Improving Soil in Our New Raised Beds

We’ve made a start on extending the vegetable garden, adding three 10 x 4 ft double height raised beds. After years of being part of a well-worn lawn, the soil would benefit from being improved with organic matter. We emptied most of the contents from one of the large pallet compost bins into a waiting wheelbarrow, the compost wasn’t quite ready but it was lovely all the same – just perfect for mulching and adding nutrients to the dry, hungry soil in our new beds.

One of our German Shepherd dogs certainly likes our compost, I guess she can smell rotting chicken poop. Eww.

I still find it amazing to see the contents of a compost bin change into earthy compost, we add lots of organic matter to our bins such as chicken manure mixed with straw, kitchen waste (vegetable peelings etc), used tea bags, coffee grounds, egg shells, cardboard, paper, green waste from the vegetable garden, grass clippings, nettle tops, comfrey leaves and horse manure from our village stables when we can get it.

Our bins are full of tiger worms, they’re perfect little composting machines. They adore kitchen scraps and if you watch your compost bin carefully you will see them surface to feed, starting the magical process.

The contents of our compost bin became darker and more like compost towards the bottom, we had to be really cautious with the spade and fork, lots of toads hide in and around our compost bins! I almost speared one by accident, just goes to show how careful you have to be. Now is a good time to empty your compost bins before creatures such as toads and hedgehogs start to look for places to hibernate over winter. Don’t empty them completely, leave some material in the bins for them.

Another magical ingredient for compost bins is leaves. The huge old oak provides these for free, they rot down faster than other leaves. We have a leaf bin too, taking longer to rot down but lovely as a mulch.

Isn’t it a magical, majestic tree? I think it’s wonderful, it makes me think of the green man or ‘The Oak King’. I love to listen to the wind whistling through the branches, at the moment it’s home to lots of nesting wood pigeons.

Plus, it helps to make this lovely stuff:

Jobs for August

All the hard work is starting to pay off, the vegetable garden is producing plenty to take back to the kitchen. Beans and courgettes will need picking daily; blanche and freeze beans to avoid a glut or waste, try to pick courgettes before they become too big and watery. Not much can be sown now in time for harvest although salad leaves, lettuces and some of the faster growing roots and leaf vegetables should be fine. I like to experiment and push boundaries, I’ll be giving a few other things a try for a late harvest such as carrots, beets, peas and kohl rabi. No harm done if it doesn’t work. As space becomes available, over wintering crops such as kale and purple sprouting broccoli can be planted out.

Some jobs for August:

  • Keep watering tomatoes (especially greenhouse varieties), pinch out side shoots as they appear and growing tips once 4 or 5 trusses have formed. Keep feeding. For ripening tomatoes, tie in main stems to extra canes to support heavy trusses.
  • Cut to the ground all the summer fruiting raspberry canes that have borne fruit, tie in the new green canes for next years fruit.
  • Pick courgette flowers for stuffing or frying
  • Keep sowing salad leaves, radish and lettuces
  • Sow or transplant spring cabbages
  • Plant out the last of kale and purple sprouting broccoli
  • Harvest main crop potatoes, keep earthing up rows to prevent tubers turning green
  • Earth up sweet corn and brassicas to prevent them toppling over
  • Keep cutting sweet pea flowers to bring indoors, remove seed pods to encourage more flowers
  • Ventilate the greenhouse
  • Water regularly
  • Harvest the last of the garlic, allow to dry before stringing
  • Harvest onions if ready, allow to dry before storing
  • Propagate strawberries by gently pushing rooted runners into the soil or small pots of soil. Sever the runner from the adult plant as the runners put on growth and develop a stronger root system.
  • For larger pumpkins, feed once a week with organic tomato feed, in damp weather lift fruits clear of the ground and place onto bricks or plastic trays to prevent rotting.
  • Pinch out the tops of climbing beans to prevent them becoming top-heavy and to encourage new growth lower down
  • Harvest regularly and enjoy!

