Monday 17th January 2022 – A busy afternoon in the garden.

At this time of year a couple of my client’s only need me for a half day tidying their garden, where as most still need me to be in their garden for a whole day. When I get half days I take the opportunity to get bits done in my garden and this afternoon was no exception.

First of all a quick sort out of a client’s plants that I’m looking after in my greenhouse until they get big enough to plant outside. This morning I did plant out 72 plants for them and hopefully when I see them on the first Monday of February (3 weeks time), then more will be ready. I’ve got about another 120 plants to put in for them, all perennials and of various heights. Can’t wait to see what colours they’ll bring this year in their garden and all the bulbs I planted late last year are starting to appear as well.

Then it was time to sow some seeds for me. January is a fairly quiet month for seed sowing and it was just Leeks “Musselburgh” and Onions “Globo”.

I put some multipurpose compost in a seed tray, firmed it down, watered it, sowed the seeds and then labelled. The seeds look exactly the same so be careful.

Because it’s still very cold outside and to give them a little more protection, not only from the cold, but also from any mice that get in the greenhouse at night I’m putting a propagator lid on the top. I’ll check them regularly and water if necessary. You want to keep them moist and not wet if that makes sense.

Here’s a video with more information for you. It was made 3 years ago, but all the information is still the same.

I also sowed some mixed Cactus just to see what they do. The Cactus need warmth so the greenhouse is no good for them so they’re on a window sill inside, I’m hoping the Spider plant they’re growing next to will take care of them and show them how to grow.

I’ve got lots of Sempervivums growing in a large pot outside and they’ve been producing loads of babies over the years. Mine stay outside all year, get covered in snow, attacked by frost and still keep going. So I’m just trying to propagate them, so I’ll start with one first of all and then if that works then I’ll try the rest. Bizarrely the Mother plant is called a ‘Hen’ and her babies are called ‘Chicks’.

I just cut two of the chicks off, making sure I left a decent amount of stem, and then filled one pot with multipurpose compost and another with ericaceous compost. I made sure both were moist and will see which does better. Succulents prefer sandier soil so I’ll see how each one does before I plant anymore. I poked the stem of each chick in the compost and they’re now sitting in the greenhouse and I’ll check on them regularly and water if necessary. Make sure you doing over water because they don’t like it.

Ericaceous on the left. Multipurpose on the right.

While I was out in the garden I put the chicken in one of the brassica cages to play. They love having a scratch in there and with all their scratching about they break down the soil beautifully for me, also not forgetting all the poop they put in the soil as well. While they were happy I dug up the rest of my Beetroot from last year.

We’ve been eating lots of it, but now I need to get the rest up and sorted so I can prepare the soil for this season. Beetroot are easy to dig up, just a gentle dig with a spade is all that is needed. As I harvest them I like to separate them out into sizes then I don’t have to go through them once they’re all done. Usually it’s a tray for small, medium and large. But this year I had to add ****ing huge to that as well.

But they’re all up now and I’ve got a good haul to go through. Most of them I’ll boil, peel and then freeze and we’ll use as and when we need them, but some I’ll put in the fridge and I’ll cut up into pieces and roast with other veggies. An impressive bunch this year.

And here is my largest…… Yes you are reading that correctly…

I also harvested some carrots and Brussels sprouts for dinner that evening and the chickens obviously had the tops of the sprouts which they devoured. I must have spent a good couple of hours, if not longer in the garden, but as it does about 3.45pm it starts to get cold again because the sun will be setting in about an hour. So I packed up all my tools and tidied up. I put the beetroot in the greenhouse and will sort those tomorrow afternoon.

The chickens were had a wonderful time in the brassica cage and soon it was time for them and me to go back inside. Now the chickens like their afternoon corn and mealworms, they need to have full tummy’s before bed time. Come on, follow mummy. Make sure you watch until the very end.

Stay warm and toasty everyone and here’s to the start of a wonderful 2022 xxx

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Potatoes have arrived!

It’s that time of year when the seed potatoes I ordered a couple of months ago arrive through the post. It always makes me happy because it means that the growing season is starting.

The weather is cold and most mornings we have either frost or fog, but by the afternoon usually they’ve gone and the sun is out. A memory from last year came up on my Facebook page today reminding me that this time last year we had snow. At the time it wasn’t much, but we then got quite a lot more and I was unable to work for a week, to be honest we couldn’t get the car out of the courtyard onto the road. It’s something we get used to so are prepared. The kids went sledging one afternoon in the snow and were gone for hours. I say kids, at the time they were 18 and two of them were 21, so not really kids. Although the way they played in the snow……

There is no snow on the cards at the moment, but I’m sure we’ll get some before the winter is through.

