March

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First, an apology. I’ve been attempting to write a post for the last month but have had to learn to type one-handed while nursing a little bambino, and get my not-so-computer-savvy head around the new wordpress page. (On this voyage of discovery I have found out that pressing the back-space key twice consecutively under certain circumstances deletes the entire post. It really doesn’t matter how many times you do it, or how much you’ve written, it all completely vanishes. I’ve also learnt I know far more swear words than I’ve ever given myself credit for).

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ANYWAY. The garden. March. What happened?

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Well, the sun did something fantastic – not the eclipse, that was a bit of an anticlimax here really despite a clear sky, no, it shone! It was warm and dry and lovely for a good few days so got quite a bit done outside. (It’s during this time that all these photos were taken. I am currently looking out at a pretty dismal, blustery day, but alas, it seems that having a baby means gardening can only take place in fine weather – what a shame.)

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With the official arrival of spring there are certainly some spirit-lifting signs:

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Celendines: the first sign of Spring are they not?

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Catkins/Lambs’ tails

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Some real lambs (ok, these little guys can be seen from the garden, rather than in the garden).

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While peering nosily over the hedge, I also noticed the neighbouring fields have acquired an impressive collection of mole-hills. Thankfully (although I do think moles are quite cute) our lawn seems to be a tiny oasis of mole-free territory, I strongly suspect due to our cat.

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For the first time ever I took a good look at our lawn though and it seems to be mainly moss. This isn’t a huge problem is it? I’m hoping it means less mowing.

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Rather hypercritically, I’d actually like to encourage more wildlife. There are currently a few messy…I mean “wild”… areas in the garden, we’ve left this patch of grass around the tree un-mowed and hopefully one day I’ll get round to planting some wild flowers here.

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I haven’t been quick enough with the camera, but amongst other things this month I’ve seen a heron, long-tailed tits, gold-crests and heard tawny owls in the garden. It’s great to see the bees out too.

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I’m trying to recycle the heap of building rubbish occupying precious garden space. Some of the stone has found a new home as edging for my flower border. I’ve also been doing some serious weeding here, it had all got a bit out of hand.

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I replaced the supporting string and pruned the raspberry canes and bushes. Not really sure what I’m meant to do with them so just snipped off all the dead bits.

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Currently the veg-patch is a little bare. We’re eating the last of the brassicas – some small cabbages and tiny sprouts, along with a few baby turnips I found.

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I’ve been leaving the stalk and outer leaves of the cabbages in the ground and just pick the edible heart. That way they sprout further baby leaves – not much, but better than nothing when the space isn’t needed for other things.

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I’m currently willing the purple sprouting to actually do some sprouting.

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Some of the salad leaves have overwintered. The corn salad/lamb’s lettuce is still looking really healthy. The giant red mustard leaves have taken a bit of a knock but some have pulled through, as has the land cress.

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The garlic is doing well and I’ve planted some frost-resistance spring onion seeds outside.

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Outside I’ve potted up my sage cuttings and sown sunflower seeds and broadbeans in pots in an attempt to beat the annual slug onslaught. I would put them inside but haven’t got the room, so instead I made a mini-polytunnel using some plastic (pram packaging) and old bits of timber. So far it’s withstanding the wind.

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Inside my second attempt at basil has germinated in the propagator – success!

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Other seeds in the propagator: outdoor cucumbers, courgettes, artichokes, Fat Baby Achocha (VERY excited about these, thank you Mum), Sweet Dumpling Squash and some flowers – mallow flowers, stocks and rudbekia).

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In the conservatory I have made a pea nursery (again, in the hope they’ll have a head-start against the slugs),

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the potatoes are chitting (charlottes), and I’ve planted leeks, sweet peas, French marigolds (for companion planting) and some more mallow flowers. Fingers crossed.

