Vegetable Garden

What’s Growing On In February?

Biting winds, rain, hail and snow showers, we’ve never been so thankful for the occasional glimpse of sunshine to provide some respite. Ooh naughty February! Welcome back to our monthly catch up posts where we show you what’s growing on in our garden smallholding.

The vegetable garden in February still offers fabulous things to eat thanks to a bit of careful planning. By dedicating a whole bed to carrots rather than just a couple of rows for late summer/autumn use, we’re still pulling tasty roots of ‘Autumn King’. Standing well in our soil our garden tends to get rather boggy in winter so this variety really is worth growing. The same can be said for ‘Gladiator’ parsnip, fantastic roots right through to spring.

Another great crop providing nutritious leaves from summer right through to winter is kale. ‘Nero Di Toscana’ will grow in difficult conditions such as a shady spot and poor drainage (trust us, we know!). The flavour improves after a frost and once it finally bolts the flowers can be eaten too.

We’ve just finished picking the last of the Brussels Sprouts and now we’re patiently waiting for spears of beautiful early sprouting broccoli to make an appearance. Early purple sprouting is sown late spring one year and produces from February/March the following year – so you really do need to be patient!

The veg garden in February

Autumn-fruiting raspberry canes got their annual chop this week. Rich carefully tidied around to remove the old leaves and debris being careful not to damage emerging canes, finishing up with a mulch of compost afterwards.

The canes are very spiky – gloves are needed! In just a couple of months the whole bed will be brimming with fresh new growth.

Rather than burning or composting we’ve decided to keep the cut raspberry canes and use them as organic slug and snail deterrents (due to the spikes), laying them on the ground in and around seedlings.

Something has had a go at the broad bean seedlings underneath the cloche tunnels (unlikely to be a pigeon, a mouse perhaps?), a bit of soil disturbance and a couple of seedlings vanished – one is wilting so I guess the seed bean is damaged. This is the first place we’re going to use the canes. I wonder if mice will be that bothered by a few spikes? It’s an experiment so we’ll let you know if it works.

Our chickens were beginning to lay regularly (except for Mrs Broody pants), a couple have now decided to have another moult which means no eggs.

Some of our girls are getting on for retirement, perhaps nearer summer we’ll increase the flock seeing as we have a new coop!

 

Product Reviews, Vegetable Garden

Windowsill Propagator Heat Mat

Our chilli pepper seeds have germinated much sooner than usual thanks to a windowsill propagator heat mat. We mentioned in a recent post we were using one in a trial and would blog about it if we liked it.

In just 8 days the first seedlings appeared with more popping up over the following days. As expected, a couple of seeds haven’t germinated but we have more than enough seedlings due to sowing more than we need.

The windowsill heat mat we are using looks like this:

It’s simple to use, just plug it in and place on the windowsill of your choice. We covered our seed trays with clear lids to help with humidity and kept the heat mat on for most of the day, switching off at night (purely for our own peace of mind!) allowing a radiator to provide a source of heat. The heat mat fits a standard size windowsill without hanging over the edge and can take up to two full sized trays, much more if the trays are smaller. It heats up quickly and doesn’t get too hot to the touch.

If you’re interested in getting this particular heat mat you’ll find it here. Priced at £16.49 with free UK delivery it’s a cheaper alternative to most heated propagators but still an expense. If this doesn’t suit your budget it’s still possible to germinate some seed by using a radiator or warm airing cupboard. Once germinated, seedlings can grow at lower temperatures in a bright room. It will take longer but you should see some decent results.

If you do decide to get one please do let us know how you’re getting on.

Vegetable Garden

And Sow it Begins

I came home from hospital last weekend, my body is tired and sore but getting a little stronger every day. I ended up needing more surgery than expected which has set my recovery back with one thing or another but I am getting there, slowly. I miss spending time with the chickens and of course the day-to-day activities in the garden smallholding, family are mucking in and doing what’s needed. I long for the day I can join in rather than watch from the window but I’m not to lift anything heavier than a cup of tea for at least 6 weeks. Meh.

I guess I can cope with the tea bit.