I’ve got a quiet week at work this coming week so have lots planned in the garden. I’ve got seeds to sow, various veggies to harvest and more tidying up to do. Also the on going job of stopping certain creatures that keep burrowing under next doors fence and into our garden. You think you stop them and then they find another way in. I will win one day, I think it’s rats, but I’ve ordered a wildlife camera to see exactly what it is. Hopefully they’ll arrive this week and then I’ll know for certain. Little buggers. They don’t seem to be eating anything, just digging the woodchips on the back path. I’m now wondering if it’s a stoat? Hopefully this question will be answered when I get my camera.

Anyway back to the potatoes. Once you get your spuds you’ll need to take them out their packaging and start the “chitting” process. This sounds complicated but isn’t. Check each potato over and if any are soft or have started to go mouldy then get rid of them. Next just put the potatoes in a single layer on a metal or plastic tray, or if you have lots of egg boxes these are perfect. Just put one seed potato where the egg used to go. Then put them on a window sill so they don’t have to stretch for the light and just leave them to do their thing for a couple of months.

What you want to end up with are short stumpy shoots. If they have to stretch for the light, then you’ll end up with long thin shoots that will break off very easily. Here’s a video I made a couple of years ago with a little more information on.

I know that some people only chit their first and second earlies, but I do all mine, always have done. Just let them do their thing until you plant them outside from the middle of March. This year I have two different varieties of potatoes “Jazzy” and “Sarpo Mira”.

Here they are on the window sill keeping Prickly Pete company.

Anything else I do this week I’ll keep you posted on. Hope you have a wonderful week and are able to get something done in you garden.

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Christmas time in my garden

Especially at this time of year the only time I only get to do anything in my garden is at the weekend. This is because when I finish work at 4pm it’s nearly dark and by the time I get home then it is completely dark and I can’t do anything outside apart from tucking the chicken in for the night. I do try and do a little bit before I go to work, but I’m very limited on time.

I know that lots of seasonal gardeners say “Well there’s nothing to do in the garden at this time of year.” But as you and I know there is plenty to do, sometimes more so than at any other time of year. This is why I’m baffled as to why our local council stop garden waste collection between the middle of December and don’t resume again until early March! Several trips down the tip to get rid of the garden waste is needed for me. I can’t have a compost heap, I used to, but the rats made a home in it, and I’d rather try and keep them out of my garden than encourage them in. But all the pruning can’t really go in there, and the brassica stalks don’t break down very well, so I bag it up, book a slot, pack it in the car and then take it to the tip and put it in the garden waste area.

So once Christmas was over, and as I’m not going back to work until Tuesday 4th January 2022, it was time to get out in my garden and get things sorted and ready for the beginning of the next season.

The greenhouses were the first thing to get tidied. I’ve got some plug plants in the large greenhouse that I potted up in the Autumn, some were for Christmas gifts for my client’s, but whatever is left is for me. I gave them a little prune and a reshuffle so they’re all now neat and tidy. Watering isn’t too necessary at the moment as it’s not hot, but as long as the compost is damp then they’ll be fine. I just check them once a week and give them a little water if necessary. All the trays are back in the staging and I’ve tidied up the onions and trimmed off their tops and sorted out any that have gone soft. Again I’ll check them once a week to make sure no others have gone soft and either use the soft ones but if they’re rotten then get rid of them. I think I only ended up getting rid of about half a dozen, still got loads which should keep us going until early March at least.

I then tidied the other greenhouse and did pretty much the same, but I have some plants for a client’s garden that I’m looking after in there, and when they’re ready to plant out in their garden, I’ll do that. They should be ready in a couple of months time.

The climbing rose by the patio I pruned right back, I do this every year. It has glorious red flowers and keeps going all Summer and Autumn and into the early part of the Winter. I’ve got it climbing up a metal structure, but would rather it grow up the fence. But the fence between us and our neighbour is very rickety and on his deeds it belongs to him, but on ours it belongs to both of us? So I don’t know who’s responsible for paying for a new one. He’s propped it up his side, and when it finally gets replaced then I’ll start growing the rose up the new fence, but for the time being it’ll have to do as it is. There are more pressing issues like a new kitchen for us (I’ve never had one) and Mark has promised I’ll get one this year). Oh and not forgetting the pump to our cesspit, that is hanging on by its last legs. Yes we have one of those, actually 3 properties go into it, and we have to be very careful what goes down our loos. The 3 P’s go down the loo “Paper, Pee and Poo!” Nothing else. Don’t flush wipes people they don’t break down and clog everything up. If you have to use them, then put them in the bin!

