Kitchen Garden

Busy Month of June

June is a hectic month for a gardener. Endless pots of tender plants that have been nurtured and protected for many weeks can go outside now, suddenly lots of planting and watering needs doing as well as successional sowing of fast maturing crops.

I spend a lot of time in the kitchen garden during this month, and with an allotment too you could say I’m pretty busy at the moment! It’s never a chore though, not when I get to be outside in the fresh air, listening to birds singing and bees buzzing. The kitchen garden is bursting to life (if a little behind due to a cold start).

I’m never alone in the garden, our German Shepherd dog loves to follow me around and lay in the cool grass as I get on with planting. I can’t quite believe she turns 9 years old this August, where has the time gone? Five years on from losing our other GSD weeks after his 8th birthday we feel blessed to have her every single day, I love her company so much, even when she squashes my plants with her bottom!

There’s usually another pair of beady dark eyes watching from a tree or a spade handle, my little gardener’s friend the Robin waits for the chance to grab a worm, hopping around me as I work. I managed a photo of my other garden buddy hopping between the borlotti beans looking for a meal.

We planted peas late this year due to difficult spring weather, pods are just starting to fill out with fat peas from the bottom up and none have made it to the kitchen. Oops.

Busy or not I love a spot of pottering around when I’ve finished all my jobs. June brings goodies to the garden and snacking as I potter is a joy. Peas and young broad beans straight from the pods, oh and strawberries still warm from the sun, little moments like this make growing your own so worthwhile.

Kitchen Garden

After the Rain

Rain arrived late last night and continued till morning, the kitchen garden looks refreshed with a noticeable earthy aroma to the air. Even though the sun is covered over by heavy sky I can feel heat beginning to build already.

The much-needed rain encouraged lots of creatures from their hiding places, including fat slugs, unfortunately.

Young frog on chives
Anyone else reminded of the film Tremors?

We garden organically in our kitchen garden and allotment, relying on natural methods and predators to keep pest numbers down. During damp weather (particularly in spring) we pick slugs and snails off young plants by hand (yuk!). It’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it.

Flowers are appearing on the peas which is really exciting, I can’t wait to pick fresh pods and snack on sweet little peas!

Looks like we’re in for a bumper crop of strawberries too! We grow Cambridge Favourite which have great flavour for making jam, if we are to have any chance of entering the jam class of our village show later this year we must refrain from scoffing them all straight from the plants!

Have a great gardening weekend!

Kitchen Garden

Letting Go

With this great weather set to stick around for a while longer we took the plunge and planted out courgettes and butternut squash in the raised bed kitchen garden. Mollycoddled from seed it was time to take a deep breath and allow tiny tendrils to explore, yikes it’s so hard letting go.

kitchen garden, raised beds, vegetable garden

Five courgette plants are more than enough for a family of four although last year we had a really poor crop, we usually struggle to pick them fast enough.

We will never complain again about a courgette glut (Ok, we probably will), fingers crossed for lots this year!

Kitchen Garden

What’s Growing On In February?

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

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

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

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

The veg garden in February

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Kitchen Garden

What’s Growing on in January

I love writing these monthly catch ups on our kitchen garden, documenting the activities and plans. It’s a good excuse to get the camera out and really study the garden changing throughout the year. I use these posts as a reminder to look back on too.

January is usually a hard month for a lot of people, the weather hasn’t helped lift moods being so gloomy and dark. Threatening skies, murky and damp, I’m surprised some of our hens have come back into lay so soon.

But there are signs of good things to come. Take our rhubarb for example, it’s just starting to burst into life again after a brief moment of dormancy. It may not look much right now but in just a few weeks, it will. It’ll be all blushing stalks and leaves as big as dinner plates.

Go rhubarb!

If you want a super early rhubarb that tastes great and makes beautiful jams then Timperley Early is a great addition to your vegetable garden or allotment. It reappears soon after being dormant in autumn, pushing egg-like buds through the soil as early as December. Superb for forcing, it crops so early naturally you can pull it unforced late February to Early March. It’s not the heaviest cropping rhubarb but well worth growing for early cropping.

We’re still pulling some lovely roots from the carrot and parsnip beds. Autumn King carrots over winter in our garden and of course parsnips taste even sweeter after a good frosting. Long and straight parsnips from a no dig bed in its second year, not bad at all!

