Vegetable Garden

What’s Growing on in January

I love writing these monthly catch ups on our kitchen garden, documenting the activities and plans. It’s a good excuse to get the camera out and really study the garden changing throughout the year. I use these posts as a reminder to look back on too.

January is usually a hard month for a lot of people, the weather hasn’t helped lift moods being so gloomy and dark. Threatening skies, murky and damp, I’m surprised some of our hens have come back into lay so soon.

But there are signs of good things to come. Take our rhubarb for example, it’s just starting to burst into life again after a brief moment of dormancy. It may not look much right now but in just a few weeks, it will. It’ll be all blushing stalks and leaves as big as dinner plates.

Go rhubarb!

If you want a super early rhubarb that tastes great and makes beautiful jams then Timperley Early is a great addition to your vegetable garden or allotment. It reappears soon after being dormant in autumn, pushing egg-like buds through the soil as early as December. Superb for forcing, it crops so early naturally you can pull it unforced late February to Early March. It’s not the heaviest cropping rhubarb but well worth growing for early cropping.

We’re still pulling some lovely roots from the carrot and parsnip beds. Autumn King carrots over winter in our garden and of course parsnips taste even sweeter after a good frosting. Long and straight parsnips from a no dig bed in its second year, not bad at all!

Kale ‘Nero Di Toscana’ (black Tuscan kale) has served us well throughout winter, the plants now resemble mini exotic palm trees with bare stems and leafy tops. Double rows of broad bean seedlings continue to grow well, protected under tunnel cloches from the destruction of chicken beaks and feet.

New growth sprouting at the base of the blackcurrants.

Our Brahma chickens enjoying some free time in the vegetable garden. When spring arrives and seed sowing begins the chickens are kept out using barrier mesh fencing.

I spotted some frogs in the wildlife pond preparing to attract a mate for spawning soon. We love the call of the males, we should start to hear it by next month.

We plan to sow chillies and tomatoes indoors in seed trays very soon, potting on throughout spring as needed. We do this every year with great results, eventually planting healthy and sturdy plants into the greenhouse towards the end of May, once night-time temperatures are steady enough.

I’m looking forward to putting a seed order or two in soon, it’s so exciting waiting for seed packets to arrive. I always try to grow either a new variety or something completely new to our garden each growing year, this year I’m thinking about growing Oca for the first time. Exciting!

Do you plan to grow something new this year?

Vegetable Garden

Beany Babies

January is such a bleak and dreary month, it also happens to be the month of our birthdays. Oh I do envy the summer-born, the endless possibilities for outdoor celebrations. The ground is sodden in our garden at the moment, it’s bitterly cold too – no garden birthday parties for us.

I do try my hardest to stay off the squelchy garden paths but I’m weak, I love to mooch around the garden prodding and poking for signs of life. I took a quick peek at the raised beds, trying to be as light-footed as possible.

Snug under the tunnel cloches the first seeds of the new growing year are up, six rows with two rows per tunnel of baby broad beans. I find using tunnel cloches so useful for overwintering and keeping crops safe from pigeons and our chickens. Only a couple of seeds failed to set but that’s fine, I always sow more than necessary and thin out later if need be.

Caulk Wight garlic we planted in November is very noticeable now, with Red Duke just starting to push through. If they all come up we’ll have around 90 bulbs of garlic to harvest in summer.

I’m giddy with excitement for the growing year ahead. There are a couple of hurdles for me to get over first but I’m so looking forward to being outside, sowing seeds and drinking tea in the sunshine.

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Happy New Year 2018

This year has been a tricky year for me with regards to my health. As some of you are already aware I had surgery in June which meant I couldn’t spend much time at all in my beloved vegetable garden during the best part of summer. The garden and blog were neglected and so the best part of autumn has been spent getting the veg beds and paths under control –  which we managed to do before all the heavy snow arrived!
I’m scheduled for major surgery in a few weeks time but I plan to be fighting fit and back on my feet in the greenhouse sowing the first seeds of spring as soon as I can (I might be a little late with it all depending on how I feel but everything catches up eventually!). I look forward to reading blogs and watching YouTube channels to see what you’ve all been up to in your gardens, allotments and smallholdings as I recover.
As this year comes to a close I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for following our small but precious backyard farm / garden smallholding journey, not just on the blog but via social media too. I wish you all a happy 2018 and a great growing year ahead.
 All the very best, Karen x
Village Life

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Very early this morning we woke to this beautiful scene.

