Still here…

Yet another blog break there, but if you read my other (sewing) blog you’ll know we had a bit of a family tragedy, which has been all-consuming and hasn’t left much time or energy, or, to be honest, interest in anything else.  Still, life does go on and I am determined to keep looking forward and so here I am, back blogging.

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Like most of the UK, our poor garden has been hiding under a blanket of snow (ok, so I wrote this a week or so ago and haven’t published it yet, there’s no snow right now), I didn’t cloche any of my remaining crops and the kale, chard, carrots, salad and over-wintering broad beans are not looking happy, that is the ones that haven’t turned to slime.  Still, my potatoes have arrived in record early time (Thompson & Morgan, in my experience, usually send them out late) so I have a very reserved 20 ‘Charlotte’ variety ‘chitting‘ in the kitchen.  I’ve opted for a lot less this year as we are now getting blight quite early and badly, I’m going to plant them in a completely different part of the garden and the tomatoes are going back into the green house, I do hope this helps.

The potatoes were delivered along with some shallots ‘Longor’, which will be planted when the ground has thawed slightly.  I had hoped to experiment with planting some of my own, from last year, but we’ve eaten most of them and the remaining ones aren’t looking very happy.

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I am most excited to see what comes up from my Autumn planting, in the side border (see this post for the list) but I couldn’t resist some extra flowers:

Ranunculus ‘Purple Heart’

Anemone coronaria ‘Bordeaux’

…yet more in purple/black!  They were both bought from the Crocus sale (whose images I have used above, which I know is naughty).  I might add these to the raised bed that, at the moment, has all my spring cutting flowers in, or maybe I’ll put them in a pot…I’m not sure yet.  I’ve killed every ranunculus that I’ve plated so far and some of the more tender anemone, so if I plant them in the raised beds they’ll be easier to cloche in cooler weather.  It’ll be interesting to see how they grow differently from Autumn planted bulbs of the same.

DSC_0056Finally, I hope to eat the last of the squash on coming weeks, I struggle after a while, to find new ways to cook them; I’m thinking baking is the way to go.  They are still in great condition, it always amazes me how long they last for once brought inside.

I hear we are in for another cool snap, I hope it doesn’t last as I’m keen to get outdoors and tidy up a little, I do love seeing all this little shoots emerge when you clear away the dead leaves.

 

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August round-up…

I am finally getting a bit of time in the garden after our holidays left me with rather a mess to clear up.  I’m at that stage where I am looking forward to getting everything cut back and tidied, there’s still a bit of time to go but I think the general crappy nature of the garden this year (it’s definitely not been my best gardening year) and the out of control vibe of the school summer holidays has me ready for a little more order and some neat vegetable beds.

The garden is full of butterflies today, we have some huge buddleia bushes growing on the other side of the fence, they are in fact taller than the fence at this time of year and the butterflies sun themselves on the wood.

This one sat on my arm and refused to move for about 10mins, I was walking around most of that time slowly doing jobs (and trying to photograph it one handed – not easy – lucky I had my camera around my neck).  Shame there are so many cabbage whites as well, leaving caterpillars munching away at my poor leaves.

Crops this year have been sparse.  We didn’t get to eat many tomatoes at all, most were very blighted by the time we returned from holiday, but we did get to munch some of the sungold before we went.  Their cherry size and orange colour was a winner with C, who likes to eat them whilst exploring the garden.

Also still going strong are:

Cucumbers

Alpine Strawberries

Carrots

Pak Choi

Chard

I have broccoli, barlotti beans, sweetcorn and a second sowing of chard on the way, but the definite highlight of this year are the squash.  I’ll write a full post on these once they have been picked for drying, it’s almost quite difficult to see exactly how many fruits I’ve got with the large leaves roaming everywhere, but it’s looking quite good and may well be my redeeming crop this year.

I pulled up all the shallots when we returned from Yorkshire.  They haven’t grown very big, the trapped rabbit (the one stuck in the vegetable patch) ate all the tops when they should have had plenty of growing time left and the rain had them sitting in damp ground so I have popped them into the greenhouse to dry off.  They may not be very big but there are loads, so I’m planning some pickled shallots this year, when the boys are back at school and I have time.

I’ve trimmed off the garlic and brought it indoors.  It’s been drying for some weeks in the greenhouse and this has about half the crop.  Although they started well they aren’t the size of last years, still good enough though and something I’ll always make room for, in fact I’ve ordered the autumn planing bulbs (Solent Wight) so I don’t forget from Thompson and Morgan.  I’m not going to order shallot sets, I’m going to try planing this year’s bulbs and see what happens.

I need to get my act together, I’m determined to get some autumn/winter crops started, it’s difficult when we are still having such hot days, so many plants have bolted this year, I’m waiting for things to cool off a bit and for the school holidays to be over.  I tend to get very busy with sewing work from September onwards, but I’m determined to make time for the garden, we’ll see, only time will tell 🙂

Shallots 2012…

Just before we went away the shallot sets arrived and I was quick to get them into the garden.  As always, I ordered Longer variety from Thompson & Morgan back in autumn.  They were supposed to arrive by the end of February and I’ve been phoning T&M weekly since asking where they are (to which they always replied that they were on their way), I think there was a supply problem, and it’s not the first time, but I do wish they’d just email to say.

