Vegetable 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!

 

Vegetable 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?

Vegetable 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.

brussels sprouts
Vegetable 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.

Vegetable 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.

Vegetable 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.

Vegetable 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, Vegetable 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.
Vegetable 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.

 

Vegetable 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.

 

 

Vegetable Garden

A Stormy End to 2015

So much rain. And gales. Storm after storm.

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.

garlic growing
Garlic pushing up through the soil in the winter vegetable garden, guaranteed to put a smile on your face and stir the excitement of the growing year ahead. Even if the weather is awful, garlic rarely disappoints. A great crop to grow during the dreary months.

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.

light sussex pullet

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

 

Uncategorized

Wordless Wednesday

apple tree garden hen ex battery hen eggs in a wicker basket hens in a garden light sussex veg patchImages from our garden smallholding.

 

 

Vegetable Garden

Tour of the New Kitchen Garden

raised beds, vegetable garden, veg patchThe 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.

RhubarbThe 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.

backyard chicken
Cheska the chicken inspecting the nasturtium

wildlife pond

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.

A frog smiling back at me
A frog smiling back at me

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…

cabbage white caterpillar

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.

Apple tree

Collecting fallen apples for a crumble
Collecting fallen apples for a crumble

Below is the view from the kitchen garden, back towards the house.

vegetable garden

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.

garden hens

The chickens seem to like the kitchen garden, although I’ll have to find a way to keep them out soon!

Plans

New Year New Garden

garden smallholding

As the new year gets underway, my mind is full of plans for the new vegetable garden. Ideas and designs have spent the best part of 2 years in a sketch pad, I really can’t wait to finally put these long and thought out plans into action. However, garden tools are now retired to the outbuilding/shed until spring arrives with drier weather. It’s been a mild winter so far and this area has missed out on any snow, but the ground is too soft to continuously walk on.

shed

I mention the outbuilding. It sits alongside the greenhouse, sharing the plot where the new vegetable garden will go, and it really needs a make over. Rendered concrete construction, 2 metal doors and a small wooden window, it currently looks tired and unloved, to be honest it’s a bit of an eyesore. But I’m sure I can bestow some magic upon this very useful storage space. A clean up, lick of paint (I’m thinking soft cream walls, white doors and window frame), window box, rustic pots and planters, perhaps a climbing rose to scramble over and a few garden accessories should make a huge difference. I might even treat it to some pretty floral bunting in summer.

In other news, I’m collecting 5 – 6 eggs a day from the hens and of course the pullets are really helping to boost the number, it’s their first winter and they’re in great condition. I don’t think we’ve ever had such a productive winter from the hen houses, I’m baking more than usual that’s for sure! The older hens appear to be doing well, although a winter moult is expected soon.

eggs

Allotment news! Garlic is growing well, and for the first time I’ve planted some elephant garlic too. I recently removed a young rhubarb crown that I planted last year, this was taken home in a large container of compost and will start off the rhubarb patch in our new vegetable garden very soon, can’t wait for that. That’s about it for now with allotment planting, I’ll sow some hardy broad beans soon (at the allotment and potted up in the greenhouse in case of failures) and then think about which tomatoes I’d like to grow. I have Charlotte seed potatoes in trays to chit in the unheated conservatory, and I’ve sorted through my seed packets.

I’m ready. Roll on spring!

Allotment, Harvest, Vegetable Garden

Peas in October?

blauwschokker peas

I intended to do this post in July. Family and pet loss forced blogging out of the window for a while, along with all sense of time. I couldn’t find any enthusiasm to visit the allotment, as a consequence some of my planned posts haven’t met the publish button. So here we are, late October. Why bother to blog about peas now? Well, these particular peas, in my humble opinion, deserve a mention. The variety is ‘Blauwschokker’ and they’re definitely on my list of crops to grow next year.

blauwschokker peas

Deep purple pods with huge minty-green peas nestled inside, the plants grow very tall so you’ll need to grow them against something sturdy and high (I used 7 ft canes pushed into sheets of wire mesh, such as chicken or aviary wire). Stems and leaves are thicker and heavier than any other pea I’ve grown, with tendrils as thick as springs. Pods are easy to pick, thanks to the bold colour, and can be eaten as mange tout before the peas begin to swell. Eye-catching pink/crimson flushed flowers are large and could easily be mistaken for sweet peas, for that reason alone, a perfect addition for the allotment or veg garden.

allotment harvest

A doddle to grow, these peas are very similar in size to marrowfat peas with an earthy, punchy flavour. Shell and mix with young broad beans, mash and smash with a fork or pestle and mortar adding a little olive oil and fresh mint, spread onto warm olive bread. Yum!

Vegetable Garden

Improving Soil in Our New Raised Beds

We’ve made a start on extending the vegetable garden, adding three 10 x 4 ft double height raised beds. After years of being part of a well-worn lawn, the soil would benefit from being improved with organic matter. We emptied most of the contents from one of the large pallet compost bins into a waiting wheelbarrow, the compost wasn’t quite ready but it was lovely all the same – just perfect for mulching and adding nutrients to the dry, hungry soil in our new beds.

One of our German Shepherd dogs certainly likes our compost, I guess she can smell rotting chicken poop. Eww.

