Big Spawn Count 2014

common frogs mating

I’m so excited! I spotted this lovely couple in the wildlife pond early this morning, a pair of common frogs in a copulatory embrace called Amplexus. I rushed to the house to grab my camera before they disappeared. During our first spring living here we saw plenty of frog couples, but until now they had little choice but to use the large Koi pond, ending in disastrous results for the spawn.

The Koi pond

The Koi pond.

Just a few of our Koi

Just a few of our smaller Koi, the larger fish are approximately 2 feet in length.

wildlife pond

The wildlife pond in a sheltered position within the rockery, directly behind the Koi pond. A safe haven for the frog and newt community in our garden smallholding.

If this pair (or any others) spawn in the wildlife pond it will have a greater chance of becoming tadpoles, I’m especially happy because our wildlife pond is less than a year old. We decided to add an additional small pond to our garden not long after moving here, our  intention being to offer the already present frog and newt community a safe place to reproduce successfully.

Have you spotted any spawn where you are? Take part in this years Big Spawn Count and record your findings, the more people counting, the better the information to help provide more of an insight into the amorous lives of toads and frogs.

Anyone can take part in the Big Spawn Count by going to their garden or school pond, and counting the number of spawn present. You can print the form to help you complete the survey, please enter the results on-line afterwards.

http://www.freshwaterhabitats.org.uk/projects/big-spawn-count/

I’ll be watching, will you?

The Big Allotment Challenge

allotment shed

Silver River Productions, a TV company based in London are currently in production for a BBC2 primetime gardening show ‘The Big Allotment Challenge’. The series follows a handful of talented amateur kitchen gardeners as they transform a plot of earth into a patch of beauty and reveal all the wonderful possibilities that can be unlocked from allotment growing. Kitchen gardening and growing your own produce is an amazing way to live and this series celebrates that.

They are looking for contestants to feature in the series, those who have the skill and dedication and who could dig their way to victory and be crowned the winner of The Big Allotment Challenge. People who can cultivate the perfect carrot, make their green tomatoes into award winning chutney and turn their dahlias and sweet peas into floral arrangements fit for a Queen.

So whether you’re an allotment holder, a city living window box grower or a gardening enthusiast, they want to hear from you!

It couldn’t be easier to apply, all you need to do is email grow@silverriver.tv for an application form.

Good luck!

Onion Sets in Module Trays

onion sets planted early

I usually plant my onion sets straight into the ground in spring, covering with a mesh frame to keep the birds off until they’ve sprouted and developed a good root system to anchor them in. I harvest a decent crop but I do get a number of smallish bulbs despite my soil being well nourished.

onions drying

Red onions drying

Today I planted half my onion sets in module trays filled with compost (‘Red Baron’ and ‘Stuttgarter Giant’), growing them on in my unheated greenhouse. The other half will be planted out into the ground, in the usual way. The idea is to give half the sets a bit of a head start, an experiment really.

onion sets planted in module trays

onion sets in module trays

I’m curious to see if this makes any difference to the overall size of bulbs come harvest time, compared to the sets planted straight into the ground a month or so later.

onions

I’ll let you know how I get on.

The Cut Flower Patch: Grow Your Own Cut Flowers All Year Round, Book Release and Blog Giveaway!

The Cut Flower Patch jacket

I’m excited to reveal the following book release, published March 2014 by Frances Lincoln (www.franceslincoln.com | @Frances_Lincoln) priced £20.00. I’m also hosting a giveaway for this book, one lucky reader will win a copy! Yay! Read on…..

It’s a delight to have a home filled with fresh flowers, and in this new take on the subject, Louise Curley shows that a cut flower patch is the most economical  and eco-friendly way to enjoy cut flowers. Using her experience from her own cutting patch on her allotment Louise explains how, even with a small amount of space, you can grow plants to give you cutting material throughout the year.

The book describes how to embrace seasonality with cutting material using spring bulbs, summer flowers and autumn seed heads and winter hedgerow foraging for year-round arrangements.

Sustainability and caring for the environment are themes, whether it’s using locally coppiced wood for plant supports or using jars and tins from the recycling box for vases. Louise’s selection of tried and tested cut flowers are beneficial to wildlife too.

The Cut Flower Patch will help you get the most from your patch with guidance on selecting the right spot, looking after your soil and how and when to sow. There is practical advice on maintaining the plot and how best to look after your flowers once picked. It it completed by a selection of flower arranging tips and sample arrangements as well as ideas on where to find great containers, planting plans and a helpful year planner.

About the author:

Trained horticulturist Louise Curley writes for the Guardian, Grow Your Own, The Simple Things and Gardens Illustrated magazines. She started her Wellywoman Blog in 2011 and was finalist in the ‘best blog’ category at the Garden Media Guild Awards in 2012. She gardens organically and has kept an allotment for four years on which she grows all her cut flowers.

