February sowing in the garden and cloches…

We’ve had some glorious weather here in the UK, sunny and warm and perfect for pottering in the garden and despite my sewing commitments I couldn’t resist some time outside preparing the raised beds for this year’s planting.  The beds are in pretty good shape, the boards, in places, are coming away from their posts (they are 5 years old now) although the wood itself is still sound.  In most cases all I had to do was remove some weeds and rake over the tops, we do still suffer quite badly from weeds in general in the garden but when you consider it’s 25 year neglect before it became ours and my sometimes erratic gardening time I think it’s to be expected. There are less each year and I am finally getting on top of the brambles and creeping buttercup that weave their way around the paths and appear in every nook and crevice.

Note the chocolate around the mouth, the PJ's and cat....love my boys 😉

I have mentioned before that I’ve given the boys a bed to share this year so we kicked off the planting outside here.  I might have liked to wait a few more weeks, this warm spell could well turn cold, but they can’t wait, apparently.

I’ve had plastic covering their bed, warming the soil and under a cloche we have planted some carrot seeds, a mix of:

Early Nantes

Atomic Red

Purple Haze

both the red and purple variety are new for us but the boys were very keen on the idea of red carrots.

They’ve also put a row of spring onions ‘North Holland Blood Red’ and radish (a mix of ‘Sparkler’,Cherry Bell’and ‘French Breakfast’) on either side of the carrots. I plan to remove the cloche and replace it with an old cloche frame covered in enviromesh when the weather warms up to keep the carrot root fly off, last year’s planting in large pots worked really well as apparently they can’t fly above about 60cm/2ft and the buckets are much higher than that, but I think I’ll be keeping these for growing squash crops this year.

Whilst on the subject of cloches I bought another 2 of the Haxnicks versions (available in many on-line shops), as above (the photo is from a few years ago), once made up they have proved to be the best in the garden……the problem is making them up.  I imagine if there are two of you it’s fine but if it’s just me and two little boys (M is away working at the mo) it’s the kind of job that can make a grown women cry.  I very nearly did.

They arrive in ‘flat pack’ form and need to be assembled, the plastic arrives rolled, in fact it has such a tight roll that prising it open to get it into the narrow groove of the metal on the sides (where you have to screw firmly into place) is incredibly difficult, the slightest movement and it springs out and curls back up, attempting to remove your arm in the process.  It didn’t help that the boys abandoned me two minutes in when I shouted rather urgently – can you pass me the screwdriver please boys….the screwdriver….yes, the thing with the black handle….JUST PASS IT PLEASE…PUT THE PLAYMOBIL DOWN AND QUICKLY PASS THE SCREWDRIVER!!!  – at which point they ignored me and went to watch cbeebies, wise move, and my hand was nearly ripped off by curling plastic.  My only other criticism is they don’t stack which makes storing them over winter quite difficult.

The other long cloche that I use are the ones above with corrugated plastic which are also widely available (sorry, I’m not sure who makes them).  The problems here are that once the side pieces fall out (which happens to me all the time) it’s almost impossible to get them back in.  These pieces have to go under the edges of the ridged plastic, which is a very tight fit (in order to stay in place I assume) but it means mostly removing the whole lot and putting it all back in again, hence all of mine in the garden now being open at the sides.  It’s also fractionally harder to clean because of the ridges than the Haxnicks version and they don’t have a middle handle so I find them difficult to lift by myself without stepping on my raised bed.

In addition to the long cloches I have quite a few of the plastic bell cloches also shown above, also from Haxnicks.  The largest size have been a great investment, still in really good condition many years on and nicely heavy so you don’t have to pin them down in windy weather, sadly the slightly smaller lighter plastic ones are often used by the boys as space helmets and many have cracked.  I’ve ordered a couple of metal ‘tent’ frames with both plastic and mesh covers so it will be interesting to see how good they are, more in that when they arrive.

April Flowers and more Planting Lists…

I have been a bit useless at making time to photograph the Spring flowers this year, the orange ‘Ballerina’ tulips and ‘China Pinks’ in the borders are getting past their best and are about o be replaced by the Alliums.  I also haven’t been bringing many flowers into the house, to be honest, nearly two weeks into half term it’s all a bit of a mess around here so decorating with flowers hasn’t been high on my list.

I did take the time yesterday to cut some lilac from our overgrown boundary (one of the many lovely trees we inherited from the previous owner) and I mixed it with some dark purple parrot tulips from the cutting patch, shamefully I realised when writing this post that I have no idea what the variety is called, oh well, they look very pretty together.

I do like a nice dark tulip, I also grow ‘Jan Reus’ in my boarders and a line of the same in the cutting patch.  I plan to move all my cutting patch bulbs into one border after they have flowered this year (and have been given time to recover), although it was a good plan in theory to plant them deep between rows where I intended to put vegetables,  I find the leaves get in the way as they cause a shadow over any seedlings I’m trying to grow.

