February 2020

17th February - From one storm to another! Following the exploits of Storm Ciara last week, we had the attentions of Dennis the Menace, resulting in even more prolonged heavy rain across the country and devastating floods in many areas. Here, we got away with a two day deluge and gale force winds, which made quick work of any loose fence panels or rotting tree branches, with a lot of standing water where soil is compacted or saturated. Our watermeadow behind our Allotment Site has done its job well, retaining much of the excess water and keeping it from flooding the plots this time around. When you see in the media how badly affected others are though, I feel very fortunate indeed

Harvest Monday has two new crops this week:

Purple Sprouting Broccoli.  I cut a big handful today, but mysteriously it seemed to be much reduced after coming home in the back of the car alongside my youngest granddaughter! Luckily there was plenty of Tendertstem Broccoli

Brussels Sprout Tops were a very welcome addition, but the plants this year have been almost miniature in size, so it is just the one picking, along with the final crop of Sprouts themselves

 

  • Carrots are surviving the wet soil: I think the extra sand is helping here

  • And the Parsnips are still a regular at meal times...never eaten them so often!

Last week I did say I would include a photo of the two newly dug ...well, newly last week of course... beds on #146. I have now covered them with black plastic to keep them reasonably dry and help the soil start to warm up

On the Plots This Week:

The Brassica Cage has taken a bit of a battering, so a set to with a bit of renovation work this last week, which included re-tying the heavy plants to their stakes again, so that they were not lying in the mud. I firmed the soil really well around them, so hopefully they will continue to grow strongly. 

As well as the substantial Sprouting Broccoli, there are two Daubenton's Perennial Kale plants and one of Nine Star Perennial Cauliflower, which seem to be alright so far. The remaining Black Tuscan Kale is now starting to grow flowering stems, which are very tasty, so once these are consumed, the plants will be consigned to the compost bin

Actually that compost bin is so full as to be bordering on the ridiculous, so I relly need to unload one of the others so I can start again with refilling, leaving the huge bulging beast to rot down in its own time ...another job now on that never-ending list!

 

In a very brief dry spell, I dusted off the push along mower and cut the grass on #145, as it was so long I was tripping over it. I then realised there was no need to cut the grass out along the verges as I usually would, as their short, green-velvet sward was perfect, and all thanks to the rabbits that graze there night and morn, even more so now that a couple of the unused plots have been cleared. You see, even rabbits have their uses, along as they are not inside my or my neighbours' plots of course!

Cutting the grass gave me the incentive to plant out the Cowslips that had grown from tiny seedlings pulled up from between paving slabs at home, hoping that they will naturalise in the way that Primroses have done elswhere on the shadier side on the plot

My friend Christine swapped a potful of Cowslip seedlings for some weeded-out Foxgloves and Lychnis coronaria plants, so the next generation is already on the way! I love the scent of Cowslip flowers in the sunshine, a fond memory of childhood, so fingers crossed this plan works

In the Polytunnels This Week:

Not much has been happening, although I did notice that the clumps of tiny seedlings of Rocket and Lettuce planted out at the start of the Winter are now growing quite nicely and are almost ready to start harvesting individual leaves. Hope they are not too long!

At Home This Week:

The days of rain gave me time to mix a large batch of sowing mix (coir, vermiculite and fine multi-purpose compost) and sow lots of seeds: 

In the propagator - Sweet Peppers (Dedo de Mocha, Gogorez & Long Red Marconi),  Padron Chillies, Onions (Globo & Ailsa Craig)  Aubergine (Black Beauty & Emerald Isle) Achillea Summer Berries, Gailliardia Arizona Sun

In modules in the greenhouse - Early Onward Peas, de Monica Broad Beans, Leeks Cairngorm & Musselburgh, Spring Onion White Lisbon, Cauliflower All the Year Round, Raab

and then the next morning ,when I went to check the temperature in the greenhouse, there had been a Mouse Party in there, with every pea and bean seed dug up and gone, and the brassicas looking rather shuffled about too! I have never had a problem with mice in the greenhouse before, and I hope that now I have taken measures to remove them, I won't have again URGGHHH!!! I shall be re-sowing during this week coming.