To order The Cut Flower Patch at the discounted price of £16.00 including p&p (UK only, please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas), telephone 01903 828503 or email mailorders@lbsltd.co.uk and quote the offer code APG101

Alternatively, send a cheque made payable to: LBS Mail Order Department, Littlehampton Book Services, PO Box 4264, Worthing, West Sussex, BN13 3RB. Please quote the offer code APG101 and include your name and address details.

Win a copy!

All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning a copy of this fantastic book (I have one and I love it) is leave a comment saying you’d like to be included in the draw. Giveaway competition closes midnight, March 12th 2014. Please make sure your email address is valid and entered correctly, the lucky winner will be notified via email by Frances Lincoln Limited. If the winner fails to make contact with Frances Lincoln, I will draw a new winner. I’m sorry, the competition is only available to UK addresses only.

With thanks to Jessica at Frances Lincoln Limited.

Room in the Chicken Coop

I put my name down for more rescue hens from Little Hen Rescue, the rescue took place over the weekend and I made the short journey to collect them on Sunday.

Sky img_5851MeadowBLOG

I’m gaining their trust very quickly by hand feeding and talking softly, allowing them to come to me in their own way and time. I plan to integrate them carefully with our other two rescue hens soon, once the usual hissy fits have subsided I will update again with new photos.

Hello Old Friend

allotment in winter

The allotment in winter, thanks to a mild but very wet winter, the weeds are still growing strong.

The weather continues to be dreadful, not the sort to be pottering about in gardens or allotments that’s for sure. Because of the weather I’ve avoided our allotment for weeks, today I made time to look around to check how everything was bearing up. Much to my surprise the shed still stands where we built it and our plot isn’t underwater. As I stood there examining everything, I felt that I, we, and all the other plot holders have been incredibly fortunate, the whole allotment site looks remarkably good considering. I noticed weeds growing happily, I didn’t get around to completely weeding every bed and I only covered the beds where I plan to grow potatoes. Now all I need is a little dry weather to sort this out, not a chance at the moment *rolls eyes*.

I snapped a few photos of the allotment using my phone:

self-sown broad beans in february

Broad beans growing happily (of course they are, I didn’t plant them!), sown by Mother Nature herself.

garlic february

Garlic looks great, I’m so pleased I put extra effort into weeding the garlic bed and topping it up with fresh compost and a sandy seed compost to help with drainage. I must have known…….

scabious flowering in february

Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Pink’ still flowering and showing no sign of stopping anytime soon, you’ve got to find room on your plot for a plant.

carrots eaten by wild rabbits

Naughty, naughty rabbits!!!

rhubarb patch

Timperley Early rhubarb looking great, a little frost nipped but strong and healthy.

I’ve missed our allotment, it’s like an old friend. I even miss the hurried fly by visits, you know, when life gets hectic. As it does. Roll on spring and drier weather. Please?

Let the Chitting Begin

chitting seed potatoes

At last, it feels like I’m doing something productive again. Laying seed potatoes out in trays or egg boxes to chit (encouraging the seed potatoes to sprout before planting) really is the start of the growing year for me. Some say chitting potatoes isn’t necessary, I get stupidly excited about chitting mine so I’ll carry on doing it regardless.

This year I’m planning to grow Charlotte (a salad variety) and Desiree main crop. They’re firm favourites of mine and always seem to do well on my plot.

desiree potatoes growing

By the way, I think potato flowers are utterly gorgeous…..

potato flowers

What are you planning to grow in your potato bed this year? If it ever stops raining!

National Nest Box Week 2014

bird box

National Nest Box Week (NNBW) runs from 14th February to 21st February. The aim of NNBW is to encourage everyone to put up nest boxes in their garden, allotment or local area in order to promote and enhance biodiversity and conservation of our breeding birds and wildlife. Being a big fan of helping wildlife I provide nest boxes in my garden and at my allotment, but I confess to not knowing about National Nest Box Week until now. Gasp!

bird box

Here are a few facts about National Nest Box Week:

  • NNBW is organised each year by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Britain’s leading bird research charity, whose work primarily involves studying the populations of our common and garden birds.
  • NNBW takes place each year from 14-21 February, and after 10 years it is now an established part of the ornithological calendar.
  • The founding sponsor and co-organiser of NNBW is Jacobi Jayne & Co., Britain’s nest box specialists, who created the idea of National Nest Box Week together with the late Chris Mead of the BTO.

wicker bird nesting box

To get involved and contribute to the conservation effort in the UK, simply put a bird box in your garden or any other place that you can, monitor your box and take part in the Nest Box Challenge during early spring by recording your findings online (something else I’d never heard about before, double gasp!). http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/nbc

Make your own bird/nest box using these plans: http://www.bto.org/nnbw/make.htm

To find out more about National Nest Box Week visit: http://www.bto.org/nnbw/index.htm

Goodbye My Honey

ex battery hen

Yesterday I lost one of my beautiful ex-caged hens. Honey was rescued and spared slaughter last August by a wonderful hen rescue organisation called Little Hen Rescue. She came to our garden smallholding with 2 other rescued hens and spent the rest of her time as free as a bird. She was quite a character, quickly securing position as top hen within the little flock, even trying her best to intimidate my Coral hen housed next to them, through the wire.

