Wednesday, 28 December 2011

how was it for you?

This last year has been a real mixed bag as far as gardening successes go. I know we have some peculiar weather in Britain but 2011 was very peculiar and that made growing your own so much more difficult. There have been high spots to offset the lows and overall soft fruit and vegetable yields have been on a par with previous years. They should have been higher as I actually grew more but I can’t really complain and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

For those of you interested in statistics here's a breakdown of my successes and failures.

Potatoes - lower yields than expected due to very strong winds which damaged the haulms and then a lack of rainfall at critical times.
Onions - excellent crop. I have still have half a sack of good onions to get through.
Leeks - not as good as previous years and quite a few bolted.
Brassicas - cabbage, caulies, swedes and turnips did well. Later plantings of borecole and kale suffered damage from strong winds.
Peas/beans - good crops early on but the autumn winds put paid to later sowings.
Roots - excellent parsnips, mediocre carrots, good beetroot.
Salads - most are grown in containers and I always have a continuous supply of lettuce, spring onions and radishes.
Greenhouse - Not as good as previous due to a lack of summer sunlight although a good October did manage to ripen most of the peppers. One cucumber plant (La Diva) gave me seventeen lovely fruits although I lost several other plants which just seemed to give up the ghost. As for tomatoes, the old favourites Roma and Alicante did better than the new varieties I tried although that's hardly conclusive as I don't think 2011 was a good year for toms.

I do grow other veggies but the above are the staples of our household.

Soft fruits - bumper crops of blackcurrants, gooseberries, strawberries and raspberries so I made lots of jam and gave loads away in return for fresh eggs and the odd fruit pie.

Tree fruits - apples, pears and plums a disaster although the cherry tree gave me over 6kg and I left the rest for the birds.

So, all-in-all, not too bad considering. It seems that if one crop fails another succeeds so the moral is: don't put all your vegetables in one basket!

As for next year, well, I'll just take it as it comes. I will be trying new varieties of most things as well as growing some old favourites. Gardening is one long experiment for me. I'm not interested in growing show-stopping vegetables just high quality food for my family and I can only do this by trying every possible cultivation technique and as many varieties as possible to find what works best.

To gardeners and growers everywhere I wish you all a productive season and may the weather smile on us.....just for once.

Saturday, 17 December 2011


At this time of year I have a great feeling of anticipation, not for what Santa might bring me but about the new growing season and what it might turn out like. The electric propagator is sitting patiently for the first batch of seeds to go in and by the end of January/early February things will really start to take off with lots of the early crops started under glass. Broad beans, onions and the first tubs of container peas will go in, along with winter lettuce as long as it’s not too cold.

young broad beans sown under glass early February

With a greenhouse you really can add a month or so to each end of the growing season which is a great help this far north. I was going to make a cold frame from some old glass panels, etc. that I have lying around but I really can’t find the space for it without a serious reorganization of the garden.

That's another thing I do at this time of year, reorganizing, though most of it's just in my head. I'm constantly working on how I can make best use of my available space, what can go where in order to increase yields. If I was starting again I’d probably try to make some sort of plan before lifting a single turf but I was so keen to bring this new garden into production that I just dug a rectangle out of the back lawn then added to it as the years passed. Probably not the most efficient way to do things but enthusiasm got the better of me.

We’ve had a few sharp frosts over recent nights but nothing to compare with the last two years so no damage done. Today was quite pleasant so I had a little run out and collected a couple of sacks of mole hill soil. A lot of the land close to the water has been reclaimed and the soil is very sandy...perfect for adding to the carrot/parsnip compost mix. I only collect from along the roadside verges so I suppose the soil belongs to the county council but I’m sure they won’t miss a few mole hills.

Today's landscape shows winter light on the estuary as the sun dips down. Hardly a breath of wind and the water like a mill pond.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

clearing up....again!!

