Archive for the ‘Garden’ Category

The harvest from one plant

The harvest from one plant

I’m always up for trying something new in the veg garden, and hopefully finding something tasty and easy to grow which gives us a bit more variety in the vegetables we eat. After trying cape gooseberry (Physalis peruviana) a few years ago, I now always plant a few in the polytunnel. However, I haven’t bothered with okra or aubergines again, as they weren’t very successful, and took a lot of effort. This year I’ve got two new crops on the go – sweet potato and oca (New Zealand yam). We like eating sweet potato, but are reluctant to buy them knowing that they have to be imported from South America. I don’t know much about Oca, other than it’s popular in South America and New Zealand as an alternative to potato, but is becoming more widely eaten and grown in the UK.

The sweet potatoes (Beauregard) were bought as “slips” from DT Browns, but are now widely available from most seed suppliers.


The vines trained up string

They weren’t cheap, but once you’ve grown them, you’re meant to be able to create your own slips each year. So if they’re successful it should work out quite cheaply. This variety is specially bred for the cooler British climate, and although they can be grown outside, if you’ve got the space they’ll benefit from the extra heat of a polytunnel. Being a member of the Ipomoea genus (morning glory, bindweed etc.), they have a tendency to send out a lot of vines. After planting in May, it wasn’t long until I had a mass of vines sprawling around the ground, which I trained up a string to save space. They clearly enjoy the warmth of the polytunnel, as a friend who had also planted some at the same time, but outside, had barely any vines. Once the vines had reached the roof of the polytunnel I thought it was best to try to get the plant to put their energy into developing tubers, rather than foliage, so I nipped out the ends. Other than that they didn’t require much work, other than watering twice a week.
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Wildlife garden in the making

Wildlife garden in the making

2015 is already well underway, and as a new year begins so do our various new projects. This year we want to put in place a small wildlife garden, put up some permanent electric fencing in our large field and then acquire some livestock. I’m sure other projects will emerge as the year progresses, as they always seem to whether we plan them or not!

We began the wildlife garden at the end of last year, deciding what we wanted to incorporate and making a plan of where to put everything. Although we’re not short of wildlife in and around our smallholding, we wanted to bring more into the garden where we could hopefully enjoy it more. We also needed to do something with the rest of the old vegetable patch, now that we’ve finished the log store, and could see what space we had left.

Any good wildlife garden will have some kind of pond. We’ve already got a wildlife pond in the field, so we only needed something small to bring a few amphibians and insects into the garden. So we decided that we would utilise one of the old baths we’ve had sitting in the field for some time – a perfect size for a small pond. I also wanted to include a bog garden – an area of ground which remains damp, and can grow a number of different types of plants, such as ferns and primulas, as well as providing a habitat for wildlife. The run off from the pond would be able to feed the bog garden with rain water, and if it is lined (in much the same way as a pond) then it should remain damp. Read the rest of this entry »

Matilda enjoying a dustbath

Matilda enjoying a dustbath

It was another sad week last week, as we lost Matilda the chicken. She faded away quite quickly, not eating or drinking, although hung on longer than we thought, so we decided it was best to cull her before she began to suffer. She is now buried in the garden, where we plan to plant a tree. The tree will be one of the main features of a new wildlife garden, which we’re currently planning. It’ll be sited in the remaining part of the old vegetable patch (part of which now houses the new log store), which has been covered in black plastic for a number of years. We’re planning on putting in a small pond (hopefully using an old bath we’ve had sitting around), and will be planted up with wildlife friendly plants and flowers. This will be one of those on-going projects (of which we have a few) to do over the winter and into the spring.

The rest of the garden is beginning to show the signs of autumn, with the trees slowly losing their leaves. I’m busy sweeping them up to make into leaf mould, so they won’t go to waste. Most of the apples have been picked and stored, but our late eaters are still hanging on. We’ll be picking them shortly and making some into juice, which was a big success last year. The garlic cloves have just gone in, and I’m having a go at winter onion sets (I usually just plant them in the new year) to see if I can get an earlier crop, as we tend to run out of stored onions fairly early on.



