Shed Painting…

I’ve worked like a Trojan over the holidays, in the garden; digging, planting, stripping and painting. It’s been expensive, money I don’t really have but a lot of the jobs are beyond necessary (such as power washing down the decking and giving it an oil), or it’ll cost more in the long run.DSC_0005The shed has been on my hit list for ages, as I’ve never really liked the colour (it wasn’t originally painted by me) and the wasps have stripped a lot of the stain off.DSC_0019An age ago, I stained my little tool shed in Cuprinol Garden Shades and so in order to use the left over stain (which was still in perfect condition, despite some years left on the shelf) I went for the same.DSC_0008The colour is ‘Summer Damson’ and I’m glad I did stick to something similar as it’s slightly opaque, so changing colour completely wouldn’t really have been an option. It did mean I also had to stick to something similar to the cream, which I really do dislike, but I settled on ‘Natural Stone’.DSC_0030The stain goes a long way and the half-finished tin did the side and front easily with two coats (I confess, that the other two sides still need doing!!), it’s also qutie cheap, unlike the decking oil I’m using. My top tip is to paint one coat then go over it again a short while later. Doing a second coat some hours/days afterwards doesn’t really work as the first dries semi-waterproof and so stops the second coat going on properly. I trimmed the windows with some cheap architraving to give them more definition and stained that also in the ‘Stone’. I even stained the inside of the doors so they aren’t Tango orange when open! Go me! What I’d really like to do is clad the roof in cedar shingles, but that really is expensive, so won’t happen any time soon.

I’d planned to take some proper blog worthy photos after removing all the crap from inside the windows so it looks pretty…but my garden is not a picture postcard and one of the reasons I stall on blogging is that often I feel it needs to be ‘prettier’, so I’m trying to ignore that and just post anyway. In an unintentional turn, it appears I’ve painted my shed the same colours as one of my Go Up Eglu chicken houses.DSC_0003I’ve started prepping and staining the decking, which is an enormous task and I still have to finish staining and oiling the green house as well as all the upper windows of the house. It all feels a bit endless, but I’ll get there. Planting is all on the go too, with cucumbers, melons, tomatoes, sweetcorn and many more now in the greenhouse.

Indoors, as promised, I did get a second crop of mushrooms, which I was really pleased with.DSC_0027And I’ve just put the tools down (as it’s due to rain tomorrow, all day, shame) and moved indoors to make hot cross buns using this recipe. I’m doing half, which is perfect as it leaves me with some apple for my new Craft Club gin 🙂

Cheers!

Last weekend…

Last weekend I spent loads of time in the garden as, for once, it wasn’t frozen and the rain was mostly only drizzle.

I planted out 8 cloves of elephant garlic (5 that I’d ordered and 3 left from the bulbs grown last year), I also plated up 5 strawberry plants in one of the huge black containers that was kicking around empty in the vegetable patch. It was a good opportunity to get rid of some of the chicken manure (basically their droppings mixed in with straw from the coops and run floors) as the containers are so cavernous that they take a lot of filling so the bottom half is manure, with some bags of John Innes on top. We have always grown alpine strawberries but never ‘regular’ ones so it’ll be interesting to see how these work out for us. dsc_0047The variety I’m planting (Mount Everest) is an everbearer variety, so small flushes of fruit, over a longer period, which I think will suit us best as these will likely be for the boys to munch on direct from the plant. This variety supposedly grows really well up a teepee, so I’ll be trying that out too.

Indoors, I started:

Tomatoes Brandywine, San Marzano, Tigerella & Ildi, Rainbow Blend (from Thompson & Morgan)

Sweet Pepper Worldbeater

Artichoke Violette di Chioggia

Broad Bead Crimson Flowered

That’s all for sowing at the moment. There is still plenty more to add, but I’ve learnt to pull back from trying to grow too much, so I stick to things we know we want to eat these days.dsc_0046The mushrooms have been a great success, cropping over and over and providing the base for a number of meals. I forgot to say who and where they came from in the last post, but they were ordered via Amazon from Merryhill Mushrooms. They do taste amazing, in comparison to the shop bought equivalent, so I think it’s been worth it. I’d like to try an Oyster kit next time. In a linked comment, Felix has been doing Food Tech at school and (small miracle) has decided he can tolerate, maybe even like mushrooms after he was forced to include them in a stir fry. I just need to get Charlie (the vegetarian!) to eat them too, and then a whole new world of family meals opens up!ginLast thing I wanted to mention, my Sister kindly gave me a quarterly membership to the Craft Gin Club as a Christmas gift and I LOVE it!! It is expensive, I know; for the same price, you could buy yourself a fancy bottle of gin and some nice crisps etc, but it just wouldn’t be the same. Having someone else source an artisan gin, often difficult to get (this month’s have been shipped in from Iceland and are not on general sale in the UK), provide you with posh tonic and some snacks to go with it, plus a magazine with details explaining who made the gin, where and why, and how best to drink it (January’s, above, was good with rosemary and some orange zest) and ship it to you on the first Friday of the month is just heavenly. It’s like Christmas all over again. Do you like my amazing HUGE gin glass? That was the accompanying gift, also from my Sister, we know how to do a g+t well in our family 😉

