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!
Earlier this year we planted our first blueberry bushes in lovely old bath tubs. I wasn’t expecting much from their first growing year to be honest, but was happily proved wrong.
Two blueberry bushes provided steady pickings throughout summer right through to autumn, enough to keep the blueberry fans of the family satisfied. It’s now November and we’re still picking berries.
I spotted this vintage mini trug recently from one of my favourite online garden shops, with berry picking in mind it’s perfect for the job.
The temperature has really dropped during the day and nights are chilly, the bushes are just starting to display their beautiful autumnal colour in patches. I’m so pleased we introduced blueberries to our kitchen garden, if you’re interested in growing them too take a look at our growing guide post https://thegardensmallholder.wordpress.com/2017/03/12/blueberries-in-tubs/ for helpful information to keep them happy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
This month has flown by for me and I’m quite late putting this post together. The photos were taken just over a week ago, since then, everything has put on more growth.
Inspired by Charles Dowding, the four no dig beds we planned are finished (no dig = cardboard to smother the lawn/weeds, topped with a deep layer of compost), onions occupy one of these beds and doing well. Sweet pea scramble up an obelisk in another of the beds and these will soon be joined by courgettes, with butternut squash, pumpkins and beans going in the larger beds in the middle of the garden.
Broad beans overwintered from November (‘Aquadulce Claudia’) are almost ready to pick and ‘Bunyards Exhibition’ started off in spring are flowering already. I’m giving a heritage variety of broad bean called ‘Crimson Flowered’ a go this year, as the name suggests, the flowers are crimson and should look really pretty.
Garlic ‘Red Duke’ is looking really good with thick necks and no sign of rust (yet!), probably the best-looking garlic I’ve ever grown. I just hope the bulbs are a decent size because the leaves are extremely healthy and leafy!
Quick crops such as radish, mustard frills, spring onions, rocket and salad mixes are all providing plenty of pickings for meals. We grow these in containers and wooden crates. The herb patch is thriving, along with thyme plants that are doing brilliantly in a spot that doesn’t receive much sun at all. Experimenting with gardening sometimes pays off.
Peas are growing strong and flowering now, variety ‘Jaguar’. More peas have since been planted out including my favourite purple varieties ‘Blauwschokker’ and ‘Shiraz’, the flowers are just as stunning as sweet pea. Sweetcorn is now in position after hardening off, I prefer to start the seeds off in pots and keep them in the conservatory where it’s always warm.
Beets, chard, carrots and parsnips are popping up and potatoes are looking very good and almost ready to start flowering. Plenty of tiny fruits on the blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes to look forward to and the strawberries, wild strawbs and raspberries are all in flower with small fruits forming.
The veg garden looks like a proper veg garden now, the bunting is up on the shed and flowers in troughs and hanging baskets soften it. It’s hard to believe this garden is less than a year old, I’m very proud of it and looking forward to seeing it evolve and change even more over the coming months.
The weather has been very gorgeous, a welcome boost for the garden and the many wildlife visitors and inhabitants. Fruit bushes and cane fruit are greening up, potatoes leaves are peeking through, peas scramble up chicken wire, seeds are germinating in the ground and tender crops such as beans and squash are germinating in the greenhouse. Plenty of watering had to be done in the greenhouse over the weekend as the temperature hit 100 F, it felt good to be busy gardening again.
Despite the beautiful weather I’ve held off planting out sweetcorn, even though the plants are big enough to withstand a windy day they wouldn’t appreciate a late frost. I will plant them out later in the month. Tomatoes are huge now (some with flowers) but still tucked up in our sunny conservatory for the time being, I’ll move them to the greenhouse once I have a bit more room.
May is the month when Mason bees are very active around bee boxes or cracks and crevices in walls, busy finding suitable nesting holes. I love watching them provide for the future off-spring, carrying nourishment to the nest before sealing the nest entrance with mud. They’re amazing little creatures and very important pollinators, well worth attracting to your garden or allotment.
The wildlife ponds are squirming with tadpoles, I spotted these adult frogs keeping cool in the water yesterday.
The weather is set to change and become unsettled this week with thunder storms likely. Hopefully it won’t be too long before fine and settled weather arrives again.
Flash flooding struck our region last week causing chaos to rail and roads, farmland, homes and gardens. Thankfully our home and the area of garden where the chickens are housed were unaffected by the flood, but our kitchen garden sank under water. A week or so of sunshine and no rain to follow allowed the ground to drain away quicker than I thought it would, the soil seems to be more or less how it was before, still damp, but that’s to be expected for the time of year. Looking at the garden now it’s hard to believe it was flooded at all, I did worry about losses in the kitchen garden (particularly the rhubarb crowns rotting) but so far everything seems well.
Since my last blog post I built a raised bed in front of the shed and created a gravel path which leads to the greenhouse. This bed is no-dig, thick layers of cardboard were put down to kill the grass and a thick mulch of compost on top.
I plan on growing courgette, dwarf purple beans and sweet peas for scent and cut flowers in this bed. I also prepared another raspberry bed recently, the original bed I planned for the raspberry canes won’t work due to being waterlogged throughout winter (unforeseen problem) so I really need to improve drainage or change plans altogether.
