I’m coming out of my blogging hibernation, it’s been a while since I’ve visited the plot let alone post about it. And I’m feeling guilty. I trundled off to the allotment at the weekend to tackle a really difficult bed (we all have one area that’s the bane of our lives don’t we?). Brambles, bindweed, creeping buttercup and couch grass greeted me. Gah! My heart sank, but I got on with the job of clearing it of top growth and roots, digging over and topping with manure. It really helped to lift my spirits but I soon felt achy so decided to make the move home before my back give way completely. But before I left I took photos of the prettiest part of the plot, all the summer flowers are still in full swing including a lovely sunflower alongside tired ones. I did really well with the sunflowers this year, using seed a friend sent to me. There’s plenty of butternut squash to harvest and little pumpkins, lovely big marrows (I grow them for the chickens mainly) and here’s my second year attempt at a giant pumpkin…. …..didn’t quite work but it’s the best size I’ve grown yet so I’m happy with that.
Posted by The Garden Smallholder on September 30, 2014
Our allotment drew lots of attention and admiration during the height of summer, the new cutting area dominated and stole the show with punchy colours of wildflower cornflower and Eschscholzia ‘Orange King’, purchased from Sarah Raven of whom I am a big fan. Other plot holders would stop me from working to compliment on the dazzling display of flowers and continuous hum of bees. As luck would have it, Frances Lincoln publishers contacted me to ask if I would like to review a copy of Sarah Raven’s Cutting Garden Journal. I’m eager to extend my knowledge and confidence with our cut flower patch and having Sarah Raven’s journal to hand will be really useful, so of course I agreed to be sent a copy.
Sarah Raven’s Cutting Garden Journal is compact and easy to carry, the front cover features Sarah Raven clutching a beautiful arrangement of flowers from her cutting garden. The journal takes you through the necessary steps to design and create the perfect cutting garden, with helpful monthly sections to include jobs for the month, flowers of the month and a monthly flower project. The journal provides detailed information on dates for sowing, planting advice, propagating, forcing and cutting.
Sarah’s arranging tips and techniques along with advice on equipment, conditioning and aftercare of your flowers will see you making your own arrangements in next to no time. There are step-by-step instructions with photos to help you create a mixed arrangement and wall hanging winter medallion, which is my personal favourite. The only nit pick I have with the journal is the style of photography used for the flower displays, it’s not to my taste but that’s just my opinion and in no way spoils the enjoyment or use of the journal.
Sarah Raven’s Cutting Garden Journal will help to get the most out of your cut flower garden, creating a garden to offer plenty of interesting flowers and foliage throughout the year to create dazzling seasonal flower displays.
A hardback book and priced £14.99, I’m delighted to offer my readers the following discount:
About the author:
Sarah Raven is a writer, cook, broadcaster and teacher, running cooking, flower arranging and gardening courses from her farm in East Sussex.
Posted by The Garden Smallholder on September 4, 2014
One of our ex battery hens went broody about a month or so ago. Since then most of my time has been spent looking after a very moody hen, trying to ‘break’ her broodiness by removing her nesting material and locking her out of the coop to stop her from sitting (I failed, she sat in the dust bath trug instead, or, the floor would do), eventually searching for hatching eggs and then frantically driving a long distance to a friend for two-day old chicks.
At first, I didn’t think she’d actually bother to sit for long due to being selectively bred to never feel the urge to raise a brood. It was a surprise she’d gone broody in the first place and I didn’t think she’d see it through. But I was very wrong. She sat dedicated on an empty nest, turning invisible eggs and clucking. Seeing her like this I decided to allow her the right to raise chicks herself, I guess I’m a bit of a soft touch with this hen. I refused to carry out some of the usual tricks to break a broody hen, such as dunking her in cold water or putting her into a cage (the very thing that traumatised her), so I got her some eggs to hatch instead. Don’t get me wrong this was not an easy decision to make, hatching boys doesn’t sit comfortably with me. I’d never cull a chick for being male so I had to think very carefully about what I was going to do if she hatched cockerels. As cute as chicks are, hatching is not something I’ve yearned to do as a chicken keeper.
