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!

 

Grow Your Own Guides

How to Plant Leeks

Yesterday I took the plunge and planted out the leek seedlings, they are a first for me so I have no idea how they will do. Leeks are planted out in a slightly different way to other vegetables, I did a bit of swotting up before planting  them into their final position. This is how I did it:

When your leek seedlings are around 6 inches tall or the width of a pencil they are ready for planting.

Push a dibber completely into the soil to create deep planting holes, around 6 inches deep should do it.

Drop a leek seedling into each hole.

Using a watering can,  fill the holes to the top with water. A little soil will cover the roots which will help to settle the leeks in, don’t be tempted to back fill the holes with soil – the leeks need the space for their stems to swell. Don’t worry, soil will naturally fill in over time.

With a bit of luck I might have a good crop of leeks to harvest from late autumn to early spring.

Harvest · Kitchen Garden

Rhubarb Harvest

I bought a year old crown of ‘Timperley early rhubarb last year. Once planted I pretty much ignored it, allowing it to establish. Although it is very tempting to harvest new rhubarb plants you shouldn’t, otherwise it could weaken the plant. This season my rhubarb is looking very healthy and has tripled in size. I have just taken my first light harvest, only a few stems – enough to make a small crumble.

Faithful followers of my blog will know that I am not a cook, in fact I’m pretty rubbish. Still, I ventured into the kitchen, modest rhubarb harvest tucked under my arm and made a damn good crumble with it. Now, I don’t know if it was the particularly recipe that I followed, or if it was the fresh rhubarb that made it taste so good, either way it was very tasty indeed. I won’t harvest the rhubarb again until the following year, giving the plant time to recover and produce more healthy stems.

What is your favourite rhubarb dish?

Kitchen Garden

A Sunny Day of Sowing

It’s amazing how a sunny day sowing seeds can lift your spirit. I have been feeling very low since losing Lizzie on Saturday so I dragged myself outside armed with seed packets yesterday and got sowing.

I planted up a bed with a few rows of Nantes and Thompson & Morgan Purple Haze carrots, (first time of growing the purple type so I’m looking forward to pulling these) Gladiator parsnips, swede and Solist beets. I have left a large area for the Musselburgh leek seedlings, they are growing well and nearly the width of a pencil so they can go into their final position towards end of the month.

Swede are a first for me too, I’m trying to plan the winter and early spring season a little better this year, rather than being left with empty beds once November sets in. I also sowed some sweetcorn (rather late for me) and some purple sprouting broccoli which I will hopefully be picking next March – if I toughen up with the butterflies!

Kitchen Garden

Beans, Peas and Poles

Now is a good time to start putting your choice of climbing support in place for your peas and beans before planting your seedlings out or sowing directly into the ground. Last year my attempt at supporting my rather rampant mangetout was quite frankly pathetic. The whole shoddy structure of poles, sticks, chicken wire and string ended up leaning right over due to the weight of the plants and threatened to collapse at any given moment. Luckily it just about stayed put.

This year I decided to make a similar but more sturdy structure for my peas using chicken wire and 10 foot bamboo poles. I weaved the chicken wire through 4 bamboo poles, tying any overlapping edges in with wire, then I pushed the poles into the ground going down at least a foot. You can use any height chicken wire it’s entirely up to you, I guess it also depends on which variety of peas you wish to grow. I’m pleased with my effort,  it does appear to be much stronger than last years sorry attempt so we shall see how it compares.

Mangetout tendrils really cling to the chicken wire which is why I like using it. I suppose I could have used pea sticks seeing as I grow the taller varieties but because I keep chickens I usually have lots of spare chicken wire lying around -it seemed like such a waste not to try to use it. Personally I don’t like using any type of plastic netting which is lighter in weight for the overall structure than chicken wire, I worry about wild birds getting tangled in it so for me its a no-no. For my runner beans I shall be constructing a ridge frame support rather than doing the usual pole wigwam, I found harvesting the beans growing in the centre of the wigwam rather difficult last season.

Which method(s) do you prefer using for supporting your beans / peas?

Chickens · Kitchen Garden

Change of Heart and Birthday Hens

Psssst. Can I come back? 

The weekend was wonderful. I spent so much of my time  in the vegetable garden sowing, weeding, planting and constructing support frames for peas & beans. Heaven. I started to think back over the past year – about how much the garden had changed and all the hard graft we put in. I’m starting to feel a lot better about everything, being out in the warm sun helped heaps.

