October 2015

Last month I cut down all my asparagus ferns to just two or three inches above the ground and put all the cut material on the compost heap.IMG_5731  If you don’t do that, when the winds come they will rock the roots and damage the plants for next year.

At the same time I took the netting off our fruit bushes.  Two reasons, really – it lets the birds finish off the remaining redcurrants but more importantly if any snow arrives over the winter it won’t weigh down the cages.

Towards the end of September we had the last of this year’s sweetcorn and were still picking runner beans.  Once both of them were finished I cleared the ground been in and stored the supporting posts in the shed – it’s tempting to leave them in the ground but the weather won’t be kind to them.

I’m still clearing the main part of the vegetable garden ready to grass it over next year.  It’s going to be a wrench but it makes sense.  I’m not getting any younger and we only need to grow what we can eat…. Speaking of which I pulled up the last my parsnips which were a bit disappointing this year.  They looked fine on the surface of the ground but were very thin and feeble underneath.  We also finished off our tomatoes and are still picking a wonderful crop of apples.

And now the best news – the hedgehogs are fine!  I still don’t know where they sleep but every night they take the food we’ve left out for them and leave behind their unmistakable traces.  It’s great to have them with us….

And we had a week away at the end of September.  The garden didn’t come to any harm and we had a lovely relaxing time in Yorkshire.  See you next month.

September 2015

Well it rained a lot in August, as we know – we had 1.25 inches here on August 18/19; but I still managed to get some thing done.  I thinned out the spring raspberry canes by cutting out the sticks that fruited this year and tidying up the fresh shoots for next year to about a foot apart.  The autumn canes I leave till March and then cut them right down to the ground.

We seem to have been picking runner beans all month.IMG_5717  This year they didn’t come all at once, which is nice – we always seem to have been able to pick what we want.

The big surprise came from the self seeded potatoes – the two tubers gave us about 30 excellent spuds between them! I think they were probably Maris Bards, because that’s what I usually grow, and they were a fair distance apart, maybe that helped them along.  But they got hardly any care and attention from me, maybe one earthing up, and they were brilliant!

I harvested our onions on a dry day and they’re in the greenhouse now drying out.  They’ll go into nets soon and will keep over the winter.

IMG_5733I tidied up the new strawberry plants so they’ll be ready for next year’s fruiting.  I took out all their runners and cleared the weeds so the plants will sit nicely. This year’s plants I have now cleared – I want that bit of the garden back to grass over as part of my plan (very sensible, I must say) to rice the amount of ground I have to look after and create a raised bed in part of it.

And the other great news is that our hedgehogs are back.  There are clear signs (droppings) that they’ve been for their food, so we are now putting a meal out for them every night.

We picked all the Early Victoria apples from our old variety tree and cooked them up; IMG_5678they’re lovely and mame a delicious foam.  And we’ve now got a terrific crop of pears.  They’re a mixture of Williams and Conference and we took them off the treES at exactly the right moment.  The ones we can’t eat ourselves are going to the family as they don’t keep very long.

We had the last of the lettuce and spring onions a couple of days ago and will keep the beetroots in sand till we need them.

Meanwhile the Seedsava team has been at the NEC in Birmingham and I’m hearing it’s going well.  We have new packaging with the information in four or five languages….  Fingers crossed they start shipping all over the world.

August 2015

The trouble with gardening (apart from all the hard work) is that at this time of year you tend to get to much of everything! We’re still picking redcurrants and inviting friend and neighbours to help themselves; we had a huge crop of blueberries which you’ll remember I grew in three pots because they need an ericaceous soil; the last of them are in the freezer now.  IMG_5738I’ve been thinning out the apples from our five miniature trees, otherwise the weight of the crop would break the branches.   They’re lovely trees, each one is a rare variety grafted on to strong root stock.  One of them is a cooker called Early Victoria, which is a lovely yellow/green colour and when you cook them the flesh turns to a fragrant, tasty foam.  It’s such a shame so many varieties became so hard to find, so I’m doing my bit to put that right.

The red cabbages are doing fine.  I gave them a spray with some diluted soapy water and that seems to have encouraged the cabbage white butterflies to head off elsewhere.  I’ve clipped and re-IMG_5740shaped our bay tree outside the kitchen window, and the last of this year’s peas are now in the freezer for the winter.  We had our first crop of runner beans (which happily are not all coming through at once, so we can eat as we go!).  The leeks did turn out to be leeks and not spring onions, and have germinated nicely and I’ve got the ground ready for them outside.  One of these days I’m going to dig up our self-seeded potatoes and see what they are – the plants certainly look healthy enough.