Clearing up after yet more severe gales. Thankfully at this time of year there is not much left to damage but the calabrese looks as if it’s finished. The plants have been blown around so much they’ve almost twisted from their roots which have been partly pulled from the ground. The kale has fared much better but I suspect that’s because it’s a dwarf variety.

kale - dwarf green curled

A few branches had snapped from a neighbour’s birch tree so they’ve been added to the pile for shredding next spring. In the meantime the heap is home to all sorts of critters, including hedgehogs.

I tipped out one tub of leeks as I needed them for a big pan of leek and potato soup - one of my favourites. They don’t bulk up like the plot grown ones but are still perfectly usable. Growing some in containers also means you can bring them under cover if it looks like the ground might freeze solid.

 I still have fifty or so leeks in the ground which will keep us going to the point where we’re all heartily sick of them. There's probably still some of last year's in the bottom of the freezer as well so no chance of running out of leeks!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011


Yesterday was a day for pruning the soft fruit bushes. The currants and gooseberries are now looking much healthier with a more open structure. They've had one mulch of compost but they'll get another in spring with a couple of handfuls of wood ash for each bush. Hopefully it'll be bumper crops again next year.

I pegged down two low branches from currant bushes last spring to create new plants and they now have a healthy growth of roots. These will be severed from the parents and transplanted but for the time being I'll leave them where they are as the ground is completely waterlogged and not suitable for planting anything. Layering seems to be the best way to propagate currants as it gives a strong healthy plant straight away rather than waiting a couple of years for a cutting to root and develop.

Out on my travels the other day I stopped in a lay-by and in a corner between two walls the wind had blown leaves into a pile nearly three feet deep. Being a born forager I always have a selection of plastic bags and containers in the car so I filled two large sacks which will be used to top up the leaf mould cages.

Not sure that many people find sacks of leaves interesting so here's something a little more picturesque. 
'belties' (belted Galloway cattle) sheltering from the wind. Note the thick coats to survive up here!
snow-mantled Criffel on the Scottish side from Campfield Marsh on the English side of the Solway

Sunday, 4 December 2011

winter at last...

When I got up this morning I could see that the hills were mantled in snow and looking very seasonal. We have the Lake District to the south, the Pennines to the east, the Southern Uplands to the north and the Galloway Hills to the west, all clothed in white. The only direction we don’t have hills is the south-west where the Solway widens into the open sea and that’s where the gales come from!!

I wouldn’t like a repeat of the last two winters but we do need a decent cold spell to complete the cycle and get things ready for new growth next year. Everything is looking rather sad at the moment...leafless trees and waterlogged ground so not a lot going on. I have been tidying up the greenhouse and trying to rationalize all my plant pots and containers. Because of my acquisitive nature I tend to accumulate more stuff than actually wears out or breaks during the season. Flower buckets are a case in point so I try to resist shopping at Morrisons as I inevitably end up with another stack whenever I go there.

Although the exhibition growers often start their new season in December I won’t be sowing any seeds till the end of next month and then it will be limited to peppers and tomatoes in the propagator indoors. February/March under glass is soon enough for most of the early crops in this part of the world.

We had fresh baby carrots with our meal tonight, harvested from one of the buckets in the greenhouse. They were sown mid-August into sieved compost that had already grown a crop of potatoes. It was a bit of an experiment as I wanted to see how late they could be sown and still produce a decent crop. Another lot sown two weeks later are much further behind.

Monday, 28 November 2011

End of November

After being battered by gales and heavy rain for two days yesterday turned out fine so I managed to get a few things done. I recently acquired a plastic dustbin and was wondering how best to make use of it. Fix a tap and use it for water storage? Grow potatoes in it? In the end I sawed it down to make a 16 inch deep pot and a plastic ring which I can sink into the ground as a possible home for more strawberries. Plastic drums and bins are very easy to cut with a panel saw, a fact I discovered some years ago after trying to chew my way through one with a stanley knife! I’m not sure what to do with the lid so any suggestions would be welcome. And please don’t say use it as a shield when I’m playing soldiers.