Our sleepy village, view from our window.

Heavy snow fell through the early hours, covering our village (and most of the UK) in a white blanket.

I don’t like snow. Yes it’s pretty to look at, but for me the novelty soon wears off.

Buried veg beds

The roofing to the walk-in chicken runs need attention, well, they need completely replacing to be fair and weight bearing snow really didn’t help matters, but we managed to clear most of it off the sheeting before it turns to ice and completely buckles the structures. This all took quite a bit of time today and our toes and fingers were really throbbing. The chickens were very suspicious of the snow and dull white sky, choosing to spend time inside the coops, sulking.

However, at least one member of the garden smallholding enjoyed it…..

Terrible photo of one very happy German Shepherd!

She loved every moment of the snow, she’s sprawled out on the sofa snoring now.

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Christmas Tree Decorating

Last weekend we collected our tree from Stagsden Christmas Trees. A local family run business, we go there every year and just adore their Christmas shop.

I love decorating the tree, it’s one of the things I love most about Christmas. Our collection of tree ornaments has grown considerably since we first started buying them, right before the birth of our first child, over 20 years ago.

We have chickens on our tree, they’re just gorgeous and handmade by Funky Chicken Gifts

Vegetable Garden

Sowing in the Wind

The weather has been very blustery since yesterday and it looks set to continue today. The chickens are not fans of the wind blowing up their skirts, especially the fluffy gang…

The sun was shining earlier so I got on with planting broad beans in the cold wind. I don’t mind so much when I’m working in the vegetable garden, it’s the only time the weather doesn’t bother me, although I had to hold on tight to my seed packet!

kitchen garden, vegetable garden,

Broad bean ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ are a hardy variety, perfect for direct sowing in autumn right through to January if the soil isn’t frozen or water-logged. Our seeds go straight into the ground in a deep raised bed, the soil warmed with tunnel cloches for a few weeks before sowing. I sow double rows and use more seeds than needed to allow for failures, then cover with tunnel cloches to aid germination. The cloches remain in place and lifted only to water if the soil becomes too dry, as the seedlings grow taller we remove them.

The tunnel cloches are simply lengths of plastic corrugated sheeting slid into metal cloche hoops. The hoops are pushed down into the soil to anchor the sheets in place, keeping the soil warm and protecting the crop from weather and pests such as pigeons. Or in our case, chickens.

Seeds tucked safe and warm under tunnel cloches

The idea of sowing hardy broad beans in autumn is to get an earlier crop and avoid blackfly, in our experience we really only get a few weeks head start at most before the spring sown beans start producing. However I enjoy the anticipation of seedlings bursting into life through the soil, while everything else around them is taken by winters firm grip.

Growing broad beans from autumn onwards can be a challenge, nurturing the plants through the bleakest months can be tricky with cruel winds and heavy snow at the ready to scupper your plans. Some winters are easier than others, but I came up with a nifty idea for protecting plants through gales – wind break panels made from plastic sheeting, fashioned together using garden wire and garden canes. Heavy snow is far trickier to control if the plants are particularly tall, we’ve had plants literally collapse and snap low down during tough winters. When this happens the plants eventually produce shoots from the base and continue growing, but they’re never as good.

There’s always spring to fall back on of course, but I rather like a challenge.

Chicken Health

Poultry Worms

From time to time your chickens will get worms, and not just the juicy kind they find in the garden. They’ll also get intestinal worms. Icky. Poultry worms are a common occurrence, especially if your flock free range frequently. I realise this is a gross subject, but if you keep chickens then you should learn to recognise the signs of a worm problem in your flock and how to treat when it does occur. I’ve included a few tips on how to go about preventing them too.

How do chickens get worms?