I found a great home for 2 cockerels and I was prepared to keep one if it came to it. The lady who I bought the eggs from offered to take any remaining boys if my hen hatched all males, with the absolute promise she wouldn’t cull. I had all bases covered and my conscience felt better, so I went ahead and placed the eggs under her, marking 21 days on a calendar. ‘Pumpkin’ is the type of broody that will not leave the nest herself, she wouldn’t defecate regularly or eat, drink or dust bathe. She’d just sit there in a trance, dreaming of becoming a mother. This left me with the job of looking after her health, hygiene and well-being closely, each morning I’d lift her off her nest (much to her disgust) and wait for her to poop, then I would hand feed her until she refused my tasty offerings. She wouldn’t drink either, so I fed her halved grapes and over ripe strawberries to prevent her from becoming dehydrated. I placed a little bowl of food and grapes right by her nest, sometimes she’d eat a little more and sometimes she wouldn’t, eyeing it suspiciously before pushing it away from her precious nest.
A week into sitting she accidentally broke an egg, I cleared everything away for her and she continued to be a dedicated mum-to-be. Day 20 came and 2 eggs started to hatch, sadly both chicks didn’t make it, the hatching process went wrong and they died while still partially inside their shell. I guess Pumpkin didn’t move at all as the chicks struggled to free themselves, she sat very tightly. It was sad, what should have been a happy and exciting moment quickly turned to disaster. Pumpkin continued to sit but the 2 remaining eggs didn’t pip ( I tried to candle them but failed miserably, I guess I worried too much each time I removed an egg and my hands would shake so much each time Pumpkin screeched at me I was worried sick I’d drop them). I could smell sulphur (rotten egg) and the other egg just didn’t hatch at all. This left me with a huge problem, Pumpkin had been broody for over a month now and she was losing so much weight and condition, she wanted to be a mum, she’d seen this process through and was still sitting, waiting. I couldn’t possibly allow her to sit for a further 21 days on a new batch of eggs, I worried I’d end up with a dead hen and to be honest I was completely put off. There was only one thing to do, I’d have to get her some chicks to adopt.
I found out I could get some sex-link chicks from a friend who occasionally takes surplus chicks from a hatchery, these chicks were destined to end up in the very place their potential mother had been. I drove the long distance to collect these unwanted children for Pumpkin, and listened to the advice given very carefully. When I got home I made sure the chicks had food and water and a good rest under a heat lamp. I waited till it was very dark outside and took the babies to Pumpkin’s nest. I put the babies under her, removing the remaining eggs underneath as I did. No torch, no speaking, just a quick switch over and then walk away. This filled me with absolute dread, it was quite possibly one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. If it went well it would solve a whole heap of problems, not just breaking my hen of her broodiness that would eventually make her very weak, but she could have company at last. Pumpkin is a traumatised hen from her time in the battery cages, described as one of the worst cases the rescue had ever seen. She screamed like a child for over a month, afraid of everything. Eventually she turned this fear into aggression and I’ve had a hell of a time trying to integrate her with other hens. She just wouldn’t accept any of them and was extremely aggressive to the point of being quite dangerous. The broodiness being an added problem to deal with.
I didn’t sleep much the night I put chicks under Pumpkin, I went out to her nest as soon as it as light enough to see. As I lifted the lid of her coop my heart was hammering, because of her temperament and unpredictability I was terrified I’d find dead or injured chicks. I was greeted by the sight and sounds of Pumpkin happily clucking, with four little heads poking through her feathers. What a huge relief! I spoke softly to her, telling her what a clever girl she was, as far as she was concerned she’d hatched those babies and they were hers. I placed some food and a drinker inside the coop, locked it back up and left them to bond further. I went back to bed for a couple of hours, I was exhausted!
The chicks will be 2 weeks old this week, they’ve grown so much and Pumpkin is a brilliant mum. She adopted the chicks without any problems, and she’s calmer than ever. I’m hoping she’ll want to continue to live with her daughters once they’ve grown, they have plenty of space but I guess it’s just a waiting game to see how this works out.
Posted by The Garden Smallholder on June 23, 2014
Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC) Awareness Week 12th – 18th May 2014
I was asked to take part in Tea and SCones for TSC blog tour, to raise awareness of Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC), and of course I was delighted to help.
Tuberous Sclerosis Complex is a rare genetic condition that can cause epilepsy, learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder and renal problems; those affected may also have tumours on vital organs. There is currently no cure for TSC, so the Tuberous Sclerosis Association (TSA) is inviting the nation to host Tea and SCones for TSC parties to raise fund and awareness.
Over the weekend I had my very own tea and scones at the allotment, with rhubarb jam. The weather was a bit chilly and very windy but the tea soon warmed me up (I would’ve taken a photo of the allotment scenery but to be honest I didn’t think my weedy plot would be of interest!). I’m a little bit in love with the rhubarb jam I made so I thought I’d share the recipe on the blog, it’s a great way to enjoy rhubarb all year round. If you can manage to eat rhubarb without scrunching your face, then, and only then, will you love this jam. It’s seriously rhubarb(y) and definitely not for wimps.