I also tidied up what I call the “Hydrangea bed”, mainly because there are two hydrangeas growing in there as well as various other plants. It’s a bed that doesn’t see a huge amount of sunlight at this time of year, as it’s right up against the house, so plants that don’t mind shade are perfect, so I’ve got a Hellebore, some Heucheras, and some Ferns and grasses, as well as various other plants. They all seem to be happy there.

I’ve sorted out all my seeds for next year. I went though them all, and any packets of vegetable seeds that I sowed last year that didn’t germinate I got rid of. Sometimes you have to be ruthless. I’m planning on keeping it simple next year……doubt if that’ll happen. But I’ve got all the seeds I want, just ordered the last few from Moles Seeds like Onion seeds, Kohl Rabi (which I’ve not grown for years), as well as some pens to write on labels and then some red poppies to put round the church war memorial. They should arrive very soon. The seeds are now all sorted out in the months I want to sow them in and also which order I want to so them in. I know that sounds very anal, but when time is limited you need to be organised.

I also planted our the rest of my garlic, so hopefully the weather will get cold and then the cloves will split and grow really large. I have 2 varieties of garlic from Sutton Seeds this year “Elephant” and “Vallelado Organic”. Yes I know that Elephant garlic isn’t a true garlic, but I thought it would be fun to give it a go, and surely that’s what gardening is all about.

I’ve also tidied in and around all my brassicas. The dead leaves had gathered on the ground and were looking rather messy. They’re all cleared up now and I also removed any leaves that were about to drop off the brassica plants. Climbing in the brassica cage was interesting, especially when you’re not as bendy as you used to be, but I managed. I can’t say that I looked very good climbing out backwards, but hey I was in the garden on my own wearing my wellies and waders and it’s not a fashion show, and to be honest I don’t care if it looked weird.

A while back I got some wood chips delivered. I got them free because one of my client’s was having some trees sorted out so I asked the tree surgeons if they would drop a load off by my back gate. They were happy to because otherwise they’d have to take them back to their yard and then dispose of them, so I was helping them out. In October I had planned to shovel them in to certain areas of my garden as well as give the chickens some for their run, but I caught covid, not bad, but it meant that I couldn’t do much because my energy levels were so low. I’m completely recovered now so that great. So now I’ve finally been able to spread them about in various areas in the garden. So I shovelled a load between the large raised beds, at the back of the garden and the chickens also have some in their run. The area look all neat and tidy now which is good. There are still a few left, but I’ll just spread them on the track that runs along the side of our house as it gets a little bit flooded there at this time of year. Our other neighbour has a tractor so that compresses the ground a lot.

Another job that I’ve been wanting to get done is to repoint the patio. The sand between the paving slabs is perfect for the weeds to make a home in and grow. I’m forever picking them out, but want to do something more permanent, so I’ve been removing any loose bit between the slabs and hopefully I’ll be able to get some cement in the gaps before I go back to work. I might give the slabs a blast with the pressure hose first as they are a little mossy and dirty. I’ll keep you posted on how I get on.

Fast forward a few days…..

Well, I’ve spent the last couple of days, and it ran over into the week I went back to work because it was a bigger job than I had thought. I removed any crap from between the paving slabs and mixed together some builders sand and some cement. I added enough water to the mixture to make it hold together when you squeeze it in your hand, but then when you push it with your finger it falls apart. I watched a video online to make sure I was doing it right. I sound like my son George as his stories usually start with…..”I saw this video online……”. Although now he’s at uni they usually start….”Well I’d had quite a lot to drink…..”. Bless him. Does that mean I’m down and hip with the young people now?

I was going to used the pressure hose on the patio before I repointed it, but the pressure hose is in the garage and something has nibbled the hose! Bet I know what that animal was. So I couldn’t do that. It took about 3 hours to repoint the entire patio, which I then left for 24 hours and then swept the excess off the following day. The plant pots, BBQ, table and benches are now back on the patio in their proper places and the patio looks much neater. Hopefully 99% of the weeds will be kept at bay now, and if I do spot any I’ll remove them.

Well that was a fun filled Christmas and New Year. I would say a relaxing time, but you know me, always doing something. The weather is going to start getting cold now so I’d better get my full set of thermals out. No snow down in Kent….yet anyway, I’m sure it’ll appear by the end of the month or into February. But we’ll just have to wait and see. We’ve been here for 4 winters and we’ve been snowed in for 3 of them. This is our 5th winter so I expect it’ll happen again. But hey ho if you live where we do, it’s something you have to get used to. That and when you drive down the road expect sheep, swans, horses, peacocks, people and anything else you can think of in the road. Coming round the corner and coming face to face with a massive tractor, now that’s fun.

Happy New Year everyone! Here’s to a very successful 2022 in the garden, seeing family and friends that you’ve been unable to see for a very long time and generally having a wonderful time.

Claire xxx

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Sunday 26th September 2021 – Grape harvest!