That’s all……I really fancy a g+t now…but I’m being good until the weekend, only one more day to go and it’ll seem even nicer for the wait (or I’ll keep telling myself that, anyway).

2017 Vegetable Planting Lists…

Really, this post is for me; sorry it’s so boring.

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Here we go with the lists for 2017:

FEBRUARY

Strawberry Mount Everest

Tomatoes Brandywine, San Marzano, Tigerella & Ildi, Rainbow Blend (from Thompson & Morgan)

Sweet Pepper Worldbeater

Artichoke Violette di Chioggia

Broad Bead Crimson Flowered

MARCH

Red Onion Red Arrow

Shallots Longor

Elephant Garlic

Spinach Bordeaux

Cucumbers Tiffany, Crystal Apple

Courgettes Zephyr

Melon Orange Sherbert

Radish French Breakfast, Sparkler & Cherry Bell, Rainbow Mix (from Thompson & Morgan)

Kohl Rabi F1 Hybrid

Peas Whatever I’ve got left

Sweetcorn Lark

Herbs Dill, Chives, Garlic Chives, French Sorrel, Thyme, Mint

APRIL

Swiss Chard Bright Lights & White Silver

Beetroot Pablo, Bolthardy, Coloured Mix (Thompson & Morgan)

Spring Onions Welsh Red Stem & North Holland Blood Red

Broccoli Red Arrow & Rudolph & Kailaan No 2

Carrots Mixed seed

Turnip Snowball

Lettuce Various varieties

Herbs Thai Basil, Sweet Basil, Winter Savory and many more…

Squash Crown Prince, Sweet Dumpling, Gem/Rolet, Queensland Blue, Turks Turban, Hooligan & Barbara Butternut F1, Potimarron, 

AUGUST &  SEPTEMBER

Pak Choi Rubi

Spinach Perpetual (Leaf Beat)

Purslane

ANYTIME

Kale Cavolo Nero & Red Russian

Herbs Parcel, Cress (Bubbles)

I placed an order with Thompson & Morgan and below is what’s new this year (already included in the lists above):

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dsc_0044Also, just for fun, I’m growing mushrooms indoors (in the utility room at the moment) as someone on the radio said one of the best things you can eat that you’ve home-grown (and see how amazingly different they are) are mushrooms….we’ll see!

dsc_0040We can’t stop eating the Chocolate Rye Brownies from Gill Meller’s ‘Gather’…..I think I’m addicted.

dsc_0035Finally, we’re sad the snow only stayed for one night :(, but the boys did manage to get sledges out and push each other around the garden, plus make a snowman (in the dark, whilst using torches!!) but I think that the chickens are happy as the poor things keep taking it in turns to molt and are almost naked. I think the warm (so far) winter has confused them.

More snow tomorrow, for an hour or so before it turns to rain? I do hope so 🙂

 

Vegetables 2016: The results

It didn’t go well this year. I was quite busy with the animals, the house and most importantly, the boys. In some ways, I’ve made better progress than ever in the garden; I’ve cleared away most of the ivy and years of resulting debris under our conifer trees, so we’ve gained an extra few meters of space (this is a ongiong job, it’ll be some time before it’s ivy free and usable), the lawn has been regularly mowed and his slightly less moss in it then usual, and the hedges and shrubs have been trimmed.  All good stuff, but at the expense of the vegetable patch and the borders, which have been quite neglected.  I think, going forward, that I need to think very carefully about my planting lists and only go for things that pretty much look after themselves.

Well, for now, here is how it went:

FEBRUARY

Tomatoes Brandywine, San Marzano, Tigerella & Ildi

The tomatoes were mostly a fail. They germinated well, I did pot them up but then lost interest and the plants weren’t fed properly or watered enough. We did get some nice fruit, but I may just reduce it down to a couple of plants next year.

Aubergine Money Maker F1

They germinated too late and although were looking good at one point, didn’t have time to form decent fruit.

Sweet Pepper Worldbeater

Chilli (I need to buy new seeds, again, not sure what variety yet)

Chillies and peppers never germinated…..the seed is likely too old.