ex battery hen

A couple of weeks ago I noticed Honey had problems with her crop emptying properly, I kept an eye on the situation and helped her by massaging the crop contents and administering an oil to lubricate (suitable for poultry), to move the blockage along. This is important to prevent the crop contents from souring, or, becoming completely impacted. Usually this is enough to remedy the problem and for a few days it seemed to be working.

ex battery hen

Honey started to withdraw from the flock again and the crop felt doughy on inspection, I checked her over and discovered a hard lump or mass underneath her which felt a bit like an egg (although she wasn’t displaying any signs of being egg-bound). I took her to see an avian vet to be examined, the hard mass that I felt was her gizzard which was now completely blocked. We agreed to see if we could try to shift the crop and gizzard contents along by giving her Metoclopramide injections, along with a probiotic and medication to prevent sour crop. I was told that it was most likely a tumour rather than infection or any other factor causing the blockage but I wanted to try a bit longer to see if we could turn the situation around. I brought her inside permanently to keep her warm, looked after her and prayed for a miracle.

ex battery hen

Despite my best efforts of nursing Honey, she deteriorated very quickly within a few days. Her crop and gizzard contents had not responded to treatment and she was frightfully thin and very weak. Another appointment to see the vet was made, after seeing and examining her again the mutual decision was made to give her sleep to end any suffering, allowing her to pass away peacefully and humanely.

ex battery hen

I’m comforted by the fact that she escaped the egg industry and a grisly ending, that she free-ranged and felt the sun on her back and grass between her toes. Anyone who gives a home to these girls knows they have unique personalities, you want them to live an unusually long and happy life.

Honey when she first arrived from the egg farm

Honey when she first arrived from the egg farm

chicken orchard

Honey looking much healthier just a few weeks later

Goodbye Honey, thank you for the laughs and cuddles. You were one funny, feisty little hen. Fly free x

To find out more about Little Hen Rescue, forthcoming rescue dates or how to donate to help fund rescue running costs, please visit their website: http://littlehenrescue.co.uk

Charles Dowding’s Veg Journal Book Review

Charles Dowding's Veg Journal

Just before Christmas I was asked if I would like to review a copy of Charles Dowding’s Veg Journal, expert no-dig advice, month by month. Charles Dowding’s mantra of ‘little and often’ in my opinion is key to successfully maintaining or taming an allotment or vegetable patch. The book is arranged into practical monthly sections, providing simple steps and seasonal checklists to plan a year of vegetable growing that you’ll want to refer to time and time again. Crammed full of expert advice throughout, the book offers what you’d expect and more such as detailed information on growing vegetables, herbs and salad leaves successfully, monthly jobs and key dates for sowing and harvesting, tackling weeds and pests, making sweet-smelling compost, understanding the techniques used to get the most out of the space you garden with and sections explaining the no-dig approach and how it works. Charles Dowding is the UK’s leading no-dig expert.

Overall I’m very impressed with Charles Dowding’s Veg Journal, the photography throughout is utterly gorgeous and the book is compact in size (210 x 150 mm) making it easy to carry around. A sturdy hardback cover and textured pages give the book a quality feel. The colour-coded pages are useful for quick reference (green pages for ‘how to’ tips on growing vegetables, herbs and salad leaves, orange pages for information on no-dig gardening and beige pages for everything else). The monthly layout ensures no activity is overlooked and there are lined pages for you to jot down your own notes. The book is suitable for the absolute beginner while still catering for the experienced veg grower. I have a lot of books that I still dip into from time to time but only a few are firm favourites, Veg Journal now being one of them.

I’m thrilled to own a copy.

Publish date 6th February 2014 by Frances Lincoln (www.franceslincoln.com | @Frances_Lincoln) and priced £14.99. I am pleased to be able to offer my readers a copy at the discounted price of £12.00 including p&p UK only (add £2.50 to purchase price if ordering from overseas). Telephone 01903 828503 or email mailorders@lbsltd.co.uk and quote the offer code APG69

Alternatively, send a cheque made payable to:

Littlehampton Book Services Mail Order Department,

Littlehampton Book Services,

PO Box 4264,

Worthing, West Sussex

BN13 3RB

Please quote the offer code APG69 and include your name and address details.

About the author:

Charles Dowding grew up on a dairy farm in Somerset. After graduating from Cambridge he worked for a hotel in the Inner Hebrides before starting to grow organic vegetables commercially on the family farm in the early 1980s. In 1990 he left behind what was by then a large market garden to live in France and Zambia. Returning to Somerset in the mid 1990s, he established a bed and breakfast and vegetable growing business at Lower Farm in Shepton Montague, Somerset. There, Charles’s salad bags were the main output from his two-acre garden of permanent raised beds and fruit trees. Charles runs vegetable-growing courses and lectures and writes books on his unique growing techniques. Since 2012 Charles has begun a new garden at in Alhampton, Somerset which he has designed using no-dig principles, and with many experiments into different ways of growing. www.charlesdowding.co.uk

With thanks to Jessica at The Aurum Publishing Group.

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