Look what I found today in the wildlife pond, what a lovely surprise for Easter Sunday! This makes 9 clumps of frog spawn in total now.
Are you enjoying eggs of the chocolate kind today? We are! Happy Easter everyone!
With my laptop before me, sitting beside the tree, I wish all of our readers a very Merry Christmas and a happy new year.
We really enjoy our dog walks through the beautiful countryside surrounding the village.
At this time of year the hedgerows have so much to offer, so our dog walks have turned into foraging walks.
Miss B doesn’t mind, she comes along too.
You’ll find wild blackberries growing almost anywhere. The sprawling, spiteful plants are a nuisance, but try to remember what they offer late summer.
Syrups, jams, sauces, gin, wine, cordials and jellies are some of the things I will attempt to make with our free food, I plan to squirrel away foraged loveliness to the larder for Christmas.
Hazelnuts are also in season now and a great find for the forager, most probably green at the moment (but still delicious) but you could always leave some to ripen in a bowl and eat them at Christmas if you prefer. There’s a place we know of, so I guess Miss B would like to go foraging for hazels soon.
Now is the time I start planting garlic. According to the search stats finding my blog recently, the topic of how to grow garlic seems be quite popular. Planting times, growing and harvesting garlic appears to be causing confusion to some, so I thought I’d put this guide together. I’m not an expert by any means, but it might be useful to those searching the internet looking for information.
When to plant garlic:
I tend to plant garlic during November or December, but you can plant from October right up until early spring, if conditions are right. Reasonably well-drained soil is perfect for autumn planting, and this gives your garlic a longer growing season to produce bigger bulbs. If your soil tends to be too claggy for autumn planting, try starting garlic off in small pots of compost instead, leave them outside your back door or anywhere they won’t blow away! Plant your pots of sprouting garlic out in early spring once soil conditions are right.
Where to buy garlic:
Ideally you should use seed garlic for planting, and this can be bought from many places nowadays. It’s not actually little seeds that you are going to plant, but pre-grown bulbs from disease-free stock. Seed garlic usually come in packs of 2 or 3 bulbs. The usual way to purchase seed garlic would be via a seed merchant catalogue or specialist websites (more choice with varieties), but many more places offer what we need to grow our own, such as DIY chain stores (B&Q for example) and local garden centres, even supermarkets such as Waitrose are recognising the increased interest in kitchen and allotment gardening.
How to plant garlic:
An open sunny site with free draining soil is best. Split the seed garlic into individual cloves before planting, each one of these cloves will grow into a new bulb. 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 the holes, pointy end upper-most. Cover over with soil, the garlic tips should be hidden just below the surface.
Newly planted garlic can be disturbed by birds. To combat this problem I cover my raised beds with wire mesh frames, which simply sit on top and prevent anything from gaining access to the bed until lifted. The frames are easy to make from scraps of wood and chicken wire.
When to harvest garlic:
Garlic is ready to harvest when the leaves turn yellow, this is usually early summer, depending on planting time and variety. Lift from the ground using a garden fork. After I harvest my garlic I lay the bulbs over the side of a raised bed to allow worms to free themselves from the roots and drop back into the soil below, before dark I take them in from the garden and place somewhere dry to complete the drying process, such as a greenhouse or a shed.
How to store garlic:
Allow the bulbs to fully dry out before storing, when the bulbs are fully dry they’ll be papery white and rustle when touched. Now you can plait them together if you wish using the stems, or place in a net bag for storing. Trim excess roots.
I store my bulbs in an unheated greenhouse over winter, bringing bulbs to the house when needed. A cool, dry shed or garage would do.
With plenty of pumpkins stored away I’ve been looking for recipes to make something a little different with them. This scrummy recipe for pumpkin and raisin loaf cake appealed to me, particularly the spicing which would be pleasantly warming now that colder weather has finally arrived. I realised I lacked a loaf tin so I decided to use a cake tin instead. Which is perfectly fine, but the cooking time would need to be reduced a touch.
In any case, I love cake.
250g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
200g dark brown soft sugar
250g pumpkin puree
4 tablespoons milk
Preheat oven to 180 C / Gas mark 4.
For the pumpkin puree I measured out 800g of roughly chopped pumpkin (skin and seeds removed) and placed in a pan of boiling water, simmer for 20 minutes or so until the pumpkin pieces are soft (test with a fork). Strain water and place cooked pumpkin pieces into a fine mesh sieve, try to remove as much excess water as you can by pushing down on the pumpkin pieces with a fork to strain. Scrape the contents from the sieve into a bowl and use a hand blender to puree. Measure and set aside.
In a mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, spices and bicarbonate of soda. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Mix in eggs, 250g pumpkin puree and milk. Stir flour mixture into wet mixture until just combined. Fold in raisins.
Pour into a 23 cm cake tin and bake for 35 – 40 minutes (test middle of cake with a skewer).