(makes approximately 4-5 jars depending on size)
1 Kg Rhubarb (forced or unforced stems)
850 g Jam sugar
Cut the rhubarb stems into inch pieces, add sugar and rhubarb pieces in layers to a large pan, leave the pan overnight to allow the rhubarb juices and sugar to combine to make a syrup. The following day, bring the pan to a steady boil (stirring occasionally before boiling point). Boil for 6-7 minutes then test for setting point by using a sugar thermometer or wrinkle test on a chilled plate (place a small amount of jam on a chilled plate using a teaspoon, push the jam across the plate with your fingernail, if the jam wrinkles then your jam should set well). When setting point is reached remove pan from the heat and rest for a few minutes before pouring the jam into clean warm jars. Personally, I don’t add anything else because I’m a true rhubarb fan, but you could add ginger. If you’re a wimp.
If you’re interested in hosting your own Tea and Scones for TSC party to raise funds and awareness, visit tuberous-sclerosis.org.uk for more information, and share your photos and recipes with @UKTSA #TeaandSCones
Money raised from the tea parties will help the TSA support affected families and fund much-needed medical research. If you have time, please check out the following fab blogs, also taking part in the blog tour:
Me and my Shadow (scheduled Friday 16th May)
Posted by The Garden Smallholder on May 15, 2014
Kitchen Garden Experts combines growing tips and delicious recipes by celebrated chefs and their head gardeners at twenty of the UK’s most exciting restaurants, hotels, pubs and cafés, making this a must have book for foodies and growers too. Published 1st May 2014 by Frances Lincoln, foreword by Raymond Blanc, author Cinead McTernan is a horticulturally trained writer and gardening editor of The Simple Things magazine. The book boasts beautiful and inspiring photography throughout by award-winning photographer Jason Ingram, who has worked on numerous garden and food magazines.
This insightful book throws open the gates to the kitchen gardens of Britain’s best chefs and their head gardeners, from Terence Conran and Raymond Blanc to River Cottage and L’Enclume. Each chef and gardener welcomes you to explore their beautiful kitchen gardens through Jason’s superb photographs, and to discover the growing tips and methods used to produce the fruit and vegetables appearing on their menus.
Tried and trusted kitchen garden secrets are revealed from each restaurant, to make growing your own just that little bit easier. Growing information for many varieties of vegetables, fruits and herbs makes this a very useful book for gardeners, with access to 40 signature dishes and 20 mouth-watering recipes to delight the foodie in you. Try the recipes yourself at home or book a table at a featured restaurant to taste the flavour of fresh seasonal produce – made easy by the number coded regions and UK map at the beginning of the book and contact details at the back.
Raymond Blanc OBE is a chef at the forefront of the ‘gardening for taste’ revolution and has opened the kitchen garden at his restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire, for many years.
Kitchen Garden Experts is a hardback book and priced £2o.00, I’m delighted to offer my readers the following discount:
To order Kitchen Garden Experts at the discounted price of £16.00 including p&p* (RRP: £20.00), telephone 01903 828503 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and quote the offer code APG130.
Posted by The Garden Smallholder on April 24, 2014
Our allotment site is fenced with chicken wire to prevent rabbits from entering from the railway and fields beyond. As predicted, rabbits are finding ways to get in, along with deer. It was soon obvious that all the plots would benefit from being fenced too, around half of the plots are now protected but those that aren’t are having problems with crops being eaten, including ours.
Last year the little fuzzy butts ate all the carrot tops (then dug some of them, up scattering them everywhere), dug a whacking great hole in the potato bed and pooped all over the plot. This year, rabbits or deer munched garlic tops down to the stalks and damaged fruit bushes. I’m all for wildlife but enough is enough!
Last weekend Rich and I put a fence around our plot using chicken wire and wooden posts, stapling the wire onto the edges of the raised beds and paths to stop anything from digging under. I’ve visited our plot everyday this week and cannot see any further damage. We covered the garlic over with wire frames about a month ago and it’s recovering nicely now. The funny thing is, I thought I’d hate having a fence around the plot, in actual fact I quite like it. It makes the plot feel more like our little place, without losing the feel of community gardening or shutting our neighbours out. And our crops are a little bit harder to get at.
Posted by The Garden Smallholder on April 17, 2014
My tomato seedlings are at the stage where they need to part company with their seedling buddies and move into larger accommodation on their own. When the second pair of true leaves emerge they’re ready for potting on.