  • Eating worm egg hosts such as earthworms and snails
  • Picking up worm eggs from the ground via infected poultry droppings

Signs to look out for:

  • Dirty feathers around the vent / diarrhoea
  • Anaemia (pale combs and wattles)
  • Visible worms in droppings
  • Drop in egg production
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of condition

Poultry worms you may come across:

Large roundworm is a very visible (when out of the body) and long worm that lives in the small intestine. We’ve come across them before when bringing new chickens in, they look rather like spaghetti – sorry pasta lovers! The worm burrows into the gut wall which causes inflammation and damage if left untreated, reducing the intake of nutrients. A bird passing live worms in the droppings is heavily infected.

chicken worms, poultry worms
Large roundworm passed a couple of days after worming with Flubenvet. I hope you haven’t just had your tea.

Hairworm is a small worm about the width of a hair, hence the name. Found in the upper digestive system such as the crop, hairworm can cause a lot of internal damage, even in small numbers. Signs are green diarrhoea and anaemia with birds hunched and looking unwell.

Caecal worm is found in the caecum of chickens. Tiny little worms, they can be seen wriggling in caecal droppings. They’re quite common and usually harmless to healthy chickens in low numbers. If a natural worming approach doesn’t clear them (see below) then a medicated poultry wormer may be needed.

Tapeworm rarely affect chickens, however they can and live in the intestine. Tapeworm segments can be seen in the droppings, they’re odd tubular things that sort of wiggle a bit, only once in all our years of chicken keeping have we seen this. The hen was treated by a vet for a stronger dose of wormer. If you are concerned your chicken has tapeworm then you should seek veterinary advice.

Gapeworm is commonly seen in pheasants and turkeys, but they also affect chickens. The blood-red worms attach themselves to the trachea (throat), causing gasping (gaping) and neck stretching as the chicken struggles to breathe. Left untreated, they can be fatal by suffocation. They can be picked up from other birds coughing up the adult worms or via hosts such as earthworms and snails.

Control and treatment of poultry worms:

  • Frequently move free ranging birds / moveable runs to fresh ground
  • Add a couple of crushed garlic cloves to the drinking water to create a hostile environment in the gut
  • Inspect droppings, including caecal droppings for visible signs of worms
  • Heat, drought and a hard frost can destroy worm eggs or prevent them from maturing
  • Keep grass short during summer to allow UV from sunlight to destroy eggs
  • Include herbs in your flocks diet for a natural approach to worming
  • Feed raw pumpkin/squash seeds, they contain cucurbitin, an amino acid that can eliminate parasitic worms such as tapeworm and roundworm. There are varying opinions on this method of worming, we don’t have much evidence it actually works.
  • If worms are frequently seen in the droppings or a faecal sample is positive for worms, we recommend feeding Marriage’s layers pellets with added Flubenvet for 7 days as a really easy way of worming your flock. Available from licensed stockists.

We worm our chickens twice a year with Flubenvet, usually autumn and spring when conditions are right for worm eggs to thrive (warm and wet). We always worm new additions to our flock as a precaution. A heavy worm burden will impair the health of the bird by robbing them of important nutrients, if left for a long period of time, worms can damage the digestive tract of the birds which can lead to other infections.

Vegetable Garden

A Sunny November Afternoon

The sun was shining today, so we grabbed the opportunity to plant some garlic and carry on with the autumn tidy up.

Recent morning frosts claimed the last of our late summer planting of Czar runners. Before the frost hit, the dense foliage hid some fat bean pods, we always miss some, they’re too tough for eating but the beans inside are fine for cooking fresh.

While Rich got on with cutting down the runners I plunged 60 cloves of our home-grown Red Duke garlic into the soil, wished them well, then tucked them in for winter. I love the smell of garlic, especially when it meets the soil.

Red Duke is our favourite variety of garlic to grow. Over the past 2 years of growing it we’ve now accumulated enough of our own garlic for planting, with plenty of bulbs left over for kitchen use before harvesting the new crop next summer.

We decided to try another variety of garlic this year too, Caulk Wight is a purple striped garlic found in Russia and Eastern Europe. The seed garlic should be arriving soon which means more planting to look forward to!

