Saturday, 9 November 2013

bird food

I'm not a greedy gardener and don't mind sharing what I produce with the local wildlife, some of it, anyway. This year there has been enough for all of us and I was happy to let the birds have all the cherries as I was far too busy harvesting bush fruit to worry about climbing a ladder for yet more fruit.

The autumn rasps are still producing like mad but, to be honest, there's only so much you can eat and store so I've decided to leave what's left of the crop for the birds as well.

It really has been an amazing year for fruit. I have enough jam to last me several years and can't squeeze another thing into the freezer!

Thankfully I'm not going to be reduced to eating cotoneaster berries so there's two bushes worth for the birds to go at. A couple of years ago we had a flock of waxwings in a nearby tree and they stripped the cotoneaster bush in the front garden in a matter of minutes.

The hedgerows round about are still heavy with wild fruit. Not many brambles left but hips and haws aplenty so I'm hoping that our local wildlife has more than enough to last through the winter.
Haws, the fruit of the hawthorn

Still a few crab apples left on this tree
but look what's on the ground underneath!
a veritable larder for the local wildlife

I always think it's amusing that some people seem to be paranoid about eating anything that grows outside but there are not that many things that are seriously poisonous. Most of the berries that people shy away from are simply unpleasant to eat so, faced with the choice between a raspberry and a rose hip, they usually opt for the rasp.

It was my intention to make a batch of cider with some of the apples, something I haven't done for a couple of years but I've just been too busy so the critters can help themselves. This tray of windfalls is there for anything that fancies a nibble.  I also scatter windfalls all around the veg plot where birds can peck away all they want. As a bonus they leave their droppings behind as fertilizer - every little helps!

Sunday, 27 October 2013



I try to grow a few new tomato varieties each year in order to see a) if I like them and b) how they cope with the Cumbrian climate. I also grow a few 'standards' like Alicante, Gardeners Delight and Tumbler but these are too well known to need comment.

The results for this year are shown below.

Bloody Butcher
The earliest to crop. Nice looking golf ball sized fruit with moderate flavour but nothing special. Seemed to run out of steam quite early.

Black Russian
Large fruit and good flavour with nice acidity. Some people don’t like the sharpness of the taste but I found it refreshingly different.

Vintage Wine
Large fruit, nice looking but flavour a bit disappointing, in fact it hardly tasted of tomato at all. That was on first picking, though. Later in the year I left the last of the crop hanging in the greenhouse to ripen and, like real vintage wine, the flavour improved enormously. Certainly not the write-off I originally thought.

Golden Sunrise
Potentially heavy cropper with 8/9 good sized fruit per truss and closely spaced trusses. Flavour is superb so this is a must for future years. I had two plants, one in the greenhouse and one outside and the outside performed as well as that under glass. Of course, the good warm summer obviously helped there.

Pink Oxheart
Has potential to produce huge fruit. Picked one which weighed 612g but was actually two grown together. Flavour is nothing special although they look nice!

Gave a plant to a neighbour and it died so I’d say this is certainly one I probably won’t grow again.

Patio Orange
Good cropper with 16/18 cherry fruit per truss and good flavour. I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of the very small tomatoes and, weight for weight, this variety is nowhere near as productive as tumbler.

Ananas Noire
Large fruit which tasted good but not many of them. Largest weighed in at 410g. Also prone to splitting and BER.

Dense, compact bushy plant producing a good crop of billiard ball size fruit with good taste. Perfect for small spaces.
As a general observation I found that all the ribbed fruit were more prone to BER than any of the smooth varieties.

No pictures this post... we all know what a tomato looks like.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Nature's plentiful harvest

Well, after that cold and miserable start it's been a petty good year for us growers with some bumper crops. My fruit harvest in particular has been excellent and jam making has begun in earnest. Dear old Mother Nature has also been blessed this year with some amazing sights in the woods and hedgerows.