Kale ‘Nero Di Toscana’ (black Tuscan kale) has served us well throughout winter, the plants now resemble mini exotic palm trees with bare stems and leafy tops. Double rows of broad bean seedlings continue to grow well, protected under tunnel cloches from the destruction of chicken beaks and feet.

New growth sprouting at the base of the blackcurrants.

Our Brahma chickens enjoying some free time in the vegetable garden. When spring arrives and seed sowing begins the chickens are kept out using barrier mesh fencing.

I spotted some frogs in the wildlife pond preparing to attract a mate for spawning soon. We love the call of the males, we should start to hear it by next month.

We plan to sow chillies and tomatoes indoors in seed trays very soon, potting on throughout spring as needed. We do this every year with great results, eventually planting healthy and sturdy plants into the greenhouse towards the end of May, once night-time temperatures are steady enough.

I’m looking forward to putting a seed order or two in soon, it’s so exciting waiting for seed packets to arrive. I always try to grow either a new variety or something completely new to our garden each growing year, this year I’m thinking about growing Oca for the first time. Exciting!

Do you plan to grow something new this year?

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

Sowing in the Wind

The weather has been very blustery since yesterday and it looks set to continue today. The chickens are not fans of the wind blowing up their skirts, especially the fluffy gang…

The sun was shining earlier so I got on with planting broad beans in the cold wind. I don’t mind so much when I’m working in the vegetable garden, it’s the only time the weather doesn’t bother me, although I had to hold on tight to my seed packet!

kitchen garden, vegetable garden,

Broad bean ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ are a hardy variety, perfect for direct sowing in autumn right through to January if the soil isn’t frozen or water-logged. Our seeds go straight into the ground in a deep raised bed, the soil warmed with tunnel cloches for a few weeks before sowing. I sow double rows and use more seeds than needed to allow for failures, then cover with tunnel cloches to aid germination. The cloches remain in place and lifted only to water if the soil becomes too dry, as the seedlings grow taller we remove them.

The tunnel cloches are simply lengths of plastic corrugated sheeting slid into metal cloche hoops. The hoops are pushed down into the soil to anchor the sheets in place, keeping the soil warm and protecting the crop from weather and pests such as pigeons. Or in our case, chickens.

Seeds tucked safe and warm under tunnel cloches

The idea of sowing hardy broad beans in autumn is to get an earlier crop and avoid blackfly, in our experience we really only get a few weeks head start at most before the spring sown beans start producing. However I enjoy the anticipation of seedlings bursting into life through the soil, while everything else around them is taken by winters firm grip.

Growing broad beans from autumn onwards can be a challenge, nurturing the plants through the bleakest months can be tricky with cruel winds and heavy snow at the ready to scupper your plans. Some winters are easier than others, but I came up with a nifty idea for protecting plants through gales – wind break panels made from plastic sheeting, fashioned together using garden wire and garden canes. Heavy snow is far trickier to control if the plants are particularly tall, we’ve had plants literally collapse and snap low down during tough winters. When this happens the plants eventually produce shoots from the base and continue growing, but they’re never as good.

There’s always spring to fall back on of course, but I rather like a challenge.

Kitchen Garden

A Sunny November Afternoon

The sun was shining today, so we grabbed the opportunity to plant some garlic and carry on with the autumn tidy up.

Recent morning frosts claimed the last of our late summer planting of Czar runners. Before the frost hit, the dense foliage hid some fat bean pods, we always miss some, they’re too tough for eating but the beans inside are fine for cooking fresh.

While Rich got on with cutting down the runners I plunged 60 cloves of our home-grown Red Duke garlic into the soil, wished them well, then tucked them in for winter. I love the smell of garlic, especially when it meets the soil.

Red Duke is our favourite variety of garlic to grow. Over the past 2 years of growing it we’ve now accumulated enough of our own garlic for planting, with plenty of bulbs left over for kitchen use before harvesting the new crop next summer.

We decided to try another variety of garlic this year too, Caulk Wight is a purple striped garlic found in Russia and Eastern Europe. The seed garlic should be arriving soon which means more planting to look forward to!

If you’d like to learn how to grow your own garlic, take a look at our garlic growing guide https://thegardensmallholder.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/how-to-grow-garlic/

Kitchen Garden

It’s Funny How Tastes Change

As a child I hated Brussels sprouts. With a screwed up face I’d gingerly chew in slow motion, desperately thinking of a way to avoid swallowing the evil things. Of course they were in my mouth far longer than they should have been, so I’d end up gagging, mouth foaming with different shades of sprouty green. There were probably lots of tears too, followed by pitiful wailing in the hope mum would spare me.