Artichoke Violette di Chioggia

I can pretty much never get my artichoke seeds to germinate….need to do some reading up and find out what I’m doing wrong.

MARCH

Spinach Bordeaux

Grew brilliantly, mostly self seeding and the chickens benefited greatly 🙂

Cucumbers (Need new seed, again not sure what)

Forgot to buy seed – doh!

Courgettes Zephyr

Grew well. One for next year.

Melon Edonis

Never formed fruit 😦

Radish French Breakfast, Sparkler & Cherry Bell

Grew well but went to seed quickly.

Broad Beans Crimson Flowered

Err…..not sure what happened here….not sure I actually planted them.

Peas Oasis & Purple Mangetout

Grew well.

Herbs Dill, Chives, Garlic Chives, French Sorrel, Thyme, Mint, Coriander, Lemon Grass

Hit and miss, depending on if I watered the pots properly. Will always make space for herbs though.

APRIL

Swiss Chard Bright Lights & White Silver

Brilliant, as always, and self seeds everywhere.

Beetroot Bolthardy

Grew well.

Sweetcorn Conqueror

Great success…again something I’ll aways make space for.

Spring Onions Welsh Red Stem & North Holland Blood Red (seed collected from last year’s plants)

Grew well.

Pak Choi Mei Qing Choi & Rubi

Never actually got planted….should do it next year as in the past they’ve been great.

Beans Blue Climbing

These grew amazingly well this year and I’ve got lots dried and ready to sow next Spring.

Broccoli Red Arrow & Rudolph & Kailaan No 2

Carrots Yellowstone, Rainbow Hybrid, Purple Haze, Healthmaster & Sugarsnax

Turnip Sweetball & Snowball

Didn’t actually grow any of the above 😦

Lettuce various varieties

Pesky slugs ate them.

Herbs Thai Basil, Sweet Basil, Winter Savory and many more…

Squash Crown Prince, Sweet Dumpling, Turks Turban, Hooligan & Barbara Butternut F1

They fruited too late and I now have mini squash rotting in the garden.

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Things that I will definitely always plant are garlic and shallots. Both grew brilliantly, with little effort so they are a must. Also, the potatoes (Anya) were good and I still have three bags in the greenhouse to tip out and eat, at some point. I have normally ordered all of these by now and see that many sites have run out (of Autumn planting garlic, anyway) so had best get on with it, if we want to grow them next year.

dsc_0008Sweetcorn was also a great success and I did my usual method of freezing them whole and raw, with the outer leaves intact. I have quite a few still in the freezer, which I shove in the microwave for a few minutes to cook (again, with the leaves on)…delicious!!

I need to sit down and have a good think about planting lists for next year. Adding an irrigation system would be the biggest help as inconsistent watering is definitely one of my biggest problems. I would love to add longer term things (such as an asparagus bed) now we’re committed to staying here (oldest has just gone into Secondary school, which has been a nightmare transition and is not one I’d like to repeat) and generally need to plant things that I can find time to maintain easily.

dsc_0087In other news, I’m back to cooking and baking again, especially now the weather is cooler. Bread is back on the menu and thanks to two new books (both recommended by my Sister) I’ve been enjoying trying new things. I have to be careful with my cookery book buying as I already have loads and so I only add new ones if I really think I’ll really use them.dsc_0085The rye section in Gill Meller’s ‘Gather’ is going down well. I’ve made the ‘Coriander and Caraway’ bread, which tasted delicious and would have been great, had it not got stuck in the tin so that it came out in pieces 😦 and the ‘Chocolate Rye Brownies’ have been declared ‘the best thing you’ve made yet’ by the boys. Awesome. I’m still miles away from the master baker that my Gran was, but I do try.

Christmas food post next, if I find time to keep writing.

 

Garden Catch-Up!