This weekend looks to be the last weekend of summer weather, as next week rain is coming in and the temperature will definitely feel more autumnal. Still we’ve had a lovely Summer, albeit a little wetter than last year and this caused problems with blight on most of my tomatoes and some of my potatoes. But other things thrived like courgettes, onions and sweetcorn. So swings and roundabouts really. But that’s the joy of gardening, you never know what each year will bring, I think that’s why I love it so much.

With Autumn upon us the big tidy up can begin. It’ll be slow to start with as much is still in the ground, but soon it’ll all come at once. Got to fill up the garden waste bin completely before every collection, well we pay for it so I’ve got to get my monies worth out of it. They don’t collect ours all year, they stop just before Christmas and then start again at the beginning of March. Their theory is people don’t garden during the winter months? Excuse me! Surely that’s the busiest time with all the pruning and tidying up. But apparently they know more about gardening than we do. If I have too much garden waste in the garage then I’ll have to book a slot and take it down to the tip and put it in their garden waste there.

Anyway back to the calm of my garden….

I let all the chickens out in the garden to play together. Victoria is showing them who is boss, but I can’t leave them alone while I quickly pop inside because I don’t know what they’ll get up to. The new ones tend to keep together most of the time, rarely going onto the grass. One however is a little braver than the others and jumped up into the utility room, just to see where I was going. Victoria has never even done that. I think little and often is the key to they settling down together, it could take a few weeks but we’ll get there.

For dinner we had pork, so I wanted to harvest some veggies to go with it. For some reason this year I don’t seem to be able to grow any straight carrots. To be honest I don’t mind. These ones however weren’t as wonky as the last lot, but still several legs were on show. I also harvested 4 corns. There are only a couple left now, so I’ll have to pick them soon before they go over. The corn has done really well this year, better than usual. I think they also prefer the cooler wetter summers. So with corn on the cob and crackling from the pork, dinner was a messy affair, but very tasty.

I removed the remaining runner beans and tidied up the cane structure. The structure will be a permanent fixture and next year I’ll grow cucumbers up one side and tomatoes up the other…maybe….that’s the plan so far, but it might change. A couple of the canes had come loose, so I reattached them. Cable ties seem to work well, and are strong. I know they’re not particularly eco friendly, but they’ll last for a very long time and are cheap to get hold of from Screwfix. I got some new coloured solar fairy lights so they are draped over the bamboo structure now. Feels like Christmas in the garden.

Just before I went in at the end of the day Mark and I harvested the grapes. I don’t know what varieties they are because one I got from my auntie and uncle’s garden before they moved to Spain, and the other one was from where I used to work at a garden nursery and didn’t have a label on. I was told to put it on the compost, but I asked if I could take it home instead. Well it’s flourishing in my garden with lots of Claire loving, like all my plants really, as well as my chickens…..oh and the humans in the family of course. This is the best year I’ve ever had with grapes, I managed to get an entire bowl full. I washed them, and now they’re in the freezer and over the winter when I have a little more time (hahaha), I’ll make some grape jelly from them. Now I just need to tidy up the grapevines which are growing over the metal arch and then they’ll be ready for next year. I have one vine planted each side of the arch and wanted them to grow up each side and meet in the middle which is exactly what they doing. I’m so proud of them.

Well that was it for today, it’ll see what other sorting and tidying I can do this week when I get home from work.

Happy gardening xxx

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Canals, Chickens and Courgettes!

Well the title says it all really, but I’ll go into a little more detail for you because I know you’ll want to hear it.

I finally had a little weeks holiday. It was a long time coming, and this particular holiday had to be postponed a couple of times because of that other C word…..no not that one although I felt like saying that word quite a few times, but the other one.

But finally my little holiday had arrived. I didn’t go with the family, but 7 other bell ringing friends. So after leaving instructions for what to eat for dinner and how to look after Victoria (our chicken), off I went to have a leisurely time on a narrowboat, and a little bit of ringing as well. Look you can’t go on a holiday with 8 bell ringers and not go ringing it’s just not normal.

Our first ring on Sunday morning for their service.

I had never been on a narrowboat before so this was all very new for me. Once you go used to how little space there was (which didn’t take long) then it was fine. Our boat was called Louise and was 70 foot long, which seems incredibly long when you have to drive, or pilot it from the back, there is a lot of boat in front of you. I’m glad to say that when I piloted the boat for a very brief time I was told I did very well. I think they were being nice, although I didn’t crash into anything, so I guess I did alright. Near the end of the holiday I even managed to pilot the boat in and out of two locks which I was very impressed with.

Concentrating very hard on not crashing into anything.

