Kitchen 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.

Kitchen Garden

The First Seeds

autumn sow broad beans

The year is rolling along so quickly, it’s hard to believe Christmas will be upon us next month. It’s been a strange year (for me) as far as gardening goes, with the kitchen garden being so new there hasn’t been much going on in the way of planting. Soft fruit bushes, rhubarb and herbs have been the main stars up until this point, but now I’m preparing to plant the very first vegetable seeds in our new kitchen garden. Autumn sow broad beans and garlic.

planting garlic

I’ve spent a good deal of time improving and clearing the soil in order to have areas ready for autumn sowing. Digging and sifting out large rocks and stones along with other debris such as rusty old nails, pieces of broken glass and other odd items is not my idea of fun, but a necessary and strangely satisfying job just the same. By adding plenty of nutrient-rich compost from the compost bins and vegetable-growing compost, I now have beds ready to plant. The chickens helped of course, their scratching action (and regular dust bathing) really helps to improve soil structure.

chickens in the veg garden

I’m looking forward to seeing the first green shoots appearing through the soil in the brand new veg beds.

broad bean seedlings

cristo garlic growing

Exciting stuff, I wonder if they’ll appear Christmas morning?

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

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.

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Wordless Wednesday

broad bean plants, broad beans

Kitchen Garden · Plans

Interesting Winter Salads

I enjoy the occasional fresh salad during winter, so with this in mind I decided to grow a few tasty things in the greenhouse. I’m growing autumn variety broad beans for the leaves only, autumn peas for young shoots and baby (immature) beets for leaves rather than roots. Herbs such as mint will overwinter well if kept frost-free and parsley will continue to grow happily if brought indoors during cold weather. Coriander is easily grown from seed all year round.

The plants are not going to be allowed to crop so I can afford to sow seed quite close together, packing in as many as I can. Fingers crossed for an interesting and tasty salad this winter. Have a go yourself!

Grow Your Own Guides · Kitchen Garden · Pests & Diseases

Pinch out Broad Bean Tops

My broad beans are flowering and beginning to form small bean pods lower down on the plants. I spent a few minutes yesterday pinching out the tops. Pinching out broad bean tops helps to avoid an infestation of black bean aphid, it also encourages the plants to direct their energy into forming nice big pods of beans rather than putting on more top growth. It’s easy to do, just pinch the very tops off with your thumb and forefinger once the lower pods are approx 3in long. If you see clusters of black dot like creatures, often with a sticky substance covering them, this is black bean aphid. Pinch the tops off as normal to try to bring the problem under control.

If you’re a wildlife nerd like me, you might be interested in another way of knowing if your broad beans have black bean aphid infestation – keep an eye out for black ants on the plants. When feeding, black bean aphid secrete a sticky, sugary substance called honeydew. Ants ‘farm’ the aphids, milking the honeydew produced by the aphids as well as moving them to the fresh new growth. Apparently the sweetest honeydew is produced by aphids eating the youngest, freshest leaves – that’s probably why broad bean tops tend to get infested so easily.

Once you have pinched off your broad bean tops don’t throw them on the compost heap, try eating them instead. They can be cooked like spinach or add to a stir fry –  just make sure they’re not infested with black bean aphid first!

Kitchen Garden

Unlucky Crop?

Following on from my previous post, it got me thinking. Do you have an unlucky crop? You know, one veg/fruit that you just always seem to struggle with or have bad luck growing.

I do. Broad beans.

I hadn’t really thought about it before, about how much hassle they seem to be, for me I mean. But the weird thing is, I don’t even like them that much but I do enjoy the challenge of growing them (well it is for me anyway) and everything seems to come right in the end and I end up harvesting a decent yield!

Freak weather rotting off the seed in the ground, plants being earthed up by next doors cat while it does a toilet in my veg bed (nice), mice eating the seed (I think) oh and not forgetting a couple of years ago I caught muntjac deer helping themselves to the pods. Just a few examples of my misfortunes. Do you have an unlucky crop?

Kitchen Garden

Planting out my Leggy Broad Beans

There has been much drama in the legumes department. Last autumn I popped a few rows of  hardy Aquadulce Claudia outdoors in an attempt to get a slightly earlier crop – I lost the lot. The snow, extreme cold and prolonged cold/wet soil from December onwards took care of that idea for me and just to stick the boot in even harder, claimed my hardy Meteor peas too. Bah! I’m such a fool! I should have covered the rows with cloches rather than relying  completely on the word ‘hardy’. I guess the seeds weren’t hardy enough to cope with a foot of snow and then ice on top of the soil for weeks on end, they rotted away. Poor things. It’s OK though, I’m getting over it.

Good job really that I’m not a massive fan of broad beans, I’m also not able to control the weather either (now wouldn’t that be nice!?) so, I have decided to sow broad beans directly into the garden around March time in future – I would rather wait a few weeks longer to pick broad beans if need be to avoid all this hoo haar. Failing that, if I do decide to give autumn sowing another try I will remember to use some common sense ( I do have some, although it’s fleeting) and cover with cloches. I think I prefer waiting till March idea best – they usually catch up anyway.

I did sow more broad beans indoors in January, the plants are healthy at the moment but rather leggy which I find does happen to broad beans started off in small pots. The plants have been hardening off outside and are ready to go in the veg garden, but because they are so leggy they are too tall for my tunnel cloches so I will pop some fleece over them at night for a while, keeping my fingers tightly crossed for them. All is not lost, there is still time to sow broad beans outside and that is what I shall do whilst mumbling a little prayer for my leggy broad bean plants.

One of these years I will crack the art of growing them without any false starts. I will! I will!

EDIT: I’ve had a late thought. Perhaps mice got to them? We certainly have a lot of field mice here. All I found in the soil were soggy broad bean skins here and there and no sign of the peas!