So far I've picked about twelve pounds of brambles and made some rather nice jelly. I prefer to strain out the seeds of these fruit as they stick in the gaps in my teeth and cause great annoyance!

This crab apple has so much fruit the branches are bent right down into the surrounding grass. The apples make a nice addition to home made cider and can also be used to add pectin to other preserves. Talking of preserves I found a jar of cherry and blackcurrant jam that I made in 2010 at the back of the cupboard. It's in perfect condition but I'm not sure how long it'll keep now that I've opened it. Just shows that preserving food really does work.

Other fruits growing in abundance round here are rose-hips, haws, rowan berries, elderberries and sloes, all of which can be used in jellies or jams or in numerous other ways. If anyone is not sure what to pick I'd recommend getting hold of a copy of Richard Mabey's book 'Food for Free'. I've had my copy nearly forty years but I'm pretty sure it's been reprinted many times as it's such a useful reference.

If you do get hold of a copy you could try some of the more esoteric foods such as pickled ash keys or water lily roots. I have to say that neither of the above appeal to me but it's useful to know that they are actually edible. 

Friday, 23 August 2013

shed hunting

There are not many things that a gardener would find it impossible to live without but I guess the most important of these is...the shed. To say mine is dilapidated would be an understatement. It was dropping to bits when we moved here seven years ago so you can imagine what all those Cumbrian winters have done to it. Lots of things live in it but that really isn't the purpose of a garden shed. Anyway, I need a new shed so it required a day out to see what was available. I think a slight upgrade is required and by re-arranging the concrete slab base I can fit a 10x6 where there is now just an 8x6. Wow, that's another twelve square feet of floor space to fill with rubbish!!

My wife seems to think that I have something akin to OCD in that I simply can't throw anything away. Not only that but I also can't pass something that I consider might be useful at some unspecified time in the future. So, I accumulate things and they end up in the shed and now I have to start the cull. I found a broken fold-up clothes dryer, lots of damp wood, boxes of rusty nails from when I worked on a construction site forty years ago, dozens of glass jars, assorted lengths of handy angle get the picture. Two trips to the recycling centre later and I now have a shed with nothing more in it than things I actually use. It looks empty.

While we were out shed hunting I took this picture of the bridge over the Border Esk at Longtown.

It's a lovely structure made of red sandstone and would have formed a border crossing  at some point in the fractious history between England and Scotland. Longtown is the most northerly English settlement of any size on the west side of the border which has shifted backwards and forwards many times over the centuries. Its main claim to fame is the huge livestock auction mart where hundreds of thousands of sheep are traded annually.

After all that I suppose a bit of gardening news might be appropriate. Everything is going according to plan, not that I have a plan but you know what I mean. I've had so much fruit this year that I left the cherry crop for the birds. With all the bush fruit now cooked, frozen or made into jam I'm waiting for the apples and plums

Sunday, 11 August 2013

amphibious visitors

We have a healthy population of amphibians in the garden, which is handy as they do like to eat some the things that nibble my precious veggies. I'd like to show you some of my web-footed pals.
This one was waiting outside the back door yesterday. They often seem to want get in and we've even had one in the living room when we left the patio doors open.

While clearing some rubbish this afternoon I met this one. The difference in colour between the two is quite striking.

Thankfully I've seen plenty of young ones this year so the population seems secure for the time being.

But, back to gardening. The onion crop is now drying nicely in the greenhouse.

Most of it is. I still have a block to lift but I have to say that, for all the good weather this summer, the onions are a little disappointing. Perhaps it's the lack of rain.....I never thought I'd say that, living in Cumbria!

The peas and broad beans are now finished but the french beans are in full production. No runners this year as I'm growing climbing french beans to see how they compare. Although runners are much more prolific the french beans seem more forgiving in that they don't go stringy quite so easily.

