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

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.

Allotment

Wordless Wednesday

pretty allotment
Ah! The wonderful long hot summer of 2014
Plans

New Year New Garden

garden smallholding

As the new year gets underway, my mind is full of plans for the new vegetable garden. Ideas and designs have spent the best part of 2 years in a sketch pad, I really can’t wait to finally put these long and thought out plans into action. However, garden tools are now retired to the outbuilding/shed until spring arrives with drier weather. It’s been a mild winter so far and this area has missed out on any snow, but the ground is too soft to continuously walk on.

shed

I mention the outbuilding. It sits alongside the greenhouse, sharing the plot where the new vegetable garden will go, and it really needs a make over. Rendered concrete construction, 2 metal doors and a small wooden window, it currently looks tired and unloved, to be honest it’s a bit of an eyesore. But I’m sure I can bestow some magic upon this very useful storage space. A clean up, lick of paint (I’m thinking soft cream walls, white doors and window frame), window box, rustic pots and planters, perhaps a climbing rose to scramble over and a few garden accessories should make a huge difference. I might even treat it to some pretty floral bunting in summer.

In other news, I’m collecting 5 – 6 eggs a day from the hens and of course the pullets are really helping to boost the number, it’s their first winter and they’re in great condition. I don’t think we’ve ever had such a productive winter from the hen houses, I’m baking more than usual that’s for sure! The older hens appear to be doing well, although a winter moult is expected soon.

eggs

Allotment news! Garlic is growing well, and for the first time I’ve planted some elephant garlic too. I recently removed a young rhubarb crown that I planted last year, this was taken home in a large container of compost and will start off the rhubarb patch in our new vegetable garden very soon, can’t wait for that. That’s about it for now with allotment planting, I’ll sow some hardy broad beans soon (at the allotment and potted up in the greenhouse in case of failures) and then think about which tomatoes I’d like to grow. I have Charlotte seed potatoes in trays to chit in the unheated conservatory, and I’ve sorted through my seed packets.

I’m ready. Roll on spring!

allotment
Allotment

October Allotment Photos

allotment

I spent a lovely afternoon at the allotment yesterday. A dull and chilly day but I didn’t feel the chill working on the plot. It was a day of weeding, harvesting (carrots, potatoes and a few pumpkins) and generally mooching around in the shed, tidying up and sipping hot tea.

allotment, allotment shed, pretty allotment

allotment flowers, blue allotment shed

We’re almost half way into October and the plot still offers plenty of Cosmos for wildlife and picking, the flowers just keep going and going until a hard frost arrives.

allotment, raised beds

I have a couple of rows of potatoes still to lift and I’ll get that done before the ground freezes.

harvest potatoes

I’m very pleased with my carrots, they’re a lovely size with straight roots and the best I’ve ever grown. Putting rabbit fencing around the plot certainly helped matters. As much as I enjoy the comedy value of pulling misshapen carrots (you do get some strange and wonderful shapes), I was determined to grow some decent carrots this year. And I did, yay!

sunflower seedhead

Sunflowers hang their heads, ripe with seeds, I’ll cut the heads soon and lay them flat for birds to help themselves.

pumpkin october 14 0945 BLOG

This lovely pumpkin will be used for carving at the end of the month for Halloween! I finished painting the inside of the shed door before I left for home, I’m so pleased with the colour, it looks stunning against the colour of the Cosmos and pumpkins don’t you think? I’ve decided to paint the inside of my shed ‘Country Cream'(Cuprinol) and add a few finishing touches, some of which I sourced from artisans including lovely bunting which I just can’t wait to put up. I just need the paint and away I go!

Allotment

More Reasons To Visit My Allotment

allotment tea collage resized My dad cleared out items of his old fishing equipment recently, he doesn’t go anymore and his shed needed a sort out. He gave me his little gas camping stove to use at my allotment, I let out an excited squeal because I was all set to buy one. You can buy these gas stoves easily enough but mine is old (works perfectly), which I love. camping kettle So far I’ve used my gas stove with my camping kettle to make a mug of my favourite Mao Feng green tea when I feel the need, it’s really refreshing and warms me up when I’m feeling a bit cold or achy. Dad informs me he cooked quite a few hot meals and snacks on the stove, I’m looking forward to trying out a bit of allotment cooking now that chilly weather is upon us.

aqua shed
Allotment

Shed Painting

shed paint

I painted the allotment shed today. I fancied a change of colour.

