January 2018

29th January:  Back home again after a week in the sun. It did us good to have a week of rest, bo th for body and mind. The plots survived the snow and the gales in our absence, and I was glad that Abi had managed to mend the small shed before we went, replacing the worn felt and fixing the roof on firmly, which saved the roof flying off again.

The day before we went, I sowed the chilli and sweet pepper seeds, and a few aubergines for good measure. I know I wasn't going to grow any this year, but they can go into the giant coldframe, where they will be proteced but not too hot. In the propagator seeds are germinating rapidly and tomorrow they will come off the heated tray and into the greenhouse, where the light will be better and the plants will grow more slowly too.

The aubergines were up before we got home, and have got a bit leggy as I didn't put the reflector on the front before we went, as have some of the chillies, but they should be fine

After having far too many plants for the space we have, I have sown fewer seeds this year. Lots of variety, but only no more than four of each type of chilli:

Razzamatazz, Hungarian Peach, Serrano, Alberto's Locato Roccoco, Lemon Drop, Joe's Long Cayenne, Hangijiao1, Padron, Yukari Bakan and Early Jalapeno.

Sweet peppers are: Marconi Long Red and Mixed Sweet

Aubergine: Black Beauty

The seed potatoes are developing good strong chits, some green and some purplish coloured, depending on the variety. You can see from the header photograph that the first early Swifts are swift by nature as well as by name. There are only five, and they will be planted into the ground in the polytunnel around the end of February: I shall cover a section of one bed with an additional cloche to warm the soil further. I've not done this before, so am not sure how long it will be before they will be ready to harvest: maybe as little as eight weeks if we are lucky.

During last week, the Globo onion seedlings stretched out their "elbows" and are looking strong, well, as strong as plants with one leaf that are the size of blades of grass can do!  I sowed them well apart (29/12)  so hope they will be able to continue to grow in their deep tray for several weeks yet. They will need feeding of course, as there the sowing mix lacks nutrients, but a splash of whatever is to hand will do the job. The plan is to plant them in the soil in the polytunnel border around the end of March. 

You can see the bubble-plastic insulation in the greenhouse, which will stay in place until night time temperatures are reliably above zero, to reduce the amount of power needed to keep the plants growing well, especially the chillies etc which will be joining the greenhouse party tomorrow. I'll need to do a bit of a reshuffle on the staging though, to make some space for them

We have had something to harvest though: Perpetual Spinach and Frilled Mustard, both seen here, plus some Japanese Komatsuna, which we ate yesterday, before I remembered to take a photo. This last has thicker, darker green leaves with a very good flavour, so it'll be on our list for next Winter too. Harvest Mondays continue!!!!

They all went in to a Potato and Spinach Curry (Recipes 2018)

There was a very noticeable difference in the flowers in our garden after our week away. Some Hellebores are now fully open, with others well on the way. This one is part of a large clump under the shelter of a camellia bush, and is a beautiful clear colour. You do need to duck down low though, to appreciate the beauty of the huge boss of golden pollen hanging within the protective bell of the petals.

The area of grass where the golden crocuses grow now gets about half an hour of sunshine each day when the clouds thin sufficiently, and the flowers then open, looking very cheerful.

However, to end this week I am adding two photos from our holidays, flowers in Lanzarote:  a cactus blossom and a lily-like bloom which I hope you like

 

Thank you for reading this week's entry, which I hope you found interesting. I shall be back next Monday as usual, with more early sowings indoors and, weather permitting more digging out of those paths!

If you'd like to read more about Harvest Monday, have a look here at Dave's hosted pages:

http://www.ourhappyacres.com/

and if you would like to contact me, you're very welcome, on:

info@alitttlebitofsunshine.co.uk

and I'll get back to you as soon as I can

15th January: We're off!! The onion and leek seeds sown on Boxing Day are waving at me now from their pots and trays... look!!

  • These are the Lincoln Leek seedlings which will be planted out in the polytunnel as soon as the conditions are warm enough: these are not fully hardy, but should be ready to harvest in early September

  • And these are the precious Globo onions, sown well spaced in a deep tray, so that they have plenty of growing space. Most of them will go into the bed in the polytunnel, 4-6 inches apart around the end of March

But we have had harvests this week to share for Harvest Monday. The ballhead cabbage Kilaton has given us another huge head. This one weighed in at 3.26kg trimmed. That's a lot of cabbage. It will  sit in the fridge next week while we are away from home but will pretty swiftly be made into our favourite Cabbage & Coconut Cabbage Curry, amongst other things. There are still a few in the ground, but with the weather being so wet, I need to keep an eye on them to make sure the outer leaves don't begin to rot, as this can soon spread inwards and spoil the whole head.