I also made some rather colourful plant labels from the top of an ice cream tub. They are plain white on the reverse, so easy to write on.

In the afternoon I had to drive my wife out to Gilsland to discuss a business proposition. Not wanting to spend an hour listening to a discussion about wool I had a wander round the village. Gilsland straddles the border between Cumbria and Northumberland with most of the houses in Northumberland. In the victorian era it was famous for its spa waters and people would come in their thousands to take the air and bathe in the sulphurous water. It also straddles the Roman Wall and has a milecastle alongside the Poltross Burn.

milecastle at Poltross Burn
 It’s interesting that as soon as you cross the county boundary all the becks become burns. There is a small overlap and we do have a few burns in Cumbria but  it still feels like a foreign word.

Gilsland Spa hotel from above the village
December is fast approaching and the winter solstice will soon be upon us. That's when the new season really starts to get going. Those with heated propagators will be getting ready for early sowings of tomatoes and peppers and possibly onions if they are thinking of exhibiting. Nowadays the excitement of Christmas has been replaced by the exitement of wondering what the next year's growing season will be like.

Monday, 21 November 2011

making a raspberry wall

Not a wall made from raspberries, that would be silly. In order to try and contain some of the raspberry canes and stop the plants from suckering up all over the place I dug a narrow trench at the front of them and cut out all the roots on the ‘wrong’ side. Then I placed vertically in the trench some offcuts of fascia board that I scrounged a while ago. Hopefully this will stop the roots from trying to take over the border and will allow me to plant some spring bulbs along the front. If they go the other way they’ll end up in next door’s garden and they’ll get free raspberries.

There is still fruit on the canes but it's not worth picking now. I managed about 100g yesterday but they are sour and lacking in flavour even though they look ripe.

they look ripe but are not worth picking so the birds can have them
In my desire to get this garden as productive as possible as quickly as possible I’ve tended to just stick plants in wherever I could. This has resulted in things like blueberries in large pots dotted about between blackcurrants and strawberries. Now the blueberries and cranberries are to have their own bed filled with their own acid compost. This is one of those cases where peat-free isn’t always best. The natural habitat for these plants is peat bogs so that’s what you need to try and replicate if you want good results.

We had a visit from a great spotted woodpecker this afternoon, the first one I’ve seen since we moved over here. Now that the trees are without their cloak of leaves it’s much easier to see what's flitting among the branches.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Christmas potatoes?

I’ve decided to end the Christmas potato experiment. With the short days now the plants are not going to grow and tuber development will have stopped as they need a certain level of daylight which they are not getting. Had I started them three or four weeks earlier I might have done better but I only decided to do it when I picked up a pack of seed potatoes at half price in mid August. Anyway, to the result. Yes, I got some potatoes, enough for a meal for three with a few spare but that hardly justifies the effort. Most were no bigger than marbles and had to be discarded. I imagine that if you live in the south of England and can get them planted by the end of July you may get a worthwhile crop but for me it was a complete waste of compost. Still, it was one of those things that I just had to try. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say and at least I now feel able to pass comment on the subject.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

best ever parsnips

I got my best ever yield of parsnips from a flower bucket today. They were so tightly packed in that I could only get them out by slitting the bucket and peeling it away from the root mass. After trimming there was just short of 3lbs of usable snips...pretty good for a vegetable that’s supposed to be difficult to grow.

almost three pounds of parsnips

 Just a little bit of canker around the shoulders on a couple of them but a very pleasing haul. We had some boiled with our evening meal and the rest went in the freezer. I know I'm supposed to be emptying the freezer and I am trying, honest :)

I also planted a couple of dozen garlic cloves today and some more overwintering onions. I’m a bit late for putting onions outside so these were planted about three inches apart in a big tub in the greenhouse and will be picked small as ‘spring onions’ before the rest of the crop are ready.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

emptying the freezer

I’ve been under strict instructions to get rid of some of the fruit and veg. which is ‘cluttering up’ the freezer (her words, not mine) Accordingly I’ve had a making day today. Celery soup for lunch then I set to and had a jam making session. Mixed fruit as usual but this one has strawberries, raspberries and apples. While it was bubbling on the hob I concocted one and a half litres of blackcurrant and raspberry smoothie. Never made a fruit smoothie before and was quite surprised at how easy and tasty it is.