The sweetcorn are doing well.  I reckon they could do with a bit more sunshine and should be ready in a couple of weeks.  The tassels are coming through now and you can tell they’re probably about ripe when the colour on the tassels starts to turn brownish.

The peppers have just finished, and the cucumbers (blimey we had a LOT of them), and the greenhouse tomatoes are now pacing themselves so that we get a few at a time. IMG_5767 My aubergines suffered from the fact that I didn’t spot the fact that the holes which seemed to be in the bottom of the pot didn’t go all the way through – so they waterlogged.  If I’m honest I’d have to say I’m not a huge fan of aubergines so it wasn’t a tragic loss……

For next season I’m thinking about maybe building a raised bed in part of the vegetable garden.  It would be a bit easier to maintain (I may look young, but….) and I do have to think about just growing what we actually need.  It’s great fun to produce our own fruit and vegetables but this year I’ve struggled to find enough people to give it all away to!

See you next month.  Looking forward to those sweetcorn meantime.

July 2015

A month of picking and enjoying, really, apart from sowing a few more lettuce seeds which are just starting to come through – and some leeks because I had a forgetful moment and am not entirely certain whether the plants IMG_5698just showing are leeks or possibly spring onions.  All will become clear but just to be on the safe side I thought I’d get some definite leeks in the ground.  I’ve planted out some red cabbages as well – just a dozen or so, which will keep very well once they are ready.

But back to harvesting.  We ate our broad bean crop in one go towards the end of June while they were still small and tender, and similarly have been enjoying the cucumbers from the greenhouse.  The green peppers have been yielding well, too, for about the last three or four weeks.  At the end of June we picked the last asparagus spears and are not letting the ferns develop, hopefully rejuvenating the plants for next year.

At the end of June we picked a bumper crop of 5lbs of strawberries; some of them are now jam and some in the freezer for successive summer puddings over coming months.  Our red currant bushes produced another 5lbs of them, as well – also destined for the freezer and summer puddings – alongside a good few white currants.

The gooseberry bushes gave us five or six jars of jam’s worth at the end of the first week of July.  They were a little bit smaller than usual but very nice for all that.  A few days later we picked masses of black currants.  I’ve got a good trick for them which saves pruning work later in the year.  I just cut out the whole fruit bearing branch and can then take the fruit off sitting down at a bench.  The fruit only grows on last year’s branch growth, and those are the one that need to come out, leaving this year’s growth to produce fruit in 12 months’ time.  So you can’t go wrong – just take out the branch that’s carrying fruit.

Nice blueberries this year, too – all round we seem to have had the right combination of sun and water for the soft fruits, I’m delighted with them.IMG_5741

I’m patiently waiting to see what my two self-seeded potato plants produce.  They just appeared, and seemed healthy, whatever they are, so I’ve earthed them up and am awaiting developments.  And it won’t be long now before we can eat the first crop of garden peas.  What a treat that is, and so much nicer than anything you can buy (whatever it says on the freezer bag!!)

A Growing Obsession Show week and breakdown 039 A Growing Obsession Show week and breakdown 003A Growing Obsession Show week and breakdown 134By the way the SeedSava was on display at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show this year and attracted a lot of interest.  Everywhere it goes people can see what a good idea it is.

Back to harvesting – see you next month.


June 2015

Towards the end of last month I sowed some more peas, which are doing nicely now, and I gave the soft fruit a good liquid feed.IMG_5546  It’s been quite dry overall in spite of the outbreaks of rain so everything needs careful attention.  In the greenhouse I’ve been feeding the beefsteak tomatoes and mini-cucumbers.  I put some more lettuce and spring onion seeds in; everything has been a bit slow to germinate this year – other people have said the same thing.

IMG_5495We’ve been getting eight or 10 stems of asparagus a day, which are lovely.  The family has been getting anything we can’t eat ourselves….

The strawberries need a bit more sunshine but they’re doing nicely and we picked the first ones on June 14th.  We’ve made quite sure that the new plants from this year concentrate on growing their roots by picking of all the flowers.  It seems a bit harsh but we’ll get the benefit next year with a whole new generation of fruit-bearing plants.

My runner beans germinated ok but I also bought some plants which I brought on in pots in the greenhouse.  I got wigwams ready for them outside so as soon as they seemed strong enough they were in the ground.  About the same time I planted out our sweetcorn, covered over against the birds.

IMG_5693Same goes for courgettes – they’re outside now and we’ll pick and eat them when they are small and tender.

The spring cabbages are nearly all done – they served us very well and we were getting a couple of meals out of each of them.

On the wildlife front I’m pleased to say we have a regular visit from a woodpecker at the moment; I don’t know where it lives but it likes the garden.  And our hedgehog family are benefiting from the food we put out every night for them.  we don’t see them but they definitely come for their meals (when it’s not raining!) because we can see their droppings in the morning and the dishes are empty.  We seem to be feeding huge numbers of birds as well, massive sacks of seed seem to last no time at all.