We (me and the boys) have also planted up a few new things.  I’ve put horseradish roots into one of the large containers I normally plant squash in, I figure it’ll be easier to find when it comes time to dig it up for eating.  We’ve also put in some carrots, again in a large container and one that I’d put ‘Sytan’ seeds in last September that did diddly-squat.  On a closer inspection (I was planting ‘Early Nantes’ seeds) I noticed some of those September sown seeds are finally germinating which I wasn’t expecting so we just threw a few extra in for luck.  Growing in the tall containers saves me worrying about carrot root fly as they can’t fly above 60 cm, at least that’s the theory and it worked well last year.

That’s all for now, I need to get all my final plants sown over the coming week so I’m hoping for a little cooler weather as it’s quite difficult in this heat, I’m more inclined to want to sit around drinking Pimms 🙂

Things I’ve forgotten to menion OR I’m a bad blogger…

Take your pick as both apply.  I have been working in the garden so I’m not quite sure why my blogging hasn’t kicked back in, it’s always slow at the start of the year and over Winter, when everything goes into hibernation but by now I’m usually back into the swing of regular posting.  I suspect it’s partly that I know (after growing here for 4 years now) kind of what I’m doing so I spend less time reading up on-line and in gardening books and therefore less time learning new processes and recording them, not that I know everything, far from it and the good thing is it means this blog is working well as a record as I simply check on what I was up to last year and follow the same.

This is the ‘trolley’ in our kitchen, you can imagine how popular I am, especially as this mess tends to be there for most of Spring as I try to get all my seeds organised and planted out, I’m generally a bit behind but happy with that, I’d rather plant direct this year, when possible.

And so, here are a few things I’ve missed putting down on virtual paper, for the record.

Things that survived the Winter

Spinach ‘Bordeaux’

Planted back in September’s Autumn Planting post, is was the only thing that did take, everything else failed to germinate or died soon after due to a general lack of proper care, tut, tut!

Herbs ‘Thyme’, ‘Parcel’, ‘Winter Savory’ and ‘Mint’.

Although they look a bit scrappy in their pots, they are hanging on in there.

Carrots ‘ Nantes’

Now, these have rather taken me surprise, there were some left in one of the huge containers I planted them in (to avoid carrot fly – which worked like a treat) and although they lost all their top foliage in the snowy Winter we had, the carrots underneath are perfectly fine.  I know because Charlie digs them up to eat each time we are in the veg patch, the container is a great height for him to ‘play’ in.

Kale ‘Cavalo Nero’

Again, a crop from last Summer which I simply never got around to pulling up and composting when it got past it’s best.  I’m glad I didn’t as it has sprung back to life and all 5 plants are producing nice new leaves from the top, in fact some are sprouting so well from the bottom, I think I might trim them down and see if they can keep going..

Parsnips ‘Gladiator’

I couldn’t dig these due to frosty ground and only a few had germinated so they are still there and I forgot about them, they are now comedy giant parsnips.

Things I’ve planted that I forgot to tell you about

The new batch of shallot French ‘Longor’ were put into their beds a few weeks ago.  As per the instructions from 2009, the sets have been planted  in rows about 30cm apart, with 7 sets per row (my beds are 120cm wide) and the tops just poking out.  They are looking nicely settled although I’ve had to net them to make sure the cat doesn’t see a litter tray opportunity.  These are so worth it as we haven’t bought shallots since the first year I grew them and they need so little care, although we do normally have onions in the veg patch as an additional supplement.

I sowed some Broad Bean Super Aquadulce’ a few weeks back indoors and these have now been planted out.  I didn’t bother to do an Autumn planting as quite frankly in past years the final plants have always ended up a bit scrappy, it’ll be interesting to see how this early Spring sown version differs.

In a completely separate note, the Spring flowers are finally coming into their own, it always amazes me how quickly they go from green shoots to full blown blooms so (fingers crossed) there will be some pretty pictures to go with the next post and finally a bit of colour in the garden, for now here is the Fritillaria imperialis which is flowering for the first time for a while, I’ve been getting blind bulbs so I’m very happy to finally see some blooms 🙂

Autumn planting…

Still behind in getting my posts published, but better late than never:)

Written a few weeks ago:

For the first time in a while, I spent most of yesterday afternoon working in the garden; it’s a little later than it should be for the Autumn planting but as we are lucky with the weather here in the South and we are still due some sun I figured it was now or never.

