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.
Pullet eggs are just the most adorable little things ever. Perfectly formed, just a much smaller version.
A pullet is a female chicken less than a year old, depending on breed she will begin to lay her first eggs from 20 – 22 weeks of age while larger breeds such as Brahmas and Orpingtons will lay from 30 weeks onwards. Hybrid chickens are often sold as point of lay (POL) from 16 weeks onwards.
A pullet egg usually contains a small yolk but sometimes when they start laying for the first time the yolk is missing, these eggs are known as wind eggs or fairy eggs as I like to call them. Pullet eggs will gradually increase in size.
Our young Brahma x Buff Orpington began laying recently. Somehow I’ve managed to make her egg look a fair size in the photo above (perhaps I have tiny hands!), it’s very small really. Our pure breed Brahmas should begin laying in the next few weeks, they’re a slow maturing breed being fully grown at 18 months old. We have some lovely photos of them on our Instagram https://www.instagram.com/thegardensmallholder/
No matter how much growing space you have, sometimes you just have to use containers. Blueberries require an acid soil and our soil doesn’t quite cut the mustard, so to keep our little blueberry bushes happy I planted them into old galvanised bath tubs filled with ericaceous compost and placed them in a sheltered spot on top of a wide gravel path. This should provide perfect conditions for them.
Blueberries also require plenty of water, containers are notorious for drying out quickly during prolonged dry weather but we’re hopeful the size of the bath tubs and they fact they’re non-porous will be beneficial. However, blueberries are shallow-rooted and can dry out quickly so we need to make sure we water regularly during warm weather. We plan to use a mulch of pine leafmould to help retain moisture (we have an endless supply here thanks to the enormous pine trees that shade our chicken runs) and use water from the water butts to keep them happy.
Blueberries are usually part or fully self-pollinating but it’s better to grow two rather than just one as cross-pollinated plants tend to produce larger fruit. To ensure reliable, heavier yields try growing more than one variety. At the moment we have ornamental variety ‘Hortblue Petite’, a high bush (Vaccinium corymbosum) but a more compact version. We’re on the look out to add another variety soon.
Reading this back we realise how much pampering they require but it’s got to be worth it for the end result. Fingers crossed for our first picking of blueberries this year, we’re not expecting great things yet but excited just the same.
Tomato seedlings can be potted on when large enough to handle but I prefer to do this once the first or second pair of true leaves emerge. Handle tomato seedlings carefully by the leaves and pot on individually into 3 inch pots, avoid handling by the stems which can easily snap.
Plant deeper than they were previously to encourage a better root system, this helps with watering during the summer months and creates a stronger plant all round. Leggy seedlings in particular benefit from deeper planting, don’t be afraid to plant them right up to the seed leaves – they’ll soon grow tall again! Depending on the time of year you may need to re-pot again before planting to final positions, again plant deeper.
Don’t risk all your hard work by placing seedlings outside or in an unheated greenhouse too early, frost and low night temperatures will kill them. Keep them tucked up indoors in a warm sunny room until risk of frost has passed.
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 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.
I want to make life as easy as possible when planting our seed potatoes so I use my ‘potato planting tool’. Ok so it’s not the real tool (they do exist look them up), rather the handle of what was once a perfectly useable spade until I broke it during our allotment days. Now it is used for making potato-size planting holes by pushing the pointy end into the soil, moving the handle from side to side to widen. I’m sure a long-handled dibber or similar would do the job just as well, have a rummage in your shed or garage and see what you come up with.
How we plant our seed potatoes:
Position seed potatoes on top of the soil leaving approximately 15 inches between each one and 18 inches (or so) between each row, this distance works fine with early salad varieties but you might want to increase distance between rows for maincrop varieties. Once you’re happy with the arrangement make a planting hole (approximately 5 inches deep) for each potato and drop it in, eyes (shoots) up.
Fill the planting holes in (apply organic fertiliser beforehand if you wish) and mound each row by simply drawing soil over the top of the newly planted potatoes or by adding fresh compost to form the mounds. From our experience this helps to prevent haulms from toppling over later on, although it’s not necessary to mound until the first leaves start to show. As the potatoes grow, keep mounding or earthing up to protect foliage from frost damage and prevent the developing tubers from turning green and poisonous from exposure to light.