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Snow, seeds and signs of spring

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It’s been an exciting and busy old month as there has been a new addition to the Greenbean household! A little early just yet, but I’m looking forward to lots of fun child friendly garden projects over the next few years. Luckily the garden has been looking after itself, and despite being totally neglected, happily there are a few signs that spring is around the corner.

We had some snow – here’s the cavolo nero kale – it’s really hardy. It’s starting to go to seed so we’ve been eating the remaining plants and flower heads whole. I shall definately be growing this again this year, hopefully with a bit of muck the plants will be a bit bigger.

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With weather like this I decided to do some inside jobs and sorted through my seed collection.

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I have FAR too many seeds, there are 8 types of bean alone! I’m not entirely sure where (or when) they are all going to be planted. I’m quite excited though as have some interesting new things to try this year, thanks to Mum and Fettlers on the Land kindly giving me some seeds – thank you! I’ll try to find the time over the next couple of weeks to get some of these in.

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The herb seeds I planted in January are doing well, well the parsley, coriander and chives are (and I think a chilis are starting to poke through), the rosemary (never had any luck with this) and basil aren’t . I think it’s been a bit cold for the basil unfortunately, but I have another packet of seeds so will try again with this. I pruned back the sage bush and put the cuttings in water on the off chance, they’re sprouting roots so hopefully they’ll take in compost.

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Outside the rhubarb’s sprouting,

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the garlic’s growing (apologies for the sideways image, I gave up, the computer won),

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and there’s still a small supply of brassicas – although they won’t win any prizes.

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I’ve finally got round to planting our extra raspberry bushes, and found some cheap pink gooseberry plants in our local supermarket, so these have gone in too. Love a bargain.

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I’ve been creative with some scrap wood and twigs, this is a slow work in progress, but eventually I plan to have a border around all my veg plots – partly to make mowing easier in summer.

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Finally, a sure sign spring is on the way: the pond is full of frogspawn. Luckily the frogs don’t seem to mind that the pond’s a bit tatty and overgrown. As well as giving hope that winter might not have to long left, thinking about the hundreds of slugs these little critters are likely to munch their way through fills me with joy. Immense joy.

Oh! Almost forgot! With the arrival of our little one we could finally sample the raspberry gin and wild plum gin made earlier in the year. I was a little dubious but it was a definate success – both are delicious, although the plum is our favourite. No photos I’m afraid, we were too busy enjoying it!

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November, December and a new year

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There isn’t a huge amount to write about the last two months. Not suprisingly given the time of year, the weather’s either been grey and dismal (not very inspiring), or bright and frosty (lovely for a walk, not so good for digging), and in my defence there hasn’t been an awful lot to do outside anyway. So it’s been a quiet time in the garden.

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We’ve had some lovely frosty mornings, and although I was meant to be defrosting the van for work, I took the opportunity to take a stroll round the garden and take a few pictures. It’s a bit different to the abundant summer!

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Beautiful, but actually it’s mainly been like this:

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Unfortunately we had to buy some veg for Christmas dinner, but there are still a few things hanging in there. One of my favourite harvests is leeks. I love leeks, they’re so versatile; sauteed, in creamy sauces, with potatoes and bacon, in warming soups and cawl…..mmmm! They are very small this year, more like spring onions, I’m on a mission to find a load of muck, so hopefully next year’s will be a bit more substantial. Today I popped out to find something to add to some very free-range eggs (thanks mum!) and a bit of bacon to make a tasty winter quiche, and was suprised to scratch together this lot:

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Leeks, kale, chard, herbs and one little floret of calabrese. Yum!

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The herbs I planted earlier in the year are doing well.

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I wouldn’t say we’ve had a bumper crop of kale, but it’s nice and steady, definately on the list for next year.

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The cabbages I think will come but will be late.

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Not too sure about the brussel sprouts though, they’re tiny still.

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On a more positive note, the walking onions and garlic have slowed down a bit but are looking healthy. There are still squash to eat – the last Bonbon went mouldy, but the rest are storing well. We still have a bit of salad too – giant mustard, lambs’ lettuce and the odd rocket leaf.