Everyone mucked in and helped with various things, it all worked out very well. The weather was brilliant, with most of the days hot and sunny. We did have one day where it poured with rain, but most of us had bought water proofs and I had my wellies and a full set of waterproofs (including my sexy waders) so I was lovely and dry.

Just a gentle sail along the canal in the sunshine.

In the evenings after dinner we played various games, many were new to me, but I got the hang of fairly quickly. I think my favourite was Rummikub, I was even taught how to play poker, I did make sure I could keep my clothes on for that particular game.

The gentle rocking of the boat made you sleep soundly and in the morning we all woke up at various times to have breakfast and then were usually off sailing again about 10.30am. Sometimes we had a cooked breakfast which was amazing, and other times it was toast and cereal.

As the boat was chugging along, if you wanted to get off and have a walk then you waited until you got to a bridge because it narrowed a little and the boat slowed and off you hopped. I did that a couple of times. You just walked along the canal path and when you wanted to get back on the boat you just waited until you reached another bridge and then hopped back on. No one ended up falling in the water this year so that was a bonus.

We rang at 4 different towers, which were all beautiful bells to ring. I know many of you will wonder what I mean by beautiful bells. Well some bells sound fabulous, but are a bugger to ring and others are easy to ring but sound awful. But all these towers the bells sounded fabulous and were easy to ring. It’s a bit like a car, some cars are much easier to drive than others. After ringing for 35 years you know when bells are good ones….Yes I’m that old!

Brinklow church. I think these were my favourite.

When I returned home after some lovely welcome home cuddles from Mark and the kids I went out to see Victoria. She gave me a look as if to say “Where on earth have you been?” and wandered off. She soon came round and we had a little cuddle and a wander round the garden and greenhouses.

Everything in the garden looked ok, although some plants in the greenhouses had been over watered, so I quickly sorted them out. One thing I didn’t put on the list before I went away was to harvest the courgettes. Silly me, I thought the humans would look and pick some, but as it wasn’t in their job description they didn’t do it. Before I left for my little gallivant on the canals, my courgettes were very tiny, a little bigger than my thumb, but by the time I returned they had grown a little larger….just a little larger.

Yes they are courgettes, although I think they have ideas of grandeur.

On the Sunday we took our son off to university. It’s his first year and we needed to get him settled into his new room. I was fine until I hugged him goodbye and then the memories of dropping him off for his first day a nursery and primary school came flooding back. It doesn’t matter how old they are, he’ll still be my little baby, even at 6 foot 1.5 inches! When he comes back for Christmas I expect he’ll be taller still.

The following weekend Mark and I drove to Aylesford to pick up 6 new little friends for Victoria. This time we got them from Fresh Start for Hens. I was very surprised how many feathers they had, and they’re not as flitty as normal. Before we put them in their carrying box I popped in to the pet store to get a few bits. As I left the store, one chicken flew up onto the verrander clearly trying to escape. The lady below couldn’t get to her, so I picked her up and said “Well you’re coming home with me then.” I walked down the steps and towards Mark. “I’ve got one!” I said.

They have all settled in very well and as I write this they have had their second lot of worming medicine, just 1 more days to go. And I’ve rubbed in some louse powder into their feathers, just incase. They’re laying very well and have had a little wander around the garden. We do have names for them all, but they all look so similar it’s going to be difficult, so I may just call them all “my darlings”. One does have a slight limp, not sure why, her legs feel fine, but I’ll see how she goes she may just have pulled something, so at the moment she’s called “limpy”.

Our new little ones.

It’ll be a case of introducing them together gradually because I can’t cope with any fighting. They all seem very happy and chatty with each other and can see each other all the time so hopefully that’ll help when they all finally come together.

More tidying of the garden this week, the weather is turning more autumnal now and various veggies are finishing, some are still going but will finish in about a months time, but others still have lots more growing to do.

Have a wonderful week and weekend and I’ll see you soon xx

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Blooming flowers!

There’s only a month of Summer left, then we’ll be into Autumn. The weather clearly has other ideas and has decided that Summer has finished because, even though it’s very humid, still the clouds and rain stop the sun from shining. But some plants are loving this sort of weather.

Yes I’m harvesting all sorts from the garden, and spaces are now appearing where veggies were once growing, but the chickens seem to enjoy having dust baths in these places. The days are getting shorter and we have to draw the curtains earlier than normal.

I am still wearing my shorts during the day at work, but the grass is moist first thing in the morning. There are loads of upside and the garden hasn’t finished looking beautiful just yet.

The Hydrangeas,

Roses,

Marigolds,

Nasturtiums,

And Fuchsias are in full bloom.

The Chrysanthemums are just starting to flower.

There is still loads of life left in the garden and still loads more colour to see.