And I have at last tipped out the final three pots of yacon tubers, which gave us just under 6kg, which is plenty. I have carefully saved and repotted the central growing buds for next season's crop, as these are proving a success so far. They seem to store well enough in open trays out in the garage, although we haven't so far had any extended periods of very cold weather. if we do, I shall bring any left indoors for a while, so they don't freeze.

Some of them will be sliced and added to stir fries, eaten raw in salads or roast alongside other veggies, but lots will go to make syrup. I'll let you know how that goes. Hopefully less sticky than those figs in rose syrup a few years back!

Dhall with vegetables

No more fresh harvests this week, but with a surplus of french beans in the freezer I am looking for new ways to use these up. This week's offering was Dhall with Vegetables (Recipes 2018) which was well received by friends who came to share our meal that day, and it was certainly appetising. I anticipate some recipes that include both green beans and cabbage soon! Indian-style food can easily include vegetable dishes of all sorts, so I expect they will nod in that direction

This week I have taken full advantage of the unseasonably mild weather, making a good start on digging out the composted bark from the paths on Plot 146. As I said before, the lower layers have been there nearly seven years, and the material created is perfect organic matter to add to the soil, epscially on Plot 145, which we have been working less than two years. The soil there is still pale and thin, but a good layer of mulched wood chip will do it a power of good. Just look at that dark, rich colour, almost black. Pretty good for no cost whatsover.

I have now dug along to the far end of the garlic bed you can see beyond the handle of the fork. The two beds covered with black plastic have had about four inches of compost added to them before being re-covered. These will have maincrop onions and parsnips in them, and the front one, where first early potatoes will be planted, has far too much on it right now! Half of one 5m bed on #145 has a good layer over it too. 

When you realise the total area of paths on #146, there is a huge volume still to deal with. I can see it will take some time, as an hour of digging, barrowing and spreading is about all I can manage in one go.

I have made a little friend along the way though ... this robin has become very bold in his quest for small bugs and worms. There are a lot of worms in this compost, which bodes well for its fertility as well as the robin's lunch! I hope he/she spots the new nest box in the evergreen honeysuckle over a nearby arch, and finds it to their liking.

Someone asked me about the nutrient value of this compost, as when rotting wood is in contact with soil, bacteria etc take Nitrogen from it to facilitate the rotting cycle, and thus deplete the Nitrogen in the soil available for plants to use. They also use atmospheric Nitrogen of course, or wood out in the air would never fully rot.

I would think that the main benefit of adding this compost to the soil will be on its structure, as well as increasing the worm population, which will be good for soil health in itself. Once the rotting down is completed, it is unlikely the mix would lack Nitrogen, but if this does prove to be the case, the addition of something like chicken manure pellets would redress this imbalance very quickly. Feeding the soil, not the plants, is key in growing healthy crops. Lime may be needed too (although not at the same time as an unwanted chemical reaction would then occur, locking up nutrients making them unavailable for plants to use) as wood chip mulch is slightly on the acid side. This will be especially important where brassicas are going to be planted. A slightly acid soil should reduce potato scab though!

I could go on about soil structure, ecology and chemistry for ages... but I shall stop there. I am sure you see what I mean!!

 

The Winter pruning of fruit bushes has been completed this week, with the Blackcurrants now looking far less congested.I cut out about six of the older branches with dark coloured bark, to allow more light and air into the centre. These had not fruited as well as the younger branches last Summer, so it was time for the bush to lose them. 

One of the apple trees... the one bought as Braeburn that has turned out to be most likely Lord Derby ... had outgrown its space to the point we were ducking around branches, which was a real nuisance.

We had talked about reducing the number of branches for weeks last Summer, when the tree was in full leaf, and today we bit the bullet. Armed with loppers and a pruning saw, we tackled the tree, removing the branches marked in blue to create more of a rounded head

And now, we have the begiinings of a well shaped tree, with plenty of fruit buds on the remaining branches, plus we can now move around the area upright, into the bargain

I am not doing any further pruning until the Summer, as the tree needs to adjust to its new shape first. I hope this avoids a rash of long, thin water shoots if at all possible. It'll have a feed of Blood, Fish & Bone and Potasium Sulphate mid February, as long as the ground isn't frozen, and that should help it along a treat. 

