Saturday, 3 September 2011

Up the garden Path - Autumn Mists – Things we are doing in the garden today

Hello guys, I must admit I have been remiss about posting to the site. The reason for this was drains. Or more properly, sewage drains. They didn’t work. We had to dig them, and then during this period of hard graft, lightning hit and our Internet died.

Well, now the internet has resumed life.

What has been happening in the garden recently? Well, we have been picking up tomatoes and other vegetables. They are delicious. Unfortunately, we are coming to the harvesting section of the year. During the hiatus we managed to pick millions of currents – red and black – blackberries, and raspberries.

Now, as the first mist has come this morning it almost seems as if we are at the end of they year.
We are redesigning the vegetable portion of our garden. For some years this has been a little bit of a hodgepodge. With small, windy grass paths, and beds slightly too large to weed properly. So, work is being carried out. The first stage is to dig, dig as though life depends on it. At the moment the ground is very hard. But we are expecting it to soften this week, as rain is forecast.

Once the ground is dug, we will have a near allotment sized plot.

At that stage, we will make paths, and work out some crop rotation for it. This has always been our weak spot. We like a relatively small selection of vegetables, and because of this we have not always done crop rotation correctly. Not according to the book, anyway.

This will probably continue. At least for some time. But, we are eating more greens – kale, spinach, and lettuce this year – and this offers some hope for better rotation.

That is one aspect of our gardening. The other aspect is making use of the orchard – getting in apples, stewing them, and freezing them. We hope that this will allow us to eat our own produce for the next year. We are missing sloe’s, but have picked a huge amount of pears that will ripen slowly over the next few weeks.
I think that summarizes this period of the year – still harvesting the last of the summer vegetables, clearing beds, weeding, and not enough time.

One thing you really do notice, I think, is the way that the sunlight is drawing in. We are losing around five minutes a day at the moment. So, I hope you understand why this blog will be short and sweet.
Keep well.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Up the Garden Path - Looking at apple bloom

Today    was the first day I noticed apple bloom in the garden. Yes, our apple tree seems to be coming into flower. It seems a lot earlier than normal, to be honest with you. And the crab apple hasn’t had flowers yet, even though it has had leaves for a while. But still the pinkish white blossom is delightful. It sets my mind to the future. We don’t really do what the books say to our apple tree.

Now, for the best possible crop you are supposed to think the apples, and also prune them in particular ways.
We inherited out current trees in a state of some neglect, since the previous owner of the orchard kept horses which ate their bark. We replaced the horses with Hebridean sheep, which taste better but also like a bit of apple tree bark. The resulting mess means it is not really worth our time to prune the apple trees or, for that matter, to thin them out. We find the Hebridean sheep manage to thin anything out within thinning distance of the ground.

That said, even though we don’t do anything to the trees, the sheer quantity of apple trees means we manage to get a large enough crop for our purposes – which are apple juice and apple and blackberry crumble during the autumn and winter months.

One thing I haven’t noticed so far is the elderflowers coming out. They may do soon... but not quite yet. Every year I plan to make some elderflower cordial, I even have a decent recipe, but that never quite happens. In amongst weeding, cutting the grass, and sowing plants I never seem to have quite got the time to do what I want.

But I hope that will change in time.

Now, one thing I think every gardener should have at this time of year is... yes... sting cream! We have a supply of insect sting cream (brand not mentioned) and you should have too... preferably in a standard place. Because that way, when the inevitable wasp sting occurs, you are protected. When you are rattling in flower beds it is inevitable sooner or later you will get stung, or ant attacked.

So, there we go... the health warning. 

Grass cutting duty comes again, inevitable as spring gets older. But, amongst all of that, make sure you take some time to rest and recuperate in the garden.  I guess I’ll speak to you again ;)

Monday, 4 April 2011

Seed bed Preparation – for sowing outdoors

Developing a proper seed bed can be quite physical work. You need to dig the bed thoroughly in the winter. Probably double digging is best, but the reality is that often only single dig. This may include an application of lime, or manure, if at the appropriate stage of your crop rotation. Either way, you leave the bed to break down over winter, and come to it again in the following spring when the ground has dried out. You shouldn’t work on really sodden ground since it will damage the soil by making it too compact.

You will need to dig the bed over, removing any perennial weeds, and once you have dug it over you need to do something that will make you look like a bit of an idiot.