Human culinary tip of the month: when you’re cooking your fresh gooseberries add a head of elderflower (maybe in a loose muslin bag) and you’ve find all the acidity goes.  And the gooseberries are just about ready now….

See you next month.

May 2015

To be honest the spring months have been a bit disappointing in my garden.  The weather’s been very dry and the odd warm day has been followed by quite chilly spells.  My onions have been very disappointing and I’ve had to start again, basically – the same with the parsley I sowed, which didn’t germinate at all. IMG_5618 Better luck with the peas, they’ve perked up and I’m just putting some sticks in now to support them.  The radishes and parsnips have come through, I’m glad to say.  But I’ve had to re-sow spring onions, leeks and red cabbages.  Just when you think you’re getting good at this, something plays a trick on you.  I suppose that’s what gardening is all about.  It’d be boring if everything happened exactly as it’s supposed to.

Towards the end of last month I put down six bags of well-rotted manure on the plantingIMG_5477 area and Rotavated it in; I’ve sown some beetroot seeds which have come through nicely already.

But the courgettes and sweetcorn I had in propagators completely failed, so I’ve re-done them.  IMG_5503I’ve got some runner beans in pots which look healthy enough and I’m pleased with the progress of the blueberries I’ve got in pots in ericaceous soil, which they need.  I try to water them with rainwater only.   All the other fruit bushes have had a good dressing of liquid manure which should do them good.  In this very dry weather they take moisture in through their leaves.  The strawberries  have had the same treatment.

As for the little new strawberry plants I’ve planted – they are basically just shoots off the existing ones, and you’re supposed to pick the flowers off them as soon as they appear, and any runners, so that the plants concentrate on growing strong roots, which means they should produce good fruit next year.  It seems a shame to be stopping them from creating fruit this year but it’s for longer-term benefit!

I impulse buy things sometimes (don’t we all?) and that applied to some healthy looking aubergine plants I saw at a well-known upmarket supermarket the other week (no prizes!)  It turns out the plants are actually grafted onto sturdy root stock and they need to be in 18 inch deep pots, to give them room to develop.  They look healthy; I haven’t come across this sort of grafting before.  I bought a few sweet pepper and tomato plants as well, also grafted, and we shall see how they do.  They’re all in the greenhouse.

I don’t usually top-dress the lawn to encourage growth but now I’ve got someone helping me with the mowing, so I’m not so worried about vigorous growth!  So out I went and gave the grass a good healthy dressing.

We’ve been cropping the asparagus and enjoying it; similarly the spring cabbages are perfect now after their winter in the ground.

Hopefully the weather will warm up now and everything will recover from a slightly shaky start to the growing season.  See you next month!

April 2015

I’ve been busy getting things in the ground outside this month.  In fact all the soil area I’d prepared is now full, so I’ll need to Rotavate some more for the next lot.

All the onions were planted out at the end of March.  They always take a little while to get going, so nothing much has happened yet – but they’ll be fine.  All my broad beans germinated nicely and they’re planted out as well, as well as the peas (netted to protect them from the birds, of course).  The GardenThe weather in the first week of April was very nice so I’ve sewn parsley, parsnips and carrots – and we’ve got a ready-made salad area where I’ve sewn lettuces, radishes and spring onions.  The spring onions are a bit slower than the rest, of course, but we’ll be well supplied none the less.

I’ve finished pruning the apple trees and they’ve all had a good mulch of rotted horse manure, so they should be perfectly happy.  The mulch helps to keep the weeds down, as well. Apple trees Of course we’ll have far more fruit than we can possibly eat and we always give quite a bit of it away – but growing food is a pleasure in itself.

As for the hedgehogs – well they are definitely still around.  My wife puts out three plates every evening; one each for the two stray cats who always turn up and one for the hedgehogs.  And in the morning they are all completely clean.

Meanwhile the other day I rescued a very chubby looking hedgehog which had fallen down into the recess for my outside tap (I’d forgotten to put the lid on).  I heard a sort of snuffling sound and there he was, splashing about in an inch of water, not looking too worried.  Anyway I lifted him out and put him on the lawn; he sat there for a bit, curled up, and then pottered off.  It’s great to have them, they couldn’t be more welcome.  I only hope we don’t feed them so much that they don’t bother hunting slugs…..

See you next month.



March 2015

We’re just getting to the end of last year’s stored onions so it’s good news that a week ago I was able to get my onion seedlings into the cold greenhouse.  RobinMost of the seeds have successfully propagated and I’ve got about 60 plants.  They do keep very well once I pull them up, so we are within reach of a year-round supply for the kitchen.