After going through our seed stash last month we’ve ordered what we need for the new growing year with some new varieties to try, the rest will be our own saved seed. We will buy our seed potatoes very soon and set them out to chit in egg boxes.

We like to sow our tomatoes and chillies early, harvesting can begin as early as June/July depending on varieties grown. Chillies need constant heat to aid germinate so we’re using a seedling heat mat at the moment to help. We’ve never used anything like this before when germinating seeds such as chillies and peppers, we usually get decent germination results by using the warmest spots in the house but it can take up to a month to occur due to temperatures dipping at night. It’s a bit of a trial so we’ll let you know how the heat mat performs in terms of germination rate/time, and if we like it enough to recommend we’ll do a little blog post. Rich set everything up for sowing our seeds to avoid me lifting anything, all I had to do is pop the seeds in. It felt so good to be involved and gave me the lift I needed.

It’s official, gardening is therapy!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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Vegetable Garden

What’s Growing On In March?

I’m a bit late with this post but better late than never! What’s growing on in our kitchen garden this month?

Timperley Early rhubarb never fails to produce as early as March, feeding us well into summer. Right now our patch of rhubarb is looking fantastic with big healthy leaves and green stems flushed with red.

The plum trees are beginning to blossom, tight buds of green with a smidge of white peeking through, with apple and pear trees a few weeks behind. Of all the fruit blossom pink apple flowers are my favourite.

This year we’re growing ‘Wizard’ field beans, a smaller more robust relative of broad beans. We didn’t have the seed in time to sow in autumn, we sowed the seeds in February and they’re growing well under the tunnel cloches. They will catch up.

New raspberry cane growth basking in the sun, it appears we’re in for a bumper crop this year!

First sowing of peas are carried out undercover in the greenhouse to prevent rotting and mice theft. Four varieties this year, heirloom and rare types: Champion of England, Rosakrone, Golden Sweet (mangetout type with purple flowers and lemon yellow pods) and Lord Leicester. These will be planted out soon after hardening off and covered over in fleece should a frost arrive. Also growing happily in the greenhouse are seedlings of nasturtium, cosmos, beetroot and calendula (to be planted out in clumps).

The garlic looks very different to the February What’s Growing on post, variety Red Duke’. It appears to grow low and stumpy to start with but soon puts on lots of top growth as the weather warms, growing to quite a height before harvest.

Some of my favourite herbs growing strong, bronze fennel and French tarragon.

Gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes are bursting into leaf, shining beautifully in the sunlight.

I planted our second early potatoes today, ‘Charlotte’ remains a firm favourite!We’re growing ‘Pink Fir Apple’ this year too, these will go out in the next week or so.

Vegetable Garden

Pick of the Crop, Our Choice of Garlic to Grow

red duke garlic

Red Duke Garlic is a heritage variety with fierce and spicy flavour, it originates from Moravia, Czech Republic and appears to do well in the UK climate. Attracted initially to the colour and the idea that it may do well in our kitchen garden, we liked it so much we included it in our growing plans again for this year. Here’s a run down of our experience of growing this variety:

red duke garlic

  • Red Duke garlic produces very thick leaves and stems, thicker than any other garlic we’ve grown. With this in mind and to avoid disease from overcrowding, do not plant this variety too close together, 16-18cm apart should be fine.
  • The leaves really bulk out and cast a lot of shade resulting in fewer weeds. Result!
  • Red Duke is a hardneck variety, expect to see scapes in summer – lovely in a stir fry!
  • Good resistance to rust, only a few spots found on leaves just before harvest.
  • No sign of fungal/rot problems on the bulbs at harvest, nice clean bulbs.
  • Bulbs varied in size producing more large than small, approx 6/7 large cloves per bulb.
  • Thick covering of white skin after drying properly, because of this Red Duke stores surprisingly well for a hardneck. We still have useable bulbs from last years crop.
  • Lovely strong and spicy flavour.

There’s still time to pop some Red Duke garlic in if you didn’t get around to it during autumn.

Vegetable Garden

What’s Growing On In February?

