Of heritage seeds and hugelkultur
Autumn sowing in the raised beds began in September, with locally sourced rocket, flat leaf parsley and coriander in RB4. This followed hugelkultur treatment of the soil. RBs 1 and 2 were planted up from late October.
Now seems like a good time to take stock and report on progress. It’s also useful to consider how the trials of heritage seeds brought from the UK have done.
I’m pleased on both counts, although I’m unclear about the wisdom of leaving sowings until the end of October. Comparing the health of the September sowings with the later ones, I think earlier is better. Note to self: do not be tardy with the task once the summer heat breaks in 2017.
There were clear benefits from the hugelkultur treatment. Most of the soil was dug out, the trenches filled with dead wood from our Indian laurel (Ficus nitida) trees, dried clippings from shrubs and herbs, leaves and even kitchen waste not yet composted. The soil was then replaced, mixing sand and earth as much as possible, and a top dressing of home-made compost plus horse manure applied.
Drainage has improved no end and the soil is amazingly workable. I know this because I no longer have to hammer in stakes or netting supports; they glide in so smoothly that I do a double-take, wondering if I’m working on the same beds.
Germination has been good overall, but patchy. September’s sowing in RB4, with self-seeded watercress added to the mix, is really flying and we harvest rocket from this bed almost every day to form the basis of our salads. In addition, October’s planting of heritage “Emerald Oak” oakleaf lettuce; and of ciccoria “Zucherina di Trieste” from Italy, are coming along well, and we are taking leaves from them.
In RB1, a bed that previously suffered from overwatering and underfeeding resulting in poor performance, we now have promising growth from heritage early dwarf peas “Charmette” and green beans “Cupidon”. But I think they were sown a few weeks late and, although I am covering the beans against the cold, I doubt they will crop as well as they perhaps should.
Heritage winter purslane “Claytonia” (below) has germinated oddly – in bunches – suggesting that gardener’s shaky hand syndrome was at play here. It doesn’t seem to have much taste but adds fresh greenery to our salad bowl, so I welcome its presence anyway. Nearby, the remains of a packet of beetroot “Moneta” from Thompson and Morgan, have appeared and are doing well in patches.
RB2 is the most recently overhauled and the last to be planted up. Here we have robust broad beans (fuul herratti or medames, part of Egypt’s national diet), sourced from a shop in Heliopolis. Side shoots, or ’tillers’, are beginning to appear, so I’ll let the plants grow to the height of the netting covering the bed, then pinch out the main growing points to encourage denser growth.
Close by, heritage early mizuna, and mixed lettuce from Italy, are thriving; carrots, Thompson and Morgan’s “Early Nantes” germinated nicely and then appeared to freeze, as if shocked to discover they had popped up at quite the wrong time of year. It looks as if I have yet another carrot-mishap on my hands: Truly, I have form when it comes to this root.
Finally, some seeds I never manage to persuade to germinate well, chamomile, and a tiny scattering in RB2: I’m grateful for every infusion I ever manage to get from my own produce – each cup is a minor triumph!