Definately a drake amongst the ducks

Definitely a drake amongst the ducks

I can’t believe it’s October tomorrow, but it hardly feels like it given the warm dry weather we’re having. It was reported today that it was the driest September in Wales since 1910 (when records began), and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s one of the warmest. We’ve been reaping the benefits of this warm spell with a bountiful harvest of fruit. Our (relatively) new apple trees have produced a good amount of apples, given their age, so much so that the Lord Derby cooking apple tree broke one of its branches under the weight of fruit.

We’ve now had our ducks for 2 months and there’s still no sign of eggs. One reason for this is that one of the younger ducks is a male! He started out looking no different to the females, but as he has matured he has developed a curled tail feather, orange legs and a greenish tinge to his head feathers. He hasn’t shown any other male traits,  but this may be because the females aren’t laying yet so he’s not getting the signals! Anyway, we don’t want it to get this far as these are his sisters, and so we need to get rid of him. Unfortunately, as with so many animals, the males are unwanted, unless they are needed for breeding. We haven’t decided whether he’s for the pot or we’ll try to find him a new home. We would like to find a home for him if we could swap him for another female, as we’ve invested time and money in keeping him.

The chickens are going great guns, laying good-sized eggs now (so we’re not sure what we would do if we had duck eggs as well). Even Matilda, our oldest chicken, is laying again. One of the young chickens decided to go broody last week, which is unusual in such young chickens, and especially at this time of the year (usually it would be in Spring). She tried to stay put on the nest, puffing herself up to fill the box, and everytime we approached she would try to peck us away. Apparently the way to stop them going broody is to get their body temperature down, so each time she went back on the nest we dunked her backside in cool water. Not quite the Ice Bucket challenge, but near enough for a chicken! It took about 3 days of dunking before she stopped, and so far it seems to have worked.

I’m now starting to get ready for winter, digging over beds and adding compost and manure which can be worked in by the worms over winter. I’m also sowing more green manure than I have in the past, partly because I’ve got seed left over (Caliente Mustard), and also because I thought I could get it to germinate quickly because of the warm weather. It’s already in flower and the bees are enjoying a late crop of nectar. I’ll be able to dig it in before covering the beds with plastic so it can rot down over winter.

Autumn is starting to make itself evident, with leaves falling and nights getting colder. It sounds like the weather is about to turn next week, so it will be time to think about lighting fires and hunkering down for the winter. Let’s hope it’s not as wet and windy as the last one!

Common toad

The good! A (large) Common toad

We appear to have quite an active wildlife population setting up residence in the garden – some good, some bad and some ugly (depending on your point of view). We keep on finding common toads around the place, hiding in the silliest of places, like under a heavy plant pot, as this toad was. It’s the biggest one I’ve seen for a while – must be all the slugs that are emerging in this warm wet weather.

The bad!

The bad!

The slugs are munching everything in sight, despite the presence of the toads, so I’ve had to resort to putting some slug pellets down where new seedlings are emerging. Like every gardener I’m no fan of slugs, but you’ve got to admire their persistence and the variety of species. In this group I counted at least three species, of which one was the non-native Spanish Slug (top right). Read the rest of this entry »

Apple canker has taken hold

Apple canker has taken hold

We’ve had to dig up and dispose of one of our new apple trees – (Discovery M26). It hadn’t been looking well for a year or so, with the bark peeling away on the main stem. However, it continued to blossom and leaf up each year, although now thinking about it, it didn’t put on as much growth as the other trees planted at the same time. This winter though, it looked really bad, and after some investigation and an email to the nursery we bought it from, we concluded that it had got apple canker. This is a disease caused by a fungus, and apples are particularly susceptible. Given the extent of the damage, we were advised to dig up and burn the tree. Come the autumn we will have to spray the other trees with a copper-containing mixture (such as Bordeaux mixture) to try and prevent any further disease. Read the rest of this entry »

Broad bean flower - designed for a bee

Broad bean flower – designed for a bee

I always try and plant some broad beans in the autumn in the polytunnel so that we can have an early picking come the following spring. And because of the relatively mild winter, the broad beans grew well over the winter, and are now in full flower. In fact they’ve been in flower for nearly a month now, but there is still no sign of a bean pod forming. The reason being is that no bees (or any other pollinating insect) have ventured into the polytunnel and transferred the pollen from one flower to the next. And without this happening the plant can’t start to set seed (or form a bean pod).