I still find it amazing to see the contents of a compost bin change into earthy compost, we add lots of organic matter to our bins such as chicken manure mixed with straw, kitchen waste (vegetable peelings etc), used tea bags, coffee grounds, egg shells, cardboard, paper, green waste from the vegetable garden, grass clippings, nettle tops, comfrey leaves and horse manure from our village stables when we can get it.

Our bins are full of tiger worms, they’re perfect little composting machines. They adore kitchen scraps and if you watch your compost bin carefully you will see them surface to feed, starting the magical process.

The contents of our compost bin became darker and more like compost towards the bottom, we had to be really cautious with the spade and fork, lots of toads hide in and around our compost bins! I almost speared one by accident, just goes to show how careful you have to be. Now is a good time to empty your compost bins before creatures such as toads and hedgehogs start to look for places to hibernate over winter. Don’t empty them completely, leave some material in the bins for them.

Another magical ingredient for compost bins is leaves. The huge old oak provides these for free, they rot down faster than other leaves. We have a leaf bin too, taking longer to rot down but lovely as a mulch.

Isn’t it a magical, majestic tree? I think it’s wonderful, it makes me think of the green man or ‘The Oak King’. I love to listen to the wind whistling through the branches, at the moment it’s home to lots of nesting wood pigeons.

Plus, it helps to make this lovely stuff:

Pests & Diseases, Vegetable Garden, Wildlife

Cutworms

I was admiring how well the onions were swelling the other day, suddenly I noticed some of the leaves had been chewed in a neat circular way. Something had completely sliced open the tips of the leaves (bulbs are fine), so I did a bit of investigating to see what it could be. It didn’t take long to find the culprits way down inside the hollow leaves, complete with lots of green poop. Nice.

After a bit of research it appears the podgy caterpillars I found inside my onion leaves are cutworms. Cutworms are the larvae of several species of night flying moths, they’re not actually worms at all. Apparently, they’re a common visitor to the vegetable garden but I’ve never noticed them before.

They hide in soil or under leaf litter, feeding on crops and other plants at night (more common early in the year), often cutting young plants or seedlings straight down to ground level. I guess that’s how they get their rather cruel name. When alarmed they curl into a C-shape, my personal observation is they have very sticky feet, making them difficult to pick off plants. They’re large and meaty so I didn’t fancy squishing them (I’m useless at killing things anyway), they’d make a heck of a mess. I simply moved on the ones I found and did a bit of hoeing to see if I could spot any lurking in the soil.

Gardening organically and living where I do I’m always going to have the odd ‘pest’ problem here and there, that’s how it goes. I don’t use nasty chemical sprays, my preferred method of natural control will be to keep a close eye for more, picking them off if I see them, digging the onion bed over after harvesting to expose any I may have missed. Cutworms have many natural predators including wild birds, our chickens will scratch in the onion bed later on in the year too.

Cutworms, your days are numbered.

Uncategorized, Vegetable Garden

Vegetable Garden in Photos

I wanted to share a few photos of my favourite place to be, our vegetable garden. The photos were taken last summer when everything was looking its best, the plot looks more or less as you see here once it gets going, I just haven’t included the greenhouse or wildlife pond. As you can see, I like to include flowers to attract and help pollinators. Vegetable gardens can be a thing of beauty too.

When we moved into our property in 2008 there wasn’t a vegetable garden. The area we designated to be our future veg patch was a sight for sore eyes, overgrown and completely neglected, bursting at the seams with rubble, rubbish, brambles and the remains of an old stable. Once we finished chopping our way through the dense jungle of brambles, the plot had to be levelled using a mini digger. Gradually and ever so slowly, we began to put the bare bones of our vegetable plot together.

It has gone through a lot of changes over the years, gradually increasing in size and maturing, looking now as if it had always been there.

Do you like our scarecrow? Our children made it a few years ago. It’s very weathered now and blends in a bit too well. The wood pigeons completely ignore it.

A lot has changed since we first started and will continue to keep changing for a while yet. I hope you have enjoyed a quick tip-toe through our vegetable garden.

Vegetable Garden

Planting out my Leggy Broad Beans

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

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

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

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

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

Vegetable Garden

Giving Brussels Sprouts Another Go

A couple of years ago I grew sprouts for the first time,  it went OK  but I made mistakes. I didn’t pick the buttons quick enough and they all ‘blew’. This was not due to having too many plants to harvest all at once but more a case of  being a bit too relaxed about it. Aim to pick sprouts while they are small and firm, start from the bottom and work your way up the plant – you can use a sharp knife or simply snap them off with a downwards motion. Downy mildew proved to be a bit of a problem later on, I thought I had allocated enough space between each plant, obviously not enough. Remove leaves that have started to yellow (usually from the bottom first) to reduce the risk of disease.

I have decided to give sprouts another go this year and have chosen Bosworth F1 with good resistance to downy mildew. Seeing as I am the only one who likes sprouts I don’t have to grow many plants – just enough for me. Yay!

Plans

My Wish List

I always have a list of fruit and veg that I would like to grow, it’s constantly being added to so I have to be realistic and try a few new things at a time – I think it’s fun to set myself a little goal and go from there. As long as I don’t completely under-estimate growing space going spare I usually get stuck in and get my hands dirty. This is my list of new things that I’m going to try to grow this year:

  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Asparagus (from seed)
  • Purple sprouting broccoli
  • Borlotti beans

Do you have a list of new things to grow this year?