It looks like being a reasonable year for apples. After the June drop (in July) there are still too many fruit on a couple of the trees so I've been up the ladder thinning them out a bit. From the James Grieve I took at least a hundred small apples in order to end up with a crop of decent sized fruit. I suppose I'll now have to clean out the demijohn's and fermenting barrels in order to turn those glossy globes into alcohol....what a chore!

Wednesday, 7 August 2013


A neighbour popped round today with her mother-in-law who is also a gardener, but in Catalonia, Spain, where she has lived for the last ten years. I was very pleased that she was impressed with my meagre efforts but then she told me of her little plot. The poor dear has to manage with two acres from which she is more than self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables. She has a small almond grove and olive grove from which she produces all her own cooking oil! The hens provide all the eggs she needs and some meat which, along with the almonds, satisfies much of her protein requirement. At seventy-two years old she manages all this on her own which I found quite inspiring. I was also just a little envious.

Interestingly she also said that the Catalan people, even in the towns, have a very strong affinity with the land and with food. They tend to eat seasonally and mostly what can be grown different from the U.K. On that point she mentioned that she'd recently met a chap who was a fresh produce buyer for one of the major supermarkets. Our recent good weather has taken many by surprise so to keep the shelves stocked they were sourcing salad crops from Egypt. Now, the food value of a lettuce is negligible so can anyone explain the sense in shipping them thousands of miles?

Like me, she believes that in the very near future many people are going to get a nasty shock when they realize how much they are going to have to pay for their food. If you don't grow at least some of your own now might be a good time to start.

Well, that's the preachy bit over so now for something completely different. Earlier this year I was doubtful of ever seeing a butterfly in 2013 but now they are everywhere. Our buddleia was alive with them this afternoon. Peacocks, painted ladies, red admirals, tortoiseshells and the not so welcome whites. Butterflies in abundance after all the prophecies of doom. We think we know what's going on in the natural world but we really haven't a clue. Nature is in charge, not us.

Sorry, no pictures this time but I'm sure you all know what a butterfly looks like.

Monday, 29 July 2013

why do cucumbers hide?

I have three cucumber plants in the greenhouse and once they start producing fruit we have to go flat out to harvest and find uses for them all.The trouble is they sometimes hide as if determined to grow as large as possible.

This is a Spacemaster which managed to fall between two containers and keep out of sight until it was the size of a marrow. It weighs over 700g and will be going into a pan of cucumber soup tomorrow.

I keep going on about the size of the blackcurrant harvest this year but it really is exceptional. So far we've picked over 11kg from three bushes and we haven't finished yet. Tomorrow we're going shopping for a juicer to give us another way to use up our harvest. The apple crop is looking good and I do like apple juice...and cider!

Some of the onions are now ready for lifting so I have the first lot drying outside but will bring them into the greenhouse if it rains too much.

These were grown from sets planted close together in order to give small bulbs but the rest are wider spaced and are thickening up nicely. I have about 150 onions which have survived the hot weather without mishap but now that we've had some heavy rain I notice that a few have bolted. A sudden change of conditions seems to be the trigger for bolting but the weather is something beyond our control.

The squash plant that has decided to climb through the privet hedge has produced one large fruit with several smaller ones. The big boss fruit is about five inches in diameter and I've had to support it on some string in case it breaks free from its moorings.

Although my wife knits and crochets she point blank refuses to make little hammocks for my squashes!

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Progress report 2

I know the weather in the U.K. can vary quite dramatically from place to place but for the last few weeks it seems that the whole country has been basking in hot sunshine. So we should all be happy after the awful spring we had shouldn't we? Oh, come on, we're gardeners and we need something to moan about so if it's not too cold it must be...too hot. Well, from a container grower's point of view it is. The outdoor crops need watering at least once and day and the courgettes and tomatoes need it twice a day. The greenhouse crops are sometimes getting watered three times a day. If we could guarantee this kind of weather every year I'd invest in an automatic watering system and greenhouse shading, but we can't, so I won't. Talking of tomatoes, they are absolutely loving it. I've been picking smaller ones for the last few weeks but I got the first of the 'beefsteaks' today.