Although you can’t really taste much of the pumpkin, the puree keeps the cake moist. After working in the vegetable garden or the allotment, enjoy a slice with a cup of hot tea. Lovely!
Each year I grow a couple of extra pumpkins to carve for Halloween. Instead of scooping out the insides myself, I give the chore to my chickens. But I guess it’s not really a chore to them, considering how eager they are to help.
Each pumpkin is hollowed out in record timing, flesh and seeds vanish (I’m careful to remove the pumpkins soon after, otherwise they’ll eat the whole thing before I get the chance to carve crazy scary faces). This saves me a bit of time and the hens get a healthy afternoon treat containing a natural wormer.
Happy Halloween, Blessed Samhain x
Ok, it’s actually chickens in a garden trug, not a bucket. I just couldn’t resist the blog title. The muddy young pullets taking a dust bath are the chicks my broody ex battery hen adopted in June. Oh how they have grown. They are Lohmann Browns, a sex link hybrid commonly found in commercial egg farms (all types of management ie caged, barn and free range) for their high egg production.
Binky and her ‘sisters’ broke out of their shells in a hatchery supplying pullets to caged farm systems, at 2 days old they came home with me in a tatty shoe box and I tucked them up safe and warm in the soft feathers of a broody hen.
Pictured below is Cheska, the blonde bombshell of the group. She’s a light buff colour that I’ve seen only once before in ex battery hens I re-home. She’s quite stocky with a shorter neck and smaller head than her sisters, not quite Buff Orpington stature but similarities are there.
Now that they’re all grown up their mum doesn’t wish to roam with or raise them anymore, she prefers her own company as she did before going broody. I’m grateful for the experience of watching the chicks learn from her; how to eat crumb, scratch the ground, bathe in the dirt and catch flying insects mid-air. How she called them when she sensed danger and how they disappeared in lightning speed into her feathers for safety, their little faces peeking through her feathers to see if it was safe to come out. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.
Pumpkin did a fantastic job of raising them, I could see how much she enjoyed the role of being a mother. I’m happy she had the opportunity to fulfil yet more of her natural instincts, strong buried instincts denied to her throughout her time as a caged laying hen.
My allotment plot and garden welcome many species of beneficial wildlife, such as hoverflies, lacewings, bees, ladybirds, butterflies (yes, butterflies are very welcome on my plot!) and lovely little mason bees. I grow plenty of flowers throughout the year to attract them, and my organic approach to gardening ensures there will always be food in the form of juicy aphids.
Providing bee and bug boxes in your garden helps to attract the good guys too, these safe hidey places are essential for surviving cold winters and reproduction with certain species.
Mason bees visit my plot to use the bee boxes as nests to reproduce, I find it fascinating to watch females carrying mud to seal the entrance to a nesting tube. In turn, they pollinate my fruit bushes and most probably my plot neighbours too.
Some of my boxes were purchased or gifted, and some were made using scraps of wood nailed together to form a box and filled with hollowed out bamboo canes. Online gardening shops and garden centres sell bee or bug boxes, I recently picked up a couple of nice examples from Waitrose and Poundstretcher stores.
I re-painted the Waitrose bee box (pictured above right) using a tester pot by Cuprinol Garden Shades (country cream).
I’m planning to make a bug ‘hotel’ using stacked pallets and other materials inserted into the gaps between each pallet. Now is a great time to provide some shelter for our helpful beasties, they’ll repay your favour by munching on the bugs you really don’t want on your veg. And, if you’re really lucky, you might just see mason bees nesting in your boxes from late April onwards.
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.
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.
I have a couple of rows of potatoes still to lift and I’ll get that done before the ground freezes.
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!
Sunflowers hang their heads, ripe with seeds, I’ll cut the heads soon and lay them flat for birds to help themselves.
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!
Summer has truly packed up and left today. It sure is chilly outside. Crispy leaves desperately clinging for dear life to trees blow around everywhere, sticking to wet windows. The rain hammered it down for hours. I love this time of year, the switch from summer to autumn really is spectacular. After the rain stopped I ventured outside to welcome autumn. Finally.
My tomato seedlings are at the stage where they need to part company with their seedling buddies and move into larger accommodation on their own. When the second pair of true leaves emerge they’re ready for potting on.
When potting on tomato seedlings plant deeper than they were previously to encourage a better root system, this helps with watering during the summer months and helps to create a stronger plant all round. Don’t be afraid to bury them up to their necks, they’ll soon start growing tall again. Depending on the time of year you may need to re-pot again before planting to final positions, again plant deeper.
As usual I have an obscene amount of young plants, far more than I need but I always find good homes for them. This year I’m growing ‘Sungold’, ‘Cherry Red’, Gardener’s Delight’, ‘Money Maker’ and ‘Tigerella’ varieties.
When the time comes to plant my tomatoes to their final positions, they go inside the greenhouse in deep containers. I feed with liquid comfrey and mulch the surface of the containers with comfrey leaves to slow down evaporation of moisture, saving me time with watering. As the leaves break down they enrich the soil where the surface roots are.