The new paint is called Mediterranean Glaze by Cuprinol, I’ve admired this colour for a long while now and got the exact shade I wanted mixed in-store for me at our local Homebase. I’m really happy with the result, it’s just how I pictured it in my head and my shed will be a fantastic backdrop against spring and summer flowers next year. My creative and design juices are flowing with colour combinations whirling around in my head, one plant I must have growing near the shed next year is Salvia, for slender spires of intense violet-blue flowers. I grow Salvia in old wooden wine crates topped with pea shingle at home, which looks fantastic on the patio.

The weather turned out lovely after a frosty start to the morning, last night was cold and typical of October weather, we’ve been a bit spoilt with unseasonably mild weather for so long.

aqua shed

My shed is now ready for autumn and winter with its bright aqua armour. Because my shed is blue underneath, it’ll look interesting when the paint starts to weather.

Allotment

September Allotment Photos

allotment collage I’m coming out of my blogging hibernation, it’s been a while since I’ve visited the plot let alone post about it. And I’m feeling guilty. I trundled off to the allotment at the weekend to tackle a really difficult bed (we all have one area that’s the bane of our lives don’t we?). Brambles, bindweed, creeping buttercup and couch grass greeted me. Gah! My heart sank, but I got on with the job of clearing it of top growth and roots, digging over and topping with manure. It really helped to lift my spirits but I soon felt achy so decided to make the move home before my back give way completely. allotment flowers But before I left I took photos of the prettiest part of the plot, all the summer flowers are still in full swing including a lovely sunflower alongside tired ones. I did really well with the sunflowers this year, using seed a friend sent to me. butternut squash There’s plenty of butternut squash to harvest and little pumpkins, lovely big marrows (I grow them for the chickens mainly) and here’s my second year attempt at a giant pumpkin…. allotment pumpkin …..didn’t quite work but it’s the best size I’ve grown yet so I’m happy with that.

Allotment, Pests & Diseases

Gertcha Rabbits!

allotment wire fence

Our allotment site is fenced with chicken wire to prevent rabbits from entering from the railway and fields beyond. As predicted, rabbits are finding ways to get in, along with deer. It was soon obvious that all the plots would benefit from being fenced too, around half of the plots are now protected but those that aren’t are having problems with crops being eaten, including ours.

blue allotment shed

Last year the little fuzzy butts ate all the carrot tops (then dug some of them, up scattering them everywhere), dug a whacking great hole in the potato bed and pooped all over the plot. This year, rabbits or deer munched garlic tops down to the stalks and damaged fruit bushes. I’m all for wildlife but enough is enough!

allotment photo

Last weekend Rich and I put a fence around our plot using chicken wire and wooden posts, stapling the wire onto the edges of the raised beds and paths to stop anything from digging under. I’ve visited our plot everyday this week and cannot see any further damage. We covered the garlic over with wire frames about a month ago and it’s recovering nicely now. The funny thing is, I thought I’d hate having a fence around the plot, in actual fact I quite like it. It makes the plot feel more like our little place, without losing the feel of community gardening or shutting our neighbours out. And our crops are a little bit harder to get at.

Allotment

Back on the Plot

rhubarb

The weather has been settled and sunny for many days now, a pleasant respite from the rain allowing many hours of work at the allotment to prepare the ground for sowing and planting. Rich made a couple of raised beds using the wood we recently recycled, our plot now pretty much finished with regards to the design and layout. Gone is the tarp covering the unused difficult area, the ground now workable.

blackcurrant bush

During a break from weeding and turning over the soil I noticed mounds of fresh lupin growth by the shed, the beautiful shaped leaves easily recognisable. Fat leaf buds on fruit bushes are beginning to burst open and crisp white broad bean flowers sparkle in the sunshine. A previously sleepy allotment, suddenly bursting into life.

lupin leaves

IMG_6151broadbeans Blog

Simple pleasures, just one of the reasons I enjoy gardening and the outdoors so much.

rhubarb crumble

After grafting at the allotment there’s nothing better than a warm serving of rhubarb crumble with a cup of tea, the first crumble of the year always tastes the best.

Allotment

Hello Old Friend

allotment in winter
The allotment in winter, thanks to a mild but very wet winter, the weeds are still growing strong.