Shallots are one thing I will always make room for in the garden, they are expensive to buy from the supermarket and they store extremely well with no effort on my part.  The above were rescued from the greenhouse early this year where they had simply been left on the benches.  I had brought loads inside already, plaited them up and hung them in the kitchen, I was amazed these ones were also in such good condition having spent much of winter neglected.

They have been planted in rows about 15cm apart (with 2ocm between the rows) in various spots throughout the raised beds, with just their tops poking out.  I love the way you plant a single bulb and a short while later it splits giving you a little group of new bulbs.  I do wonder about simply keeping some of my own bulbs back for growing the next year, I had a little read around on the internet and found some gardeners do, do this, the big problem seems to be that they are obviously not heat-treated against disease but as I’ve never had any Allium diseases (yet!) I might try this next year, save my weekly calls to Thompson & Morgan 😉

Autumn…

I started this post a while back and managed to forget to actually publish it.  Story of my life at the moment, I’m a bit all over the place, still it gives me a chance to add a photo of my fabulous new purchase ‘Wild Flowers Sarah Raven’ which is exactly as the title suggest a HUGE book about wild flowers.  It’s full of beautiful photos and is separated into simple sections (Wood, Heath etc) and on each page there are 2 flowers with very full descriptions and an image, they are organised alphabetically using their common names.

It really is a massive book and isn’t exactly cheap but I’m in love and I’m sure will spend many happy hours reading it and identifying wild flowers I don’t already know.  Right, back to the original post…

We are back at school after a week long break and what a difference it makes.  As soon as I started the school run I noticed how the trees have all turned colour in the past week, we have mostly been at home over the holidays (both boys had colds) and as we are surrounded in the garden by evergreens I hadn’t realised just how much change there had been in the other trees, and along with the clock change it really is finally feeling like true autumn.

I made a point today of picking the few crabapples and medlars that are on my new trees, they are both only a year old but have produced enough to make some jelly so I couldn’t resist.  I have to leave the medlars in a cool room for a week or two (or three!), until the skin turns blackish purple and the fruit feels soft and smells ‘winey’.  Basically until they start to rott.  This ‘bletting’ allows the fruit to loose it’s acidity and lets it release it’s juice.  I’m not sure how I feel about this, I am a bit funny about food past it’s sell by date (depending on what it is, you should have seen what came out of my herb/spice cupboard the other day!) but we’ll see how it goes.

I have also planted out the final garlic in the form of a couple of the largest cloves I grew last year.  These along with the ‘Albigensian‘ from the last post are all happily in their beds ready to sit out the winter, altogether I’ve planted up 6 large cloves which I think will be enough.

I placed a last minute order for seed potatoes after getting an email from Thompson & Morgan saying they were in the sale.  I decided to buy:

Potato ‘Charlotte’ – Truly sensational flavour whether eaten hot, smothered in butter, or cold in a tasty salad niçoise. Second early.
Potato ‘Swift’ – A particularly early maturing potato, producing excellent yields of round, smooth white-fleshed tubers. First early.
Potato ‘Vivaldi’ – Mouth-watering flavour and creamy texture whether boiled as new potatoes, or baked, mashed and roasted as larger tubers.

(Thompson & Morgans words there not mine)

and some extra ‘Charlottes’ as they are always a winner.  I’ve decided this year to only plant in the small 14 litre exhibitors bags with 1 seed potato per bag as it was such a great way to grown them, I’ve never planted in the beds as we simply don’t have room and I love being able to turn out one bag at a time which is just enough for a single meal, this works well for me.

I also ordered some shallots ‘French Longer’ and onions ‘Electric’ to pop in for over wintering and some general seeds.  I prefer to do my seed shopping over winter when I plan next years garden, otherwise I over buy things that I don’t have room for but I couldn’t resist adding a few to the basket.

I’m looking forward to getting into the garden this weekend and doing a good tidy up.  Most of the leaves have dropped and the cold weather has killed off  all the soft flowers and plants so it’s time to lift the remaining sludge and maybe cover up anything that needs it.

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 🙂

Garlic, potatoes and shallots…

I spent some of my winter ‘hibernation’ as always dreaming of the garden and planning what I’d like to grow.  As this is my 4th year with this vegetable patch, I mostly just check last years planing list (organised by month) and edit or add according to how the recent harvest has gone.  I don’t like to plant things we don’t end up eating or that have failed in such a way I feel no desire to try again (although some things I’ll attempt more than once, I’m determined to grow Kai Lan this year!) and ideally I like to add new varieties, if not new vegetables, otherwise I get a bit bored.