That is the end of this week's blog entry, and to close, here are of some of our early crocuses, poised to unfurl as soon as the first rays of sun shine upon them. 

Thank you for reading about what we have been doing, and thank you to the very many of you who enjoyed the dhall recipe posted earlier in the week.

I really appreciate knowing there are real people out there!

 

If you'd like to read more about Harvest Monday, have a look here at Dave's hosted pages:

http://www.ourhappyacres.com/

and if you would like to contact me, you're very welcome, on:

info@alitttlebitofsunshine.co.uk

and I'll get back to you as soon as I can

8th January: Allotment temporarily takes second place!!!  We have had some beautiful frosty mornings this week, but with little to do on the plots, I was not tempted out very often. This has been a Good Thing here, as we are in the process of renovating our home from one that looked like The House That Time Forgot, into a fresh, neat and tidy place. As anyone who knows us will understand, this is taking some time!!! The local charity shops are benefitting hugely from our efforts, and already we have a beautiful entrance hall and staircase, a dining room free from clutter and in the kitchen the dresser and worktops are gradually being revealed as "stuff" has space in the cupboards that have now been cleared of unwanted items.

Even the cupboard under the stairs has been emptied, a new floor fitted and some shelves added. Amazing what was in there: five demi-johns (I can already feel fruit wines coming on later this year) and a year's supply of emergency candles, which were not much good if we couldn't actually get to them in an emergency, were they? All very satisfying, even though there is still a long way to go ....

The plots have never been far from our minds though. I have now organised the sowing plan through to mid-March, which for the propagator includes chillies, sweet peppers, aubergines (Yes, I know I was never growing them again, but this year they are going to grow in the giant cold frame rather than the polytunnel, in the hope they won't get too hot) and then tomatoes. 

Sown in modules in the greenhouse will be early peas, mangetout, more spring onions, beetroot, lettuce and a little later, some early french beans. These are all destined for the polytunnel, with some direct sown carrots and radishes

I am determined not to grow more plants than we need for ourselves, family and friends, so I have drawn a careful plan for how many of each will fit in. I can but try!

The seed potatoes are now all in the greenhouse, chitting away quietly

Some are tubers I had saved from last year's crop. These were kept wrapped in several layers of paper until early December, when I transferred them to the salad drawer of the garage fridge, to prevent them growing shoots too soon. Or rather, I thought I had transferred them...unfortunately some packs of tubers were left behind, and when I found them, they had long, pale shoots. Some of them I just snapped off, hoping new shoots would follow, but I left them on the Inca Bella tubers, as it looked like every eye had grown a chit already. Potatoes are really keen to grow, and this shouldn't set them back really, as they have until mid March before they'll be planted out. They should soon look much healthier, with nice fat new chits in a fetching shade of dark green or purple

There are also tubers of a new variety called Juliette, an early maincrop salad potato, that is said to store well.  I hope it gives us a good crop and that they taste as good as they sound, because salad potatoes mid Winter would be most welcome

There always look to be far too many tubers when they are spread out like this. Some will go for an early planting under cover, perhaps as early as the end of February, weather permitting, and three outdoor beds will be given over to potatoes..... Ok, maybe a few too many but I should be able to find a home for any extras.

There are defintely encouraging signs of Spring around though, despite the cold and frosty weather. Snowdrops are popping up in sunny spots. I had a little bunch of snowdrops from my parents' garden for our wedding, so I have a soft spot for these hardy little gems

Hellebores are determinedly showing their pretty buds, in the shelter of one of our camellia bushes. This is one of those plants which I am absolutely certain is flowering earlier and earlier each year. There never used to be any flowers open for my mid February birthday until a few years back, and now it seems there are always several out by then. Unless we are suddenly plunged into sub-Arctic conditions, these buds will be in flower well before that date, continuing with the trend

There are some other harbingers of Spring in the garden, including these two, both strongly scented:

  • Christmas Box bears masses of small flowers under its leaves. It fills the air with its honey-like scent

  • Good to see our Winter Flowering Honeysuckle has completely recovered from being moved during 2016

We have had no edible harvests this week, and as I said, have done little on the plots except make sure nothing had blown over in high winds, so this is a really short blog entry. 