I bought some leek seedlings at the weekend, never grown them before so I started to read up about them in my vegetable growing bible. I am quite fascinated by the way in which they are grown, it seems a very odd way of growing vegetables to me but I’m looking forward to giving them a go all the same. Whilst being geeky reading up on growing leeks, I remembered one of my old blog posts about growing courgettes. It reminded me exactly why I enjoy writing my blog – recording in photos and words what I achieve in the hope that it helps and encourages other novice vegetable growers to give it go. I’m finding year 3 of growing vegetables a little less daunting and much more relaxing – just as it should be. Mind you, we had a pig of a plot to tame, thank goodness that is done and dusted.

I threw a blogging wobbly about a week ago and nearly walked away from the blog, but I have since stopped flapping like a chicken and had a change of heart. If I were to abandon my blog I would miss it and also the readers that do take the time to leave me a small comment of encouragement. Perhaps if I stick to blogging every so often when the mood takes me, rather than trying to keep up with it everyday would suit me better. We shall see.

Today my original 6 ex battery hens celebrate 2 whole years of freedom, 2 have started laying again. They are approximately 4 years old now – fairly old for ex batts but I do know of even older ones. All my other hens are doing OK too, Chrissie is still here and scratching around with the best of them despite being quite poorly. Her prognosis 6 months ago was bleak, but she has remained under the watchful eye of  my avian vet so for now we are happy to let her continue being a cleaning glove thief! She has the most amazing character this little hen and I shall really miss her when her time sadly comes.

Harvest · Kitchen Garden · Wildlife

Sprouts, Caterpillars and Butterflies

Sprouts

Some of the sprouts are ready for picking now, the rest will be ready in a few weeks time and later sowings should be ready just in time for Christmas dinner. The sprouts are looking very healthy indeed, the same cannot be said for the tops. Cabbage White butterflies were very busy in the summer with our sprouts and cauli leaves, I don’t mind, I’m all for butterfly conservation and probably one of the few vegetable gardeners that welcome their presence. I might grow a few cabbages for them next season, I don’t eat them anyway.

Caterpillar damaged sprout tops

The beautiful summer that we had brought many butterflies to the garden. Which species of butterflies did you spot this year?

Harvest · Kitchen Garden

Last of the Carrots

Autumn King Carrots

Not many carrots left now, very soon we will be harvesting the last of the Autumn King carrots. We did very well with this variety, pulling them small in the summer for sweet crisp additions to salads. Only a handful forked, mainly due to not thinning a few rows in time. This variety is definitely on the list for next season, I will do the same and not bother growing an early to save space.

Kitchen Garden

Cauli Curds

 

compact cauliflower curd

Oh dear, I seem to have hit a problem with my cauliflowers. This is the first year that I have grown cauliflowers and they were going well. The curds developed and started off small and compact. I made sure I bent the outer leaves over the curds to protect them from discolouration from the sun.

The curds now resemble this mangled mess:

Cauli Curd

As you can see they are not compact and are growing apart….a bit yellowy too. Perhaps I left them too long before harvesting? Any ideas? Anyone?

Harvest · Kitchen Garden

Risky Garlic

Garlic Harvest

I’m feeling quite smug. I took a bit of a risky gamble and planted the cloves from shop bought garlic, it paid off, I was lucky. You see, I did not have any back up cultivated garlic planted, so my garlic harvest this year could have gone very wrong. I did use an organic bulb so maybe that helped a little with the success side of things. I cannot remember for the life of me which variety it was. It was a spur of the moment decision which I remember thinking would make a great experiment. Supermarket garlic are usually the soft neck varieties, the bulbs that I grew each produced a scape and have large cloves surrounding a thick(ish) central stem. So can I assume that these bulbs are hard neck? Interesting stuff.

I have lifted some nice size bulbs which have all segmented (thank you frosty February) and currently drying in the garage. I just wish I had realised at the time that garlic scapes can be used in cooking. I put mine on the compost heap!

garlic

Kitchen Garden

One Must Support One’s Mangetout

 mangetout

Super easy to grow and the taste is just so much better than shop bought ones. I forgot how tall the plants actually get and now my support system resembles a pathetic mish mash of chicken wire, sticks, string and bamboo canes….all struggling to support the monster plants. Its failing miserably too, its all leaning over and looking quite crap! Still, I would always find the space for mangetout, they are totally worth it. You could always try growing dwarf varieties of course, I just prefer the taller ones.

Note to self. Next year put better support in place for the mangetout!

Harvest · Kitchen Garden

Courgettes

courgettes

The courgettes have been a bit hit and miss really, but I would say more of a hit as we are harvesting them so its all good. Despite hand pollinating as many female flowers as possible, some of the baby courgettes rotted off. On the other hand, perhaps this is natures way of helping the plants cope with their ‘brood’, the female flowers were plentiful after all. To be honest I have stopped hand pollinating now, I am interested to see how the baby courgettes fair without my interference.