With the leguminous family of plants (of which broad bean is one), one characteristic is the flowers have formed so that they need an insect, preferably something heavy like a bumble bee, to land on the lower petals, which forces open the flower to reveal the pollen-bearing stamens. You can hand pollinate them, using a fine paint brush, but I’ve tried this, and it just doesn’t compare to the action of a bee (and it’s very fiddly unless there are two of you).

There are bees about, but without thinking, I planted the beans at the far end of the polytunnel, and there is no reason for a bee to make it that far down – there is nothing inviting near the door to make them want to enter. So a lesson for next year, plant them nearer the door, or plant an avenue of flowers to lead the insects where I want them. It also is a lesson in why bees are so important to our food supply.

Vigo apple press

Vigo apple press

It’s been a good year for apples, and despite a visit by the bullfinch earlier in the year, our eating apple bore lots of fruit. Last weekend we dusted down the apple-picker and stripped the branches almost bare (leaving a few for the birds to enjoy over the winter). The apples were of varying sizes and quality, and while in previous years a lot would have gone on the compost heap, this year we had the opportunity to turn these unwanted ones into apple juice.

My parents bought an Vigo apple press a number of years ago to make more use of the apples they grew, and  now they live a lot closer to us we’ve been able to make use of this handy resource. So yesterday morning I washed (and in many cases scrubbed) all the apples that we wanted to press, and then turned up on their doorstep in the afternoon with our harvest. Given their reaction, it was clearly a lot more apples than they had envisaged, and would take quite a while to get through. It’s not just a simple case of putting the whole apples in the press and watching the juice stream out, the apples need to be crushed first to enable them to more easily release their juices. You can buy manual and motorised machines to do this part of the job, but they are pretty expensive for something you may only use once or twice a year, so instead it was all hands to the pump. Read the rest of this entry »


Golden Hornet Crab Apple


Red Sentinel Crab Apple

We’re coming up to the two year anniversary of the planting of our fruit trees, and we’re really pleased with the progress they’re making. This year we had our first taste of some of the fruit we can expect (hopefully in abundance) once they are a few years older. This included the Rosemary Russet apple, the Victoria plum and both of the crab apples. We haven’t picked any of the crab apples as there’s not enough to make anything substantial out of them, but the birds and wildlife will enjoy them. They also look very attractive as ornamental trees, especially the Red Sentinel variety, which has produced a mass of cherry-red fruits.

The mulch of manure and cardboard around each of the trees has managed to keep most of the weeds at bay and I’m sure is helping the trees grow better than if the grass was allowed to grow back. I’ll keep this routine up for a few years yet, until the trees have really established themselves, and then I can think about planting some understorey plants to make it into a proper forest garden.

Innocent looking Habernero chillis

Innocent looking Habernero chillis

It’s taken nearly 8 months from sowing, but at last we have been able to try our first Habanero chilli pepper. The plants took a while to get going, but once they had bushed up they set a lot of fruit, which are now turning a lovely orange. Habanero’s are rated around 100,000-350,000 Scoville heat units, so although not as a hot as some chillis can get, it’s hot enough for me!

We decided to try our first Habanero in a bean chilli (seemed the right dish for its trial). Simon took on the task of cutting the first one, and so not to take any risks, he donned a pair of rubber gloves before slicing. He was brave enough (or stupid enough) to try a small bit first, and his reaction suggested we needed to go easy on the amount we put into the bean chilli. So to err on the side of caution we opted for just half a chilli. Given we would normally put two of the Palivec chillis in (a pepper from the Czech Republic we tried this year), just shows how hot these Habanero’s are.

Palivec chillis from Czech Republic

Palivec chillis from Czech Republic

I was a bit nervous of taking my first mouthful of the bean chilli, and although it was hot it didn’t have that really fiery kick that you would get from using chilli sauce or cayenne pepper in a chilli dish. So, half a Habanero seems about the right amount for adding a good heat without blowing your head off or making the dish inedible. With the plants producing plenty of fruit, it’s going to take us a long time to get through them if we only have to use half a chilli at a time!

Modified version of the Summer Polaroid Pics template