If you’d like to learn how to grow your own garlic, take a look at our garlic growing guide https://thegardensmallholder.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/how-to-grow-garlic/

brussels sprouts
Vegetable Garden

It’s Funny How Tastes Change

As a child I hated Brussels sprouts. With a screwed up face I’d gingerly chew in slow motion, desperately thinking of a way to avoid swallowing the evil things. Of course they were in my mouth far longer than they should have been, so I’d end up gagging, mouth foaming with different shades of sprouty green. There were probably lots of tears too, followed by pitiful wailing in the hope mum would spare me.

Fast forward lots of years and I absolutely adore sprouts now. I grow them, cook them and happily eat them, especially raw straight off the plants. I can almost hear my inner child spewing. I admit I also pushed sprouts on our kids, but I think most parents introduce their children to these ‘yucky’ green balls at some point. Our daughter likes them now as a young adult but our teenage son is probably scarred for life.

brussels sprouts

I’m picking the first sprouts of the season now, ‘Seven Hills’ is a rare sprout that is almost extinct which makes them even more delicious! I got my seeds from Real Seeds if you’d like to give them a go next year.

chicken moult
Chicken Health

Chicken Moult

Around this time of year, when our chickens are going through their late autumn moult, coops and pens resemble a chicken crime scene. Huge bundles of feathers strewn everywhere!

For the new chicken keeper, experiencing chicken moult can be alarming! When your flock decide it’s time for a change of clothes feathers literally drop out overnight – covering the bedding on the coop floor. Sometimes a soft moult is all that’s needed, just an area of the body here and there, these partial moults often go on unnoticed, but when a hard moult is going on your chickens will look really scruffy for a while, perhaps even naked. Late summer to early winter is usually the time for moult but it can occur at anytime of the year. Your chickens may all go into a moult together or just 1 or 2 at a time.

It may not be noticeable, but our Brahma girls are going through their first adult moult now and looking a little scruffy in places – feet included!

Moult is necessary to replace old and worn feathers in order to be in the best possible condition to keep warm in winter. Most chickens go through a moult without any issues but for others it can be hard going, thankfully there are things you can do to help your flock through it. Chicken feathers are composed mostly of keratin (a protein responsible for the strength of wool, hair, fingernails and hooves), so it’s a good idea to increase protein intake during the moult. Our girls love protein-rich dried mealworms scattered around or mixed in with the usual feed, we like to add them to a warm mash on a cold morning. Boiled eggs cut into chunks to disguise (you don’t want to encourage egg eating after all!), peas and sunflower seeds are good for protein too. These treats should be fed in moderation as and when needed for moulting chickens and not replace the usual feed. Adding tonics to the drinking water will help give a boost in vitamins and minerals, we recommend Life-Guard poultry tonic.

A hen going through a hard moult will either significantly reduce the amount of eggs she lays or stop altogether, putting all her energy into growing new feathers rather than producing eggs. You may even find the occasional soft-shelled egg while a moult is occurring, this should correct itself once the moult is over.

chicken moult
One of our Lohmann Brown hens going through a hard moult, she shed most of her feathers within 48 hours and now she’s covered with pin feathers. She’ll look beautiful again very soon, just in time for winter.

New feathers coming through are known as ‘pin feathers’, they look like blueish spikes pushing through the surface of the bare skin. Try to avoid picking your chickens up during this time, pressure on pin feathers can be quite painful for them. Pin feathers can be very attractive to other chickens, they really bleed if pecked! Keep an eye out for feather pecking problems and use purple spray (also known as gentian violet spray ) as an antiseptic and to help disguise red areas (chickens are very attracted to the colour red, particularly blood) to discourage further pecking, separate if it becomes a real problem to avoid damage or worse.

Vegetable Garden

What’s Growing On In November?

I realise I haven’t done a monthly ‘What’s Growing On’ post for such a long time. Here we are in November, the kitchen garden a very different scene to my post back in March.

Apart from the winter veg, most of the veg beds are tired. Gone are the fresh greens and flower buds of summer, crispy brown foliage and weedy soil greets me now. Our pallet bins produced dark and crumbly compost over many months, I still find this a joyous thing! This fresh compost will soon top each bed as it becomes empty and weed-free, making a nutritious winter blanket.