I can only spend so long in the kitchen before I have to get outside and do things. Had a furtle in one of the ‘Christmas’ potato sacks and uncovered a nice golf-ball size spud. They are growing so it’s now a matter of hoping for mild weather for as long as possible. Also checked some carrots growing in a bucket in the greenhouse. They don’t have a lot of top foliage but I pulled one and was surprised to find it as thick as my little finger. I got enough for a nice helping of baby carrots with our evening meal and will hopefully get at least another two meals from that bucket. I really love container growing because it allows me to extend the cropping season at both ends of the year. Having a big greenhouse also helps and I would say that some sort of glass protection should be number one on every grower’s list of priorities.

It was rather a gloomy day today so it was dark quite early but I did manage to saw up a big basket of logs for the fire before the light finally faded. Nobody likes to see pictures of grey gloom so here's last night's sunset and the four new wind turbines at Hell Rigg.

 West Cumbria has been called the 'energy coast', largely because of Sellafield and the proliferation of wind farms. They don't bother me especially but I'm sure there are more efficient means of producing electricity.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

the preparation begins....

Some see autumn as the end of the growing season but I prefer to think of it as the new season's  beginning. For me it's a time of preparation, of clearing, sorting and organizing. There's a lot to be done before I can even consider setting away new crops next spring and I've been making a start this week.

I've collected sackfulls of leaves for the leaf mould cages which are now both full. The stuff at the bottom of cage one was collected last autumn and will be eighteen months old when I start using it next spring. It's a valuable addition to potting mixes and so easy to make. I always keep a couple of bin bags in the car and gather leaves whenever I see them when I'm out and about. Quite often nature lends a hand and the wind piles up great mounds of leaves along the base of walls or in sheltered corners.

Being a great believer in seaweed as a fertilizer and soil conditioner I've also gathered a couple of sacks of the dead stuff pushed up by recent high tides. Some goes in the compost heap and some I soak to make a liquid feed. Both will be used next year in preference to chemicals.

While I was tidying up I discovered a little toadstool village. I think they might be some species of mycena but I'm not big on fungi.

I also found a self-seeded holly bush which I've potted on. Don't know what I'll do with it but I hate throwing plants away. It might end up in a decorative pot outside the front door.

Deciding on what potatoes to grow next year is always great fun. There are so many varieties but I've narrowed it down to half a dozen and will be sending off my order soon. The great thing about the internet is that you can research the different types and get them from specialist suppliers such as JBA

One veg. seed order has already gone off and I'm still working my way through the catalogues. I know many people say you should collect your own seed but without trying different varieties you'll never know what best suits your own taste and conditions.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

rasps keep coming

The autumn raspberries are prolific this year. Here's 250g I picked this afternoon.

There are still more on the canes and as long as the frosts hold off I should be picking them till November. Actually, this year has been an excellent one for soft fruit which is some compensation for the disastrous tree fruit crops.

Starting with the first rhubarb in early April we've had fresh fruit of one sort or another for over seven months and there's loads in the freezer to make pies and crumbles.

Tomatoes have performed only moderately this year. The last few are hanging in the greenhouse to ripen. In previous years I've managed to be eating fresh, home-grown toms in December but you win some, you lose some.

the last few toms
I don't bother buying tomatoes in winter as I find them tough and tasteless and it's no great hardship to do without them. The thing about growing your own food is that you soon get accustomed to eating with the seasons and I'm sure this is better for our bodies.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

winter crops

The last couple of weeks have seen very little gardening activity, mainly due to the poor weather. However, today was a glorious autumn day it was a pleasure to be out  and getting on with a lot of general tidying and weeding - something I usually neglect during the busy summer period. Part of what was originally a rockery I’ve turned into a herb bed and I’ve been trying to excavate the roots of perennial weeds growing there. Couch grass and creeping buttercup are the bane of my life, and I suspect of many other gardeners as well. If you leave one little bit behind it will regrow so you have to be  very observant and sift through the soil to make certain you’ve got it all. And then there’s the  ground cover plants that the previous property owner thought would be a good idea. Wrong! it’s only a good idea if you can put a solid barrier between them and the rest of the garden otherwise you have roots and runners constantly trying to take over.