The weather continues to be dreadful, not the sort to be pottering about in gardens or allotments that’s for sure. Because of the weather I’ve avoided our allotment for weeks, today I made time to look around to check how everything was bearing up. Much to my surprise the shed still stands where we built it and our plot isn’t underwater. As I stood there examining everything, I felt that I, we, and all the other plot holders have been incredibly fortunate, the whole allotment site looks remarkably good considering. I noticed weeds growing happily, I didn’t get around to completely weeding every bed and I only covered the beds where I plan to grow potatoes. Now all I need is a little dry weather to sort this out, not a chance at the moment *rolls eyes*.

I snapped a few photos of the allotment using my phone:

self-sown broad beans in february

Broad beans growing happily (of course they are, I didn’t plant them!), sown by Mother Nature herself.

garlic february

Garlic looks great, I’m so pleased I put extra effort into weeding the garlic bed and topping it up with fresh compost and a sandy seed compost to help with drainage. I must have known…….

scabious flowering in february

Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Pink’ still flowering and showing no sign of stopping anytime soon, you’ve got to find room on your plot for a plant.

carrots eaten by wild rabbits

Naughty, naughty rabbits!!!

rhubarb patch

Timperley Early rhubarb looking great, a little frost nipped but strong and healthy.

I’ve missed our allotment, it’s like an old friend. I even miss the hurried fly by visits, you know, when life gets hectic. As it does. Roll on spring and drier weather. Please?

Allotment

New Year Visit to the Allotment

Yesterday I went to the lottie, the sun was shining which was a lovely break from the heavy rain and damaging winds that have been hanging around lately, surprise surprise much the same today. After spending a couple of hours hand weeding and generally mooching about (as you do), I sat on our bench made from tree logs by the shed and enjoyed my sandwiches in the warm sunshine. It was so lovely I didn’t need to put my coat on. Looking around at my surroundings, my plot and others look as if they’re trying to wake up already.

broad bean plants
Broad bean plants growing happily in what was the pumpkin patch during summer.

Growing happily in the strawberry bed and pumpkin patch (the latter a tangled mushy mess) are broad bean plants. Probably the result of rodent or bird activities, I didn’t plant them but if I had they certainly wouldn’t survive to this stage (I don’t have much luck starting broad beans in autumn!). One plant is flowering. Will I be picking broad beans soon? I wonder….

Flowering broad beans in January!
Flowering broad beans in January!

I noticed Calendula ‘Flashback Mix’ flowering by the allotment shed, colourful small flowers entwined with grey skeleton stems left over from summer. We’ve seen just one hard frost so far this winter, obviously not enough to wipe these cheery little flowers out completely.

Calendula flowers hanging on in January
Calendula flowers hanging on in January

Remember the garlic I planted recently? Well, they’re poking through the soil already, soldiers standing to attention. The rhubarb patch is waking up too.

Timperley Early rhubarb beginning to grow in winter
Timperley Early rhubarb beginning to grow in winter

I’m a big fan of Timperley Early rhubarb, a super early variety great for forcing for an even earlier crop. I won’t lie, I was tempted to place my forcer over the crown but I’ll be patient and give my rhubarb another year to grow even stronger before inflicting greed and a terrible case of sweet tooth upon it.

Allotment, Harvest

Last Allotment Visit of the Year

parsnips

Today I went to the allotment to dig up parsnips for our Christmas Day meal, probably my last visit to the allotment before the new year arrives. The parsnips look and smell amazing, ‘Gladiator’ always does well for me.

The next few days ahead will keep me really busy but it won’t all be about Christmas, we have a special birthday to celebrate too, our daughter will be sweet 16 (which makes us feel old!).

Allotment

Garlic Planting

planting garlic

End of the year preparations are almost finished at the allotment, just a couple more beds to weed and lightly dig over and plot 4 will be ready to rest over winter. Time ran away with me a bit this year, luckily the weather has been very accommodating, allowing plenty of time to catch up and complete jobs that I’ve usually finished before now. There are plenty of carrots and parsnips left over to harvest, but these are being saved for our Christmas day dinner. Yum.

germidour garlic

At the weekend I started planting garlic, usually I grow ‘Cristo’ but I couldn’t get it from my local supplier so I chose ‘Germidour’ instead, a French variety well adapted to British growing conditions. I was drawn by the striking purple stripes along the sides of the bulbs, after splitting each bulb for planting I was amazed at the size of the cloves.

planting garlic

I space each clove by stretching my thumb and forefinger apart and place the clove on top of the soil, it’s a rough planting distance but it works for me. Once I’m happy with my rows I make holes with a dibber and place the cloves in, covering over with soil (make sure the pointy end of each garlic clove is facing upwards).

raised bed with wire mesh cover

I use a wire mesh frame to cover the garlic bed, this stops birds and other allotment wildlife from disturbing the garlic. Once they sprout I remove the frame. Hopefully I’ll grow some whoppers!