 

Cutworms

I was admiring how well the onions were swelling the other day, suddenly I noticed some of the leaves had been chewed in a neat circular way. Something had completely sliced open the tips of the leaves (bulbs are fine), so I did a bit of investigating to see what it could be. It didn’t take long to find the culprits way down inside the hollow leaves, complete with lots of green poop. Nice.

After a bit of research it appears the podgy caterpillars I found inside my onion leaves are cutworms. Cutworms are the larvae of several species of night flying moths, they’re not actually worms at all. Apparently, they’re a common visitor to the vegetable garden but I’ve never noticed them before, I mean, they’re not exactly easy to miss.

They hide in soil or under leaf litter, feeding on crops and other plants at night (more common early in the year), often cutting young plants or seedlings straight down to ground level. I guess that’s how they get their rather cruel name. When alarmed they curl into a C-shape, my personal observation is they have very sticky feet, making them difficult to pick off plants. They’re large and meaty so I didn’t fancy squishing them (I’m useless at killing things anyway), they’d make a heck of a mess. I simply moved on the ones I found and did a bit of hoeing to see if I could spot any lurking in the soil.

Gardening organically and living where I do I’m always going to have the odd ‘pest’ problem here and there, that’s how it goes. I don’t use nasty chemical sprays, my preferred method of natural control will be to keep a close eye for more, picking them off if I see them, digging the onion bed over after harvesting to expose any I may have missed. Cutworms have many natural predators including wild birds, our chickens will scratch in the onion bed later on in the year too.

Cutworms, your days are numbered.

Inherited Things

The garden is looking really beautiful this month, especially with the sun shining. I realise I hardly mention the rest of my garden, beyond the vegetable garden boundary. There’s plenty of plants and flowers growing in our 1/3 of an acre garden and we inherited them all from the previous garden owner. Our garden is what you’d call mature, well stocked and well cared for over the years. A mature garden can quickly become a jungle if left to its own devices, I’m not a great fan of neat and tidy gardens (not ideal for wildlife) but I do have to keep it under some sort of control, otherwise I’d have my work cut out with all the pruning it requires.

The old honeysuckle arch has to be my favourite part of the main garden. Unlike the rest of the shrubs and massive conifers, it doesn’t demand yearly attention and does very well without much input from me. The wooden arch is rickety, not made particularly well (I’m certain the honeysuckle holds the arch up) and leans, but I think this only adds to its charm. The honeysuckle is an old gnarly specimen, highly perfumed flowers displayed profusely in May/June, often with another flush a month or so later. Right now it’s in berry but there’s still flowers hanging on to be enjoyed.

Honeysuckle flowering in June

Alongside the honeysuckle arch hangs a fairy ornament, left behind by the previous owner. Now I’m not one for garden ornaments, but I am rather fond of this one. Covered in lichen, gorgeous colours of natural garden patina, she blows a kiss to all that pass through the sweetly-scented arch. The ornament does have its uses, we use it as a bird feeder but I imagine that’s what it was meant for anyway.

Do you have any inherited things in your garden?

Self Seeding Sunflowers

The veg patch was a hive of activity for sunflower seedlings earlier this year. Seeds were planted on the wind and by wild birds, eagerly feeding on seed heads left over from last summer. Easily recognisable by their large almost wax-like seed leaves, most had to be thinned due to self seeding in the most awkward of places.

Seedlings growing in good positions were each given a bottle cloche, they grew big and strong (annoyingly I lost a few to slugs one night because I forgot to cover them). By recycling 2 litre plastic drink bottles and turning them into cloches, instantly a warm environment safe from slugs can be achieved for next to nothing. Just cut the bottom of the bottle off, place it over your chosen seedling or plant and remove the lid to allow ventilation. Remove the bottle cloche during the day in hot weather to avoid scorching and remove permanently once the plants grow large and fill out.