 

On the way back indoors I glanced over at the pond, and noticed two frogs sitting staring at me... another sign that Spring is around the corner!

 

It is difficult to make clear plans as to what next, but I hope to

a) re-sow after the mouse attack and keep mouse traps on the staging

b) plant the earliest of the seed potatoes in the polytunnel, under extra cloches 

c) start to prepare the bed for sowing carrots in a week or two, removing stones and adding sand and seaweed meal

Let's see how that feels this time next week!

My contact email is

info@alittlebitofsunshine.co.uk

 Comments and suggestions are most welcome, and I shall reply as soon as I can

And if you'd like to know more about Harvest Monday, look at

www.ourhappyacres.com/

 

10th February - This weekend has had some amazing sights, ranging from the huge Snow Moon, to horizontal hailstones, rain to hard the surface water made driving almost impossible and winds so strong trees were blown over. Looking outside right now, the sunshine is glistening off the raindrops and twigs on trees are barely rustling...one extreme to another. Who knows what the weather might hold in an hour's time?

 

I was lucky enough to be able to photograph this Nut Hatch outside my son's window on Saturday. This is a species I have never seen in my own garden, so was delighted to be able to watch this one at such close quarters through the window

 And a rear view of a Greater Spotted Woodpecker taken from my garden path shows his colours off really well.He was looking all around to try to spot the fox that I had disturbed when I opened the back door. 

OK, on with the this week's food gathering, brief though it is: Harvest Monday begins with Tenderstem Broccoli, which I have had two pickings of

And Parsnips, the large crop of which I mentioned last week!

Luckily, that is not all I have had to eat: there are still plenty of carrots and squashes in store, plus potatoes, although the earlier maturing varieties of these are determined now to grow shoots, so some judicious culling may be needed soon. In the freezer I have french beans, tomatoes, cauliflower and broad beans, all of which need to be eaten before this year's crops begin. 

It is that time in the year where those "more of this" and "not so many of that" thoughts are always on the edge of my mind, aiming for a wide variety of vegetabkes I like to eat, without a glut if possible. Plans are great, but more often than not the capricious weather conditions put a different picture on things.

In the Polytunnels This Week:

I am grateful for the polytunnel surviving unscathed this weekend, despite the alarming creaking and groaning of the frames. In truth I have done very little under cover this past week, as there were a couple of dry sunny days and the outside beds took priority. Lots of thinking though, about what will grow where and when it should be sown

On the Plots This Week:

The beds for early Potatoes and for Parsnips are now weeded, the soil duly fed with seaweed meal (well washed in this weekend!) and doing a great impersonation of perfect beds from a TV garden show, especially as the path between them has been stripped of its thick layer of compost and sports a new posh covering of woodchip.

I confess I was so tired after two long days to achieve this model  of perfection I forgot to take a photo, but I shall try to remember during this coming week, before I put on the covers to help warm the soil and prevent weeds encroaching.

The second of the triangular beds in the Forest Garden is now free of Sage bushes, thanks to neighbour Gary's superhuman strenght... well, more strength than I have at any rate. Those roots extended for more than half a metre from each bush, so I am not suprised little else has thrived there. 

The next job is to prepare the bed on the outlying edge for planting onion sets this week. Withough the Sage there to act as harborage for rodents, they may stand a chance of growing with less disturbance than the cabbage plants had last season.  I can but hope!

At Home This Week;

On the backdoor step are some lovely little Broad Bean seedlings ... Aqualdulce ... provided by my daughter, who had more than she needed. These are growing quite strongly, and will be plated on the ploytunnel soon. Last year, growing Broad Beans like this gave a really early crop of succulent green pods, as well as plenty of beans, so I  aim to do the same this year, and follow them with an outdoor crop as well.