The veg. plot now has a few bare patches where crops have been lifted but there’s still plenty out there to put towards a meal.  The container grown salad crops have been moved into the greenhouse to give some protection from the weather.
Here are radishes, various types of lettuce and spring onions. The 'empty' red box has the latest sowing of AYR lettuce which have yet to emerge. Inside the greenhouse last year it got down to -15 but the salad crops survived and then had a head start in the spring.

It is nice to be able to pick a few leaves to stick in a sandwich in the middle of winter and it keeps the continuity going. For me there is no single growing season although things are obviously much more hectic in the warmer months. I'll be sowing sprouting seeds through the winter and before you know it the first of the new year's crops will be starting off in the propagator.

Friday, 14 October 2011


Spent part of today potting up strawberry runners. I've done about thirty so far and there's loads more which I'll offer to a couple of local charity shops if they'll take them.

 I've got more strawberry plants than I can use but I just hate the thought of composting them. If anyone can get to north-west Cumbria and wants some they'll be more than welcome to take what they need.

While I was furtling around among the plants I found one in flower and with small fruits developing. They're not going to come to anything now but it does illustrate what a funny old year it's been.

The autumn rasps are still fruiting like mad and I'm putting a small tubful in the freezer every couple of days. I'll figure out what to do with them later.

For some reason there's been an abundance of bird life in the garden today. Not just the usual sparrows, thrushes and blackbirds but a couple of robins, half a dozen blue-tits, a wren, two goldfinches and a chaffinch. I think they might have been sussing out the plot ready for a dawn raid. I'll probably wake tomorrow to find everything gone :-)

Sunday, 9 October 2011


Not the wizard, the little falcon. I don't know why but it always gladdens my heart whenever I see one. Perhaps it's because they're so elusive that they have a kind of magical quality. Anyway, as I took the dog out this morning one darted across the hedge on my left, swooped low along the road then took off into the fields on the right. They do nest around here but we only see them perhaps half a dozen times in a year if we're lucky.

Then when I got back home I had to rescue a robin that had become trapped in the greenhouse so, all in all, a bit of a birdy day. Oh, and the geese have started to come down from the north to overwinter on the marshes...a sure sign that winter's on its way.

I've sown some sweet cicely in modules today (the recommended sowing time is autumn). When we lived in the north east it grew in profusion along the banks of the river Tees and I would gather the leaves to use in fruit pies and the dried seeds also as a flavouring. Since we moved here I've not seen a single plant so I thought it might be nice to see if it would grow in the damp shady area at the bottom of the garden.

Another thing that I miss here is the wild garlic. The fresh leaves are wonderful in a salad or a sandwich so I'm going to have a bash at growing it from seed. Again, autumn is supposed to be a good time to sow it.

I suppose all gardeners get fascinated by the weird and the deformed things that they sometimes grow so here's my offering for today: a siamese-twin Roma tomato.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

jam and pickle making day

Decided to have a jam making session to reduce the amount of stored fruit in the freezer. I tend to make use of whatever fruit is available rather than following any particular recipe. Today’s was cherry and blackcurrant and I added some chopped crab apples for extra pectin. As long as you remember to mix low pectin fruit with a high pectin type you can’t really go wrong. Unless you want just strawberry jam, in which case you’ll need to add some pectin.

six jars of cherry and blackcurrant....yummy

Talking of jam making, I saw a recipe on t’internet today which recommended keeping jam in the fridge after opening. WHY? The whole point of jam is that the sugar preserves the fruit and even if you do get a bit of mould on top you can always scrape it off. There seems to be an obsession with some people that all our food should be sterile. I’m pretty sure that many of the allergies and intolerances suffered by people today are because they’ve never been exposed to anything that might trigger an immune response and when they eventually are exposed their bodies over-react. Sterile food, sterile homes, sterile offices....give me muck and mould any day!

