Friday 29 February 2008


We found the parsnips! There were only three, but what with the weeds that's all I was expecting. Not bad specimens if I do say so myself, except the one that hit a pebble and looks more like an octopus....

We pulled the leeks too, as you can see; another small harvest but a harvest nonetheless.

That's two out of eleven beds dug now, and the strawberries weeded. Last year we let the runners go wild, and ended up with starwberry plants all over the paths, so I've carefully transplanted them back into the bed where they belong. I'm planning to let them grow through holes in black plastic this year, as the weeds swamped them so badly last year - hopefully I'll have time to do this next time I go to the plot.

My fruit trees have finally arrived from J Parkers (tiny they are!) along with onion sets, shallots, garlic and some spectacular orange lily bulbs, and some echinacea plants and gladioli bulbs that came as a free gift. Hardly makes up for the appallingly late delivery though; it's practically too late to plant shallots and garlic now! I'll give them a go anyway, but I'm not happy, and my potatoes haven't arrived yet either! Stuff this mail-order lark - next time I'm going in person to a real old-fashioned shop for my garlic, onions and spuds.

Anyway, here they are:

I haven't quite decided yet whether I'm going to plant them out or put them in pots, but I'll have to think of something soon; they're covered in little green buds and raring to go!

Monday 25 February 2008

The Spring has Sprung

I saw my first bumblebee this weekend! It suddenly felt a lot more like spring, despite the drizzle. I tried to take a picture but he was rather an energetic little fellow...

We've spent several hours on the plot, weeding the strawberries and digging the potato patch over. This meant harvesting the last of the turnips, and admitting defeat on our rather abortive swede crop.

That one on the left is the biggest by far (most were barely an inch long) and it's still not really big enough to use, even if a slug hadn't burrowed right through the middle of it... Ah well; I did sow them rather late, and never thinned them, so it's my own fault. In the background you can see some of our turnips - also rather small, though there were quite a few good sized ones too. I'd never tried turnips until I grew these, but we've been enjoying them with our roast dinners. And they made excellent ground cover over winter; no weeds and barely any digging needed in that patch!

We have decided to cancel raspberry-planting plans, as there is some doubt as to whether we'll still be living here by the time we get a crop next year. I'm looking on the bright side; that's £20 saved, a few things knocked off my to-do list, and twice as much space available for planting squashes and melons from my lovely 'Melon Sweet Medley' mixed pack!
But on the same subject, I'm now not sure what to do with the fruit trees I've ordered. They're tiny 'minarette' trees, suitable for planting out or keeping in pots. I'd much prefer to plant them out, but if I do will I have to leave them behind if we move? I'm guessing the rootball will be pretty small, so I'm hoping I could take them with us, but I'm just not sure. Advice welcome...

Friday 22 February 2008

What's with Broad Beans?

I would have loved to have sown my broad beans on the plot last November (the earliest it recommends on the packet and in all the magazines), but I didn't have time or space, so I thought I'd get them off to an early start this year instead. I let them germinate indoors for speed then planned to harden them off and put them in the greenhouse until I was ready to plant them out. Surely if they can stand December and January, they can stand February too? But they just won't harden. The leaves are going black with cold, even in the greenhouse during the day! I don't get it. Other UK bloggers are saying their beans are growing happily outdoors, and these are Aquadulce Claudia - supposedly one of the hardiest.

I've finally scrapped them - the stems started blackening too - and a new sowing has been made. This time I'll keep them outdoors from the start, and then if they germinate but don't like the cold it'll be their fault, not mine!

Today I have sown some more flowers and herbs too; a tray of bluebells, some sorrel and feverfew, tagetes, pansies and violas (what's the difference??). I never really liked pansies much, but I love the idea of edible flowers and I have a soft spot for orange flowers, so these (from Suttons - their picture) were too good to resist!

While I was at it I got some wild ones too, which are perennial and will brighten up the herb garden some more.

Sunday 17 February 2008


What's the worst thing you have found in a compost heap? I wasn't looking forward to the prospect of turning up a pocket of fermenting kitchen scraps, or finding that dead frog we threw on there in the summer again. But I wasn't expecting this:

Rats they may be, and no I don't want them living in my compost heap, but we couldn't really help but feel bad for them, all tiny and helpless and shivering and squeaking... What to do? Bury them alive in the compost? Try to push the nest back together and hope they'd be ok? I doubt mum would be back after we'd interfered so much. Drop everything and leave, and hope mum came back to take them somewhere safe? In the end we moved the whole nest down to a dark corner at the other end of the plot - out of sight, out of mind - to await whatever fate nature has in store. Poor little things! It was all very traumatising. (Ok, it would have been far worse to find some creature skewered on the end of my fork - eeeew - but let's not think about that!)

So that's it now; all the compost is turned and suddenly much more compact in the bins, so there's room for another year's weeds. And I sieved a few bucketfuls of good stuff to earth up the asparagus bed too, which is long overdue. It looks so good now covered in new black compost - I can't wait for the shoots to start appearing! I chucked in some manure as well. We missed the site's bulk order, so I've bought some concentrated stuff from a garden centre instead. 'Use handfuls, not bucketfuls', it says, and you can just add it when planting too, rather than having to wait for it to rot down for ages. Sounds good to me.

All that remains on January's to-do list is making a ladybird house, but since that's more of an overwinter thing I'm not in any hurry; next job now is to prepare to plant potatoes and onions (if they ever arrive that is - I'm going to have to start chasing orders soon!).

Thursday 14 February 2008


This week I have received these lovely seedlings by mail order from Victoriana Nursery.