This is a Black Russian and weighed in at 244g. When sliced it looks like this:
not a pretty sight but they taste fantastic

Although this variety looks like being a heavy cropper it does seem prone to blossom end rot. That might be down to the exceptional conditions as the other varieties are doing ok.

Perhaps the most demanding crop at the moment is the celery. Even in the ground it requires plenty of water but in a fish box!

And so I'm throwing every spare bit of water at it to try and keep the compost at least moist. There are 8 plants in here with another 10 in two other containers. The variety is Loretta F1, the first F1 variety I've grown.  Last year I tried a 'heritage' variety 'Green Soup' and it was hopeless which can hardly have been down to a lack of water. It was so stringy and tough that the only way you could even use it in soup is if you blitzed it in a blender.

One of the most painful jobs in gardening has to be picking gooseberries. Some varieties are much more prickly than others and the Invicta bush was particularly troublesome this year. I decided with the Hinomaki Reds to remove some of the branches and pick the fruit from the comfort of my garden chair.

This is a much more civilized option than bending over a bush and being scratched and stabbed to bits. They 
didn't get pruned last year so I'm hoping it won't do them too much harm. I managed to get 1.7kg from this particular bush and I've left some for the birds. Most of the soft fruit harvest is going straight into the freezer until I can work out what I'm going to do with it all.

A lot of the winter crops are hanging around in pots waiting for a space to plant them out. I managed to squeeze 20 leeks into a large container but I've had to lift some of the potato crop a little before I wanted  to in order to get the rest of them into the ground. The Kestrels are averaging about 1.3kg of good spuds per seed after 14/15 weeks.
leeks in a container
I've cleared away the first of the peas and broad beans now they've finished and that's given me some space for cabbages and swedes. The heat of the day is likely to stress them a little but I'll try and give them some shade until they get established. One great advantage of sowing in modules/small pots is that things develop a good root system which does enable them to cope better with the shock of transplanting.

My food hedge has squashes as well as climbing beans this year.

This is Uchiki Kuri which started off climbing up some trellis leaning against the hedge then decided to go its own way and wandered off about 2 metres from where it started!

It should be a good year for crops like this as they really don't appreciate the cold and damp. As you can imagine, last year was not the best for squashes so I'm pinning my hopes on the good weather continuing.

So that's it. Things are going pretty much as they should be and I'm complaining about all the watering I have to do. I suppose I could also complain about the sheer amount of produce I'm having to deal with but that really would be a complaint too far.

Friday, 12 July 2013

so far it's a good year for...

well, just about everything in the garden. I'd forgotten what a difference a good summer can make to plant growth. Almost every crop is bigger and better than it's been for many years which creates a problem in that I have to keep on top of harvesting and then find something to do with it all.

These five radishes tipped the scales at 171g after topping and tailing. They were just freebie seeds of perfectly ordinary varieties: Scarlet Globe and French Breakfast but if they were any bigger I'd be inclined to say they were turnips, and all achieved with no digging and no chemicals.

The last few years have been very difficult for most growers, regardless of their methods. No matter what you do, if the weather is against you there's absolutely nothing you can do about it. Organic/non-organic becomes almost irrelevant when we are all struggling to get something to put on the table. So this year could be a test. What's going to come out on top, compost or chemicals?

I know where my sympathies lie but I don't have to feed the world. 

Tipped out a tub of Belle de Fontenay potatoes today. Not a huge yield but that's not why we grow those kinds of spuds. These are supposed to be one of those 'gourmet' varieties but the flavour was nothing outstanding. It was good but then so are many others. I suppose if you've never eaten anything but generic supermarket varieties and you paid ten quid for a plateful in a restaurant you might be impressed but I haven't and I wasn't.