As you can see from the photo the courgette in the middle nearly went on to be a marrow, it was overlooked growing away happily and should have been picked a few days prior. Its amazing how fast a courgette develops actually.

I fried some last night in a little butter…….heaven.

Harvest · Kitchen Garden

Carrotastic!

Young Autumn King Carrots

We are harvesting young carrots at the moment and very pleased with the results, no forked or odd shaped carrots to be found. Yet! We are growing Autumn King this year and decided to leave the job of thinning the seedlings until the carrots were a decent size. This way we can munch our way through young tender carrot thinnings whilst leaving the rest in the ground to mature until autumn time. No waste!

How are your carrots coming along, which variety are you growing and do you also eat the thinnings rather than throwing them away?

Kitchen Garden

Sweetcorn – Tassels, Silks and Pollination

Our sweetcorn is doing pretty well, the male tassels (flowers) at the top are standing proud and the female silks are starting to show. Now we are coming to the crucial time that could render our first attempt at growing sweetcorn (from seed I might add) either a tasty success or a total failure.

Wind pollination along with planting in a block rather than a row will help to pollinate the silks, but, I shall also aid nature a little and try to hand pollinate as well. Anyone else done this before? Any tips? So far I have the following advice:

Tap the tassel flower when fully open to distribute the pollen to the silks below, or, run your hand up and down the tassel and then do the same to the silks to release the pollen.

 

As you can see we have at least 3 silks per plant, whether or not all become pollinated is any ones guess. I have a few pollinating ideas up my sleeve (oh dear that sounds a bit odd) so I shall try different methods on different plants and see how we go.

Kitchen Garden

Thinning, Transplanting and Intercropping Lettuces

The Tom Thumb butterhead lettuces now have 5 leaves, growing well but desperately in need of thinning and transplanting. Their little root systems are quite well developed so yesterday I set some time aside and got to work. This is how the rows looked before I started:

 Tom Thumb Lettuce Seedlings

I transplanted as many of the seedlings as I could into rows in a neighbouring empty bed.

And now……..

 Rows Of Tom Thumb Lettuce Seedlings

 Seeing as there were quite a few left over once the spare bed was planted up, I decided to intercrop some of them with the cauliflowers.

Lettuce Intercropped With Cauliflower

Hopefully this will work well. They all have plenty of space to put on growth and heart up. I’m not worried about a bit of slug damage or the odd loss, most of these lettuces are being grown to feed the hens anyway hence why there are so many. The very scrawny seedlings left over after I had finished thinning , transplanting and intercropping were fed to the hens and devoured in seconds. Nothing is wasted around here!

Harvest · Kitchen Garden

First Harvest

radish harvest

Here it is, our very first harvest of the year, well, from seed anyway if you don’t count rhubarb which we have coming out of our ears. Not literally but you know what I mean! Yes its those fab little radishes all grown up, willing and waiting to be devoured. I’m sowing them like crazy now to keep up with the family’s demand!

Kitchen Garden

It’s All Growing Well

Sprouts and cauliflower seedlings

Just a quickie update on the vegetable garden, sowing, seedlings and digging. We are still sowing like the clappers, all the seeds are germinating well so far, still waiting on the courgettes to make an appearance but so far so good.

Tomatoes and chillies have been sown and the tomatoes have already started to sprout. Runner beans will be started off in small pots this weekend, I don’t want to get caught out with a late frost or risk having the seed beans munched in the soil like last year.

The sprouts and cauliflower seedlings are doing very well outside in the mini greenhouse, some of the seedlings have their first set of true leaves. I have started off a second sowing of broad beans, the other plants are outside and doing well, even in the frost. We did lose some of the taller plants, but, I think that was my fault for allowing them to go too stringy before planting them out. We had to start the broad beans indoors because none of the vegetable beds were ready for planting.

The sweet corn seedlings are really doing well on the sunny windowsill, they will be planted out as soon as the risk of frost is over. The onion sets are coming along great as well as the garlic. No major dramas so far.

Clearing the veg plot of nettles

The vegetable garden is coming along slowly but we are getting there. We are still having a hell of a battle with nettles on the second half of the plot. Our very friendly neighbour asked us why we don’t just spray the blighter’s and be done with it, I politely answered that we want to be as organic as we can, otherwise what is the point? We may as well not bother trying to grow our own if we are going to pump the soil full with nasty stuff. He probably thinks we are barmy of course and cannot see the point in us out there, every spare hour we can grab, digging like crazy people possessed.