2014 was a busy year for us, and 2015 is probably going to be even more hectic, with some big changes, so I should be realistic about how much we’ll achieve in the garden. However, I already have a whole basket full of seeds ready, and have just spend my free vegseeds.net voucher (thank you!) on some “extras”…I can’t help it, it’s an obsession.

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I am very excited about planting these – my grandparents kindly gave me some raspberry and strawberry plants from their garden. I’ve not had much luck with strawberries in the past, my plan is to keep them in pots and see if they do any better than in the ground.

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I’ve also kindly been given these pretty herb planters by my parents, eager to do some sort of gardening, and with not much going on outside, I’ve started them off on the windowsill. Fingers crossed….

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There are a few signs that the winter lull won’t last forever and spring will soon be here – the spring bulbs are starting to come up and I have some daft primroses out. So, a bit of a boring blog I’m afraid but lots of excitement about the coming year and all the new veg to try growing!

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October

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Ah, that’s more like it  – the damp wet weather we all know and love, although still really mild for the time of year and we actually had some lovely days too.

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Lots happened this month.

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I grew the world’s smallest sunflowers. Yes, that is the same size as a Michaelmas daisy.

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The salad leaves grew like stink: corn salad/lamb’s lettuce, green (not sure which variety) lettuce, red salad bowl lettuce, some rocket and giant red mustard leaves. I saved the mustard seeds from last year, they’ve grown like mad so will do the same again this year.

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I can’t say the same for the borlotti beans. They’ve been a bit of a disappointment, only harvested a handful and they weren’t quite ripe  (starting to get munched though so needed picking). Will do for a chili or two, but nothing more. Not sure whether to bother again next year.

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The Egyptian walking onions (or which ever of the multitude of names you choose to use) have been self-setting all over the place (photographed in the lawn), so I’ve had to make a new onion space and plant them all. There were hundreds, if not thousands of the baby things, so planting them individually would have been quite tedious. I stuck them in in handfuls, and to be honest in the end pretty much just scattered them on the soil. I reasoned this is what they do naturally anyway, and I’m not going to get too upset if a few don’t pull through. It appears they are all thriving however, every last one seems to be growing. We might have to be a bit more ruthless this year and eat most of them before they take over – first my garden, next the world….

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Squash!  I finally gave in and harvested them all, having found one start to rot. The stripey ones are Stripettis, the orange ones Uchiki Kuris, the little yellow one is a Sweet Dumpling (not quite ripe?), the big green ones I think are Bonbons, and the knobbly green one is a Mini-Green Hubbard. There has been a real turn up for the books. Usually my squash incite a response of horror or boredom from my husband. As a fan of buttery dense squash, I was quite dubious about the Strippettis as they look rather like marrows: I was expecting them to be watery and tasteless. However, they are actually quite nice, have been a firm hit with my husband, and (I need to get this in writing) I’ve been told I can grown MORE OF THEM next year!!!! I’m sure there are lots of adventurous ways to eat them, but this seems to work…..

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Bake the strippetti whole.

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Discard the seedy bit, then break up the flesh into strands with a fork.

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Add a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg and a splash of cream. Eat.

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I did roast the seeds too. Any other ideas are welcome, we do have a few more to work our way through…..

As for the other squash, we’ve only eaten one Bonbon so far. It was really dense, sweet and creamy, but just a bit big for the two of us. After ploughing through it for days and days, we’re having to build ourselves up to starting the next one! I’m quite excited about the little kuris though, I believe they store well so will leave these until last.

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While pulling up the squash plants I accidently pulled out some nasturtiums. Not being a fan of waste, I pickled the seeds and buds to make fake capers. It was quite a fiddly job, but they do look and taste very capery.

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The raspberries are sprouting up all over the place, I might just have to give over one of my “squares” to them.