This year's strawberry crop is shaping up to be exceptional as well, with some huge fruit. I've frozen a kilo in the last few days in readiness for jam making later in the year. The blackcurrants are also performing ahead of expectations and will be ready in the next few weeks.

I have four bushes which are laden with fruit which is good as I have a particular liking for blackcurrant jam and a neighbour who I swap with is an expert pie maker. I give her the fruit, she gives me a pie. Seems fair to me.

The one down-side for me so far this year has been the peas. I was trying a new variety 'Meteor' which is early but rather tasteless. Isn't the whole point of growing your own peas to have that fresh from the pod taste as you wander down the garden. If you just want something green on your dinner plate it's much easier just to go to Iceland. I had some seed of Early Onward but for some reason they just failed to germinate so I'm stuck with a load of peas which are fit for nothing but cooking. 

This is a well-camouflaged frog hiding among the polypots where my main potato crop is growing. I do hope he or she is on slug patrol!

I'd like to think that what I write in this blog is some vindication of the gardening methods I use up here at Solway Towers (it's really just a three bedroom semi but I've always been a dreamer). I don't dig, I don't use chemicals and I have healthy respect for everything else that shares this living space with me. And I can grow good fruit and veg.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

things as they should be

The awful cold spring, which held things back for weeks, has given way to the sort of summer we haven't seen in years. Growth is phenomenal and I'd say things are more or less where they should be. In fact, I reckon the main potato crop is ahead of last year. The Kestrels I've lifted are averaging about 3lbs per seed after 14 weeks so they should bulk up even more over the next few weeks. Had a feel of the polypots containing the Picasso and Red Cara and the tubers are pushing at the sides as if straining to get out!
'proper' sized Kestrel potatoes
In the last two days I've harvested potatoes, peas, broad beans, carrots, cabbage, beetroot, tomatoes, courgette, radishes, lettuce, spring onions, bulb onions, strawberries, gooseberries and rhubarb. Looks like a normal harvest for the time of year to me.

This is yesterday's harvest of broad beans and they were delicious. When I was watching the development of the plants in mid-May I would have said that they were three or four weeks behind but these have matured around the same time as expected.

I love beetroot as a cooked vegetable and can't understand why so many people's only experience of it is pickled in vinegar. We had these tonight with a cold chicken salad and their sweetness makes a great contrast with the sharpness of raw onion.

Changing the subject slightly, when I was in the garden this afternoon I heard the distinctive mewing call and looked up to see a pair of buzzards circling above the house.They had their attendant crows trying to scare them off but buzzards seem to have the perfect life and don't seem to be scared of much. Who wouldn't love to just fly around on thermal currents all day, expending very little energy and just dropping down every now and then to peck at some carrion. Most of the time they can't even be bothered to kill for themselves, preferring to let someone else do the dirty work then nicking the proceeds! 

Monday, 1 July 2013

Progress report

Well, we're past the longest day and into July so I suppose it's all downhill from here. Not a chance, this is where it all starts to take off. After the appalling spring we had I'm amazed at how quickly everything has caught up and many crops are where they should be at this time of year.

That top tomato is looking ready to eat but I'll give it another day or two. The earliest I've ever had tomatoes is the first week in June but for the last three or four years it's been July so no change there.

A lot of the 'heritage' tomatoes I grow have these heavily ribbed fruit which is probably why you don't see them in supermarkets.
tomato: vintage wine
People have become conditioned to see tomatoes as shiny red billiard balls but, like everything else in nature, diversity is what really counts. I know I have a habit of ranting a bit sometimes but I feel that my generation was the last in this country to have any real connection with food and the land. Growing up in the country and having a grandad who kept hens and grew his own food (and tobacco) probably helped. Sorry, wandering off topic again.

The blackcurrants are ripening nicely (on track again) and it looks like a truly bumper crop this year. Last year I was trying to deal with a severe aphid infestation at this time and the crop was mediocre.

