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.
This year has been a tricky year for me with regards to my health. As some of you are already aware I had surgery in June which meant I couldn’t spend much time at all in my beloved vegetable garden during the best part of summer. The garden and blog were neglected and so the best part of autumn has been spent getting the veg beds and paths under control – which we managed to do before all the heavy snow arrived!
I’m scheduled for major surgery in a few weeks time but I plan to be fighting fit and back on my feet in the greenhouse sowing the first seeds of spring as soon as I can (I might be a little late with it all depending on how I feel but everything catches up eventually!). I look forward to reading blogs and watching YouTube channels to see what you’ve all been up to in your gardens, allotments and smallholdings as I recover.
As this year comes to a close I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for following our small but precious backyard farm / garden smallholding journey, not just on the blog but via social media too. I wish you all a happy 2018 and a great growing year ahead.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I thought it would be interesting to share a monthly photo of the new veg garden, to document how it changes throughout the year. I might stick to this viewpoint each month or show another angle, perhaps include more photos when there’s more to see, later in the year.
I’ve missed January out but little has changed since anyway, so here we are in February and this is how things are looking now. I put another raised bed together today, in front of the shed over the other side of the garden. Another will join it soon and a few more to the section you can see from the photo. The wildlife pond, herb bed, rhubarb patch, raspberry bed, broad beans and garlic currently growing by the shed and the fruit bushes behind me are not in shot, I’ll share photos of these areas as the year progresses.
Today I noticed movement in the wildlife pond, frogs are waking!
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 glorious sunny weather over the past few days really helped to warm the soil, I took full advantage by sowing more radish and the first of the beets (boltardy) covering the rows with a tunnel cloche which will help to keep the soil warm. I’m trying a different variety of radish called ‘Bright Lights’ (colour mix) alongside the usual varieties that I like, it will be interesting to see the different colours produced. I have been busy building a few more raised beds for the vegetable garden and taken my first harvest of rhubarb.
So, what else has been happening in the garden smallholding this month? Well, I planted Charlotte potatoes, raspberry canes and strawbs raised from runners, I’ve also been sowing broad beans, peas, mange tout, red cabbage, brussels sprouts and purple sprouting broccoli as well as annuals and perennials to add a splash of colour, encouraging beneficial insects to the veg garden plots. Speaking of wildlife, a pair of blue tits are currently setting up home in one of our bird boxes which is very exciting to watch, another pair have decided to use the eaves of our house.
The greenhouse that I have saved long and hard for is currently being installed, I can’t wait to get inside it later and start sowing. I feel like a big kid!
Its official, Autumn is upon us. I love the feel of autumn, the colours and the freshness of it. Autumn makes everything pop out at you and make you take notice, like morning dew on cobwebs for instance. I am up with the larks to let the hens out before they start shouting for me, and this morning the dew covered cobwebs put on a spectacular display, twinkling and sparkling in the morning sun.
Our vegetable garden is winding down to the point that we have nothing left to harvest, the only veg looking at all respectable are unripe chillies and runner beans, trying desperately to produce something before the frosts come. The last of the carrots have been dug up and enjoyed and I only wish that we had been a little more daring with the amount sown. I spent some time this morning casting my eyes over the veg or rather lack of and making plans in my head whilst cradling one of the bunnies. Our neighbours must think I have lost the plot.
The hens all produced today and I had to wince at the size of Rose’s egg, what a whopper. Still, at least breakfast is covered.