My seeds are sorted now ready for the first sowings in the propagator and in the greenhouse. The bag of compost is in the kitchen warming from being outside, so I just need to collect some vermiculite from the shed at the plot and reconstitute some coir and I shall be good to go! 

Another job that always makes me feel Spring is just around the corner is organising all the potato tubers in egg boxes to chit. I bought all of my seed Potatoes at a Potato Day held at Testbourne School in Hampshire, as there is always a Huge array of varieties to choose from and you can buy tubers individually, which, when growing space is tight, is a real bonus. Plus they are a very reasonable price too.

So this year's varieties are:

First Early:

Rocket (6) in the polytunnel (I prepared their space last week and it has the extra protection of cloches to warm the soil as much as possible) Their chits are quite big already. They are round white potatoes that bulk up really quickly ,as well as being really good as tiny new potatoes, so I am hoping for a harvest by early May

Second Early: (Should be ready by the end of June)

Juliette (4) long oval, waxy salad potatoes. Not grown these before but they are reported to have huge harvests and be delicious

Charlotte (4) a favourite for salad potatoes, which I am sticking with in case Juliette does not perform as well as advertised

Purple Eyed Seedling (12) which seems to be an offspring of Kestrel, so I thought I woud give it a go (Two will be in the big tub)

Bonnie (8) Four will be grown in the tub and four in the ground: a very pretty pink and white round potato, which I grew a few years back. It needs a lot of water

Early Maincrop: (Harvest from early August)

International Kidney ((8) which if it was grown in Jersey would be called Jersey Royal. I always thought this was an early cropper, so we shall see

Estima (4) big tubers for jacket potatoes

Sarpo Kifli (4) late blight and drought resistant, big waxy tubers that store really well, and have "new potato" flavour. My friend Sue grew these last year and they did taste good. Sarpo varieties seem to just keep on growing, so I hope these do the same and give a pleentiful crop

Maincrop: (Harvest from end of August)

Setanta (12) late blight, scab and drought resistant, thickish red skins, all rounder, stores well

I usually grow far more main crop varieties, but the past two Summers have been very dry and so my plan is to have most of the Potato crop out of the ground before I am worn out from watering. Of course, this Summer may be different, but a plan is always good

Some of the tubers are very big, so I am aiming to cut these in half, and I shall write more about that nearer the time to plant them outdoors

 

 

In the garden now there is a whole range of flowers, from the Winter Flowering Honeysuckle, with its sweet perfume, to the brilliance of these Primroses and the pretty delicate Hellebores

 

And right outside the backdoor is a pot of little Tete-a-Tete daffodils, a present for a friend this time last year. It is always good when plants re-appear a year later, although when these finish flowering this year I shall move them into the border, as the compost in pots tends not to maintain its structure many years. Hopefully then , they wll go on for a  good few years to come

Thank you for reading this entry: hope your itchy fingers are under control, not too long to wait now!

Next Monday I shall be telling you what I have sown I hope, starting with Aubergines and Sweet Peppers

 

 

My contact email is

info@alittlebitofsunshine.co.uk

 Comments and suggestions are most welcome, and I shall reply as soon as I can

And if you'd like to know more about Harvest Monday, look at

www.ourhappyacres.com/

3rd February -  A Little Bit of Sunshine is back, after a two month break. I slumped somewhat, acutely feeling the loss of my husband Abi, missing sunshine in my life in the face of day after day of rain and wondering if I really was taking on too much, with the house, the garden and the plots, as well as the Blog....

... The answer was no, of course not! All I needed was a workable plan, recognising how things change, and accepting that doing some things differently is perfectly OK.