Soap-box session over.

In yesterday's decent weather I pulled some beetroot and am currently boiling a couple of pounds ready for pickling. I love the earthy smell of beetroot cooking in their skins and keep a couple of small ones back from the pickling to slice and use in sandwiches.

These were grown in a 12 inch square pot. Beetroot are a good vegetable to grow if you have limited space
Because of stuff left from last year the preserve cupboard is now full. Mind you, I've done a lot more pickled onions than last year.  I found seeds for a variety called de Barletta in either Lidl or Aldi and they quickly make a perfect pickling size bulb. They can also be easily grown in a container which is even better.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Autumn sunshine

Unseasonally warm recently with temperatures up to 24˚C and wall-to-wall sunshine. It's been a great help to the autumn raspberries and I've been picking a tubful of big juicy fruits every couple of days.

The Christmas potatoes are coming along a treat as well with lots of lush top growth. I have three bags with four tubers in each but what I need is no frosts for the next month or so to give the spuds chance to develop.

I can always bring them into the greenhouse which usually remains frost-free till the outside temp. drops below about -5 but I'd prefer to leave them outside to gain full advantage of any sunshine.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

leafing through....

After the recent strong winds there are many leaves to be gathered up for the leaf mould cages and so the cycle of death and rebirth begins again.  Although it’s not officially leaf-fall yet a lot of the trees were badly wind burned and have shed them early. It’s interesting that you can have one side of a tree all brown and crisped and the leeward side is still green. It Just shows how damaging the wind can be, and not just  for the physical battering it can give.

Crab apple tree burned at one side but green at the other

Thankfully the apples are OK and there's plenty of them
I've almost filled one cage with dead leaves so no shortage of leaf mould in the future. If anyone else is doing this don't forget to bag up far more leaves than you initially have space for as the pile will reduce in size by at least two thirds as it rots down. The extra can be added when space comes available.

The geese have started to fly down from the north for their annual winter holiday. The entire population of barnacle geese from Svalbard overwinters on the Solway marshes. That's up to 30,000 birds just of the one species and it's quite a sight (and sound) when they suddenly all decide to take to the air. No goose pictures but two butterflies taking advantage of today's sunshine on the marigolds.
Red admiral and small tortoiseshell

Monday, 26 September 2011

onions away!!

The first green shoots of the overwintering onions have appeared so things are looking good. I read somewhere that in the north of England and Scotland you should not plant them any later than the end of August but if I did that mine would put on too much top growth before the cold weather. I have put them in as late as mid October and they’ve come through the winter with no problems but that was before the last couple of very cold ones.

Overwintered onions seem to do well here with very few bolting. Not like overwintered broad beans which have been a disaster every time I've tried them so I'm not going to bother again. My solution to that problem is to make early sowings in late winter in containers in the greenhouse and that has worked well for the last two years.

I went through to the caravan today and noticed some excellent crops of sloes and other wild fruit. We have a large blackthorn bush either side of the caravan which is very convenient, but her indoors says we're not wasting good gin by sticking berries in it! Looks like it'll have to be jam and jelly again.

sloes (purple) and haws (red). they are on separate bushes!