Soon the mass tidy up will arrive, although I’m starting that with some things already. Now is the time to be ordering your Spring flowering bulbs, or you can go and have a look in your local garden centre, but they may not have then quite yet, so be patient.

Enjoy all the colours that are in your garden at the moment, but make sure you make the most of the warmth we have because soon it’ll be too cold to sit outside in the evening, unless you’re wearing a blanket.

Take care,

Claire xx

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Monday 9th August 2021 – Rain Stopped play

Now I’ll work in rain, but not heavy rain. We were woken up before the alarm goes off at 6.30am by rain hammering down on the Velux windows. Would it clear by the time I was due to leave at 8.45am? Well that was anyone’s guess. I watched the weather forecast on BBC Breakfast and apparently it was supposed to. However, the BBC app on my phone said otherwise. The rain did stop, but then started again, just out of spite as I was leaving home. I arrived at my clients house, and we had a little discussion about what to do. We all came to the sensible conclusion that I should call it quits and go home, so I did.

I had plenty to do at home so the day wouldn’t be wasted. I was calling it a “Bonus Day at home”. If the weather dried up in the afternoon then I would go out in my garden and see what needed to be done out there……there’s always plenty to do anyway.

After all the usual household chores, catching up on various emails and other things, I made some chocolate cornflake cakes. These would hopefully be set in time for lunch. Then a few more household things and before I knew it, it was time for lunch.

By the time lunch was over the skies had cleared and the sun came out, so I put on my wellies and went out in my garden to have a play.

There’s always something to do in the garden, so firstly I harvested some beans and carrots for dinner that evening. I mixed all the carrots seeds together so when you dig up a load you get a good mixture. They all seem to be doing really well so far this year, and the first ones that came up were what I would call proper sized. I’m sure Lottie and Dottie would be very proud.

Then I came across a huge yellow one. The only way to describe it was that it was the size of a normal courgette! And yes I found some normal sized courgettes as well.

I also harvested a few spring onions and cleared away more blighted tomatoes.

All in all a good afternoons work. And if the weather had held off and I’d be working I wouldn’t have got these things done. So definitely a ‘Bonus Day’.

Don’t forget my Claire’s Allotment Essentials Book. It has all the information you need.

Happy Gardening,

Claire xxx

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Sunday 8th August 2021 – Now don’t break again!

The structure that I lovingly constructed for my beans was holding together very nicely until we had the last lot of wind (which had nothing to do with me eating any sprouts). Because the runner beans had grown so thick on one side it was unevenly weighted. Therefore the wind broke all the twine and both sides had drifted apart. Fortunately no canes broke, but I needed something strong to hold them back together again.

I don’t like using stuff that doesn’t biodegrade in the garden, but at the last minute all I could think about using, and what was very easy to get hold of, was a load of cable ties from Screwfix.

The ones I got were long enough to wrap round the canes twice and then pull them tight enough so hopefully they won’t drift apart again. I think when the beans have finished I’ll leave the structure in place and will maybe grow cucumbers or cherry tomatoes up them next year. You should never grow beans in the same place year after year, so I’ll have to put them somewhere else next year.

Emily, my daughter helped hold the canes in place while I fastened them together, so that was a great help. Now don’t break apart again!

In amongst the sweetcorn on the right of the above photo I have pumpkins and butternut squash growing. I spied several squashed and a couple of pumpkins. I’ll have to wait until all their leaves go brown to see exactly what is growing underneath, but that’ll be a lovely surprise to look forward to.

Once that was all done I went to tidy up the potatoes in the buckets. They’re not ready yet, but their foliage has just gone mad. And with the tomatoes all getting blight, and the same virus can spread to potatoes as well, I though I would remove much of the leaves and stems just incase. The potatoes will still grow, (although they don’t grow as big in buckets), but at least if the top parts of the leaves have caught blight, now I’ve removed them it won’t spread to the potatoes themselves.

Where I was on Wednesday some local tree surgeons A Bird (and yes I’m fully aware of the irony here, but his name is Alex) were cutting down a couple of trees just up the road from where I was working. I know the lads very well and asked what they did with the chips. They usually take them back to the yard and then dispose of them somehow. I need some more woodchips for the path at the back of my garden, between the large raised beds and in the chicken run, plus a few other little places. So I asked them if the wouldn’t mind dropping them off outside my back gate. I’m pleased to say they were very happy to and did it free of charge. Basically it meant that they would end up taking their truck back empty which was much easier for them. They would drive past my house on their way, so they didn’t have to take a detour.

So late this afternoon Mark and I moved a load of it, there’s still more to move, but I’ll do that this week. We did a load of the back path, and that now looks much tidier and neater but didn’t quite finish. I left a wheelbarrow load by the chicken run, but didn’t put it in. The chips create lots of heat inside the mound, and I suspected it would be too hot for their little feet. So once I’d tucked them in for the night and closed their door, I spread the chips in their run so they would cool down and be fine in the morning. I’m sure they’ll enjoy scratching in them tomorrow.

