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.