DSC_0001 (1)I’m forever thinking I should try to photograph the borders and flowers more in the garden, but I never really get around to it. The top borders (as above) where looking quite good, earlier in the year. They are now rather overgrown and weedy, but there is still more colour than there has been for a while.DSC_0006I do like having the chickens roaming around. The ‘big’ girls can make quite a mess, but the Bantams are much less invasive and definitely get my vote.IMG_20160529_144610Ava was looking especially dandy in front of the side bed,DSC_0009which has my winner of a plant, Mathiasella bupleuroides ‘Green Dream’ growing in it. I just LOVE this and plan to buy another for the upper border. It flowers early, is architecturally quite fabulous and the bees are always all over it. I think you can dry the flowers…must try that some time….I wonder if you could then spray them silver for Christmas?DSC_0002I just nipped out now to try to take some photos, but it’s too windy and to be honest, on close inspection a lot of the blooms are very much past their best. We’re about to enter that period where my garden looks all faded and sad, and where I always wish I’d grown some dahlias for later colour!IMG_20160619_100525-EFFECTSI was lucky to get invited to Hampton Court Flower Show last week and the main theme seemed to be wild flowers, informal planting and lots and lots of wild flower turf.  I could happily also go in this direction, especially as maintaining my beds is quite a chore (not that I’m suggesting for a moment, the meticulously planned ‘informal’ planting of the show doesn’t take forever to achieve), but I feel like I’m now stuck in the ‘Brilliant Bold’ garden theme I opted for 10 years ago.DSC_0001My own wild flower patches, in the vegetable garden, aren’t nearly so impressive….especially as the shed behind them needs re-painting (that’s the wasps, by the way, eating the wood and removing the paint stain layer. There’s a purple wasps nest somewhere…hopefully not in my loft!).

I’m about to upgrade my chickens to a walk in run, which will likely have to be static and I quite fancy a border of wild flowers alongside.  I might just dig up this lot up though, and simply re-plant it by the run, it’ll save me spending hours weeding out the  seedlings that grow all over the gravel path, next to it, in future.DSC_0004There isn’t a lot else to report in the garden. I did harvest the garlic, including some quite impressive bulbs of ‘Elephant’ garlic that have been growing since last autumn.  It’s not the best crop I’ve had, partly due to the rain, it was in danger of going mouldy if not pulled up and so was taken out a little too early. Still fresh garlic is so amazing, it’s something I’ll always make time for.

We have courgettes, french beans, lettuce, radish, herbs, spring onions also on the go;DSC_0005and plenty to come, including tomatoes, aubergines, melons, squash and sweetcorn (which I’ve allowed flowers to grow amongst, as above) so quite a productive garden this year.

I will try to be better at photographing and blogging, it should be berries next, if the pesky pigeons have left me any!

 

Vegetable Plating Lists 2016

Drying Flower Heads

I saved a lot of seeds last year, especially flower ones, and they have been laid out drying (and hopefully not going mouldy!) in the greenhouse.  I’ve gone though the seed box and along with everything I’ve collected, the only thing I should need to buy are cucumber seeds, which I hope to pick up locally, and maybe some things that are a bit different to grow just for fun.  And so, my ‘list’ is pretty much the same as last year:

FEBRUARY

Tomatoes Brandywine, San Marzano, Tigerella & Ildi

Aubergine Money Maker F1

Sweet Pepper Worldbeater

Chilli (I need to buy new seeds, again, not sure what variety yet)

Artichoke Violette di Chioggia

MARCH

Spinach Bordeaux

Cucumbers (Need new seed, again not sure what)

Courgettes Zephyr

Melon Edonis

Radish French Breakfast, Sparkler & Cherry Bell

Broad Beans Crimson Flowered

Peas Oasis & Purple Mangetout

Herbs Dill, Chives, Garlic Chives, French Sorrel, Thyme, Mint, Coriander, Lemon Grass

APRIL

Swiss Chard Bright Lights & White Silver

Beetroot Bolthardy

Sweetcorn Conqueror

Spring Onions Welsh Red Stem & North Holland Blood Red (seed collected from last year’s plants)

Pak Choi Mei Qing Choi & Rubi

Beans Blue Climbing

Broccoli Red Arrow & Rudolph & Kailaan No 2

Carrots Yellowstone, Rainbow Hybrid, Purple Haze, Healthmaster & Sugarsnax

Turnip Sweetball & Snowball

Lettuce various varieties

Herbs Thai Basil, Sweet Basil, Winter Savory and many more…

Squash Crown Prince, Sweet Dumpling, Turks Turban, Hooligan & Barbara Butternut F1 

AUGUST &  SEPTEMBER

Pak Choi Tatsoi

Fennel Romanesco

Spinach Perpetual (Leaf Beat)

Purslane

ANYTIME

Kale Cavolo Nero & Red Russian

Herbs Parcel, Cress (Bubbles)

I realised that I’ve not bought garlic for years now, I grow more than enough to keep us going and often find myself throwing some away when the new bulbs are ready and I tire of the old, dried ones.  Because of this, garlic is also on the list and was bought and planted last autumn.  I went for garlic Germidour, which I haven’t grown before but I wanted to order everything from one place.  It’s a french, soft-neck variety that can be planted in autumn or spring.  At the same time, I bought potatoes, Pink Apple, and shallots Longer.  The potatoes are now chitting in the kitchen and the shallots are on their way in the post.

