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 Nowadays the excitement of Christmas has been replaced by the exitement of wondering what the next year's growing season will be like.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.