kitchen garden

Plot to Plate Parsnips

My second attempt at growing parsnips and these have to be the best yet. No sign of disease, over wintered well, and very tasty. The variety is Gladiator and I bought the seeds from Suttons.

I am very impressed with the size of them too which is just incredible, particularly because my other attempt (different variety and position on the plot) were just OK by comparison. I lifted some for yesterdays Sunday dinner and  I still have some left. I just wish I’d photographed some of the biggest ones!

Flower Garden

Ready Steady Sow!

I can’t wait to get cracking for the growing season ahead, I have Charlotte seed potatoes chitting away, a second attempt at peas and broad beans (potted up undercover) and my impatient fingers are still itching to sow more seed. Our soil is not a hospitable place right now, it’s far too wet and cold for outdoor sowing and a little too early to sow anything else indoors for our tummies so I made a head start with sowing flower seed.

I have quite a few packets of flower seeds to choose from, I decided to sow lupin and foxglove because they are amongst my absolute favourites. I know from experience how hardy foxglove can be if planted out slightly early also how slow lupin can be to germinate, what I’m aiming for is strong little plants to put outside as soon as conditions are right – hopefully flowering the same year too.

I will sow more tender flowers around March/April, the garden should be a riot of colour and a haven for beneficial  insects. Yay!


The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

This weekend I will be taking part in The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch,  it’s so easy to register and only takes an hour of your time to watch birds in your garden either Saturday 29th or Sunday 30th January 2011.

Register online now 

Decide which day to take part, top up the bird feeders grab a pen, notebook and cup of tea then sit back and relax in your wonderful garden. All you need to do is make a note of the highest number of each bird species seen in your garden, once you have completed your hour of birdwatching submit your findings online.

If you are unfamiliar with any of the species you see use this handy bird identifier

Have fun out there!

Grow Your Own Guides · kitchen garden

How to Chit Seed Potatoes

chitting seed potatoes

Seed potatoes are usually available to buy from garden centres and seed merchants from early January with different varieties to chose from. These seed potatoes are from disease resistant stock and free from pests, giving you and your soil the best possible start in growing your own potatoes.

chitting potatoes

Chitting seed potatoes encourages shoots to form, this is particularly helpful with early potatoes (earlies) to get them off to a flying start before planting.

To chit seed potatoes simply stand them in an egg box or tray with the eyes facing upwards towards the light, keep them in a cool, light and frost-free place where they will soon produce short dark green sprouts (shoots) which will help give an earlier crop when planted. They can stay in their trays until planting conditions are right, usually from March onwards ready for lifting around June time. Main crop can go in a few weeks after earlies and second earlies, they’ll be ready for lifting anytime from late August through to the end of the year, depending on variety.

Happy chitting and potato growing!


My Birthday and a Rhubarb Forcer


It was my birthday on the 21st, I had a wonderful day musing around garden centres with my birthday cash burning a big hole in my pocket and just couldn’t resist the desire to buy a rhubarb forcer, although I cannot inflict it on my young rhubarb crown just yet. It’s sitting cheerily in the bare rhubarb patch and shortly it will be framed by the lovely leaves of my Timperley Early.

I received some fab presents – gardening and allotment books, packs of veg and flower seed, new Dean Koontz novel (my fave author), a beautiful bouquet of flowers, chocolates, wine and quite a bit of money – some of which will be put towards treated timber to make new raised beds for the veg garden. I want to expand my veg plots this spring and also include more wildflowers and wildlife areas. I’m already working on a new wildlife project thanks to some of my much-needed birthday cash, I will post about that soon.

kitchen garden

January in the Garden Smallholding

It sure is cold and miserable out there but I have still managed to get a bit of gardening done. The last of the Leeks have been pulled (some were suffering from rust so were forgiven for looking a bit scruffy) and the plots given a good digging over and general tidy up with organic home compost forked in. I weighed down my collection of empty compost bags on top of the plots to help warm the soil for spring sowing, this should suppress the weeds for a while too. The sunflowers that were left for the birds to strip were mouldy and water-logged, no more seeds remained on the heads so these got the chop, bit of weeding and digging were needed to get the ground ready for spring. I just adore sunflowers and itching to get growing them again.