You need to get your fork, and whack the surface of the earth like a madman. Some people try to level it out with a rake, but a rake is really for getting the stones up on the top of the soil. Bashing the soil with a fork will make it nice and level, breaking any clumps up.

The resulting soil will be a perfect seed bed.

In order to  get the best results when sowing, I generally suggest making a furrow with the handle of a hoe, and then sowing the seeds. Rather than pushing the soil back onto the seedlings, I think using compost is a better idea. Because the compost looks different to soil, you get a firm mark of where you have sown. This makes weeding a doddle.

The problem with sowing seeds outdoors is that even if you have a perfect seedbed, there will probably be seeds that are in the soil, so unless you mark the rows properly you won’t know which of the seedling are weeds, and which are plants. With a compost marker, you will be able to use your hand hoe to decapitate the weeds leaves before the plants have a chance to establish. This helps you maintain the perfect seed bed with much less effort.

On top of that, one thing you always need to do is mark the variety and time of planting on a label. While there are labels for pots, these can become lost. There are better options in garden centers, or you can cut up a plank from a garden center into small sticks. Write on the sticks with a permanent market, and just paint over the writing every year. 

One final thing... it is often better to water the soil before you sow rather than after. You don’t want to wash any of your seeds away.

This is coming up to the perfect time of year to sow plants outside... we haven’t had a frost here for weeks, and we don’t expect any more. So have fun J

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Up the garden path - Sheep, nuthatch, cherry blossom and ebooks.

Hello and it’s a superb Saturday today, with glorious weather. I have been taking it easy in the garden today. Less weeding, and more wandering about picking daffodils. And looking at the cherry blossom. Well, that’s not the only thing to report on the garden front... the hawthorn bushes by the house have come into leaves. 

They are very small at the moment, but are as vibrant green as they will get all year round. One thing people don’t realise is that you can use hawthorn leaves in salad – they taste a little nutty. And I guess people will think you are a little nutty for trying them. But they do taste really nice.

The crab apple tree leaves are bright red at the moment; it is always funny how bright they are – almost like autumn. The crab apple always surprises me, because I always think it should flower before it has leaves – but it never does.

A brief walk shows that bluebell leaves are poking out, thousands of them in a nearby wood. They are not flowering yet. But give them time and they will be very impressive.

I was watching the bird feeder today and saw the first nuthatch for a while. It was feeding upside down. It seems strange to see it again, I didn’t think they were supposed to be in the country at this time of year and haven’t seen them for months. Still I am not a bird expert. So I guess I was wrong.

The Bird Cherry is flowering away, completely covered with blossom, and I can smell grass cuttings. So, it feels a little like we are in the middle of spring. I noticed the daffodils are now all out in flower. That seems early to me. They are supposed to be out at easter holiday, but I don’t think we will have many then. They will have already finished. White anemones are flowering where we planted them a few years back, not a complete success – we had planted a lot more than came up- but the ones we did manage to grow are starting to become thicker bushes. And we still have hopes for really thick clumps. Maybe in a few years.

Our vegetable sowing is a little behind. We have done some, but not as much as normal. Life is busy J
And I have been writing a pretty comprehensive booklet about growing carrots. It should end quite large... and for sale on Kindle for a dollar. I don’t think it will make me rich, but it is worth a try.

In the meantime, we are almost on top of the weeds in a lot of beds, but we still have the flower beds to do, so I guess tomorrow weeding will happen ;)

Have you noticed how much better gardeners world is on TV at the moment? It is almost like it used to be – a normal gardener in his own garden. That’s always quite interesting.

Our three new lambs are doing well, as well... gambling along, without a care in the world. 

Hope you have a good time in the garden... this is the best of times in the garden, not yet too hot, and with birdsong, and new beautiful flowers popping up every two minutes.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Preventing rabbits in your garden

One problem you can get if you live in a rural region is the ever present rabbits. They despoil your vegetables and make a mess of your lawn. And they are getting much more common. Although in the 80’s they were well under control, they have been multiplying like – well - rabbits and they can be real trouble in the garden..

The traditional approach to a rabbit problem was decidedly deadly. People used to snare them, or trap them, or shoot them. In the old days people used to go out at twilight, with night scopes, and then stun them with a bright headlight. The Rabbits would stand still making an easy target.
Other approaches were to use ferrets to drive them into nets (this is no longer legal in many parts of the United States).