I still haven’t planted up my February list but need to get on with it, so perhaps that’s one for the weekend 🙂

 

The Foster Family Zoo

As I’ve just spent the last hour sitting at the kitchen table, drinking peppermint tea and staring into the garden, I thought I should actually do something instead and finally writing a blog posts didn’t seem like a bad idea.  In an attempt to ‘catch-up’, I looked through my photos since I last wrote and most were of animals.  It would appear that we do now reside in a Zoo, which is fitting when you also have two small boys.

Back in August, we added to the two already rescued cats (from the local RSPCA) with an old boy from Battersea, Brands Hatch, called Buster.DSC_0196.jpgHe was lovely.  I say, was, as sadly we had to have him put down a few weeks ago.  He came to use with a rather John Wayne style walk, which turned out to be one fused hip and the ‘worst case of arthritis’ the vets had ever seen in a cat.  He had a successful hip operation but a routine check up afterwards revealed him to be FIV+ and bluntly, he went down hill rather quickly with anemia and had to be put to sleep.  I miss him.  He was fantastically grumpy (I like grumpy cats) but at the same time my sofa companion, as he rarely left it, and he made a cute ‘priiit’ sound when you ticked his ears.DSC_0147To add to the animal drama, Tuppence broke her leg just before Christmas.  She’s recovered well, right now she’s running around the garden like a loon, which I hope the vet doesn’t find out about as she’s supposed to be house bound, but she just made a Houdini like escape when I opened the door to collect a parcel.  Her fur is now growing back and she looks less like she’s had a chicken leg grafted on.MouseWe still get ‘little gifts’ on a regular basis from the remaining cat that is allowed out (crazy cat lady – me? – noooooo).  I manage to rescue quite a few, which seems rather stupid when I spend most of my summer cursing the mice for eating the contents of my vegetable patch.DSC_0185We have hens now, which I think I did mention last year…I need to take some decent photos of the set-up and the hens themselves…I have tried, but they always seem to move just as I press the button.  We did have two Ginger Rangers, but alas, Mabel (above) got eaten last weekend by a fox.  We got to watch it over and over as there is a camera on that part of the garden.  It was quick but I felt bad about my relaxed free ranging style as I do know there are foxes around here, but then I haven’t seen one in the garden for months, and they usually leave their little calling cards around when they do come in.  Luckily, Doris (the other hen) survived and has now been joined by Beryl and Edna.  Nothing like a good old fashioned and totally obvious hen name.PhesantAs it’s shooing season, there are a lot of pheasants around at the moment too, and they are quite nosey, I’ve noticed, often coming right up to the glass of our kitchen window to have a good look it.  I do think Pheasants are rather handsome.DSC_0003The house is full of ladybirds.  We always have lots, I’m not sure if it’s linked, but in the early days here I did buy a few batches of ladybird larvae to keep the aphids under control.  They do this thing when we get late warm days in late autumn or in early spring where they come out of hibernation and swarm all over the house, I did try to capture it (as above) one year, but it’s hard to see just how many there are and how they are flying all over the place as well as crawling on the house walls.  LadybirdsIn winter, I find them asleep in all corners of the house, the ones above were in the shell of the hen house when I recently moved it, there were some very happy spiders hanging out near by, clearly contented with their winter food larder well stocked, so I moved the Ladybirds into a bug house we have in the vegetable garden (partly as I wanted to scrub the henhouse down before putting the new hens in but also because I’m soft and the idea that they are happily sleeping away, all snuggled up together only to be picked off one by one by a spider makes me sad.  I know, I need help).DSC_0166Even my sewing work seems to be dominated by animals.  I’ve been sewing quite a few blinds in animal prints – this Mark Hearld, Harvest Hare print from St Judes was lovely to work with.DSC_0144And my Shop sewing is all rabbits,DSC_0149and swallows (not to mention mice, little hanging robins, deer and many others….it didn’t occur to me just how much of my work involves animal images until writing this post!).DSC_0139There were animals (and quite a lot of gin) finding their way into Christmas gifts this year too.  I was a bit rubbish and only took the above photo, sorry.  Weirdly, having given quite a lot of gin, I received a fair bit too, not that I’m complaining, I do like a nice bottle of gin.DSC_0153The weekend has finally arrived, here in the Foster Zoo, and I think it’s time to get the seed boxes out and start planning,. I’m moving more towards low maintenance plants in the garden, ideally annuals (the above were an add on offer from Thompson & Morgan that I planted up in pots in the greenhouse last autumn, no idea of they are still alive!) and even in the vegetable patch I’m going to keep it simple.  I have very little free time these days, but I really need to keep in top of things, so keeping it simple and tidy is the way to go 🙂