 One thing staying the same though is good old Harvest Monday. After all, this is what it is all about: growing clean food to eat and enjoy. I have been harvesting right through since the last blog entry back at the end of November, and here are the veggies from this past week:

Just a note though about the Sparrowhawk. This appeared in our garden on the day our family marked the first anniversary of Abi's passing, and it stayed around for quite some time. Coincidence no doubt, but a special appearance nonetheless.

Right, on with the harvest:

First there is Kale, Dwarf Curly Kale from the polytunnels, a really reliable cropper that provides a couple of decent pickings a week for months on end. This picking went with some potatoes and chickpeas in a curry.

Then we have a new favourite of mine: Tenderstem Broccoli, also from the polytunnel. It is the first time i have grown this, from some bought-in plants at the end of the season for seedling vegetable plants in GardenCentres, reduced to a few pence. What good value that turned out to be! The plants have been producing small heads for some weeks now, and once those heads are cut, grow a whole picking of smaller spears on each plant. I have bought some seed so I can grow this over next Winter too. Steamed, it is absolutely delicious, and it gets added to all sorts of things, including the weekly Allotment Stirfry

Carrots are still cropping from the second sowing, and although they are quite small, they are well worth harvesting. 

Parsnips are really good now that there have been a few (very few!) frosts, and now that their new leaves are visible (see below) I have realised how many there are still in the ground. I am keeping  a close eye, and if there is any sign of rodent-digging I shall take all the roots up to store, but for now at least, they are fine in the ground

 

The last of this week's main harvest is Kohl Rabi. This is the second year I have grown this in the polytunnel, and although the plants went in a little late, and lots of the leaves were snipped off by voles, there are plenty of the swollen stems to enjoy. My favourite way of eating these is peeled and sliced raw in side salads. They are so crisp and sweet at a time in the year when there are fewer salad vegetables to choose from, so are even more value

There are still plenty of herbs to gather through the Winter, and Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme, Winter Savory and Sage make regular appearances in my harvest basket

On the Plots this Week:

I am a long way behind with preparations for the coming season, but now that we have some drier days I have been able to start to get some of the outoor beds ready for sowing and planting.  I do have plenty of well rotted manure, so some beds have been treated to a good thick layer, those where squashes will be planted and where dwarf beans and sweetcorn are going.  When I can, the beds for climbing beans will also be getting the same treatment.

The paths on #146 are now about 15-20cm deep in rich compost, formed from 11 years of woodchip rotting down, and I am shoveling this out to use in the beds. Tihs is really heavy going, so on #145 I am taking off the thin layer of rotted woodchip from the paths, formed after 3 years, before putting fresh stuff down. Takes hardly any time at all, and will save a really big job later down the line....lesson learned! 

A  lot of this lovely darkcompost is going over the top of the manure to create a decent organic mulch through which to plant, especially for beds on #145 which have not had the years of organic matter added that  #146 has had. Beds which had manure last year are now covered with black plastic (re-used for many years, with many to go yet) to help warm the soil and prevent weed growth too. 

I think at this time in the year we all have a little Robin around us while we work, growing increasingly bold as they look for grubs and worms to eat. Beautiful birds, that sit and sing too. Both on the plot and at home, there are now two birds, two birds that are not fighting with each other, so must surely be pairs?  

The two at the plot are certainly enjoying the proceess of me digging up the compost from the paths, as it is alive with insects and other invertebrates. Thye eat so much I am surprised they can fly by the end if the day

 

The over-wintering Garlic and Onions seem to have survived the downpours and are growing nice green shoots, and Winter brassicas all look fine, although their protective cage is a bit wind-battered

I finished pruning the Apple and Pear trees this week. Stone fruits like Plums and Cherries need to wait until their leaves have grown to avoid the chance of disease entering the cuts (Silver Leaf) which could kill the trees. There are lots of flower buds visible, so I hope this means plenty of fruit to come

The newly designated "Forest Garden" area has been improved by planting two new Spindle trees, some Rosa rugosa for hips, and transplanting several clumps of Wild Garlic. I am gradually removing the Sage bushes that have run amok, self-layering all over the place to make huge woody clumps, which will leave space for annual herbs such as Dill and Coriander, that enjoy some shade from the hottest sun. I am still deciding on a spot for the Chamomile, which needs full sun really, so is not best suited to growing in a forest area!