Fast forward lots of years and I absolutely adore sprouts now. I grow them, cook them and happily eat them, especially raw straight off the plants. I can almost hear my inner child spewing. I admit I also pushed sprouts on our kids, but I think most parents introduce their children to these ‘yucky’ green balls at some point. Our daughter likes them now as a young adult but our teenage son is probably scarred for life.

brussels sprouts

I’m picking the first sprouts of the season now, ‘Seven Hills’ is a rare sprout that is almost extinct which makes them even more delicious! I got my seeds from Real Seeds if you’d like to give them a go next year.

Fruit Garden · Harvest

Blueberries in November

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.

Kitchen Garden

A Touch of Frost

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There was a real nip to the air this morning. A light blanket of frost arrived overnight as predicted, the veg garden looked so pretty twinkling in the morning sun but I was a bit sad to see the first casualties. Nasturtiums are always the first to go when a frost arrives in our garden, frost is so pretty but so damaging too.

Parsnip and strawberry leaves crumpled and twisted, unlike nasturtium they’ll soon bounce back as the sun melts the frost away.

The Czar runner beans are still looking good, along with Cosmos flowers. The frost wasn’t harsh enough to claim them just yet.

The chickens were reluctant to leave their coops early this morning, it’s been so mild here this cool snap was a shock to them along with all the blasted fireworks going off during the night. I’m a real bah humbug when it comes to fireworks.

The sun is shining again, I’ll be off out in the garden soon to pick the last of the greenhouse tomatoes, Czar runner beans for freezing and lifting more potatoes before the real frosts come calling.

Kitchen 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.

Kitchen Garden

Bringing in the Beans

One of my garden jobs this month has been picking beans and bringing them in to shell. We grew 6 different climbing bean varieties this year, each were chosen for their interesting looks, cropping times and versatility. Us Brits usually pick our beans young and small eating them pod and all while tender, but older tough pods can be shelled when the beans inside have actually grown. Used in this way there’s no waste and they can be cooked fresh or dried for storing.

Three of the varieties grown were runner beans; Polestar, The Czar and Greek Gigantes. Runners are usually prolific croppers and so I realise this seems rather a lot for the average size family to keep up with, but we’re after lots of beans for shelling and storing. Once the inevitable happens and the beans become large and stringy, simply open them up and cook the fat beans without their jackets on. Left to dry the shelled beans can be stored for many months and used in hearty autumn and winter dishes. Don’t forget to save some seed for sowing the following year. Scarlet-flowering runners have the most amazing pink and deep purple splashed beans, they almost seem unreal. Such a shame they turn brown when cooked. White-flowering varieties produce white beans, such as The Czar which produces large beans with a butter bean flavour.

A little tip for growing runners, they are vigorous and heavy, particularly so towards the end of the season when laden with all those beans. Growing them on sturdy A-frames will help to avoid toppling over during blustery weather. Cut them all down and bring them inside before the first frosts arrive.

Our old favourite Borlotti made the list again this year, the pink splashed pods glow in the summer sun and the beans inside are just as beautiful. We always allow the beans to dry for storing, they have a slightly sweet yet buttery flavour. I find soaking them in cold water overnight speeds up the cooking process.

Two varieties we’ve never grown before, Cherokee Trail of Tears (small black bean, very striking and looks great in the garden) and Coco Sophie (round white bean) did rather well too. Not quite as heavy cropping as the other beans but plenty for winter use.

Beans are fully dry when the pods turn brown and are dry and crispy to the touch. Bring your beans inside to dry out if the weather is wet and damp for a prolonged period. Store dried beans in jars and containers with airtight lids, somewhere cool and dry such as a larder cupboard.

Kitchen Garden

Half a Year of Gardening

In early summer just after my last blog post I ended up in hospital having surgery I wasn’t fully expecting. For some time I haven’t been well enough to tend to my beloved vegetable garden, after the surgery I wasn’t physically able to and then came horrid medication that upset my body, mind and mood, and well, I fell into some kind of depression.