We've been harvesting potatoes and carrots for a while and have now started on the overwintered onions. This year I've grown them all in containers rather than the veg plot. They are smaller due to being closer spaced but still useful.

The main crop of seed-sown and set onions have plenty of top growth and will be swelling  now that the days are shortening. I keep trying get to get a twelve month supply of onions but usually only manage nine or ten months because the little beggars have the annoying habit of sprouting when it gets to March!

After a slow start it looks like we'll actually get a broad bean harvest.

Due to the windy conditions up here I usually only grow a dwarf variety (Sutton) but I've also got a tall longpod variety this year and guess what? We had strong winds at the weekend and they were battered and bent this morning. Lesson learned!

In case you think it's all gardening and nothing else up here at Solway Towers we had a day out today.

This is a view across Bassenthwaite Lake from the road over Whinlatter pass. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, Bassenthwaite is the only lake in the Lake District....all the others are meres, waters or tarns. There, you learn something every they tell me.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

cordial greetings

Elderflower cordial, that is. Most years I make a refreshing elderflower champagne which is a lovely and mildly alcoholic summer drink but this year I'm having a go at a cordial instead.
elderflowers growing at the bottom of the garden
I'm lucky to have elder growing at the bottom of the garden but the hedgerows hereabouts are also laden with gorgeous white flowers so no shortage of raw material. Now, If only I had my own lemon tree!

There are plenty of recipes on the internet but I'm going to use the one on the BBC Food site. It uses citric acid as a preservative which is fine as I want to keep the cordial to dilute when I want with sparkling water.

Everything on the plot is looking as it should do at this time of year, most things having caught up in the recent good weather. We are starting to harvest crops and have had the first carrots, onions and peas, in addition to a steady stream of new potatoes and salads.
some of our first carrots, grown in a plastic flower bucket.
The ladder garden that I cobbled together last year has been pressed into service as a home for lettuce.
ladder garden leaning against an apple tree
Last year it had spring onions and radishes but I have them in small pots dotted around the garden this time. Vertical gardening is a great way to make use of spare bits of space in order to maximize cropping potential. I'd still do it even if it wasn't for the simple reason that I love messing around and making things. Most of the materials I get for nowt or for a knock-down price which is an even bigger incentive for a Yorkshireman!

For those of you unfamiliar with our motto, here it is:
     Hear all, see all, say nowt;
     Eat all, sup all, pay nowt;
     And if ivver tha does owt for nowt
     Allus do it for thissen.

Translations are available via the internet!

Friday, 21 June 2013


This is the first one of the year and it weighed in at 364g. We had it with our stir-fry evening meal although most of the other ingredients were shop-bought. Although we've had some wet summers recently I still don't think conditions are quite right for growing rice in Cumbria!

Now, the trouble with courgettes is that once they start producing they just keep going so you have to come up with increasingly innovative ways to use up the darn things. I have three plants this year and already there are six fruit approaching picking stage. Can I ask the dear readers of this blog how they deal with all their courgettes. 

I try to stagger all my sowing/planting in order to ensure continuity of supply through the season and avoid gluts but this year is going to be a bit of a challenge (aren't they all!). Because of the slow start I'm finding that a lot of things just hung around and sulked till about mid May then took off like rockets with the end result that I have a lot of stuff all ready at the same time. I suppose creative cooking might be the answer but I don't really do that sort of thing. Soup...that's the answer. I'm going to invent some new soups so watch this space.

I think I posted on one of the veg growing forums that, because of the amount of disease last year, we should all be keeping an eye on our crops this year as some of it would be carried over on infected plant material. So far I've lost seven potato plants to blackleg, all with seed from a respected Scottish supplier. This to me is an unacceptable level of contamination for what is supposed to be certified seed. Even more annoying is that they were Lady Christl, may favourite new potato.

But we are managing to eat some. I lifted these yesterday
so all is not lost and if the weather stays kind to us we might just get a decent harvest this year.