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The mystery brassicas continue to grow. I THINK these particular plants might be winter cabbage. October was a bit of a transitional month. Sad in one way as pulled up all the old summer plants: squash, cucumber, beans etc, and the garden’s looking a little less full. On the other hand, there’s the winter veg to enjoy now, and next year’s planting to ponder..

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September

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Apologies this is a little late, computer problems mean that I’m writing this in the middle of November; September feels like a distant, warm, balmy memory, but here goes anyway…..

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I was kindly offered some space in a neighbour’s greenhouse earlier in the year – here’s the outcome, one big and a few small Giant Marmande tomatoes. I don’t have much luck with tomatoes, but each year I keep trying…

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They were very tasty in this salad mind you. I also manage to grown six tiny (don’t be fooled by the picture) Californian Wonder peppers, On the up-side they were seedless, so we barbequed them whole. Yummy, but a lot of work for a few mouthfuls!sept 2014 003

September happily carried on in much the same fashion as August. The raspberries were great, still picking the odd one here and there in November.

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We finally reached saturation point (a mean feat), so some have been frozen, and some have been experimented with…

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This is raspberry gin and wild plum gin. Really hope they transform into something tasty over the next few months despite looking like biological specimens. It will be an awful shame if we wish we’d just drank the gin with tonic water. Watch this space. Staying on the preserving theme, I pickled the last of the beetroot, suprisingly tasty and a pretty pink.

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There were LOTS more beans. Cosse Violette have won the best-bean variety competition by a mile and are definately on the list for next year (although, partly because I still have loads of seeds left). They’ve been fab, maybe I should change my name to “Purple bean”. Some have been frozen, and along with some lovely cooking apples generously given to us by my in-laws (in exchange for a squash, I think we had the better deal somehow), are destined for a chutney session at a later date.

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My next little batch of salad leaves started to do their thing, I think they benefitted hugely from a relatively dry, warm, slug-low month.

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During September, something amazing happened. Never mind solar eclipses, or Wales winning the football, an event took place of such rarity, I still can’t believe it happened…..Mr Green Bean and I both had a day off together, AND we couldn’t spend it on building work as were awaiting materials, AND the weather was nice soooooooo the summer house finally got some attention!!! We’ve started replacing the roof, and while I bravely let my husband do the ladder stuff, I started to clear an area to make a little coffee-drinking-seat-spot (you can’t have too many of these I feel). Now all we need is another day to finish it all…..

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Llew was, as always, a great help.

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On a bit of a roll, I painted the gate.

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Then some lovely men from the council happened to come around resurfacing the road. I was a bit worried, but they spent time carefully tarmacing around my little wall, for which I am massively greatful.

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It’s all looking quite smart!

Other happy surpises this month were that I discovered: a cucumber plant lurking amongst the squash – they had all been presumed dead due to slug damage, so this was very exciting….

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….many self-set baby cherry trees….

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…..and this….any ideas what it is????

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We started eating a bit of kale,

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but mainly just enjoyed the sunshine.

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August

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Well, August has been a busy month elsewher, so the garden has been completely neglected. It’s looking tatty, and part of it has become overspill from some ongoing building work….soooooo, we’ll skip over that and just concentrate on the good bits. Happily, it’s pretty much been a month of just harvesting and eating…probably the only gardening skills I excel in….

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Raspberries: I’ve hung up old CDs to deter birds from the red fruit. It hasn’t worked. To be honest though, there are lots more of the juicier, bigger, tastier yellow ones (which they leave)– so I’m not too sad.

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On a fruit theme, I’ve  finally found some sloes this year, and here some more beauties…….

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Gin and jam (probably in that order), here we come.

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I’m going to freeze some of the rhubarb for the winter months.

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Look at these!! These Chiogga beetroot were dead easy to grow, really sweet and so pretty!