I’ve measured them at just over 10 feet tall, not exactly giants I know but they’re just how I love sunflowers to be, tall with large flower heads. Sunflowers that I raised from bought seed were disappointing. As long as the sunflowers keep self seeding, I won’t bother sowing them.

Harvesting Garlic

I harvested garlic at my village allotment plot a few weeks ago, covered in rust the plants looked very sorry for themselves but the bulbs were a decent size. However, a quarter of the crop was lost to rot and a fungal disease. The time had come to harvest garlic in my veg garden, I checked the plants and noticed a touch of rust, although they looked better than my allotment garlic before pulling. I used my hand fork to ease the bulbs from the soil, I was pleased to pull larger bulbs with no sign of rot.

I drape garlic over the side of the raised bed after harvesting to allow earthworms to free themselves from the roots and drop back into the soil, before dark I gather all the bulbs up and put them inside the greenhouse in trays or on racks to dry for about a week. To store garlic I hang bulbs in nets (recycled from fruit punnets or satsuma nets), or plait the garlic bulbs together to form a bunch.

Stumpy Sweetcorn

I wasn’t sure if I should bother planting the sweetcorn plants out this year. For months I nurtured and tended to them in the greenhouse; providing an extra layer of glass to increase the temperature for successful germination, covering with fleece whenever the temperature dropped ridiculously low, watering, hardening them off and whipping them in again quickly (before they blew across to my neighbour). All in all, it’s been a bit of a battle to keep them going.

Delaying planting longer than I would’ve liked, I decided to take the plunge and plant them out anyway, the worst that could happen would be instant death, rotting (drowning in the rain) or a slow wind beaten death. The sweetcorn battled through the rain, storms and gales that repeatedly battered most of the UK, despite my concerns. Although I spared the plants the worst of the weather, a combination of factors including lack of time in the ground and low light levels, unsurprisingly, contributed to their lack of height. I refer to them as ‘stumpy’ (a little over 3 feet high).

Gardening, to me, is a continuous learning process. Much like a game. It’s all about planning each sown seed and enjoying the fruits of labour when it all comes together, but, in reality, each maneuver will face challenges. There will be success and failure, mother nature will work with you and against you, sometimes all at once. But that’s one of the reasons why I love growing my own food. I appreciate what’s on my dinner plate even more.

Plenty of cobs are forming on my stumpy, heroic sweetcorn. Some of them are a decent size too. I didn’t think it possible, but maybe, just maybe (fingers crossed), I’ll be biting into delicious sweetcorn cobs this year after all. And what a tough growing year it has been.

Healing and Hoeing

I had some surgery to my right arm recently, nothing serious (I’ll be fine), but I do have strict instructions from my doctor not to do any lifting or anything strenuous. Brushing my teeth holding a toothbrush in my left hand is hilarious, it’s awkward and annoying not being able to use my right arm properly, not being able to do much in the garden is the most annoying of all.

Vintage onion hoe

I had a potter around yesterday, looking for things that I could do without over exerting myself. It didn’t take long to find a potential job, I spotted some weeds waving at me from the onion bed so I got to work on them using my onion hand hoe – in a left-handed-awkward-hoeing-motion, sort of way.

It felt good to be doing something again, once my stitches are out I can do a lot more. Yay!

Beautiful Poppy

I wish this post was about beautiful red poppies, just like the ones currently growing in the wildflower area of my veg garden. Sadly, this post is about the loss of my beautiful hen, Poppy. She had a heart attack yesterday, it was all very quick and a huge shock.

Rescued in 2009 from a battery farm, she came here as a tiny bald hen. Her feathers started to grow back, the colour returned to her once pale face and she grew in confidence. I watched, as she blossomed into one of the most beautiful hens I’ve ever cared for. Recently she bonded well with my bluebell hen, Myrtle. Typical of her calm nature.

Poppy helping herself to the brassica in the veg garden

I shall miss her terribly and I’m sure Myrtle will too.

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