In the greenhouse I’m planting onion sets into module trays to get them off to a good start, once they root and shoot in a few weeks outside they go. I’m sowing parsley, coriander, radish, peas, spring broad beans, nasturtium and spring onion. Leeks are doing really well and cut and come again salad leaves will be ready for picking soon. Tomato seedlings in the house need potting on now and I’ve just started sowing sweet corn into pots.
On to some chicken news, I’m sad to say we lost our lovely old Leghorn hen recently so I’ve had the joys (groan) of integrating her pal with the pullets so she’s not on her own. All seems to be going to plan though.
I really dislike integrating hens, but all part and parcel of keeping chickens. All the girls are laying well and appear to be in good health.
The wildlife ponds are full of froggy activity at the moment, amongst the clumps of spawn are future slug munchers, welcome to the kitchen garden little ones.
Although our garden is an absolute soggy mess, we’re the lucky ones, our home is dry and our animals are safe. We enjoyed Christmas without the worry of the weather outside our windows. Despite the many storms, temperatures are mild throwing nature into disarray. The wildlife ponds here are still heavily populated with frogs, usually they’re nowhere to be seen until February or March. I wonder if we’ll see some super early spawn? Daffodils are reportedly in flower across some counties which is crazy for December, butterflies are on the wing during dry days and bumblebees buzz angrily across the garden, looking just as confused as I am.
However, the vegetable garden offers the promise of food, which is always something to smile about. The first crops to make an appearance in our new vegetable garden are garlic and broad beans, constant mild temperatures ensured a successful germination ratio with the broad bean seed, just two seeds failed which is good going for me. I don’t hold a trophy for overwintering the humble broad bean.
If our broad beans make it through storm ‘Frank’ without drowning (he’s howling furiously and tipping HEAPS of rain down as I type this blog post) and the coming months too, after sowing another batch in spring we’ll be rich in beans. Rich I tell thee!
During a recent trip to a garden centre to buy a family birthday card (I know, odd choice but they do offer a great selection of cards and I couldn’t face the ‘sale crowds’ in the usual well-known card stores!) I spotted the net bags of early seed potatoes, the very thought of plunging the dear little things into our soggy garden made my top lip curl, so I passed on by, empty-handed.
I should mention the chickens seeing as the weather is so poor. They’re all doing well, even the oldies. Thankfully they’re tucked up warm and dry in their roofed enclosures although I think they’d prefer to be drinking from a muddy puddle, or pecking at the broad beans. On good days they roam, stormy days they’re in. I can’t risk them being blown over to the neighbours gardens. Just one hen going through a heavy moult at the moment, but she’s feathering up quickly rather than dragging it on, as some do. We’re collecting 4 or 5 eggs a day which is plenty for our needs, the pullets laying most days.
Well, I hope you had a great Christmas dear reader. The blog has been a bit quiet through most of this year I know, but the new vegetable garden is at last a real thing rather than a sketch on paper. I can’t wait to properly get my fingers in the soil and grow some lovely fresh vegetables and beautiful flowers for the pollinators.
Heartfelt sympathy to those dealing with flooding. Stay safe and Happy New Year xx
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.
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.
I’m looking forward to seeing the first green shoots appearing through the soil in the brand new veg beds.
Exciting stuff, I wonder if they’ll appear Christmas morning?
The new kitchen garden has been a joy to work on, it’s great to finally see my plans before me, rather than on paper. Each raised bed will be filled with compost rich in chicken manure straight from the compost bins, it’s lovely stuff with a beautiful earthy smell. I’ve decided to try the no dig method used by Charles Dowding for most of the beds, although due to timing, one bed has already been dug over and prepared for planting garlic in autumn.
The rhubarb bed is looking great, this is a young crown of Timperley Early which is a favourite of mine to grow because it’s super early and great for forcing. I resisted the urge to pull a few sticks this year, leaving it to grow strong and healthy for future harvests.
Squeezed into a sheltered corner of the kitchen garden is a wildlife pond, our garden is full of frogs and newts and you can never have too many wildlife ponds and areas in my opinion. I planted herbs around the edges to grow wild and unruly for a natural look, most are flowering herbs to attract bees and pollinators.
I used potted ivy and wood logs at the very back of the pond for a natural, rustic look. The new kitchen garden is pulling plenty of wildlife in already, including these little guys…
In the centre of the kitchen garden is a mature apple tree with a little table and chair set underneath, every kitchen garden needs a place to relax and enjoy the surroundings.
Below is the view from the kitchen garden, back towards the house.
I’m looking forward to working with my soil and improving it with plenty of organic matter over time, the texture appears to be a light sandy type which is just perfect for root veg.
The chickens seem to like the kitchen garden, although I’ll have to find a way to keep them out soon!
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 removing weeds and spreading manure or organic compost if you can. 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 autumn 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 plants!
Plant new bare-root fruit trees, bushes and canes
Make a note of what your grew and where, include successes and failures – it will help you plan crop rotation for next year
Continue tidying and harvesting the last crops
Rhubarb is now dormant, propagate established plants or plant new sets
Sow hardy broad beans (Aquadulce Claudia) and peas (Meteor) for an early crop late spring
Make or buy bug boxes or ‘hotels’ to help beneficial insects survive the winter
Check water butts/barrels and drain if necessary
Remove fallen leaves from the surface of wildlife ponds
Plant spring bulbs for a splash of colour
Order seed catalogues
Don’t forget to bring frost tender potted plants inside before the first frost arrives!