I picked some french and runner beans, as well as the first head of broccoli to go with dinner. I also tidied up the little square beds at the back and pulled up some more blight ridden tomatoes. It’s been a funny year, I’m not sure what to make of it quite yet. I’ll be harvesting some carrots soon, and some of them have rather sizeable tops so they should be good. But only time will tell.

I’ll keep you posted on anything I do.

Take care and happy gardening xxx

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Sunday 1st August 2021 – The ups and downs of gardening in the UK!

Being British we love to talk about the weather, it’s just one of those things we do. Many of us are never happy whatever the weather brings. It’s either too cold (but it’s the winter so what do you expect, put a few extra layers on), or too hot (again it’s the summer and that’s what happens, drink something cold and buy a fan). It rains when people don’t want it to (I must admit sometimes when it pours and I’m working I do get cross but I can’t do anything about it), and then sometimes it gets very windy (we live on a small island that is right next to the Atlantic ocean so it’s gonna happen). Stop complaining about the weather all the time and just live your life and enjoy your life. You only get one life so make the most of it and stop moaning about something that really doesn’t effect you that much. Yes you might get wet when it rains or sweaty when it’s hot, but there is always someone worse off that you. Ok so moan over, here’s what I got up to today and how the weather has effected my plants.

Last summer was long, hot and dry, which was perfect for certain veggies but not so great for others. This summer has been humid and damp so the veggies that were happy last year are not so happy this year and vice versa.

Now that the tops of my Exhibition onions have now drooped over they are ready to harvest. These I sowed from seed in my greenhouses in January/February time I think. Yes it was very cold, but I put on loads of layers and out I went. Getting outside in all weathers is very good for your mental health and immune system. Nothing worse than being stuck inside all the time that’s why you get sniffles. No one in our house (and there are 5 adults) has had any sort of cold or sore throat for nearly 3 years now. I’m putting that down to fresh air, be it cold or not.

So back to the onions. I put on my very sexy pair of waterproof waders. Mark said I look like Mario from Super Mario. I suppose I do as I had my pink cap on as well. The onions came up fairly easily, some needed a little help with a trowel. I shook much of the soil from the bottom and trimmed off some of the leaves and then put 6 in a tray. I also removed any weeds that were growing between them, so the patch of soil is now clear and empty, Might plant a few more lettuce there now.

This video was from a couple of years ago and therefore weren’t the onions I sowed this year, but the process of harvesting is exactly the same.

Once I’d harvested them all, I put the trays in one of my greenhouses so they can dry for about 6 weeks before I store them. You can use them straight away, but if you store them straight away they’ll go mouldy and rot. Each Christmas our postman is given a sack of onions from the local farmer, which he gives to me as they don’t eat them in his house (don’t ask me why). I’ve got about half a dozen left from that sack and with all the onions I’ve harvested in the last week they should keep us going until he gets another sack this Christmas. Brilliant, not had to buy onions for a year!

It’s difficult to see the size, but apart from the odd one or two that are fairly small, most are the size of my hand.

The various fruits and veggies in the greenhouses are doing ok. The Okra is just starting to flower. The first of the aubergines has just started to appear, there are loads of flowers so hopefully more fruits soon. I have about half a dozen melon fruits, all various sizes with the larges about the size of a tennis ball. And the tomatoes are starting to ripen, although not as well as last year.

Gardening is full of ups and downs, depending what the weather is like, depends how various plants do. Some like rain, others do not. The weather this summer has be warm, wet and humid, great because I don’t have to water often, but this spells disaster for tomatoes growing outside. It looks like practically every one of my outside tomato plants has got blight!

It’s very sad as they were full of flowers and loads of little green fruits were just about to grow. There’s nothing you can do to save a tomato plant when it has blight. You can’t save it. You just have to pull it up, remove any fruits that fall to the ground, and either burn it or throw it away. Under no circumstances put it on your compost heap, because this will make the virus spread throughout the compost and when you spread the compost on the ground it will put the virus everywhere. Mine have gone in the garden waste bin and will be taken away and burnt.

You’ll notice brown markings firstly on the stems, they look like a light coloured bruise and then get darker. Within a couple of days more patches will appear on the trusses where your tomatoes are growing and the leaves will get blotches on them and curl up. Before you know it the tops of any tomatoes will go brown and wrinkly. If you notice blight on one plants and remove it immediately you may stop it from spreading to the other plants, but check each plant every day and remove any infected ones.