Of course, you can’t take many of these approaches these days. It is illegal to use snares, and if you do trap them you are legally responsible for killing them instantly, and in a humane way. When you trap them you need to use an approved trap.

Personally, my preferred approach is to try to prevent the rabbits getting into the garden.

There are two main ways you can do this. The first is to get a dog. The smell of a dog will frighten the rabbits away from your garden. This method is more successful than you would think. And you don’t have to kill anything!

The second approach that works is rabbit netting. Now, you can get this commercially. But one thing they don’t always make clear is that you need to dig the netting deeply into the ground. Rabbits, after all, burrow.
This makes putting the rabbit netting up quite an unpleasant experience.

There are other ideas, such as trying to use something like lions poo to frighten them off, or a sonic device, but I think in practice they are more quackery than effective. And so, from a practical perspective, you may end up having to trap the rabbits.

There are no really great solutions to the problem. Unfortunately if not dealt with you will slowly get overrun with rabbits.

I guess the upside is rabbit pie. 

I’m thinking about trying the recipe on although I think that this post has certainly alienated the vegetarian readers of my blog. Ah well. I hope they will forgive me J   

Sunday, 27 March 2011

.Chickens for slug control

Traditionally people have kept chickens for their meat and eggs, as well as using them to convert waste into food and fertilizer for the garden. These days, they are often treated as pets rather than farmyard animals.

We bought out first chickens eight years ago, as point of lay birds. This means that you have slightly older birds that are almost ready to produce eggs. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. You get eggs sooner, and the birds being older are more robust and healthy. You need less experience at breeding, and looking after younger birds.

Probably the biggest disadvantage for the backyard keeper is that the chickens are not that tame, and haven’t had as much training or handling in their youth as you would hope for. While the birds do get tamer, I find that hand reared birds are often more tame.

There is such a wide variety of choices when it comes to chickens. We choose Light Sussex. It is a mixed breed that produces nice eggs, and can also be used for meat. The biggest downside of such a bird is that the breed becomes broody very often. You need to learn how to overcome this problem. Probably the most efficient means was the broody coup,

I think people often think that looking after chickens is quite simple. Well, I don’t agree. While the first stages... making sure they have regular food, water, and medical attention is relatively simple it is like taking care of any other animal. You need to pay attention to them, and become aware of the problems you can have.

Of course, it becomes very complicated when you get to breeding. Suffice to say, if you don’t know what you are doing I suggest seeking advice before breeding chickens. In particular, most people should not keep a rooster in their garden.

When we bought our chickens, we chose electric fencing and a paid chicken coup. It was perhaps the most expensive way to get chickens. These days, I would suggest that you convert a shed into a chicken coup instead. The biggest thing is to get the egg box and perches right, and make sure that the coup is not too large for the birds so they don’t get too cold during the winter.

You can find instructions on how to convert a shed in Seymour’s Self Sufficiency.

Looking after chickens is fairly easy. You will want to use a decent quality layers mash, or layers pellets, and may want to provide a source of grit or calcium in the enclosure. Probably the most common problems are with mites. You are probably advised to clean the coups with Jayes fluid at least twice a year, make sure there are dry dust baths, and probably worm the chickens regularly.

In addition to that, you will also want to buy a red spider mite powder available in livestock supply shops if you get red spider mites in your coup. You need to examine the crevices of the coup regularly to check for them.

Of course, decent hygiene is important, so you need to regularly clean your chicken coup out. This is not an entirely pleasant experience. But it does produce plenty of chicken manure, which can be put on the compost heap once it is rotted down.

Making sure they are tame

The most important thing is to handle the chickens regularly, from a young age. It is important that they learn you are not scary. Otherwise, it becomes quite a challenge to catch them and treat them when they are ill. You don’t want to end up chasing them around the garden!

Using Chickens to eat slugs

You can get the best value out of your chickens by allowing them into your vegetable garden to eat slugs during the winter. While they eat any insects and slugs in their enclosure, they will also be providing a certain amount of goodness to the soil too.

Chickens do eat slugs, insects and snails, and they really enjoy removing these pests from your garden for you!