When potting on tomato seedlings plant deeper than they were previously to encourage a better root system, this helps with watering during the summer months and helps to create a stronger plant all round. Don’t be afraid to bury them up to their necks, they’ll soon start growing tall again. Depending on the time of year you may need to re-pot again before planting to final positions, again plant deeper.
As usual I have an obscene amount of young plants, far more than I need but I always find good homes for them. This year I’m growing ‘Sungold’, ‘Cherry Red’, Gardener’s Delight’, ‘Money Maker’ and ‘Tigerella’ varieties.
When the time comes to plant my tomatoes to their final positions, they go inside the greenhouse in deep containers. I feed with liquid comfrey and mulch the surface of the containers with comfrey leaves to slow down evaporation of moisture, saving me time with watering. As the leaves break down they enrich the soil where the surface roots are.
Fingers crossed for a great summer, I’m looking forward to tasty home-grown tomatoes.
Posted by The Garden Smallholder on April 8, 2014
We haven’t done very well with growing carrots at the allotment, our plot in its 3rd year of being worked (previously uncultivated land) is still quite troublesome in places due to heavy clay soil. Carrots prefer light soil, growth will become stunted if grown in heavy soil resulting in stumpy carrots come harvest time. Some of our raised beds have better soil than others, growing potatoes (helps to break up stubborn soil) and adding organic matter has helped with improving the soil structure, but not quite enough to grow carrots successfully, it seems.
Being reasonably inexpensive to buy and readily available all year round, am I ever tempted not to grow my own carrots? It’s true they are fussy little blighters when it comes to soil type, making them tricky or almost impossible to grow for some. So are they really worth my time and effort? For me, the taste of a home-grown carrot is superior to any mass-produced, shop bought, plastic bag carrot. I don’t mind them being forked (some shapes are hilarious!) and I enjoy the sensation of pulling carrots that I’ve grown from the earth, a sweet carroty aroma drifts in the air with each satisfying pull. Soft, feathery leaves sway in the gentlest breeze making carrots an attractive crop to grow. For these reasons, I think carrots are well worth growing.
This year we’re determined to grow some decent allotment carrots, like these….grown in our previous vegetable garden.
To solve our heavy soil problem we identified a raised bed with soil that had improved the most and filled it right up to the top with good quality compost. Pushing my hand down into the compost to check the depth, my entire hand and wrist were buried deeply before my fingers found the heavier soil. This should be deep enough for our carrots to be happy. Finally, I covered the rows with plastic tunnel cloches to keep the soil warm, helping the seeds to germinate.
Carrots can also be grown in containers of compost, try using large plant pots or get creative and thrifty by using things like trugs, barrels, crates, toy boxes, car tyres or emptied water butts with the bottom removed. As long as the soil is light and the container is reasonably deep (don’t forget drainage holes), just place it in the sunshine and you’ll be pulling carrots of your own.
Posted by The Garden Smallholder on April 6, 2014
Yesterday we planted new fruit trees in the orchard, much later than we’d planned due to weather conditions making the ground too boggy to dig. There are 9 mature fruit trees that make our orchard so enchanting (especially now, as the blossom starts to show), but we wanted to add a few trees of our own.
We planted Granny Smith apple, Scrumptious apple, Cox’s Orange Pippin apple and my absolute favourite, Bramley’s Seedling apple. This will become a very large tree and who knows, perhaps our future grandchildren will climb it someday! We have space for another Greengage or two which we are looking to buy soon, sadly our old Greengage tree is leaning dangerously and crumbling away at the base, so this will probably have to be removed at some point due to it being a potential hazard.
Posted by The Garden Smallholder on April 4, 2014
This is plot 29E, a half plot on our village allotments and 3 plots in a line away from ours (can you see our blue shed in the distance?).
The previous gardener sadly passed away and the plot left unworked for a long time, crops such as shallots, leek and garlic are still in situ, waiting patiently to be harvested.
Nobody wants plot 29E so we’ve agreed to take it on. We plan to grow soft fruit bushes, rhubarb, fruit canes and strawberries, also pollinator friendly flowers dotted about here and there to attract bees and butterflies.
I enjoy making jams, they’re very popular with our family and friends. Our garden smallholding is too boggy and shady in places to grow fruit bushes and canes successfully (although our orchard is amazing), the allotment is perfect with its open sunny position.
Recycled wood will be used to make raised beds, seeing as the plot will be permanently planted it shouldn’t be too much of a problem with the general care and weeding. I feel this is the ideal way to use this unwanted small plot, eventually it will help to keep our larder cupboard full of jams and offer wildlife a helping hand too.
Posted by The Garden Smallholder on April 2, 2014