Wildlife

A Welcome Visitor on Remembrance Sunday

Comma butterfly

Today was beautiful, a welcome break from wet and windy weather that seems to be hanging around. We visited the allotment to harvest the remainder of the beets and to do a spot of weeding. There’s still a fair bit of work to be done before the real winter weather arrives, mainly harvesting, tidying and hand weeding. Oh, and garlic planting. Lots of garlic.

comma butterfly on field scabious

We sat for a while in the warm sunshine listening to the sounds of the allotment, observing the 2 minute silence at 11am. Then I noticed a Comma butterfly visiting the Field Scabious growing on our plot, a very welcome visitor. Going by the wing shape and condition I’m pretty certain our Comma visitor was male and from the summer brood, he will hibernate soon and be on the wing next spring with a bit of luck.

Allotment, Harvest, Vegetable Garden

Peas in October?

blauwschokker peas

I intended to do this post in July. Family and pet loss forced blogging out of the window for a while, along with all sense of time. I couldn’t find any enthusiasm to visit the allotment, as a consequence some of my planned posts haven’t met the publish button. So here we are, late October. Why bother to blog about peas now? Well, these particular peas, in my humble opinion, deserve a mention. The variety is ‘Blauwschokker’ and they’re definitely on my list of crops to grow next year.

blauwschokker peas

Deep purple pods with huge minty-green peas nestled inside, the plants grow very tall so you’ll need to grow them against something sturdy and high (I used 7 ft canes pushed into sheets of wire mesh, such as chicken or aviary wire). Stems and leaves are thicker and heavier than any other pea I’ve grown, with tendrils as thick as springs. Pods are easy to pick, thanks to the bold colour, and can be eaten as mange tout before the peas begin to swell. Eye-catching pink/crimson flushed flowers are large and could easily be mistaken for sweet peas, for that reason alone, a perfect addition for the allotment or veg garden.

allotment harvest

A doddle to grow, these peas are very similar in size to marrowfat peas with an earthy, punchy flavour. Shell and mix with young broad beans, mash and smash with a fork or pestle and mortar adding a little olive oil and fresh mint, spread onto warm olive bread. Yum!

Allotment

Fairytale Pumpkins

allotment

I love growing pumpkins for many reasons but harvest time has to be the best – certain pumpkins remind me of Cinderella carriages and I’m almost sad at having to chop the stalk and take them home. The snake-like plants are fantastic ground cover to keep weeding down throughout summer and the flowers are edible as well as pretty. This year I grew three varieties, ‘Jack O’ Lantern’ and ‘Baby Bear’ both from Mr Fothergills seeds and Atlantic Giant from T&M (just the one plant though, they are thugs!).

pumpkins

Overall a pleasing yield from just a few plants, I have a couple suitable for carving and the hens will never turn their beaks up at the chance to devour a pumpkin or two. I read elsewhere that feeding pumpkins to chickens is a good way to naturally worm your flock, apparently the coating on fresh pumpkin seeds paralyse internal worms. I don’t know if there’s any truth to this claim, have you ever heard of this? All I know is our hens  get stuck into a pumpkin without any encouragement, stripping the fleshy insides and gobbling down the seeds.

The Atlantic Giant pumpkin I grew, sadly it began to rot before reaching epic proportions. Still, there's always next year!
The Atlantic Giant pumpkin I grew, sadly it began to rot before reaching epic proportions. It was well on its way to being a Cinderella carriage. Still, there’s always next year!

Sadly the Atlantic Giant pumpkin (I thinned down to just one fruit, aiming for size rather quantity) was a bit of a disappointment, it grew to a decent size but nowhere near the giant I envisaged, then it began to rot even though I took precautions against this by raising the pumpkin onto a pallet. Not a world record breaker but I did much better than last year and I won the fun competition I took part in with my neighbour who’s yet to see a fruit!

allotment pumpkins
Certain pumpkin shapes and skins remind me of Cinderella’s carriage, like this one right at the front. Variety ‘Jack O’ Lantern’.