Locking the Chickens up at night

I generally suggest locking chickens up at night, because they are a temptation to foxes. This is especially true in early spring, when foxes are particularly hungry. In any case you will need to fence your chickens very securely. Probably the best fence is an electric fence, but as long as you have a sturdy, tall fence with chicken wire that has been dug into the ground at least three feet deep, it should protect the chickens.

Some people may think their chickens are safe because they live in a town or city. This is no longer the case.


Chickens produce great eggs, meat, and of course will eat the slugs in your garden so can even save you time. They are well tempered birds, but they do need a lot of looking after. If you want to take care of chickens, I suggest getting a copy of smallholder magazine and finding a poultry course in your area.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Easy soft fruit

Here is a list of the easiest soft fruit I grow in my garden. If you are going to grow fruit and vegetables, I think soft fruit is a great place to start. The fruit is delicious, and will save you a fortune. And, it is not hard to grow them – despite the rumours to the contrary.


Possibly the easiest of the soft fruit varieties that you can grow, blackberry is so vigorous that you can practically cut it to the floor every year and it won’t suffer from it at all. The fruit is plentiful, and there aren’t that many pests that will attack it.

I guess the downside of blackberry is that firstly once ripened it is best picked before it rains, since sometimes the fruits can attract maggots. And secondly that it has very strong thorns that will prickle you when you pick the fruit or prune it.
You can reduce these problems by spending a little money and getting a thorn-less variety. They taste just as good as other varieties of blackberry but are much easier to manage.

Even if you don’t grow them yourself, you can often find them around in hedgerows in the countryside. Fifty years ago people just picked them. These days, it is best to avoid them if they are too near a busy road. But if you can find some in a secluded field they are still delicious.

There are many uses for them, including eating them raw with cream, blackberry and apple crumble, and jams. 

Currents – Red, Black and white

Currents are very easy to grow from cuttings, or you can buy them in the shops. Depending on your proclivities, you may decide to prune them like they tell you in gardening books. Frankly, I don’t bother. A little top dressing with manure every spring, and they provide a plentiful supply. The only difficulty thing is to net them. Otherwise the Birds will gobble them down.


This is half and half. Gooseberries are not difficult to grow, in fact they are very easy... if it weren’t for the fact that they do attract butterlies. A gooseberry bush can be stripped raw in a day or so. So constant vigilance is necessary. For an organic gardener there is not much choice but to pick them off. This is not a pleasant experience.

The gooseberry is delicious when cooked. Personally I don’t like them when raw although many people do. 


This is a rare mixture, similar to Blackberry in many respects. It makes absolutely delicious fruit. I haven’t grown one yet, and the gardening books do describe pruning in detail. I guess if we grew them here, we would dispense with the instructions to a degree.


Raspberry's provide delicious fruit, and they do require a certain amount of effort when planting, because they will be in the same place for many years. If you can give them a nice sunny spot with sandy soil, they will reward you for years without any real hassle at all.

Suggestions for planting and caring

I think soft fruit has a reputation for being difficult because many gardeners look at the descriptions in the gardening books and think they should follow them exactly. And, in many respects, if you do so you will get great results.

If you are like me, you will find yourself not bothering so much with the detailed pruning instructions.

As long as you remember whether the fruit flowers on this years or ext years wood, you are often good to go. In the main all you need to do is keep it tidy. This kind of approach to gardening will not get you the ‘best’ results but will get you good results, without having to spend hundreds of hours fussing over plants.

I guess this is my personal gardening philosophy coming out: if you are not a professional gardener, doing something for money, you can be a little more lazy with your gardening techniques. If you don’t get 100% of the possible fruit... but get enough for delicious treats for the family, that is enough in my opinion.

In general I suggest not planting soft fruit in the same place twice, and making sure to start several fruit patches, because these plants often die off after five to ten years.

The main thing to do is make sure that you net the fruit every year. The easiest way to do this is to get plastic piping, like they use for insulation or for hosepipes, and form a small netting poly-tunnel covering the plants. Alternatively, if you have some time on your hands and a bit of DIY skill, a fruit cage is a good idea. But it will take a bit of ingenuity to construct. We’re planning to build one eventually, but it may take a few years.

Until then, we’ll use our home made poly-tunnel solution.

In general, with all of these fruits you can simply cook them and freeze them, so once you’ve picked them you can enjoy great homemade summer puddings, pies and crumbles almost all year round.