Potatoes also do well in containers. Deep tubs or special grow bags, anything really as long as it’s deep enough and has drainage holes.
Just a quick catch up to show what’s growing in our kitchen garden this month.
The patch of early rhubarb is romping away nicely, depending on the weather we may be pulling the first stems as early as March.
Rhubarb from the ground up, this angle of photography really shows the stems in their full rhubarby glory.
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.
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’.
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.
Ahhh good ol’ Bubble and Squeak, a traditional English dish made using the veg (usually cabbage) and potato leftovers of a Sunday roast. The beauty of this dish is there is no recipe as it was always made from leftovers!
You can use any vegetables you like, we use the veg after making a stock picking out peppercorns, bay leaves and twiggy thyme before use.
How we make Bubble and Squeak:
Mash potatoes with a little butter and season, add any cooked vegetables you like and mix together.
Using your hands shape the mixture into patties and pop into the fridge to chill for an hour, they hold their shape better this way.
Shallow fry in olive oil allowing the potato to catch on the bottom of the pan each side.
Serve as they are, top with a poached egg or use as a side with cold meats.
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.
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.
It’s February and we’re still harvesting beetroot from the kitchen garden. In order to use some up I made a delicious hummus following a River Cottage recipe, although I tweaked it a bit to suit our own taste. Once made it will keep for a few days if stored in the fridge, serve at room temperature. Suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
15g stale bread, crusts removed and torn into chunks
200g cooked beetroot (not pickled), cut into cubes
1 tablespoon tahini
1 garlic clove, crushed
Juice of half a lemon
Half a tablespoon of olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180 C / Gas Mark 4. Toast the walnuts on a baking tray for 5 minutes, leave to cool. Put the bread and toasted walnuts into a food processor or use a hand blender to blitz to fine crumbs. Add the beetroot, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and a grinding of pepper. Blend to a thick paste, taste and adjust by adding more lemon, garlic and seasoning if you prefer, blending again. Loosen with a dash more oil if required.
Delicious as a starter or dip, served with breadsticks or flatbreads.
Poultry and other captive birds across the UK still remain on bird flu lockdown, this is a necessary step to prevent spread of disease but is proving to be a tricky situation for farmers and the back yard chicken keeper as the problem goes on.
For us, putting our chickens on lockdown wasn’t a difficult affair thanks to our lovely walk-in runs with covered roofs, they still receive plenty of light and fresh air and egg laying hasn’t suffered. If, like ours, your flock is used to free-ranging often, suddenly being cooped up 24/7 with little to do can have a detrimental effect on behaviour leading to increased boredom bullying or feather pecking. Luckily for us our chicken runs are also really spacious, the problem however is boredom and that’s where things can get tricky. Touch wood bullying has been to a minimum, just the usual behaviour you’d expect to see within a flock but there are ways to improve welfare during this difficult time. So, what can you do to prevent boredom for your chickens permanently locked in?
Giving them something to have a good peck at (rather than each other) is a great way to prevent unwanted bullying. Spike’s World kindly sent us a Feathers and Beaky expandable veg holder for our hens to trial. The design is simple to use, just pop the vegetables inside the expandable springy holder and put the lid on (we used winter cabbage), the holder can then be hung from any height by attaching string.
At first our girls were very unsure of this strange flying cabbage-thing and chose to hang back and ignore it, the springy movement of the vegetable holder scared them as they cautiously pecked at it so we tried adding a handful of loose sweetcorn (their favourite treat), stuffing it inside the cabbage leaves.
We knew they couldn’t resist and in next to no time they were pecking at the veg holder with no fear whatsoever…..
Even ‘cutting strange shapes’ to get to the contents…..
You can add vegetables such as sweetcorn cobs, lettuce, cabbage and greens etc. The holder keeps the veg clean and dry and prevents unwanted visitors such as rats. Raise the holder slightly to encourage extra exercise! The girls love pecking at their veg holder for hours on end, it really helps with boredom. Give it a try for your lockdown chickens.
