Two Hour Gardening Project: Stage 1
Worn soil and a bare open fence are the first challenges to be faced in our problem garden. The simplest way to beat them is by-planting a fast-growing vegetable that provides an almost instant screen and which also puts some life into tired soil. Then we ‘cheat’ the weather byin pots indoors to keep them safe from late malicious frosts. And we build a compost bin to start our long-term soil rejuvenation programme.
Needs list: 1 pkt pole bean seeds; 1 bundleor canes; 48 x 3 in diameter pots; 1 cwt/50 lb bag moss peat; 30 split larch poles.
Time budget: 5 hours in 2 weeks
Early April weather/soil
Statistically winter is over by now and spring is on the wing if not actually arrived. Air temperature is rising, and the soil is getting warmer and drier. Plants are starting into growth. Time too, for humans to move outdoors, start. Beware however of killing snap frosts.
Flower of the Fortnight
Our first flower of the fortnight provides – in passing – a simple lesson in the value of Latin names. The English call this plant a scarlet runner bean. The Americans call it a scarlet runner. The English grow it for its long, edible, scarcely noticing its red or white flowers. The Americans grow it purely as an ornamental, for its scarlet flowers, considering the beans curious, but definitely not edible. The only way you know they’re the same is their Latin name, Phaseolus coccineus. Either way, for food or flower, this is a high-speed annual vine, ideal for covering a fence fastest, and improving your soil while it does it. Grow dwarf French or bush snap beans in front to improve the soil there.
1. Every garden has stones. Where there’s a stone there could be soil, a root, a plant. Pick out larger stones. Stack them in a corner or an old bin with holes in the bottom. Use later foror for hard core.
2. Wood waste – shrub prunings or hedge clippings, woody root waste won’t rot in the compost bin. Either burn them and use the sifted bonfire ash later to feed and level the lawn or add the ash to the compost heap; or dump them on your local tip.
3. Build yourself a compost bin. Forget compost heaps – they look untidy and don’t compost waste properly. Build or buy a bin. Lots of good modern designs available from your local garden centre. Or build your own. Ours is a three-sided enclosure of bean posts from a wood yard, driven into the earth, enclosing the end of ato save soil space. Ordinary wooden fence slats could be used. Throw any vegetable waste from garden or kitchen into the bin: not animal waste.
Project work: preparing and planting a pole bean
When to dig:
One of the first things you will need to learn to do is dig.
You can’t do much about creating a garden till you do. But how do you know when to dig: if the soil’s too wet, it’s back-breaking work: it’s almost as difficult if it’s too dry.
Here’s how you know. Take a handful of soil. Compress it into a ball. It should be dry enough to break up when squeezed in the hand. When dropped it should leave a slight stain and some particles on your hand. Ok, start digging. If it coagulates in your hand wait till it’s drier.
How to dig:
Stand over your spade or fork. Direct your effort downwards through your shoulders. Bending your spine (the way most people dig) will only give you back-ache. It could actually damage your back. Dig to the depth of one spade or fork blade.
How to Plant:
First of all prepare the bed in. Dig it over thoroughly, picking out stones and roots. Then sprinkle I in. moss peat over the bed: that’s at the rate of 7 lb/yd2. Rake it in to form a rich easily worked soil. Move indoors and fill your peat pots loosely with a soilless growing mix. Do not compress it. Soilless mixes are meant to have a light, open texture. Push 1 bean seed 2 in. deep into each pot. Plant pots 9 in. apart in rows 18 in. apart. Water lightly. Keep 3 pots indoors to replace seed failures.