I'm ending with three more pictures taken today in our garden, the first of which is the beautiful new foliage of Arum italicum, that light up a dark spot under the trees

followed by our Heavenly Bamboo Nandina domestica, which has lots of panicles of flower buds already, in amongst sprays of scarlet berries. It is a real beauty, and flourishes amongst our small rhododendrons. As they both originate from regions of the Himalayas, I suppose it is logical.

And finally, in our greenhouse, the pelargoniums are putting on a bright and colourful show, which really lifts the spirits on a freezing cold day. These were cut back hard at the end of the Summer and planted into three inch pots, so they are doing well. The plan is for them to make big plants for a good display through the Summer months

Thank you for reading... I shall be back next Monday, hopefully with an even tidier house and perhaps an onion seedling or two. Fingers crossed!

If you'd like to read more about Harvest Monday, have a look here at Dave's hosted pages as someone else may have brought harvests home:

http://www.ourhappyacres.com/

and if you would like to contact me, you're very welcome, on:

info@alitttlebitofsunshine.co.uk

and I'll get back to you as soon as I can

1st January: Happy New Year! Starting this year with a huge, silver new moon out there...Wolf Moon, the biggest and brightest full moon of the year. I've just been out and taken this photo; it certainly is spectacular, shining out in the sky beyond the bare trees in the garden.

And of course this is also the first Harvest Monday of 2018, even if the harvests are a little thin right now. The attention of rodents led to me digging up the crops remaining in another bed, this time the one with the carrots etc in it, plus these China Rose Radishes and the last of the Milan Golden Turnips. They are better off stored in the salad drawer of the fridge than becoming rat food! We also had a good picking of Perpetual Spinach

We do have plenty to eat from our stored crops though,  and today's family barbecue included Sticky Balsamic Potato Wedges and Rainbow Veggie raised crust pie, which used up some of the beetroot from the box in the garage, along with a lot of spinach from the polytunnel. I never make hotwater crust pastry, as we don't eat lard, but using coconut oil worked very well indeed, and with the addition of a small amount of cumin and turmeric was very tasty, even if it needed carving rather than slicing!

I feel I should also mention that a whole large jar of dill pickled cucumbers was consumed, mostly by one of our (adult) nephews, who declared them to be the best thing on the table...  why, thank you, Aadil!

I always like to take a picture of each plot from the gate at this time in the year, so... here they are:

Plot 146 is very wet, being slightly lower-lying than it's neighbour, and the woodchip paths need digging out as over the last seven years each layer of wood has mulched down until there is around 10 -12 cm of rich composted material under the top layer of chippings, which makes it even wetter. That's going to be a long, hard job, but one that I shall have to start soon. The issue really is where to store all that extra compost until it is needed for the beds in the second polytunnel. Maybe on an empty bed that isn't going to be planted up until about April time?

The Winter crops: leeks, rocket and red cabbage, with rosemary, sage, thyme and flat leaf parsley

Spring / early Summer crops: garlic, elephant garlic, shallots and Autumn onion sets

                                                        Plot 146

                                                      Plot 145

Plot 145 is less than two years old, and the paths still drain well. The grass looks very lush, and although it is quite soft underfoot, we are not walking on it all that much right now so it is not getting too muddy.

Winter crops: Brussels Sprouts, leeks, savoy and ballhead cabbages and curly kale

Spring/early Summer crops: Purple Sprouting Broccoli, garlic and elephant garlic, Autumn planted onion sets

In the polytunnel: Giant frilled mustard, Japanese Mustard greens, perpetual spinach, spring onions, flatleaf and curly parsley and in a tray, mizuna seedlings

This next couple of weeks is a time to pause, take breath, decide what we shall grow again this season, what is definitely not "On The List", and what, out of all the tempting new varieties parading across our eye there might be space for. The rotation plan is already in place, so it is a case of putting that jigsaw together in such a way that we eat well throughout the year once again.  The plots will gently tick over, tools will be sharpened and oiled and space cleared on the kitchen windowsill for the propagator. 

Thank you to everyone who reads this blog. It is good to know there are real people out there interested in what we do, and sharing with us what they do too. I really appreciate the comments, questions and suggestions,those on the blog itself and those that arrive via email. So to all of you, a very

                                                     Happy New Year!

 

If you'd like to read more about Harvest Monday, have a look here at Dave's hosted pages:

http://www.ourhappyacres.com/

and if you would like to contact me, you're very welcome, on:

info@alitttlebitofsunshine.co.uk

and I'll get back to you as soon as I can