You can purchase a Feathers and Beaky expandable veg holder from Spike’s World here or from the British Hen Welfare Trust online shop here.
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.
Our dog wanted to take part in the snow photo shoot….
Within a couple of hours it stopped snowing, anything that did settle melted away by early afternoon.
So as I look out of the window, I see grey, snow-threatening skies. The wind has decided it wants to blow so strongly it feels reminiscent of the opening scene in the Wizard of Oz. Definitely not the type of weather that motivates me to dust off the old boots and get out into the garden.
However, the life of a garden smallholder isn’t spent purely outside being at one with nature. Some time needs to be spent indoors (thankfully at this time of year) planning what you are going to do in the coming year. This is also a great time to prioritise some of those plot improvements, that need a little bit of DIY know-how, or effort beyond time in the soil.
With this in mind, I was excited to see what Build A Better Vegetable Garden by Joyce and Ben Russell could offer in terms of inspiration and guidance. The sub-title of the book demonstrates the context with the text 30 DIY Projects to Improve Your Harvest.
Whilst the book may not offer anything in terms of innovation for us in our garden, it does offer some great tips on how to put together projects that are the bread and butter of any smallholding. The way the tasks are described and presented are simple to follow and provide good steps on how to make the projects work from start to finish. The photos also show, in a visual way, how the projects should develop to help those more likely to follow images than text (me included).
If you have no DIY skills and lack the tools that you may find in any DIY enthusiasts toolbox, some of these projects could be beyond you. But don’t be put off, if you’re willing to invest in the tools and time, you could pick up some new skills.
What I love about the book is that it doesn’t only look at the functional aspects of a growing garden, such as vegetable beds or planters, it also adds some neat aesthetic ideas. The one that stood out for me was how to make a scarecrow. The images showing the author Joyce Russell looking at her League Of Gentleman style scarecrow head made me laugh, but the end result is a scarecrow that not only looks good but also does the job.
Other projects, such as the drying cabinet, feel quite ambitious for the average garden smallholder, but it could be a target for those amongst us that fancy a challenge.
Overall I think the book is presented very well. The steps on each project are easy to follow and the images really help. The variation in complexity demonstrates a good step-up for most smallholders, which should mean, it’s not a read once reference.
I think the book is definitely worth a look and I enjoyed reading it. Even the fact that it offered validation of what we had already done and backed-up some of our future plans is encouraging. But take a look for yourself and let us know what you think.
Build A Better Vegetable Garden published by Frances Lincoln. Available to purchase from Amazon.
What? No free ranging? Are you kidding me??!! Afraid not kiddo.
We haven’t allowed our chickens to free range since early December 2016. The Chief Veterinary Officer declared a Prevention Zone to help protect poultry and other captive birds from a strain of Avian Influenza (H5N8) in Europe. Since the Prevention Zone was announced, cases have been confirmed across the UK. By continuing to keep our flock separate from wild birds and maintaining biosecurity measures on our premises, we’re doing the very best we can to protect our chickens from this threat.
Updates and further information regarding Avian Influenza and the current situation are available on the DEFRA website, please do keep checking to make sure you are complying with the latest prevention zone requirements. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are so many lovely carrot varieties to grow (and we’ve grown quite a few of them over the years!) including unusual heritage types of many colours. However, our all time favourite carrot to grow that feeds us over a long season is ‘Autumn King’. This particular maincrop variety always does well for us, roots can be lifted from late summer through into winter. We like to thin seedlings for sweet tender carrots (perfect in salads) and leave the rest to mature into large thick roots.
Autumn King appears to have some resistant to carrot fly too, wherever we’ve grown them they come out of the ground with minimum damage right through to winter. Deep, well-drained soil without any stones is best, we grow maincrop carrots in raised beds with early maturing varieties doing well in large deep tubs if we run out of space.
What’s your favourite variety to grow year after year?