Already there are signs of life from the rhubarb patch, fat buds of Timperley Early are pushing through the soil just to tease me, I would love to force it but it needs at least another years growth with light harvest in order to make it a stronger plant. I shall resist the temptation. On the subject of forcing I have been hunting around lately for a terracotta forcing pot, they look so stylish nestled amongst the fat green rhubarb leaves don’t you think?

Seed potatoes are readily available now, just lay them out in a tray or egg boxes to chit with eyes uppermost in a cool frost-free place and by March /April they will be ready for planting out. I will probably get some Charlotte salad potatoes but I need to make my mind up on a main crop variety. I cut the autumn raspberry canes down and collected up what felt like a ton of leaves from the lawn for the compost bins and potted up autumn sowing broad beans – the bad weather claimed my outdoor sowing in December. With the constant wet weather I fear my new seeds will rot off in the ground, I don’t want to risk another disaster so germination in pots it shall have to be.

Daffodils are just starting to appear, lighter nights and a change in birdsong have me feeling all excited for the coming gardening year.

What have you been doing in your January garden?

Chicken Health · Chickens

Chicken Health – Droppings

Keeping chickens in the garden is rewarding and can be educational too if you have young children helping with their day-to-day needs. But, as with all animals, from time to time chickens can become ill. Apart from the classic signs that a chicken is unwell – fluffed up feathers, hunched posture, eyes closed etc you may be surprised to hear that chicken droppings can reveal quite a bit about their current health. So, the next time you check on your flock take time to inspect their droppings.

I realise this may sound unpleasant but believe me you could identify a potential health problem just by recognising what an abnormal chicken dropping looks like. You should also get to know what healthy droppings look like too, they come in an array of colours and textures. Try inspecting droppings as part of your daily routine, this way you will get to know your flock (and their poo) a little better!

Examples of healthy droppings:

Examples of problem droppings:

 I will add photos of interest to this post as they occur. All the above photos were taken by me and produced by my chickens. Just as a pointer, droppings to be concerned about are as follows:

Vivid yellow, frothy, green, runny, mainly white or clear runny, bright red blood (not to be confused with normal shedding of gut lining) and regular droppings containing visible undigested grain/food.

If I find a dodgy dropping I keep a good eye on the hens for signs of ill-health, if I do suspect there may be a problem or if I just want to put my mind at ease I contact Retfords Poultry Ltd. They provide a faecal testing service to check for presence of parasites and bacteria. Using this service literally saved one of my hens from certain death. It’s so easy to use, just pop the suspect dropping into a suitable container (screw top lid may be advisable!) and post it off with a covering note. Most good avian vets can also provide this service.

Chickens tend to show the same symptoms/characteristics for many different illnesses, even normal ‘egg issues’ such as soft-shelled eggs can make them appear unwell and give you cause for concern. Being able to identify an abnormal chicken dropping is handy knowledge to have.

Happy poopy peeking :)


A New Year

Hello blog!

It’s been a while since I last updated my poor neglected blog – I know, I’m crap! I’m sorry to report a few more losses within the flock, sadly Rose and Dolly have passed away so this now leaves 6 hens here at the garden smallholding. At the moment they are all getting along just fine and just starting to come into lay again. Bringing more hens in at this point would probably cause unnecessary stress and problems for them, to be honest I could do without the hassle. Six laying hens are plenty for our needs.

The vegetable garden was a hit and miss during the harsh weather, the good old leeks, garlic and parsnips survived their blanket of snow and ice, but the young peas and winter onions are all but a distance memory. Never mind, I can always get going again with the peas, the onions can wait. Besides, I still have some left in store from summer so all is good.

So how have YOU all been doing with your winter growing (if you did any) and your chickens?