I’ve decided to make use the large buckets that I grew my squash in, they have been topped up with fresh soil and lots of added feed and seed has been sown for:

Spring Onions ‘North Holland Blood Red’

Spinach ‘Bordeaux’

Carrots ‘Sytan’

Turnip ‘Blanc De Croissy’

In the raised beds I have started:

Radish ‘Sparkler’ & ‘Cherry Bell’

Chard ‘White Silver’

Pak Choi ‘Joi Choi’

and finally a bed of mixed salad leaves (I simply scattered a few of each variety that are Winter hardy).

Everything can easily be cloched if needed , for some of the above, it’s already quite late to be planting them and there are others that should really have gone in during August such as Kohl Rabi, which I may still attempt.  I also have to decide whether to replace the Kale with new plants as the existing has been growing throughout Summer.  For now though, I need to try to get everything tidied and put away and I will concentrate on making sure all the above are kept watered and given the best chance to germinate.

By the way, the garden has lots of bright flowers at the moment, although they are getting a little scrappy there is still plenty to pick for a quick posy for the kitchen.

June Eating…

Despite quite a lot of my planting being late this year we have a few crops ready now.  Today, I pulled my first carrots grown in the large ‘pots’ ( they are ‘Early Nantes’ I think, although I can’t find a reference as to when I planted them)

it would appear my decision to avoid carrot root fly by planting in high pots has worked as there is no sign, in theory the flies can only hover to about 2 ft so above this level should be safe, last year I planted under enviromesh which also worked a treat.

Sadly the pototoes and some of the tomatoes are showing signs of Early Blight, I get this every year and it always starts in the potatoes but it seems even earlier this time and I’m worried about the tomatoes having time to crop, they are only just starting to set fruit.  I turned out 2 buckets I had planted with a single seed potato each, as they were the worst affected and out came this lot!  I’m quite pleased as they hadn’t even flowered yet, I still have the two large planters to go at when we’ve eaten this batch.

I’ve also pulled up the first of the garlic, mainly to make room for future vegetables.  They are a good size (these are the ‘Albigensian’ planted last Autumn) and are drying on the bench before I move them in loose bunches to dry in the greenhouse.

The salad leaves I was yet to plant out have grown to a good size in their seedling trays in the greenhouse so I’m going to eat them directly from here

as has the Pak Choi ‘Mei Qing Choi’, which after all the earlier ones flowered before I managed to crop them, it makes me re-think my process on these, I may in future just sow and crop early in the greenhouse and abandon planting outside.

Finally we are eating Sugar Snap Peas by the handful and I’ve got the replacement batch in a large pot ready to take over, and Mr C is happily munching his way through the Alpine Strawberries (Mignonette) every time we pop into the garden, his favourite treat and the main reason I grow them 🙂

Jam, Jelly and July eating…

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The fruit just keeps coming.  I have made redcurrant jelly, gooseberry and thyme jelly and gooseberry jam.  As you can see above, I use improvised methods for straining my jelly (I am on my last few muslin clothes bought when my eldest son was born – he is now 4 – let me stress, all clean and new and never used to mop up baby goo).  I have to leave little notes to my husband (who frequently returns home form work very late) not to move, prod or squeeze the jelly bag so the juice stays clear.  I am pleased with my jam/jelly/chutney cupboard at the moment, I know not to make too much of anything as it’s usually me who eats it, with the exception of jam where the boys help me out.

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The garden has been throwing up more courgettes than we can eat.  The four plants are plenty for us as a family and have grown well in their potato grow bags.  I am pleased I decided to grow yellow and green as they look very pretty together.  Tonight for dinner we are having spaghetti with courgette, mint and feta which is one of my favourite simple dishes.  It’s pretty easy, you slice and fry the courgettes in oil, so that they get a bit of colour but still have a bit of bite (if i am feelign lazy, I toss them in olive oil, lay them on a tray and bake in a very hot oven for a few minutes) then toss with warm cooked pasta and a little feta and sliced mint.  Season well and squeeze over some lemon.  Sounds boring but really tastes scrummy.

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I dug up the last of the new potatoes last week as the tops were looking a bit shabby.  They keep well if you leave them to dry for a few minutes in the sun/wind and then put them in the fridge, with the soil still on and wash when needed.  We had family here for dinner last night and I cooked Sarah Raven’s recipe for smashed new potatoes which went down a treat.  It gave me an opportunity to roast a whole head of the new garlic to then be squeezed out into a paste and added to the potatoes.  It’s still a bit green but can happily be used at this stage.  I also cooked her tomato focaccia bread with some of the just ready cherry tomatoes (sungold), I really recommend her book ‘Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook’ it has some great recipes.

Other things going well in the garden at the moment are shallots, red onions, spring onions, carrots, the fantastic sputnik like kohlrabi (which I have yet to cook), beetroot and the first of the tomatoes.  All in all a pretty productive time.