The summer and tender crops may be over but there’s still plenty of food available in our veg garden.

We’re currently harvesting the following:

  • Carrot ‘Autumn King’
  • Parsnip ‘Gladiator’
  • Kale ‘Nero di Toscana’
  • Brussels sprouts ‘Seven Hills’
  • Beetroot ‘Boltardy’ and ‘Sanguina’
  • Tomato ‘Ruby’ (greenhouse, mostly green fruits now)
  • Chillies ‘Hot Orange Wonder’,  ‘Cayenne’ and ‘Razzamatazz’ (greenhouse)
  • Runner bean ‘The Czar’, planted late July (A recent frost has now stopped the plants)
  • Fennel
  • Perpetual spinach
  • Potatoes
  • Alpine strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Nasturtium flowers and leaves for salads (the frost survivors!)

We’re planning to plant the following:

  • Garlic ‘Red Duke’
  • Broad bean ‘Claudia Aquadulce’

We’re patiently waiting to eat the following:

  • Sprouting broccoli ‘ Early Purple’
Early Purple sprouting broccoli growing well. This crop takes FOREVER and requires quite a bit of growing space, but so worth it for food from the garden during the bleakest of months.
backlit, psb
PSB backlit in autumn sunshine. Hopefully this will be ready for picking early next year.

Fruit bushes such as blackcurrants will be pruned now by removing old wood leaving the younger shoots for fruiting next year. I plan to move a couple of young bushes to a permanent position this month.

November is a month of tidying finished crops, weeding, composting and feeding the soil.

Recipes

Roast Autumn Veg with Beans

A very simple and tasty seasonal dish, bringing the usual autumnal vegetables together. I used a late bloomer courgette in this recipe, it was given the perfect send off being included in this dish. Use as a side or perfect for a warming bowl of sweet, earthy autumnal goodness.

Serves 4

4 red onions, outer skin removed and sliced into quarters

1 or 2 courgettes (optional), sliced

5 medium-sized carrots, scrubbed and chopped into small chunks

2 beetroot, chopped into small chunks

1 winter squash, chopped into large chunks

Dried runner beans, large handful, soaked overnight.

Sea salt

1 tbsp rape seed oil (olive oil if preferred)

Add the soaked runner beans to a pan of boiling water, turn the heat down and simmer for approximately 1 hour, keep checking beans for softness using a fork and top up pan with extra water if the level falls too low. Drain, cover and put aside.

Add the prepared onions, carrots, courgette, squash and beetroot to a roasting dish, drizzle with oil and place in a hot preheated oven. Roast for approximately 30-40 minutes or until the onion has begun to caramelise.

Mix together with the cooked beans, add a sprinkling of sea salt and serve.

Fruit Garden, Harvest

Blueberries in November

Earlier this year we planted our first blueberry bushes in lovely old bath tubs. I wasn’t expecting much from their first growing year to be honest, but was happily proved wrong.

Two blueberry bushes provided steady pickings throughout summer right through to autumn, enough to keep the blueberry fans of the family satisfied. It’s now November and we’re still picking berries.

I spotted this vintage mini trug recently from one of my favourite online garden shops, with berry picking in mind it’s perfect for the job.

The temperature has really dropped during the day and nights are chilly, the bushes are just starting to display their beautiful autumnal colour in patches. I’m so pleased we introduced blueberries to our kitchen garden, if you’re interested in growing them too take a look at our growing guide post https://thegardensmallholder.wordpress.com/2017/03/12/blueberries-in-tubs/ for helpful information to keep them happy.

Uncategorized

Happy Halloween 2017

Wooo it’s Halloween (eeek!) and it’s a bit chilly outside! I’m having a rummage through seed packets and giving them a sort out, then I’ll be splitting garlic bulbs into single cloves ready for planting soon. Vampires won’t bother me today *cue evil laugh*.

Meanwhile, the latest news from the garden smallholding….the hens are busy scoffing carving out the insides of pumpkins for us. But I’d better be quick to collect the empty skins!

Happy Halloween!