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Purple Podded Peas – ok, so they survived the slugs, they have a name that contains a lot of alliteration, and they’re pretty. This meant they had a definite head start in winning a thumbs up from me. However –  oh my goodness they are soooo slow. Super slow. We’ve had about 5 pods per week. Most importantly, they also don’t taste that nice either. So apart from maybe in a flower border, unfortunately I probably won’t bother with these again 😦

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The French beans are doing well, they are: a standard yellow wax dwarf bean (29p I think from Lidl, or maybe I splashed out and spent 49p, I can’t remember. What I do remember is that I was probably meant to be buying something really inspiring like milk, or washing powder), Cobra – classic green beans, they’re even tender when really quite big, Cosse violette beans – beautiful! They taste good too, and finally, I’ve picked the first few “Hunter”, a flat variety (look a bit like runner beans, but in my opinion tastier and more tender). I am a bit worried about the climbing borlottis however, I grew a dwarf variety last year and they were much further on and more abundant by this point. We’ll see what happens.

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We still have lettuce, there are also some more some baby salad leaves coming.

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I am a little bored of cabbage. Actually, I have a confession: I might not have been quite so diligent when it came to picking off cabbage white eggs/caterpillars on the cabbages than the other brassicas.

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Oops.

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The kale is coming along nicely, and we’ve had a few pickings of chard.

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I completely forgot I’d planted radish. Unfortunately the slugs hadn’t 😦 I’ve saved a few though – has anyone else ever grown a purple French Breakfast??? I wish I’d realise before I picked it, I’d have been tempted to save some seed (although I probably have enough purple veg as it is).

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I am going to try saving some seed from this onion. I don’t know if it will work.

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I am trying to resist the temptation to pick the squash. The plants have grown up the hedge, over the lawn and through the peas. Some of the leaves have gone brown, I don’t know why, but the fruit all look pretty happy. I’m sure everyone will be relieved.

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Finally, there much be a bee-hive/nest nearby as there are loads of honey bees about, they are of course always welcome. Borage seems to be a favourite but they’re inthe beans and things too.

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July

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Welcome to my garden!!

18 months ago, the garden looked like field, with an overgrown pond and an unloved summer house. Now it looks like a field with an overgrown pond, an unloved summer house and a veg patch!!!

We’re pretty busy, with lots to do in the house and garden, but it seems I might have been prioritising veggie growing…

I am no expert gardener, quite the opposite, most of my plants grow despite of what  do, not because of what I do – I’m sure of it. This is what I’ve somehow managed so far this year…

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I planted a few raspberry and logan berry plants last year, they were all a couple of pounds in our local supermarket. This bush, “All Gold” has done particularly well, it was a tiny little 30cm high plant when I put it in! The birds had most of the logan berries and red raspberries, but seem to leave these yellow fruit alone. I haven’t done anything special with these plants at all, just left them to it – perfect plant!

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This is a very wet, slug-friendly area so have BIG problems with these pests. I really don’t hold it against anyone who uses slug pellets – losing whole (and subsequent) crops is heart breaking, however, I might be a softie but I do not like the idea of using slug pellets at all. Unfortunately I have had to deal with the effects of metaldehyde slug pellets in dogs, I’d hate to think that I might inadvertantly cause suffering to our healthy population of wildlife (hedgehogs, frogs, toads and a wide range of birds – including a beautiful heron), and also don’t like the idea of them around my food.

So, I have come to accept that I can’t plant anything too early and some crops will be lost – this year it was the broad beans and the green peas. Some of the Purple Podded Peas put up a good fight though, we won’t have many, but the flowers are so pretty!

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One crop that doesn’t seem to be affected by slugs, and loves the wet-Welsh climate are leeks (no suprises). I’ve started “earthing” them up to ensure a nice white stem (rightly or wrongly, but I believe this works?), although I like the green part too, we eat the whole lot.

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Here’s Llew, my trusty gardening companion and mole catcher.

 

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I tried growing some land cress this year, rather than rocket – my mum kindly gave me the seeds (thanks Mum!), we’ve been picking it for about 2 months and it’s only just starting to go to seed…definately on the list for next year.