The chickens were cared for but the garden had to pretty much fend for itself. Rich did his best but he’d be the first to admit he isn’t the gardener around here. The greenhouse contents and outside pots were watered and the grass cut. And so the courgettes turned to marrows, strawberries and blackcurrants pretty much fed the birds and fat pea pods withered and wilted in the summer heat. But all was not lost, my haphazard planting style as well as using ground covering edible flowers kept the weeds at bay, our pumpkins and squashes finally got going after many failed attempts and quickly swamped the ground (and eventually the lawn), drowning out light to weeds in their path. Some varieties didn’t show up to the party at all, such as the butternuts which is a real shame because they’re used so much in our kitchen.

In fact, there were many successes this year such as beans. So many beans. I’m positively beaming about that. It has to be the best year ever for beans. We have some pumpkins and squash to show for our efforts and autumn raspberries have been amazing this year, doubling in size over the plot. We grew the best carrots to date, absolute whoppers with no damage thanks to companion planting with onions. Our sunflowers grew so tall they toppled over, at least there’s plenty of food for the birds. Again.

Despite being neglected for half the year the veg garden has been very forgiving, and most generous. I have a long road ahead of me with my diagnosis of severe endometriosis. There’s no cure, even hysterectomy isn’t a guarantee of living pain-free at this stage of the disease. It’s a very common but still very misunderstood condition, the time taken for diagnosis is sadly too long for many women. I’ll leave this post on a positive…. I’m off to see a specialist next week, fingers crossed I can get this under some sort of control.

Kitchen 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.

Kitchen Garden

Flurry of Snow

snow on watering can

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

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

snow on the kitchen garden rhubarb in the snow

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

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

Grow Your Own Guides · Kitchen Garden

How to Force Rhubarb

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

Timperley Early rhubarb beginning to grow in winter

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

Catching Up With 2016

the view from river cottage

Where did 2016 go? It whizzed by!

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/

Fishing boats at Beer, Devon
Fishing boats at Beer, Devon
Beach huts at Beer, Devon
Beach huts at Beer, Devon
Seaton Hole twinned with Beer fishing village
Seaton Hole twinned with Beer fishing village
Rock pools
Rock pools
Red cliffs of Seaton
Red cliffs of Seaton
Rock pools Seaton Hole
Rock pools Seaton Hole
Limpets
Limpets
Seaton beach huts
Seaton beach huts
Seaton beach
Seaton beach

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.

Drinks and canapes in the River Cottage yurt
Drinks and canapes in the River Cottage yurt

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.

The view from River Cottage
The view from River Cottage
I really didn't want to leave, I coud have sat there all day looking at the gorgeous view of the kitchen garden
Check out my sulk face! I really didn’t want to leave, I could have sat there all day looking at the gorgeous view of the kitchen garden
The River Cottage kitchen, many TV dishes have been cooked here
The famous River Cottage kitchen

river cottage

Dad and Rich discussing cabbages....
Dad and Rich discussing cabbages….
Welcome to the River Cottage kitchen garden
Welcome to the River Cottage kitchen garden

river cottage

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.

The River Cottage HQ barn
The River Cottage HQ barn
One of the sharing starters
One of the sharing starters
Just one of the many individual starters
Just one of the many individual starters

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.

Pickled cucmber and nasturtium leaves from the garden
Pickled cucumber and nasturtium leaves from the garden

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!

pumpkins and squash

apples in a basket

Kitchen Garden

May Peek at the Veg Garden

veg garden

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.

sweet peas
The first sweet pea flower of the year

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.

veg 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.

veg garden

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!

veg garden

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.

jaguar peas

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.

watering can

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.

nasturtium in a trough planter
Nasturtium in the wooden trough will eventually spill over and creep along the gravel path.

Happy gardening everyone!

 

 

 

 

Kitchen Garden

Gardening Weather

the garden smallholder

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.

 overwintered broad beans

raspberry canes

peas red duke garlic

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.

mason bees

The wildlife ponds are squirming with tadpoles, I spotted these adult frogs keeping cool in the water yesterday.

frogs

frogs

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.

 

Kitchen Garden · Wildlife Pond

Ups and Downs

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.

autumn sow broad beans
Autumn sown broad beans are almost ready to flower
garlic
Garlic doing 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.

garden shed
New bed in front of the shed, the frames are on to stop the chickens scratching through to the cardboard underneath!!

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.

onion sets in module trays

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.

leek seedlings

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.

hens
Some of the girls enjoying some late winter sunshine in the kitchen garden

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.

frog and spawn

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.