Did you grow pumpkins this year, did you manage to grow a giant? Any bloggers out there up for a fun competition to see who can grow the biggest next year?

Allotment

The Allotment in July

blue shed

I’m so proud of how the allotment looks now, it’s a far cry from the weedy patch of land it used to be and I certainly don’t miss the stubborn soil it came with.

vegetable trug

sussex veg trug

Although I remember the aches and pains gained from sheer hard graft, sometimes it’s hard to visualise how the plot used to look as I casually fill the trug with fresh vegetables.

blackcurrants

redcurrants

strawberries

The strawberry patch and soft fruit bushes are really coming into their own now, I made some delicious jams recently to avoid a glut.

pretty allotment

allotment

I try to make the allotment butterfly and bee friendly, I think it creates something beautiful to look at.

pallet compost bin

We’ve recently introduced a new compost bin, made using wood pallets lying around. They’re also handy for lifting pumpkin fruit from the soil to prevent rotting.

filter13

yellow courgettes

Yellow courgettes look good, taste good and are super easy to spot and harvest before they grow too large and turn watery, we have green courgettes (including a round variety) growing too and I’ve already missed a few. If this happens I simply cut them in half and give them to the hens to have a good peck at, they love them!

red onions

It’s going to be a good year for onions!

Fruit Garden, Harvest

Bumper Strawberry Crop

strawberries

This year has been superb for strawberries. I’ve been picking large, super sweet fruits in great volumes at the allotment and giving away punnets to friends and neighbours to avoid waste. After doing a bit of research into the reasons why strawberries are so good this year, it seems the cool spring almost certainly played a part. Plants flowered later and had longer to put down roots. Because of a lack of sunshine up until now there was a longer gap between flowering and picking, fruit stayed on the plants for a longer period of time, absorbing extra nutrients, resulting in big, juicy and sweet fruits.

I have plenty of fruit to make jam, so that should keep me busy this week!

 

 

Allotment, Wildlife

Mason Bee Nest Update

I checked the bug box on the allotment shed yesterday and found a ‘mud plug’ sealing the entrance to a tube, indicating a completed nest. I didn’t have my camera to hand so I used my Apple iPad.

mason bee nest

The weather has been utterly gorgeous, I planted sweetcorn, giant pumpkins and three varieties of courgette, then gave the whole plot a good soaking. I noticed the foxglove raised from seed is flowering now, I had no idea what colour the flowers would be but I’m pleased, they look gorgeous against the blue shed.

More iPad photos:

foxglove

Lupins are slow to get going this year (just one in flower so far), but they will!

allotment shed

I planted courgettes in the bean bed (beans will be planted out soon), I use courgettes in this way as ground cover which cuts down on weeding, the courgette plants eventually shade bean roots as they grow, cutting down on watering.

planting courgettes

Back to the plot today to plant sunflowers!

Allotment, Wildlife

Mason Bees Nesting in the Bug Box

bug box on allotment shed

We have some exciting news to share! Mason bees (Osmia rufa) are making nests inside the bamboo cane bug box, sited on the allotment shed. Mason bees are solitary and do not form colonies or produce honey. The Mason bee gets it name due to using mud in building nest compartments, rather like a stone mason constructing a house. After mating, males die and females begin collecting pollen and nectar to build nests. After laying her eggs (males at the front and females at the back), the female seals the entrance to the tubular nest using mud. Mason bees may nest inside reeds or holes in wood made by wood-boring insects, some British species make their nests in empty snail shells. Luckily for us, 3-4 females have chosen to use our bug box.

If you look closely, you may just be able to see the mud-sealed entrance to one of the nests
If you look closely, you may be able to see a nest being built with mud. The tubes being used are yet to be sealed with a ‘mud plug’ which indicates a completed nest.

mason bee

The bug box is in full sun, sited approximately 5′ 8″ high, this is the first time the box has been used by bees. The bees were very calm considering we were about, using the shed and nearby area as we usually would. Mason bees are usually non-aggressive and will only sting if they are really threatened, ie being held between fingers. They would much rather get on with the job of building a nest rather than defending it.

allotment

We’re thrilled to be able to watch the bees, they’re brilliant little pollinators and very welcome on our plot. Plot 4 is certainly living up to its name – The Little Haven.