Monday, 17 June 2013

flowers and veg

If anyone needed an excuse to grow flowers among their fruit and vegetables let me give one.

A small clump of chives in the soft fruit area of the garden. This morning they were alive with pollinating insects but the tortoiseshell butterfly flew off just before the shutter clicked. Without these insects we'd all be in deep trouble so do try and make room for them wherever you can.

When I started this garden seven years ago the idea was not just for it to provide fresh fruit and veg for myself and family but for it to be also an essential part of the local ecosystem. I could have created a sterile oasis that still produced food but at what cost?

Neatly ordered it ain't but the variety of wildlife it now supports never ceases to amaze me.

This is a shot taken from the bedroom window. The main veg plot is on the left but I have containers dotted about all over the place.

The east boundary of the garden is a dense privet hedge which is home to numerous house sparrows, blackbirds and song thrushes. They like to eat young pea shoots, etc. but they also eat some of the nasties like caterpillars and grubs so, as long as I protect my young peas, an uneasy truce is maintained and we co-exist. I don't normally cut the hedge until June in the hope that the first clutch of eggs is hatched and away. It gets another trim in late summer and that's usually it. An untidy hedge is not a cause for concern to me but a garden without birds would be!

If you want to encourage diversity in your garden you have to be prepared for at least a little untidiness. Neatly manicured lawns and immaculate flower beds fill me with horror. I just don't understand their purpose. My veg patch is kept weeded but the rest of the garden is more or less left to its own devices. I have sown wildflower seeds and planted spring bulbs but these are dotted among everything else, including dandelions. A lot of people reach for the Roundup as soon as they spot a dandelion but their seed heads are a great source of food for many bird species. Anyway, with 'weeds' rampant in neighbouring gardens and in the surrounding countryside killing a few dandelions is certainly not going to stop their wind-borne seeds from settling on your precious plot.

At the bottom of my garden I have a boggy 'woodland' area. This is overhung by neighbour's trees and also has a couple of my own apples. The canopy is quite open so underneath I have rhododendrons for a bit of colour with raspberries and gooseberries for food. The ground has clumps of shade-loving wild garlic so I suppose this is what people now call 'forest gardening' but it just seemed a sensible use of space to me.

Three years ago I built a big pile of large stones close to the cherry tree and just left it to see what would happen. Very soon it was covered in grass and assorted 'weeds' but it also sprouted self-seeded raspberry, blackcurrant and bramble plants along with holly and a couple of unknown shrubs. I'm pretty sure these arrive in the droppings of birds which peck at the cherries or simply roost in the tree. Amphibians also love to shelter in the damp nooks and crannies between the stones and there are shrews and hedgehogs regularly seen there.

In addition to the boulder heap I also pile up all tree and shrub prunings and leave them over winter as a refuge for whatever fancies living among them. In late spring, when the hibernating creatures are moving about, the rubbish goes through the shredder and is composted. And that's another thing, the big open compost heap is winter home to yet more life. When I dig into it in spring you should see the ensuing feeding frenzy as birds from all around come to search for their creepy-crawly dinner.

To me, all of this seems like a win-win situation. Insects pollinate my plants, birds eat insects, amphibians and hedgehogs eat slugs and snails and I get to eat as much fresh fruit and vegetables as I want. It's a cycle and, so long as I don't upset the balance too much, it will simply keep on going.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

at last....

I know it's been a while but there really has been a lot of catching up to do and the outside is always preferable to sitting at a computer. Anyway, I have finally got all the summer/autumn veggies into position and growing away nicely. Just the winter veg. to go in but they'll have to wait for space to become available.

These are self-blanching celery in deep tubs. Last year's celery was a disaster, like so many things, so I'm trying an F1 variety. As long as you keep them well watered they do fine in containers.

Broad beans have plenty of flowers but no pods yet, unlike the first peas which should be ready for picking in a week or two.

