As spring approaches it is time to clear the old crops and make way for the new, sowing starts undercover, in my case in the polytunnel, a 50ft double-height plastic tunnel built into a drystone wall on a south facing terrace below the potager.
The plant debris and weeds are first cleared and the earth lightly worked to lighten the top soil, incorporating seaweed manure and bonemeal. For areas that are not to be planted now I cover the soil with leaves, grass cuttings and best of all chopped nettles. This protects the soil and keeps it in great condition ready for sowing later.
The first of the heat loving summer crops are planted directly in the tunnel in mid-March. For the beans I prepare long bean trenches filled with rotted garden compost. Tradition in these parts is to sow the first Haricot of the year on St. Josephs day undercover. This year I sowed a dwarf French bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) Tendergreen from Thomas Etty and behind that the exotic climbing Long Bean (Vigna unguiculata sesquipedalis) also known as snake bean, yard long or asparagus bean a wonderful bean that grows to 60cm or more in length. I’ve grown it every year since I got the tunnel and maintain the seeds. Also sown direct into the tunnel in mid march are the cucurbits; courgettes, cucumbers and other gourds. I am careful to make sure only one variety from each sub family of the cucrbits and legumes are sown in the tunnel so that I will be able to collect seed without danger of crossing.
So this year in the tunnel I sowed Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) Burpless Tasty Green, an unusual Hairy Cucumber (Cucucmis Melo) Bari distinct from a regular cucumber in that it is botanically a melon. Achoca (Cyclanthera pedata) Fat Baby this is a small spiny cucumber like gourd that grows to form a hollow shell which is delicious stuffed. A courgette, (cucurbita pepo) Ronde de Nice a lovely round courgette with dense flesh and a gourd. Later in the year, when it is warm enough, the tomatoes, peppers, chillis and peanuts will be planted out that i’ve grown from seed in the house. Coriander gets sown all year round so another few short rows went in to keep us in supply.
Work in the tunnel this spring was made much easier with the help of Laura Beyney, who is here for a week helping out in the garden and learning about edible veg, plus the odd spot of fishing in the Ardeche.