Just a quick catch up to show what’s growing in our kitchen garden this month.

img_2255timperleyearlyrhubarbblog

The patch of early rhubarb is romping away nicely, depending on the weather we may be pulling the first stems as early as March.  img_2257timperleyearlyrhubarbblog

Rhubarb from the ground up, this angle of photography really shows the stems in their full rhubarby glory.img_2166reddukegarlicblog

Rows of garlic are peeking through the soil now, the variety is Red Duke which we grew last year with success. Half of the rows are bought-in seed garlic from the same supplier and the other half are saved seed garlic.

I’ve started to notice the delicious scent of blackcurrant as I brush past the fruit bushes, leaf buds are beginning to swell so it won’t be long before they burst open. The herb patch is in a sheltered position with chives, French tarragon, lavender, sage and garlic chives all having fresh new growth at the base.

Seed sowing:

At the moment we have one variety of chillies that have all germinated, with another still to show. These are Rich’s babies so I will have to ask him what they are and update the post when I know! EDIT: ‘Hot Orange Wonder’ (germinated) and ‘Razzamatazz’.

chilli seedlings

We plan to sow ‘Ruby’ tomato (heirloom red tomato from Bulgaria), ‘Bleu De Solaise’ leek (a traditional French variety), brassicas and old-fashioned mix sweet pea over the weekend.

Vegetable Garden

How to Prune Autumn Fruiting Raspberry Canes

The Garden Smallholder

Autumn fruiting raspberries should be cut down to ground level to in February or March to encourage fresh growth Autumn fruiting raspberries should be cut down to ground level to in February or March to encourage fresh growth

An allotment visit was needed today to cut the autumn fruiting raspberry canes down. Autumn raspberry varieties fruit on the current years growth, cutting all canes down to ground level during February or March helps to direct energy where it’s needed, encouraging fresh new growth (canes) from the base. The new canes will eventually bear fruit in late summer/autumn.

Cut each cane a couple of inches above ground level. Cut each cane a couple of inches above ground level.

This is how your row of autumn fruiting raspberries should look after pruning This is how your row of autumn fruiting raspberries should look after pruning

It was quite cold in the wind and raining on and off, apart from one other plot holder we were the only ones there.

Here’s a reminder on how and when to prune summer raspberries https://thegardensmallholder.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/tiding-summer-fruiting-raspberry-canes/

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Vegetable Garden

Flurry of Snow

snow on watering can

A light covering of snow arrived early this morning. I was mucking out the chickens at the time, watching their reaction to the strange-looking threat falling from the sky. I did find it amusing, it’s the first time these particular hens have seen snow.

After finishing the chicken chores I grabbed my camera and took some photos.

snow on the kitchen garden rhubarb in the snow

Our dog wanted to take part in the snow photo shoot….german shepherd

Within a couple of hours it stopped snowing, anything that did settle melted away by early afternoon.

Grow Your Own Guides, Vegetable Garden

How to Force Rhubarb

rhubarb forcer
If you’d like to get an earlier crop of rhubarb now is a good time to force it. Choose an  established rhubarb in your garden and simply cover the crown with a forcing jar, upturned dustbin or very large pot. Doing this creates a dark and warm environment inside, forcing the stems into premature growth. Restricted light creates baby pink stalks which taste less tart and not as fibrous, ready approximately 8 weeks after covering.
forced rhubarb stems
However, once you force a crown you should allow it to crop naturally the following year (preferably two years of recovery), forcing it year after year could seriously weaken it. Before forcing, be sure to clear away the area around the base of the crown, removing decaying leaves and weeds to avoid the rhubarb crown rotting. Add a mulch of homemade compost or well-rotted manure to give a boost of nutrients.

Timperley Early rhubarb beginning to grow in winter

A tip is to grow 3 crowns (providing you have the space), allow one to recover from being forced the previous year, force one and let the other crop naturally, when it should. A good variety for forcing is Victoria.
rhubarb january
Timperley Early rhubarb in our kitchen garden 8th January 2017
Our favourite rhubarb variety to grow is ‘Timperley Early’, it starts cropping naturally as early as March. If you grow this variety you have to get a wiggle on and force it earlier than other varieties to produce an earlier crop, usually December for cropping in February. As you can see, our young crowns (planted last year) are already well on their way to producing some fine stalks! They’re not established enough to start forcing them yet, it’ll be another year or two before we can use the forcing jars on them.