 

Vegetable Garden

A Touch of Frost

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There was a real nip to the air this morning. A light blanket of frost arrived overnight as predicted, the veg garden looked so pretty twinkling in the morning sun but I was a bit sad to see the first casualties. Nasturtiums are always the first to go when a frost arrives in our garden, frost is so pretty but so damaging too.

Parsnip and strawberry leaves crumpled and twisted, unlike nasturtium they’ll soon bounce back as the sun melts the frost away.

The Czar runner beans are still looking good, along with Cosmos flowers. The frost wasn’t harsh enough to claim them just yet.

The chickens were reluctant to leave their coops early this morning, it’s been so mild here this cool snap was a shock to them along with all the blasted fireworks going off during the night. I’m a real bah humbug when it comes to fireworks.

The sun is shining again, I’ll be off out in the garden soon to pick the last of the greenhouse tomatoes, Czar runner beans for freezing and lifting more potatoes before the real frosts come calling.

gardening, chickens
Vegetable Garden

A Quick Autumn Tidy Up

We did a spot of autumn tidying in the veg garden this afternoon. The weather has been so lovely and mild for the time of year and the garden still looks so green and full of life.

I really struggle to pull things out before the first autumn frost has a chance to claim its victims. We did just enough tidying to make life easier for when colder weather does finally arrive but not too much tidying, frogs and toads are still active in the garden and they need areas of cover. I’m not ready to put the garden to bed just yet.

Beds that lay empty were weeded and topped with compost for planting garlic and sowing hardy broad beans next month, we covered them over for now with pieces of chicken wire (held down with bricks) to prevent cats from ‘using’ them. We picked yet more beans for drying and storing and Rich cut down tired runner bean vines to add to the compost bins. There’s always a hen or two around to help out.gardening, chickens

The light started to fade very quickly due to clocks going back an hour, before long we were putting tools away in the shed and locking the chicken coops. Still, it was nice to be out in the autumn sunshine.

Recipes

Green Tomato Chutney

Our tomatoes are still going strong in the greenhouse but there are plenty of fruits that won’t ripen now. Our chutney recipe is perfect for using up a glut of green tomatoes, I made some jars today and it tastes delicious already but should be even better in the months to come. I’ll be storing some away for our Christmas cheese board.

Makes 4 standard jars.

Ingredients:

900g green tomatoes, quartered

300ml organic white wine vinegar

2 large onions, roughly chopped

1 red chilli, finely chopped

2 tsp yellow mustard seeds

150g raisins

1 tsp salt

Place all ingredients into a large stainless steel pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for approximately 1 hour 30 minutes, stirring occasionally during the last half hour of cooking time to prevent the chutney sticking to the bottom of the pan.

The chutney is ready when it has thickened enough to drag a wooden spoon across the base of the pan to form a channel that does not immediately fill with liquid. Allow to cool slightly then spoon the chutney into warm sterilised jars and seal. Best left for at least 6 weeks but can be used once cool. Use within 12 months. Refrigerate opened jars.

Vegetable Garden

Bringing in the Beans

One of my garden jobs this month has been picking beans and bringing them in to shell. We grew 6 different climbing bean varieties this year, each were chosen for their interesting looks, cropping times and versatility. Us Brits usually pick our beans young and small eating them pod and all while tender, but older tough pods can be shelled when the beans inside have actually grown. Used in this way there’s no waste and they can be cooked fresh or dried for storing.

Three of the varieties grown were runner beans; Polestar, The Czar and Greek Gigantes. Runners are usually prolific croppers and so I realise this seems rather a lot for the average size family to keep up with, but we’re after lots of beans for shelling and storing. Once the inevitable happens and the beans become large and stringy, simply open them up and cook the fat beans without their jackets on. Left to dry the shelled beans can be stored for many months and used in hearty autumn and winter dishes. Don’t forget to save some seed for sowing the following year. Scarlet-flowering runners have the most amazing pink and deep purple splashed beans, they almost seem unreal. Such a shame they turn brown when cooked. White-flowering varieties produce white beans, such as The Czar which produces large beans with a butter bean flavour.

A little tip for growing runners, they are vigorous and heavy, particularly so towards the end of the season when laden with all those beans. Growing them on sturdy A-frames will help to avoid toppling over during blustery weather. Cut them all down and bring them inside before the first frosts arrive.