I realised what the problem has been with my blackberry bush!  GoldfinchIt was sitting right underneath the bird feeders, so not surprisingly it was covered in droppings.  I went out and bought a new one, the variety is Loch Lomond, and it’s in the ground now well away from the feeders by the wall.

I think it’s a bit early to put tender vegetables in the ground outside but I’ve got 60 pots of pea shoots in the propagator, where they’ll stay for a week or so.  As soon as the ground warms up a bit more I’ll get them outside.  We’ve had our first meal of rhubarb from the forced shoots, and very good they were.  I’ve still got the upturned tin baths over some of them, so there will be more for the table yet.  Apple pruning is still under way, I want to get that all done before serious growth starts.  And I’ve been feeding the blueberries a good ericaceous mix and watering them with pure rainwater.  they should thrive on that.  I’ve got them in pots in groups because they need to be together to germinate from each other.

I’ve cut the autumn raspberry Rasberries2canes right down and weeded (carefully!!) around them.  This is a great time of year for hoeing, with the ground staring to dry out, but you still have to be careful not to damage anything delicate like raspberry roots.

The best news so far is that the hedgehog family we keep an eye on in the garden seems to have come through the winter successfully.  I don’t know where they hibernate but they have emerged – including a tiny baby one!  We were worried about it being so small and vulnerable to the cold but my wife put out some special hedgehog food and touch wood it seems to be fine.  It appeared with an adult the other day; how lovely to see.  They are such delightful animals to have around, we do all we can to leave places for them to be in peace.

Good luck with your first signs of spring wherever you are, and see you next month.

February 2015

I’m pleased to report I’ve got a good area dug over now, ready for early sowing.  John & DingleIt was pretty hard work because the ground is still wet and claggy, but I got all the weeds out and opened up the ground.  I just did it with a fork (assisted by my cat) because it was so heavy but if we get a couple more frosts the soil will be in good condition.  It’s an area about 12′ x 30′ so there’s plenty of room for what I want to do initially this year.  I’ve got onion seeds germinating in an indoor propagator, Red Barons and Bedfordshire Champions, and once they’re through I can get them in the ground outside.  I always like to sow broad beans, carrots and peas nice and early as well – for some reason I find if I can get peas in during March they do much better than sowing them later.

All the pruning is done, too, apart from some apple trees.  Apple trees ready for pruningI was always told not to prune them while there is still a risk of frost, but in the next little while I’ll be able to get the straggly stuff from last year’s growth off the trees.  I don’t know why there’s a “no pruning if there’s frost rule” but I’ve always stuck with it.

The asparagus bed has a really good coating of manureAsparagus, and the rhubarb is just showing through so I’ve put Rhubarbupturned zinc baths over some of them to give us an early forced crop.

So the season feels as though it’s getting under way, now, with signs of growth, and the SeedSava will get plenty of use.  By the way we’re delighted it can now be purchased through the Suttons Seeds website and catalogue – http://seeds.suttons.co.uk/search?w=seedsava&asug= will take you to it!!

Good luck with your gardens now the weather is picking up.  More news next month.

January 2015

Gate from behandBrand new solid oak gates are now gracing my garden and they will probably outlast the house! This is the time of year to get structural things like that done – and I always like to do it my way.  I’m not a fan of pouring concrete into the ground so the oak posts for the new gates are just set a metre deep into the ground with no concrete and they’re as solid as could be.  Stainless steel fittings for long life; and you can tell the gates were built by a joinery firm that’s used to supplying gates for Cambridge University Colleges!

Meanwhile I’m starting to get the ground ready for sowing in March or thereabouts; it’s a bit early yet but everything will be rotavated as soon as the ground is ready for it.  I’ve got the apples still to prune and the greenhouse needs a good clean, especially on the outside.Inside Greenhouse  I just use warm water with a bit of washing up liquid – but when my window cleaner comes round he’ll sometimes do it; and he has a supply of demineralised water in his van so there are absolutely no streaks or marks.

My onion seeds will be going into heated propagators soon.  I like to grow them from seed, using a specially adapted SeedSava so that just the right number of seeds sits on compost in fibre pots, which can then be planted out complete.  I’ll leave them in the propagator for a couple of weeks.  We’re still eating the leeks from the garden, I suppose there are still a couple of dozen there.  Cabages with cage to protect from pestsLikewise there are still some parsnips and my spring cabbages are coming along nicely.  It’s wonderful the way they put up with the weather.  Occasionally they look a bit tired but they always seem to recover.  I’ve got a cage over them to protect them from birds so they should be fine.

So it’s a month of keeping an eye on things and getting ready for the growing season.  There’s always something to do!