 

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Another must for next year is this lettuce, “Salad bowl”, I find lettuce a little tricky, but this grew faster than the slugs could munch, and just keeps going and going. It’s a cut-and-come-again variety, which is perfect as there’s only two of us. Weirdly, the row of “Red Salad Bowl” was pathetic, I did nothing differnt! Any ideas???

 

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Here they are in a salad! I try not to waste anything, so the tiny onions are actually some of the Welsh Leek babies my husband accidently knocked off with the mower (I haven’t had much luck with actual spring onions), some nasturtiums for colour, some baby beet leaves from the beetroot patch for a bit more colour, a few chives and some tender, baby pea leaves for some yummy pea flavour. We made a dressing with home-grown garlic, thyme and some white white vinegar and olive oil (not home-grown, regrettably). Ok, to most people this is just a salad I know, to me it’s a momentous acheivement!! Who cares if the radish bolted?

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Squash have strongly secured a permanent place in my garden. Last year we had 16 “Sweet dumpling” squash from 2 plants. My husband was sick of squash with every meal (to be honest, their charm was starting to wear off for me too. They just stored so well. There was no getting away from the squash diet). This year I have 6-7 plants. I desperately need some good recipes.

I was very grateful to be given some lovely squash seeds via my mum by a kind lady I’ve never met. It was really difficult choosing the varieties, they’re all so different, but in the end I opted for: Mini Green Hubbard, Golden Nugget, Bonbon, Hooligan (WHY?!), Stripetti, Sweet Dumpling and Kuri. I’ve lost track of which have grown, but I know Stripetti is doing a bit too well – it’s taken over most of the squash patch and has loads of fast-growing fruit. Another, which I think might just be Hooligan, has scaled the hedge and is taking over the paths and some of the other vegetables. It’s probably luck more than anything, but both years I’ve made a hotbed for my squash, and I’m reluctant to change tact now. I make a big hole, with some turf/soil “walls” around the edge, fill the hole with grass clippings then cover with home-made compost, then pop the plants in the top.

 

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I took these picture 2 weeks ago, the Stripetti squash (the pale one in the left photo) are now 3-4 times the size – I just really really hope they are tasty….

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These are my Welsh Leeks, they’re not welsh at all though, and I believe they are also known as a Tree Onion or an Egyptian Walking onion. I was kindly donated a few plants by a neighbour on an allottment I had a few years ago (my first attempt at growing a veg patch), they’re great! You can just see the little baby onions forming here on the flower head – the babies can be replanted to create more plants next year, or used as potent spring onions. The mother-plant is perennial. They can be used like spring onions or little leeks early in the year, and sometimes form small bulbs. There isn’t a massive yield but once you have a patch they are there for ever, have oniony goodness most of the year, and if nothing else, they’re beautiful!

 

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I’m currently looking for inspiration to cook these stripey Chiogga beetroot. Any ideas welcome!

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Swiss chard/beet leaves seem pretty foolproof to grow and provide us with a constant supply of greens, this is Swiss Chard, not as pretty as the Ruby Chard I grew last year, but much bigger, tender stems.

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We’re still eating our way through potatoes, spinach, and the patch of “Durham Early” cabbages. The cabbages have done really well and slow to go to seed, my only disappointment is that they haven’t hearted-up very well. The ground is pretty firm, I’m not sure where else I’ve gone wrong.

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These little plants are some of our next brassica crop – Kale Nero Do Toscana, and Kale Red Russian. I have some other baby brassicas – winter cabbage, sprouts and purple sprouting but I can’t remember which is which – really need to start using labels!

 

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I’m quite excited that the hedge seems to be full of fruit this year – a really good crop of hazel nuts and lots of blackberries, there’s also a plum tree we uncovered from a mound of ivy last year that seems to be recovering, and has a good amount of fruit on it. So, lots to look forward to!

 

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