Anyhoo, we now have 5 lovely vegetable beds all fed with lovely well-rotted manure and organic compost, ready to nurture our seedlings and sowings. Oh, that reminds me, must get the carrots, beets, peas and parsnips in soon!

Kitchen Garden

Seedlings and What We Are Sowing Now

sweetcorn seedlings

I love sowing seeds and waiting for them to germinate, be it vegetable or flowers it doesn’t matter, I find the waiting equally as rewarding. The sign of life within the soil, a little green seedling looking for the light. I’ve had a bash at sowing sweet corn, all the seeds germinated and the young seedlings are looking nice and healthy so far. I cannot wait to plant these out once the danger of frost is over. The height, the flowers, the crop that these seedlings hopefully will bring is very exciting to say the least. My mouth waters just thinking about it. Sweet corn is wind pollinated, planting in blocks rather than rows will increase the chances of successful pollination.

Other sowings this week have been tomatoes, courgettes and chillies, now cooking away in the propagator. Our chillies did reasonably well last year, although they refused to redden until brought inside. Sprouts and cauliflower are doing well in the outside mini greenhouse. Runner beans are next on the list for sowing as well as peas, beets, carrots and parsnips.

pots of seed

So far I have resisted buying in vegetable seedlings whilst browsing around mums local (and very reasonable) nursery. Who knows, it could all go boobies up and I may need to rush back there after all.

Kitchen Garden

Triumphant Bramble Diggers

vegetable garden so far

Oh yes, the sweet smell of success is finally in the air.  After many weeks, days and long hours, blood (quite literally, those bramble thorns are evil) sweat and near to tears we have at last rid the vegetable garden plot of those wretched brambles. And the roots. Yeee ha!

There are now 2 workable and very usable vegetable beds, already planted up with second early potatoes, onion sets, garlic and broad beans. What a difference it makes to be able to see the fruits of our very hard labour come together, to actually be able to get out there and sow, rather than wade through 12 feet of brambles. Fantastic. Another 2 beds will be finished by this weekend, then bed number 5 will be next on the list to get into position. This will still leave a lot of space free so we need to make up our minds if another fruit tree will take position or to go for more beds. Hmmm decisions.

broad bean

There’s still lots of work do, more agony to place upon our already aching muscles and limbs. We are not even half way through the whole plot that we have allocated for vegetable and soft fruit growing, but, the fact that the brambles roots are all out, thats got to make the whole process a little easier. Nettles are still a problem in next section of the plot, there are lots of them and those roots are just mind blowing. Its like an underground spaghetti frenzy going on. We are finding that digging at least a foot of the top soil is removing the runners, then, digging down a little further reveals the backbone of it all. Its hard going but its getting somewhere now, looking like a vegetable garden, behaving as a vegetable garden, which makes it all worth while really.

To improve the soil and feed it we have been using organic vegetable compost, those greedy bramble roots must have really taken it out of the soil even though its fully workable and seems quite reasonable considering. We have been composting like mad since moving into the property in November, sadly our own homemade compost is not quite ready to use just yet. Its going to be left to rot down, hopefully to be used this autumn. The hens oblige everyday with fresh droppings and we are actually running out of room to compost it all. My parents are now getting lots of free bags of straw and chicken poop till we get our act together and make wooden compost bins from the free pallets that we have been collecting. Anyone fancy some free bags of poo?

Kitchen Garden

Sowing and Growing

Germination

A quick update on how the vegetable garden is progressing and what we are now sowing and growing. We had gravel boards delivered on Sunday with every intention of getting some frames built, but due to terrible weather conditions this was not possible to finish. We did get some more digging and weeding done, as well as digging in tons of organic matter to feed the soil.

The broad beans we potted up are germinating nicely on the window sill and are ready to plant out. Our garlic is going great guns, fingers crossed tightly that the very frosty weather recently has helped the cloves to split, seeing as we potted them up late. We are now sowing Brussels sprouts, sweet corn and cauliflower. Once the beds are completed the potatoes will be planted out as well as 2 varieties of onion sets.

The photo is a runner bean germinating from last year. We will be starting our runners off in pots this year, rather than sowing directly into the ground due to a terrible time with the seed beans being eaten below soil level. This meant we had to do a very late sowing of runners in pots and hope for the best. Due to a warm snap at the end of summer we were lucky to get a couple of harvests, but this year we hope to harvest a lot more.

We’re not lucky enough to have a glass greenhouse so windowsill space is getting tight. We purchased a mini greenhouse, yeah we know they are a bit flimsy but it helps out with sowing space!