Easter (‘Velik Den’ in Bulgarian) is almost upon us and I am still waiting for the seeds to arrive in the post. In case you were wondering why I would buy seeds online instead of at the local market, it’s because there are many varieties that I would like to grow that are nigh on impossible to buy as fully grown vegetables, let alone seeds. What is more, seeds are actually comparably priced if you buy them from ebay – you might be wary buying seeds there but there are several well established stores with lots of positive feedback. In the past I have had a lot of success with buying from these stockists and they are incredibly cheap compared to online stores that appear if you type ‘buy fresh seeds’ into your search engine, not to mention buying from a garden centre. There are set EU standards regarding the average germination rate of seeds, which online stores as well as high street outlets are required to adhere to, so you really would be unlucky to get a dud packet through the post.
So I have very itchy feet to begin growing, as it has been 20 C for the past few days and I am hoping that it won’t get too hot too quickly… likewise I hope that we don’t get another deep frost because that would really suck and kill all of my seedlings. But as any gardener knows, especially when you are overhauling a garden that has been neglected for the past several years, there is a lot of work to do even before you plant your first seed. Unfortunately it’s not just a case of chucking some seeds out of the window; although sometimes this method does work, I wouldn’t call it foolproof.
Clearing unwanted plants
As I have mentioned, the garden had several outcrops of aggressively growing thorny acacias – great nitrogen fixing trees, but they do grow in swathes and are difficult to manage so we have cut them all down. Ideally cutting out the roots and burning them is a ‘final solution’ as it were (could that be the most inappropriate use of that phrase? Answers on a postcard!), but we have made a quick fix this year and are going to monitor them to see how rapidly they grow back over the summer.
Preparing the soil
We now have various patches of earth that we have turned over to get rid of weeds so that the earth is ready for planting. Having done my research following this gargantuan back breaking task (thanks Tom!), I realise now that there is a much easier way of preparing the earth that, although requires a little more time, is virtually labour free. This is to prepare a ‘kill mulch’ of leaves, cut grass, newspaper, straw – anything composting material that will sit on top of the ground and kill whatever is growing underneath by simply smothering it. This is a superior method because you retain the moisture and organic material in the soil; when you turn over the soil, the birds will come along and peck out all the insects and worms and good things living in it, your soil will dry out, and you risk leaching out nutrients as you have done away with the bulk of the soil structure by mashing it up. So we know this for next year…as it stands we didn’t really have the time to wait for this process to occur, so we will have to just make do with watering in and mulching over the seeds we plant out.
Planting fruit trees
The six fruit trees we bought in the market last week: two apricots, two cherries, an apple and a peach, are in the ground and will hopefully take successfully. If not we will plant some more next spring. We realised that we were tempting fate by only planting several about two metres tall with a few side branches. When buying fruit trees it is always better to buy them with a soil bundle attached, instead of bare roots, as they will have a much more substantial root ball to give them a head start in the ground. We could only find those with bare roots, which we pruned a little (maybe cutting an inch off each rootling). We also pruned the branches: the main stem, which grows vertically upward, was trimmed down until it was about half the height from the main trunk, and all other branches we trimmed off about a third. Then we dug holes in the ground about twice or three times the size of but only as deep as the root ball, as it is important only to bury them up to the border of the roots and the trunk (it is obvious when you look at a sapling where this is due to the change in quality of the wood). We put the tree in the hole and replaced the earth, mixed with a little ash from our wood burning stoves. Lightly pressing the soil down around the trunk, we filled with earth up to the boundary of the roots and the trunk then watered the tree generously. A light dose of manure was laid around, but not touching, the tree (as unless the manure has been composted for several months it is likely to burn the bark and kill the tree) and on top of this we placed a layer of mulch in the form of last years partially composted walnut leaves. We will continue to water about once a week unless of course it rains!
Pruning the grapes
I have written a separate article about this as it turned into a more complicated matter than I originally thought (sigh!). Hopefully we’ll get a bumper crop next year as a result of careful pruning though.