily harvests is currently being met. The combination of both indoor and outdoor grown agretti seems to be the secret to constant yields in this UK climate.

The polytunnel agretti is being harvested three times a week.

The tomatoes and cucumbers have been planted on time, this week the chillies were finally planted. Sue planted the hanging cucamelons, and they are responding well to the current heatwave.

 

First tomato to appear was ‘Black Beauty’.

The seven broad beans beds all did well. Black fly, was avoided and the harvests were as large as we had hoped for. These beds have now been cleared and the mid-summer plantings of courgettes, squash, quinoa and leeks can commence. ‘Red Epicure’ was quite the talking point behind the scenes when the beans were prepped.

We all agreed that these were ever so slightly erotic, only at Darsham could that particular conversation happen.

Lots of new varieties of courgettes this year, first to appear is ‘Zephur’.

The peas beds are surviving despite the early morning pigeon attacks. Now the emphasis is on watering. This is key to a successful harvest as once the flowers appear they mustn’t be allowed to dry out. A new heirloom variety ‘Rosakrone’ was stunningly beautiful, but sadly was destroyed by pigeons recently.

The first pea bed was harvested yesterday, despite my best efforts the gang of onsite pigeons feasted on the leaves every morning but the peas thankfully survived.

 

Spigarello featured on the menu last week, this along with Trounchuda kale and Chard will provide the summer greens.
A new variety of chard has been trialled. Joys Ireland. These seeds are very rare indeed. As they mature several different tones appear, it’s a most interesting variety and well worth growing.

The polytunnel provided all of the winter and spring salads, but now the harvests will mainly come from the café beds.
The spring plans for the Arches has thankfully worked. The peas are growing well, and the cosseting of the Thunbergia has proved worth the effort. The slug damage is not as extensive as 2016. Replacement sowings have been made, just in case. The beans have now been planted, so the emphasis has moved to climbing pumpkins and gourds.

The alliums gave a magnificent display. My personal favourite for a mass display is ‘Ambassador’. Despite a heavy storm and strong winds this stout stemmed variety  stayed ramrod straight and perfect.

Then a new kid on the block appeared, and hands down ‘Air’ is the allium for me. Kooky, wonky and utterly lovely.

Controversially the four central beds have been completely changed this year. Instead they have been planted with a careful selection of shrubs, perennials and annuals that are colour themed. B&Q paint technicians could have joined in happily with the discussions prior to planting. They have only been planted a few weeks, so we are all watching their progress with interest. Even amongst the staff, opinion is divided as to the favourite scheme. That’s encouraging as we hope that the plants chosen will encourage debate and discussion. I have had several conversations with some unconfident garden owners, who already seem to find the schemes helpful with their purchase choices. Planning a border can be daunting and confusing for many people. These simple colour themed beds are aimed to help with that.

Deep & Dark

This bed features, Salvia ‘Amistad’ & ‘Caradonna’, Sedum ‘Jose Aubergine’ and Dianthus ‘Sooty’. Cotinus ‘Royal Purple’ worked instantly. Dahlias ‘Karma Chocolate’ and ‘Obsidian’ were also added this week. The interesting herb Perilla was a good gap filler. I am eager to see how Penstemon ‘Raven’, Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’ and Agapanthus ‘Big Blue’ contribute in late summer.

Pale & Interesting

Surprisingly this is my favourite combination. I’m more of a dark, dramatic type of gal but as this combination has grown, it’s become very soothing visually. This particular scheme I personally feel would also work well in a therapeutic setting. It’s very  engaging and tactile. The furry silky heads of Lagurus ovatus ( bunny tails grass) are soft to the touch, above them the wonderful umbels of Ammi majus ‘Graceland’ sway in the breeze.  Amaranth ‘Green Cascade’, Cosmos ‘ Double Snow Puff’ and Gypsophila ‘Covent Garden’ were recently added to fill any gaps. Heuchera ‘White Cloud’, Geranium ‘Kashmir White’, Digitalis ‘Alba’ and Ballota blend perfectly together. In a few weeks Hyssop ‘Pink’ and Achillea ‘Lilac Beauty’ will add to the mix. It’s interesting to observe people as they walk around the Potager, this particular scheme is the one most lingered over, and returned to. The effect of plant combinations is very thought provoking.

Mixed.

This is a slow burner, this week Athemis ‘Sauce Hollandaise’ bloomed alongside Achillea ‘Terracotta’. Stipa arundinacea gives  good tone and texture. Gaura ‘Flamingo White’ and Digitalis ferruginea are yet to flower. By late summer these combinations should gel well together.

 

Hot & Fiery

Again this has not fully developed yet, but the strong foliage of Physcarpus ‘Lady in Red’ carries the theme strongly. Once Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, Achillea ‘Red Velvet’, Penstemon ‘King George’ and Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ do their thing, this bed should be the star of the potager in August and September.

There haven’t really been any disasters to report this year. There are several reasons. We know now what we grow well and what works for the soil conditions. The enormous positive contribution of the wonderful volunteers Tina, Suzi, Michael, Sue, Tracie, Anna, Brigitte and Luke. It’s also our third year, and we have all learnt many lessons by now. 2014 was the initial planting. 2015 was a repeat of the successes and more experiments. 2016 was over shadowed by the slug invasion. 2017 to date is by far the best year in terms of planned harvests, teamwork, and time best spent. So far, so good.

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