Fingers crossed for a great summer, I’m looking forward to tasty home-grown tomatoes.
We haven’t done very well with growing carrots at the allotment, our plot in its 3rd year of being worked (previously uncultivated land) is still quite troublesome in places due to heavy clay soil. Carrots prefer light soil, growth will become stunted if grown in heavy soil resulting in stumpy carrots come harvest time. Some of our raised beds have better soil than others, growing potatoes (helps to break up stubborn soil) and adding organic matter has helped with improving the soil structure, but not quite enough to grow carrots successfully, it seems.
Being reasonably inexpensive to buy and readily available all year round, am I ever tempted not to grow my own carrots? It’s true they are fussy little blighters when it comes to soil type, making them tricky or almost impossible to grow for some. So are they really worth my time and effort? For me, the taste of a home-grown carrot is superior to any mass-produced, shop bought, plastic bag carrot. I don’t mind them being forked (some shapes are hilarious!) and I enjoy the sensation of pulling carrots that I’ve grown from the earth, a sweet carroty aroma drifts in the air with each satisfying pull. Soft, feathery leaves sway in the gentlest breeze making carrots an attractive crop to grow. For these reasons, I think carrots are well worth growing.
This year we’re determined to grow some decent allotment carrots, like these….grown in our previous vegetable garden.
To solve our heavy soil problem we identified a raised bed with soil that had improved the most and filled it right up to the top with good quality compost. Pushing my hand down into the compost to check the depth, my entire hand and wrist were buried deeply before my fingers found the heavier soil. This should be deep enough for our carrots to be happy. Finally, I covered the rows with plastic tunnel cloches to keep the soil warm, helping the seeds to germinate.
Carrots can also be grown in containers of compost, try using large plant pots or get creative and thrifty by using things like trugs, barrels, crates, toy boxes, car tyres or emptied water butts with the bottom removed. As long as the soil is light and the container is reasonably deep (don’t forget drainage holes), just place it in the sunshine and you’ll be pulling carrots of your own.
I found 3 fairy eggs and 1 normal size egg in total during the first 2 weeks of the new rescue hens being here. Fairy eggs are tiny and yolkless eggs and are also known as witch eggs, fart eggs or wind eggs. They’re usually the result of a disturbed reproductive cycle or occur when a hen is coming back into lay after winter. A young pullet may lay a fairy egg just as she begins to lay for the first time but usually these first eggs contain yolk and are just small for a while before gradually increasing in size. As long as the hen appears to be healthy then there’s really nothing to be concerned about.
Both hens are growing new feathers now and taking a break from laying, which they thoroughly deserve.
Allotment Addicts is a photo sharing group on Flickr, created by little old me. If you upload photos to Flickr and love taking photos of your allotment, seedlings, harvests and of course the shed, pop along and join Allotment Addicts group and share your photos with the world!
A couple of weeks ago, following a storm, I found a little bird nest.
Thankfully empty (with no sign of eggs anywhere near) it lay there, upside down on the lawn, perfect and beautiful. A victim of the destructive gale force winds.
It’s a miniature work of art, and I wanted to share its beauty through my photographs. Each piece of the nest carefully and expertly constructed, using natural materials of twigs, moss and leaves, with soft man-made fibres lining the centre.
I got a little emotional when I spotted long black and tan dog hair entwined with the fibres, I recognised them instantly. Our boy, a German Shepherd who we lost suddenly last summer, lives on in this nest. And for this very reason, I’ll treasure it.
I usually plant my onion sets straight into the ground in spring, covering with a mesh frame to keep the birds off until they’ve sprouted and developed a good root system to anchor them in. I harvest a decent crop but I do get a number of smallish bulbs despite my soil being well nourished.
Today I planted half my onion sets in module trays filled with compost (‘Red Baron’ and ‘Stuttgarter Giant’), growing them on in my unheated greenhouse. The other half will be planted out into the ground, in the usual way. The idea is to give half the sets a bit of a head start, an experiment really.
I’m curious to see if this makes any difference to the overall size of bulbs come harvest time, compared to the sets planted straight into the ground a month or so later.
I’ll let you know how I get on.
As a kid I was often told that the years fly by when you’re a grown up, and don’t they just. As a brilliant growing year comes to an end I’m already looking forward to all the exciting things to come for us gardeners and wildlife enthusiasts, such as laying out seed potatoes to chit in egg boxes….
Bird song…. Tweet, tweet, twittery tweet…….
The first seedlings of the year….
And buzzing bees….
Happy New Year to you all, here’s to another brilliant gardening year!
Happy Christmas everyone, thank you for taking the time to visit and comment on the blog and welcome all our new followers!
For those visiting allotment plots or raiding the vegetable patch over the festive period, I hope your harvests are good! Enjoy those Christmas potatoes, parsnips and sprouts.