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February in the Garden Smallholding

The beginning of the month was a bit hairy with gale force winds battering most of the UK for almost a week, the chickens were not impressed and retreated to the safety of the coops, only leaving to eat. Despite this daily egg laying has increased this month to 4 out of 6 hens laying – plenty of eggs for our needs. Red mite in the chicken coop could be a potential problem anytime from now as the temperature begins to rise, I highly recommend dusting the inside of your coop with Diatom powder as a precaution, used regularly you shouldn’t have a problem.

I have been sowing seeds this month, tomatoes, broad beans and hardy outdoor cucumber along with an early sowing of radish outdoors undercover. Lupin and foxglove are doing well, some of the lupin seedlings already have their first set of true leaves. The last parsnips have been lifted this month and the rhubarb patch is looking great, in just a matter of weeks I will probably be harvesting the first sticks of  Timperley Early. Garlic is looking good too despite being under a blanket of snow for weeks, plenty of healthy green top growth. I planted garlic cloves in October and December and the December bulbs are almost catching up.  I planted Jerusalem artichokes outside yesterday near the patch of rhubarb, I’m hoping the height of the plants will cast some shade during the warmer months which I’m sure the rhubarb will appreciate as it tends to sulk during prolonged hot weather and requires a lot of watering.

Daffodils, ornamental allium and chives are pushing their blade-like leaves through the soil, fresh leaf growth is appearing on the blackcurrant bush and blackberry canes and the pear tree will be in blossom very soon. Ladybirds are starting to come out of hibernation now and wild birds are looking for suitable nesting sites….the eaves of our house seems to be popular again! What have you been doing this month?

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?

Kitchen Garden

It’s All Growing Well

Sprouts and cauliflower seedlings

Just a quickie update on the vegetable garden, sowing, seedlings and digging. We are still sowing like the clappers, all the seeds are germinating well so far, still waiting on the courgettes to make an appearance but so far so good.

Tomatoes and chillies have been sown and the tomatoes have already started to sprout. Runner beans will be started off in small pots this weekend, I don’t want to get caught out with a late frost or risk having the seed beans munched in the soil like last year.

The sprouts and cauliflower seedlings are doing very well outside in the mini greenhouse, some of the seedlings have their first set of true leaves. I have started off a second sowing of broad beans, the other plants are outside and doing well, even in the frost. We did lose some of the taller plants, but, I think that was my fault for allowing them to go too stringy before planting them out. We had to start the broad beans indoors because none of the vegetable beds were ready for planting.

The sweet corn seedlings are really doing well on the sunny windowsill, they will be planted out as soon as the risk of frost is over. The onion sets are coming along great as well as the garlic. No major dramas so far.

Clearing the veg plot of nettles

The vegetable garden is coming along slowly but we are getting there. We are still having a hell of a battle with nettles on the second half of the plot. Our very friendly neighbour asked us why we don’t just spray the blighter’s and be done with it, I politely answered that we want to be as organic as we can, otherwise what is the point? We may as well not bother trying to grow our own if we are going to pump the soil full with nasty stuff. He probably thinks we are barmy of course and cannot see the point in us out there, every spare hour we can grab, digging like crazy people possessed.

Anyhoo, we now have 5 lovely vegetable beds all fed with lovely well-rotted manure and organic compost, ready to nurture our seedlings and sowings. Oh, that reminds me, must get the carrots, beets, peas and parsnips in soon!

Kitchen Garden

Sowing and Growing

Germination

A quick update on how the vegetable garden is progressing and what we are now sowing and growing. We had gravel boards delivered on Sunday with every intention of getting some frames built, but due to terrible weather conditions this was not possible to finish. We did get some more digging and weeding done, as well as digging in tons of organic matter to feed the soil.

The broad beans we potted up are germinating nicely on the window sill and are ready to plant out. Our garlic is going great guns, fingers crossed tightly that the very frosty weather recently has helped the cloves to split, seeing as we potted them up late. We are now sowing Brussels sprouts, sweet corn and cauliflower. Once the beds are completed the potatoes will be planted out as well as 2 varieties of onion sets.

The photo is a runner bean germinating from last year. We will be starting our runners off in pots this year, rather than sowing directly into the ground due to a terrible time with the seed beans being eaten below soil level. This meant we had to do a very late sowing of runners in pots and hope for the best. Due to a warm snap at the end of summer we were lucky to get a couple of harvests, but this year we hope to harvest a lot more.

We’re not lucky enough to have a glass greenhouse so windowsill space is getting tight. We purchased a mini greenhouse, yeah we know they are a bit flimsy but it helps out with sowing space!

Kitchen Garden

Clearing the Plot

Rich digging

This weekend was spent tackling the over grown plot which will eventually become our vegetable garden. Although it rained quite a bit today, all in all the weather was kind to us and we managed to get quite a lot done.

The first task was to cut back the giant mass of tangled brambles to ground level. My dad kindly lent us a set of sharp loppers which made short work of the thick gnarly bramble stems. The rose gloves that we purchased last weekend proved to be an excellent choice of hand protection. After clearing the bramble foliage away, Rich began the tough job of digging out the root clumps. By leaving at least a foot of stem visible whilst cutting the brambles, it made it easier to see where we needed to dig to remove roots.

clearing-the-plot

Rich waving a root around

It is much easier to visualise and plan the vegetable beds now that we can actually see the ground. I potted up broad beans this afternoon, feeling confident that they will be planted out in our vegetable garden very soon. Oh that feels good! 

A couple of robins took a lot of interest in our hard work, keeping close by and diving on worms that came to the surface of the soil. I’m relieved that no wildlife was disturbed by our work this weekend, all in all a productive and positive weekend.