If you have any tomatoes that are not effected then take them off the plant and put them on a metal tray and cover with a tea towel. They will slowly turn red, but make sure you check them twice a week and if any get brown patches on them get rid of them.

I’ll have to think of another plan for next year as the ones in the greenhouses aren’t doing that well this year either.

The same Blight virus can pass to potatoes as well, so make sure you don’t plant either in that space for at least a year. Other veggies like brassicas, cucurbits or alliums will be fine.

But there is a silver lining to the sadness of the tomatoes, at least I can now reach the courgettes much easier. And they’re doing amazingly this year. They seem to think they’re marrows, but I can assure you they aren’t. These seem to be very happy with the humid wet weather, and I’m picking them and we’re eating loads for dinners. They’re great stuffed and even if they do get too big, they don’t get bitter like marrows can.

I like to cut them lengthways, scoop out the seeds, fill the void with mince, chicken, sausages, what ever you fancy really. Top with breadcrumbs and cheese, wrap in baking parchment and foil and roast in the oven for about an hour. Very tasty. Some I will cut up into chunks and freeze for later on.

The chickens came out for a quick play in the garden, and we had a little cuddle on the grass. Mark caught me talking to them, but I don’t mind. They both love a cuddle and will sit very happily on my legs and make happy noises. Soon the skies came over very grey and dark so I put them back in the run and not long after I got back inside the rains came. Not just a little sprinkle, but a full on downpour. The patio started to flood, and out the front of the house the water was running down the gravel drive. After about 15 minutes it stopped and the sun came out again.

Well that was this weekend, let’s see what mischief I can get up to this week after work. Another full week gardening in clients gardens, but that’s the way, aha, aha, I like it, aha, aha.

Have a fabulous week and Happy gardening!

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Sunday 25th July 2021 – Harvesting the first of the onions!

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged and I’m sorry for the gap, but the weekends have been super busy and it’s basically it’s been weeding, watering, weeding, side shooting, weeding, feeding and more weeding. Not a very interesting thing to show you.

But this weekend I’ve been able to do something else and that is starting to harvest various bits. The Runner beans and French beans I’m starting to harvest, and they taste amazing. I’ve harvested this years garlic, although I wasn’t that impressed with it this year, but it’s ok, maybe my standards are just too high. They are now drying in the garage on the metal shelves and I’ll leave them there for about 4-6 weeks before I bundle them up. You can use them before they’re dry, so I’ll keep popping out to get a bulb.

The next job was to harvest my Broad Beans. They did very well this year and I have been harvesting them as and when we needed them. But the plants have now started to loose their green colour and some of the pods have started to go brown so I need to get them all out and harvest all the beans. Once I’ve harvested them, I’ll give them a wash and then put them in a bag and freeze them. I don’t blanche them before freezing, to be honest I don’t have the time. Then when I need some I’ll just take out what I need and put straight in the dinner I’m cooking.

This video I made 9 years ago so please don’t be confused by the background which was when I had an allotment, but the principle of harvesting is exactly the same.

My Courgette plants are whizzing along very well. I always check and see how they’re doing when I go and feed the chickens in the morning. The fruits were about 3 inches long, so not really large enough to harvest. For a couple of days I didn’t look at them and they must have known because they suddenly grew and I harvest one that was 12 inches long! Maybe it thought it was a marrow. So I sliced it horizontally, scooped out the seeds and filled it with some mince, onions and tomatoes. On the top I put a mixture of bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. Wrap loosely in foil and roast in the oven for about an hour. It was very tasty. There are another couple of large ones still on the plants so I’ll harvest those, cut them in chunks and freeze them. To stop courgette going soft when you take it out the freezer it’s best to cook from frozen and not let them thaw out before.

And finally I’ve started harvesting some of my Onions. I sowed some from sets (little baby onions) and some from seeds. The ones from the sets are now ready. You know when your onions are ready to harvest because the stems fall over. You can leave them in the ground until the stems start to go brown, but once the stems have toppled then the onions won’t do any more growing.

This video was filmed 2 years ago and so far my onions are much larger, but it shows you how I harvest mine.

The two varieties grown from sets are now drying in my greenhouses. They’ll need to dry for about 6 weeks or so, but if you need to use any you can. You only need to dry them if you’re going to store them in a sack. If you don’t have a greenhouse then any cool dry place will do, a garage or cellar is perfect…..but who had a cellar these days? If I had one it would be full of wine and beer. I’d most probably be making my own beer and wine, maybe even some cider.

So that was this weekend and the first part of the week. Let’s see what next weekend will bring…..more weeding I expect.

Don’t forget my Claire’s Allotment Gardening Essentials Book Park 1 is available HERE. Everything you need to know to help you on your gardening journey.

And Lottie and Dottie are still available on HERE.

Happy gardening xxx

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