We had a wonderful Christmas but I find the run up to New Year a little boring. I love family time but I’m not one to sit around for hours/days on end doing nothing, I get the urge to do something other than eat junk and fall asleep in front of the TV watching the obligatory Christmas repeats of Only Fools and Horses.
I decided to review the blog during the quiet moments over the holidays and it quickly dawned on me that I missed some things out during 2016. The Monthly Peek at the Veg Garden posts ended rather abruptly in June (I have no idea why and I’m sorry about that) and in July we went to Beer near Seaton, a delightful fishing village in East Devon with a visit to River Cottage HQ while we were there. It was an amazing holiday and I’m stumped as to why I didn’t blog about it?!
I’m going to amend all of that by sharing photos of the gorgeous Jurassic Coast scenery in Beer and Seaton (I had to really cull the photos down, otherwise this post will never end!) and our memories of River Cottage HQ. I’ve thrown a couple of our garden harvests in too!
There’s a village by the sea, it’s a little piece of heaven and the angels call it Beer …
Beer is a fishing village in East Devon, England. The village faces Lyme Bay and is a little over one mile west of the coastal town of Seaton. If you’d like to know more about this beautiful unspoilt sea village, please do take a look at this informative website: http://www.beer-devon.co.uk/about/
Our dining experience visit to River Cottage HQ in Axminster was just amazing. Arriving at 6pm we were transported in groups by tractor and trailer down the famous winding hill to the even more famous white farmhouse. Being a massive fan of River Cottage I did get ridiculously excited as the house grew in size as we got nearer.
After getting off the trailer we entered a huge yurt, there we were greeted with delicious canapes and offered shots of a local-made cider, being Kingston Black for our evening. We were then encouraged to explore our surroundings including the River Cottage farmhouse and kitchen garden.
We made our way to the barn to be seated for our meal, the seating arrangement encourages you to get to know your fellow diners with many sharing starters (as well as many individual ones) to break the ice. The food was just as delicious as I imagined it to be, fresh seasonal food from the kitchen garden and farm as well as local produce too. The staff were informative and welcoming, the kitchen is left open for you to pop your head round the door to meet the chefs if you wish. The ingredients for each dish were explained, Hugh’s philosophy for fresh home-grown produce, animal welfare and supporting local producers/smallholders/farmers was very evident.
I can honestly say I’ve never eaten so much in one evening! Vegetarians and vegans are well catered for and if you have any other dietary requirement the staff are only too pleased to help.
As we climbed back into the trailer in the dark it was very obvious the awkwardness of being with strangers at the start of the evening had disappeared. Everyone giggled loudly as the bumpy trailer slowly began climbing the hill. Perhaps it was just the wine! My parents, Rich and I all left with full stomachs and wonderful memories
And last but not least, some harvests from the garden at the end of the year. Ta da!
January is usually a cold month, if the weather is particularly severe there may be little to do in the vegetable garden, but now is the perfect time to plan for the busy year ahead. Browse seed catalogues and plan what you’re going to grow and where, drawing a plan of your plot can help. If you’re a busy person, think about how much time you can realistically spend in your garden or at your allotment, try to plan accordingly, avoiding the mistake of growing too much all at once. It’s easy to become overwhelmed, especially if you’re a beginner, far better to choose crops that you enjoy eating or find easy to grow. Add more to your list as your confidence grows.
Some jobs that can be tackled in January:
Order seed potatoes for chitting this month or next
Fading light conditions can make time for the garden almost impossible if you’re busy, now is the time to get motivated to put the garden to bed for the winter. However, there are planting possibilities for milder areas of the UK to be getting on with. It’s well worth getting some winter digging underway for heavy soils (avoid digging in constant wet weather), remove weeds and spread manure or organic compost if you can. If you prefer to follow the no-dig method, top dressing empty beds with organic matter can be done now too. Being productive now should save time come spring – and your soil will love you for it.
Some jobs for November:
Make a leaf bin and start collecting fallen leaves to make leaf mould
Plant garlic and winter onion sets
Prune apple and pear trees
Prune soft fruit bushes
Cover frost tender plants at night with horticultural fleece, don’t forget greenhouse…