I have loads of fruit in the freezer ready for a mammoth jam-making session if I ever get round to it. Trouble is there's lots of other stuff still to be done outside, even though the planting season is now behind us. I like re-designing things and moving stuff about, and there's frames and supports to make for climbing plants next year, oh and there's also this and that and........I like to keep busy.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

toms nearly finished

This year's tomato crop is almost finished...much earlier than previous years. It's been a bit of a disaster for me this year although I have been picking them regularly since 19th July. Enough fresh ones for salads, etc. but not many for preserving. Never mind, the cucumbers and peppers are still prolific and will hopefully keep going until the first frosts.
this plant has so far given us eleven cucumbers!

sweet peppers starting to ripen
I know some people complain about the price of F1 cucumber seeds but one 'La Diva' plant has given us eleven good sized fruit with the promise of at least another four or five. Not a bad return on the investment. I do also grow open pollinated cukes but I like the characteristics of some of the F1s.

For the last few days we've been 'entertaining' my mother and her sister which has meant taking them to see the countryside of north Cumbria and southern Scotland. Today we went to the area known as back o' Skidda'. It's quite different from most people's idea of the Lake District, being much less rugged and still very much a working landscape.

back o' Skidda' from Caldbeck common
colour-washed cottages in Caldbeck village
Overwater, one of the lesser-known lakes

Thursday, 15 September 2011

red admirals, painted ladies and tortoiseshells

No, it's not something that Russian naval officers get up to on shore leave.

After the recent gales which did a fair bit of damage around the garden today was a perfect autumn day with clear blue skies, distant views and hardly a breath of wind. And lots of butterflies.

red admiral

small tortoiseshell
On days like this I just like to potter. It seems a shame to get serious about work when the rest of creation is just enjoying the sunshine. But I did manage to get some general tidying up done and made quite a few plans for next year. They may or may not come to fruition but that's the thing about plans, isn't it?

At the moment I'm suffering from a surfeit of compost. Both 'daleks' are full and are alive with red wrigglers. The open heap is now about four feet high and I have five large sacks of decomposing vegetation and kitchen refuse. There's still loads of stuff growing in the veg. patch so I can't do any spreading for a while yet and when the leaves fall there'll be more to add to it. The privet hedge needs clipping and the lawn needs mowing and.....

I love compost!!

Monday, 12 September 2011

apple crop :(

Severe gales today so I've been trying to rescue my apple crop before the slugs and birds get them.

This lot was under one of the trees this morning and I've been out again this afternoon and picked up a load more. There are still some clinging to the trees but I suspect they'll be on the ground by tomorrow morning. The pears have also been stripped and they are far from ready, being still rock-hard. Looks like I'll be searching for recipes to use unripe fruit.

This is what happens when a storm surge coincides with a high tide. It makes for difficult travel until the tide goes back out again.

I normally walk the dog along here...but not today!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

parsnips for dinner

With my chicken dinner today I just fancied some parsnips and, as there were none in the freezer, that meant emptying out one of the flower buckets. Now I know people will say snips are not at their best till they've been frosted but when a man needs parsnips he's gotta have parsnips!

Contents of one flower bucket. 2lbs of parsnips
Some people have trouble growing parsnips but my method has worked well for the last four years. It may not produce show-stoppers but it does give me all that I need.

I fill plastic flower buckets with a mix of home-made compost, spent grow bag medium and sharp sand with a handful of blood, fish and bone. Seeds are sown in March in the greenhouse where they stay until the plants are three or four inches high. Thinning can be done if needed and I leave around a dozen plants per bucket which then go outside on to the garden soil. And before anyone asks why not put them straight in the ground it's because my soil is full of stones and they usually fork.

seeds sown
Initially I just put drain holes in the buckets but the roots always bend sharply trying to find a way out. My new method is to remove most of the bottom of the bucket but leave a rim which gives rigidity. Buckets are set on old quarry tiles and filled with mixture as before. Now when they go outside I just slide out the tile from under them and they send their taproots straight down. End result: much straighter parsnips. the ones in the top photo are from a bucket with just drain holes and you can see the bent roots which have been trimmed off.

Tub with bottom removed. It's the same technique I use for spuds.
By mid June the parsnips are growing away nicely and have sent their roots well down into the soil.

So there you have it. If you have trouble growing parsnips why not give it a try.