Because we have salad crops throughout the year I grow them in small amounts in any old container that's going spare and just leave them wherever there's a gap.

The thought of a 20 foot row of bolted lettuces sends shivers down my spine but that's what so many people end up with because they are led to believe that home growers should follow the same rules as farmers and grow everything in long straight lines.

I try my best to garden in a wildlife-friendly fashion and find that this actually pays dividends in the long term. Admittedly, I lose a few things to birds and slugs unless I take elaborate counter measures but overall the pest problem is minimised by having some sort of balance. Here's a frog sunbathing on the front lawn. Must be different to the one that jumped out of the compost heap in the morning unless he took the long way round! Frogs eat slugs and not vegetables so I like frogs.

You may have noticed that the lawn is not neatly manicured. I don't play bowls and anyway it's on a slope so I couldn't if I wanted to. No need for a velvety sward then. It does have buttercups and daisies and dandelions and frogs...what more could a gardener want.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

container crazy

I had a count up today and I currently have 151 assorted containers with edibles growing in them. Still have the squashes and melons to pot up but I'm about on a par with previous years. To be honest I couldn't really accommodate any more unless I started covering the back lawn and there would be voices raised in protest if I tried that.

They range in size from 6 inch pots of spring onions to a wheelbarrow with potatoes growing away nicely.

I don't know why people bother growing things like spring onions and salad leaves on the plot when they are quite happy to grow in containers and you can place them near the back door for the convenience of just popping out for a bit of lunchtime sandwich filling. My aim is to get a more or less continuous supply of such things by making small sowings every few weeks and with the greenhouse I can usually manage to pick something most days except in the most severe cold spells. 

This is the tatie barrow with 5 Kestrel plants in it. When they are finished I'll follow with another crop depending on what plants I have available. The problem this year is that things are so late there may be nothing suitable though I suppose a late sowing of kale or some overwintering crop would be OK.

I found this large mineral lick tub washed up on the shore last winter. The bottom was cracked so it was no use for putting liquid in but a few big drain holes and it's home to another four spud plants.
The square red pot behind it has a courgette in it. I'm only growing the round courgettes this year, rather than the long ones as I find them more convenient and particularly handy for stuffing.

The big downside to all this container craziness is that in the unlikely event of hot dry weather they do use a lot of water. They also take a lot a lot of compost to fill them and it wouldn't make economic sense if I bought the commercial stuff so I make most of my own.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

I'll be with you in... blossom time, although it's a bit late this year. This might be a good thing as there's plenty of blossom and plenty of insects about so things are looking good for an excellent harvest.

This is my James Grieve which is absolutely covered in flowers. For every one of the seven years we have been here this tree has given us a bumper harvest and is one I would recommend for anyone living in northern England or Scotland. 

Winter Gem is just coming into flower and should give us our first crop this year. This one is three years old and has had to put up with some pretty awful springs in its short life.

This is the unknown cooker. A monster of a tree which must be nearly 30 feet tall and was probably planted shortly after the house was built about 60 years ago. It has always been an erratic performer and I suspect is nearing the end of its useful life. It casts quite a lot of shade over the veg patch and I was going to cut it down and replace it last winter but never got round to it. A job for next winter I guess. Having worked in forestry for a number of years I have a bit of a thing for trees and don't like to destroy them for no reason but they are a crop like any other and when they stop producing they have to go. A good friend of mine is a sculptor/wood carver who makes lovely little boxes from fruit woods so nothing will be wasted. We'll get some excellent firewood and the small branches will be shredded...recycling at its best!

The Elstar and Egremont Russet are also flowering so it looks like cider making will be taking up some of my time in the autumn. We have plenty of wild crab apples growing round here and I can get apples from my neighbours who, for some odd reason, grow them but don't use them!!

Changing the subject slightly, the cherry tree is also festooned in blossom.

Now all I have to do is keep the birds off the cherries...not an easy task.