On the edge of the area though is this Verbena bodnantense "Dawn" which provides food for early insects as well as a delightful perfume in the air when the sun shines on it.

In the Polytunnels this week:

Although the damaged mesh windows have not yet been fixed, the extra shelter provided by the tunnels benefits crops which are hardy but do even better with some shelter from the worst of the weather, such as Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Winter Lettuce, Perpetual Spinach, Spring Cabbages, Rocket and Winter Radishes as well as those I mentioned as harvests this week.  I have had to water the beds a few times, but there is still water in the butts inside, so it is not an onerous job.

The plants are not the only ones that enjoy the shelter: I have been able to work in the tunnels whatever the weather and so they are neat and tidy, with one long bed covered to keep it moist and weed free, and the area for the earliest potatoes to be planted has been well manured, covered with black plastic and also a cloche, as the tubers will be planted at the end of this month... fleece blanket at the ready as well of course.

This is just one tunnel: the two have been separated for the WInter, and the rear doors rolled down again. Seems odd having to walk around the outside to get from one end of the covered area to the other, and it always seems that the item I need, such as a ball of string, is in the other tunnel!

 At Home this Week::

I have at last been able to clear up all the windfall apples from the end of the garden. The Blackbirds have feasted on them for months, but these were rotted past being edible. It is good to be able to walk down there without having slippery old apples underfoot

And I have today sorted the seed packets back into alphabetical order in their tin, taken out  those that will be sown this month and organised space on the greenhouse staging for modules when they are needed. Seed potatoes are also now chitting, sitting in egg boxes. More about these next week

February Sowings:

Heated propagator: Aubergines, Sweet Peppers and a couple of Chillies (My daughter is growing Chillies for me too, under her new and rather posh grow-lights, so I shall be a grateful recipient later in the Spring)

Frost-free Greenhouse: Early Peas & Mangetout, Broad Beans, Sweet Peas; end of the month - Cauliflowers, Cabbage, Calabrese (all to be hardened off as soon as possible)

Indoors: Onions, Spring Onions and Leeks ... transfer to greenhouse when germinated

Polytunnel:  (end of the month) Carrots in container, Cherry Belle Radishes, Turnips, and 6 Seed Potatoes

 In the garden there is another V bodnantense "Dawn" this one large enough to fill the garden with its scent: a rather scruffy looking Red Admiral butterfly enjoyed a good feed in the sunshine a coulpe of days ago. The photo is not too good, but it was take against the light and the butterfly flipped over onto the back of the flower at the last minute! There were also two  large bumblebees on the flowers, but too far off for a photo-call. Lovely to see them though

 

 

Having started with an unusual visitor to the garden, it seems appropriate to share this photo of one of the tiniest birds in the UK - a Goldcrest. She often visits, flitting around under an Acer where there are crumbs from one of the fat feeders, and she also fossicks delicately amongst the old leaves on a Clematis, and enjoys searchcing for tiny insects under the leaves of this Skimmia bush right outside the back door. I took the picture through the glass of the door, so it is not perfect, but her markings are clear enough. I have seen a second one too, but from a distance so am unsure if is a male or not. Sometimes these birds do breed in the garden, so I am hoping they do so again this year

I shall endeavour to go back to regular Monday blogs, but may add it a couple of extra bits from time to time so that the posts are not tooooooooo long.... sometimes questions I am asked could be answered like that perhaps? Let me know what you think.

 

My contact email is

info@alittlebitofsunshine.co.uk

 Comments and suggestions are most welcome, and I shall reply as soon as I can

And if you'd like to know more about Harvest Monday, look at

www.ourhappyacres.com/