I’ve ordered the first installment of  seeds, potatoes and shallot sets, all from Thompson & Morgan.  They had an offer I couldn’t refuse on potatoes, 3 new planters plus 15 (5 of each) seed potatoes all second earlies and including my favourite Charlottes.  In their own words, here’s what I’m getting:

Gourmet Potato Collection

Solanum tuberosum

Colin Randel, Chairman of the RHS Vegetable Trials Committee has tried and tested hundreds of potatoes over the years. With his specialist knowledge he has picked three tasty potato varieties as his top rated for flavour. Grow this special selection in our effortless patio planters for a taste sensation. The perfect potato dish simply doesn’t get any easier than this!

  • Collection comprises:
  • Potato ‘Charlotte’ – Second early. Sweet, earthy, long oval tubers with pale yellow, waxy flesh. This superb salad variety produces heavy crops with plenty flavour whether it is eaten as a new potato, hot or cold.
  • Potato ‘Inca Bella’ – Second early/ early maincrop. From ‘Mayan Gold’ parentage, with a pink-blushed cream coloured skin and golden coloured flesh. The distinctive nutty flavour makes this variety a superb salad potato, or harvest later as an early maincrop if larger tubers are required. Cooks approximately 30% quicker than your usual potato.

  • Potato ‘Piccolo Star’ – Second early. Very high numbers of mouthwatering, oval baby new potatoes, with a firm waxy texture and bright, creamy skin and flesh. Absolutely superb as a boiled ‘new potato’ or left to cool as a salad potato.

Sounds good huh?! Here is the link and all for the price of £14.99.  Now, if I was prepared to give up some of the raised bed space I could buy much cheaper and larger amounts of seed potatoes but I really enjoy growing them in sacks/planters, so this works for me.  In addition I have ordered some Anya variety and a number of individual (cheap) bag planters that will have 1 tuber planted in each.  Last year I put any extra chitted potatoes into black buckets and it worked so well to tip out a single  bucket full for a meal that I’d like to repeat this method.

I’ve also ordered my shallots, again I’ve gone for Longor, I did think about changing variety but I do love these and haven’t bought shallots for 3 years now so figured I’d stick with the same.  Again (this is kind of cheating isn’t it? – Oh well!) in their own words:

Shallot French ‘Longor’

Allium cepa (Aggregatum Group)

This French version of ‘Jersey Long’ has been awarded an RHS Award of garden merit for its extremely long bulbs and robust flavour. Shallots have a much sweeter flavour than onions and can be used in stews and casseroles for a more delicate taste. This variety is a particular favourite with exhibition growers, and can be stored over a long period.

I found one milder day over Christmas to get my garlic in, I just looked back at old posts and see this was my first post on garlic from June 2009 when I harvested the first batch, outlining what I’d opted to grow.  Gosh didn’t I include some nice photos back then?….must try harder ;).  Then after declaring Albigensian Wight and Solent Wight as the winners, these were my choice for last year’s planting, they worked so well I’ve been rather boring and opted for the same again, ordered from the Isle of Wight Garlic Farm.

They have been planted, as always, in rows 30cm apart with 15cm between the individual cloves with about 3cm earth on top.  They are in raised Bed 1 and will be replaced with Brassicas (probably purple sprouting broccoli) later in the year, the smaller inner cloves have been put into 2 of my massive containers, I am thinking of planting the squash in the beds this year and using the containers for other things, either way I can move them when the weather warms up a bit.

Now, if you’re thinking all these photos are familiar, yes they are, I had planned to pop out in the garden before publishing this post (written a few days ago), but quite frankly it’s pissing it down and shows no sign of letting up so I was looking up past relevant images, I do love this one of the garlic drying out on our spare bed.

And finally,  it cheered me to find this photo, taken in April 2009 and a reminder of what’s to come 🙂

July Eating…

It would appear I am slipping well behind with my blog posts, the above photo was taken back in mid June, after I had removed the outer skin of my first garlic, having left them for a few weeks to dry out in the greenhouse.  They are now plaited and hanging in my kitchen (better than last years solution!)

I have since pulled all remaining garlic and shallots, which are a bit weeny this year, quite frankly due to lack of water but they are still tasty and will keep us going for some time.

The beetroot from both the first (planted in gutters in the greenhouse) sowing and the second from May is ready.  I pretty much always boil or roast them,  then slice and eat with Feta cheese, Marjoram and an olive oil and balsamic dressing.  I really should try something new but I do like beetroot this way.

The first of the tomatoes are ready, there seems very little difference between the ones grown in the greenhouse and outside, all are cropping at a similar time, which rather surprises me.

The Alpine strawberries are still providing lots of little treats, you have to be quick though

as C is a strawberry addict.

We are also eating cucumbers, spring onions, courgettes, red onions and salad at an alarming rate.  I confess that already a few cucumbers have ended up in the bin, despite the fact we eat at least one a day (well, C does).

My blog is not the only neglected thing around here, the garden itself is in desperate need of attention, there is little point starting any new planting as we are away here and there and the total lack of rain here means new crops are quite high maintenance until they get going.  So, I guess there may be a few gaps in a couple of months but for now I will simply enjoy eating our lovely ready produce.