Our old favourite Borlotti made the list again this year, the pink splashed pods glow in the summer sun and the beans inside are just as beautiful. We always allow the beans to dry for storing, they have a slightly sweet yet buttery flavour. I find soaking them in cold water overnight speeds up the cooking process.

Two varieties we’ve never grown before, Cherokee Trail of Tears (small black bean, very striking and looks great in the garden) and Coco Sophie (round white bean) did rather well too. Not quite as heavy cropping as the other beans but plenty for winter use.

Beans are fully dry when the pods turn brown and are dry and crispy to the touch. Bring your beans inside to dry out if the weather is wet and damp for a prolonged period. Store dried beans in jars and containers with airtight lids, somewhere cool and dry such as a larder cupboard.

Vegetable Garden

Half a Year of Gardening

In early summer just after my last blog post I ended up in hospital having surgery I wasn’t fully expecting. For some time I haven’t been well enough to tend to my beloved vegetable garden, after the surgery I wasn’t physically able to and then came horrid medication that upset my body, mind and mood, and well, I fell into some kind of depression.

The chickens were cared for but the garden had to pretty much fend for itself. Rich did his best but he’d be the first to admit he isn’t the gardener around here. The greenhouse contents and outside pots were watered and the grass cut. And so the courgettes turned to marrows, strawberries and blackcurrants pretty much fed the birds and fat pea pods withered and wilted in the summer heat. But all was not lost, my haphazard planting style as well as using ground covering edible flowers kept the weeds at bay, our pumpkins and squashes finally got going after many failed attempts and quickly swamped the ground (and eventually the lawn), drowning out light to weeds in their path. Some varieties didn’t show up to the party at all, such as the butternuts which is a real shame because they’re used so much in our kitchen.

In fact, there were many successes this year such as beans. So many beans. I’m positively beaming about that. It has to be the best year ever for beans. We have some pumpkins and squash to show for our efforts and autumn raspberries have been amazing this year, doubling in size over the plot. We grew the best carrots to date, absolute whoppers with no damage thanks to companion planting with onions. Our sunflowers grew so tall they toppled over, at least there’s plenty of food for the birds. Again.

Despite being neglected for half the year the veg garden has been very forgiving, and most generous. I have a long road ahead of me with my diagnosis of severe endometriosis. There’s no cure, even hysterectomy isn’t a guarantee of living pain-free at this stage of the disease. It’s a very common but still very misunderstood condition, the time taken for diagnosis is sadly too long for many women. I’ll leave this post on a positive…. I’m off to see a specialist next week, fingers crossed I can get this under some sort of control.

Vegetable Garden

Rhubarb Jam

The Garden Smallholder

Rhubarb

If you’re growing an early rhubarb variety such as Timperley Early, chances are you’re already looking for rhubarb recipes. If you forced it during December / January, it’s probably coming out of your ears! If not, sit tight and wait patiently for your rhubarb to catch up. And it will.

I adore rhubarb jam, it’s not for everyone but if you love jam and of course rhubarb then you really must give this jam recipe a try. I’ve just finished using my last jar from the batch I made last spring, so now I’m itching to make more.

rhubarb jam

Rhubarb Jam (makes approximately 4-5 jars depending on size)

1 kg rhubarb (forced or unforced stems)

850g 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…

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Vegetable Garden

How I Support Peas

The Garden Smallholder

growing peas

I love seeing peas scrambling up natural pea sticks, tiny tendrils stretching out, curling tightly around their rustic support like miniature green springs. However, when it comes to supporting taller and heavier cropping peas (‘Blauwschokker’ for example), sometimes a sturdier or taller form of support is needed. Using several long bamboo canes and pieces of chicken or welded mesh wire, I fashion together support structures that have served me well for many years, even through gales. Unlike netting, wire mesh is safer for wild birds, so it gets a big thumbs up from me.

peas

Measure out the area that you wish to use for planting, then cut your wire to fit using wire cutters making sure it’s at least 5 ft high. Take a cane and pass it through one of the lower holes of the wire at one end, repeat again somewhere in the middle and one last time near the top. Leave…

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