They are Lemon Balm, Marjoram, Chamomile and Lovage, for the herb garden, and were going so cheap it made much more sense than to buy seed like I usually do. I also got some clover seed (for beneficial ground cover in areas that would otherwise have to remain either bare soil or couch grass) and some good old native bluebell seed (might scatter some down the shady end of the home garden too).

Actually, the herb garden plans are starting to get a little out of hand. The list now is as follows: lemon balm, marjoram, chamomile, lovage, calendula, sage, sorrel, feverfew, rosemary, mint, thyme, chives, garlic chives, creeping thyme (non-culinary), curly parsley, flat-leaved parsley, tansy, yarrow, lemongrass (in a pot, as it'll have to come in for winter), echinacea, horseradish, borage, monarda (bee balm), marigolds, nasturtiums, coriander and basil! Phew! There'll never be room for all those in the patch I was planning and I know they're gonna end up overflowing into other areas... I think I'll concentrate on the perennial ones; the annuals will end up dotted around the plot as companion plants for various veg anyway (basil with the toms, borage with the beans, coriander with the lettuces, etc.)

Most of these herbs are now sprouting on my windowsills and in the greenhouse, along with my broad beans, lettuces and spinach. Most of the flowers are still showing no signs - perhaps it truly was too early for them - but never mind, there's time yet!

Sunday 10 February 2008

Feeding the birds

It's been a busy week and we haven't managed to get back to the plot until today, but in my tea breaks at work I've been sneaking down to the workshop to build a bird table!

Not bad for my first bit of woodwork since school, I think (let's ignore the compost bins, which couldn't have been wonkier if I'd built them during an earthquake), and far cheaper than any bird table I could have bought - it's made entirely from scrap wood. We've hung a cheap wire peanut feeder and one of those fatty 'bird-cake' thingummys on it too, and we're just waiting for the birds to start enjoying it... But its real purpose is slug disposal. That sloping roof ain't just to keep the rain off, you know; once I get a strip of copper tape or sandpaper round the edge of it any slugs, snails and caterpillars that get in my way are going straight on the roof, where they'll have nowhere to hide from hungry thrushes and blackbirds (and if the birds don't get 'em, the sun will)!

We did get some real work done today as well (Eddie did at least, while I was messing around with screws and green paint!) and turned one of the compost bins. The transformation that takes place in the lower levels is quite amazing - we took the front off the bin and all that garden and kitchen rubbish just looked like lovely black soil.

There are still quite a lot of roots going through it so it needs more time, but we've mixed it all up a bit, put the least composted stuff at the bottom (along with some fresh stuff from the kitchen and the garden at home), added a good wheelbarrow full of dead leaves (our site gets regular deliveries of such things, which sit in a huge mountain at the entrance - it's really useful!) and gave it a good watering. It looks like a much more useful and efficient compost heap now, unlike last week when it had grass growing all over the top! Now we just have to find time to turn the other one...

Monday 4 February 2008

Back to the Plot

Despite the icy winds, we've been back to the plot a few times now to start preparing for the new growing season, and it doesn't look much better than when we first got it last year!

Since we didn't have time to dig any in the autumn or early winter it'll all have to be done now, but at least most of the hardcore weeds like nettles and docks are gone, and the ground is soft due to the fact we haven't really walked on the beds.
This year I'm taking no prisoners - any more persistent weeds will be treated with glyphosphate. I'm here to grow things, not spend all my time pulling other things up! I've already applied some to the brambles which keep appearing right in the middle of the plot - I'm not sure if it's too early for them to be active; it sure looks like they're active to me!

We have weeded the asparagus patch (although a few blades of couch grass are returning already - I might have to take the same line with them!) and I'm hoping I will have woken up any hibernating asparagus beetles or larvae to die in the cold. And we've weeded the pond and cut back the water mint, so that there's plenty of room for the frogs to do their thing in a month or two...

This year the pond area is to become a herb garden, with a couple of minarette fruit trees for shade and plenty of hidey-holes for frogs, beetles and other beasties. We have a pile of rocks beside the pond already for this purpose, and we have added a couple of bits of tree stump (acquired when the church had to cut down one of its trees) which is supposed to be a good habitat for stag beetles, other ground beetles, centipedes and the like.

Friday 1 February 2008

My Greenhouse!

Never again will my kitchen floor become a jungle of seedlings! Never again will I have to unknot the poor leggy things before planting them out! Having received loads of garden centre vouchers for Christmas, I finally went out and bought myself a greenhouse for raising seedlings at home. Only a tiny greenhouse, but I only have a tiny garden (and only a tiny allotment, so there isn't room for one there either).
After my very late start last year I wanted to get an early start this year, and with the help of a fleece cover and a thick polystyrene floor it's actually maintaining a half-decent temperature inside, so I've begun already!
I've sown lots of herbs, spinach and lettuce seedlings, parsnip seeds, and all sorts of 'companion' flowers for planting out as soon as spring hits - poppies, calendula, petunias, achillea, marigolds, hyssop etc. (Some of the more sensitive ones, I should add, are indoors on windowsills.) I know I'm taking a bit of a risk and it might be too early for some things, but I can always make another sowing later, right?

Today I intend to sow some broad beans too. I meant to start them back in November for an earlier harvest, but I forgot I'd even bought the seeds until I found them while reorganising, last week! I won't plant too many - my perception of broad beans is a little scarred by the memory of the rubbery-skinned frozen ones I was fed as a child, but I reckon fresh and popped out of those nasty skins I'd probably like them much better...

I have also bought myself one of those pressure pump spray bottles for watering seedlings - no more hand-crippling manual pump sprays for me! You just pump it up a few times then hold the lever down, and the air pressure does all the work. It's a joy! And only £1.49 from Wilkinsons!
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