Saturday, 11 August 2012

How to Make Bunting

One of the things I am doing for the wedding myself is making bunting. Pre-made bunting in shops and online seems to be so expensive so I decided that I (with the help of my maid of honour) would make it myself. Our wedding is losely themed around a 1950s style garden party. We are having afternoon tea and I am planning for quite an informal day with cottage garden flowers and bunting.
I used fabric that I had already, as well as some new fabric from Ikea - a lot of it was in the bargain corner and started life as curtains or duvet covers.
I made a cardboard template of the shape and size I wanted for the bunting and then cut out lots of bunting pieces from different materials. As  you can see from the picture, I left a lip at the top of each triangle - this is so I can attach it to the cotton tape to hang it from. I am making mine double sided so once I cut out lots of triangles, I machine sewed them together, close to the edge. I sowed them right side out - this was easier than trying to sew them right sides facing and turn them out. The bunting will be hung up high so it doesn't matter it the stitching isn't perfect. I am also making place mats and jam jar covers to go on our jam favours from the same fabrics. Now I have all my buting triangles the next job is to attach them all to the cotton ribbon. I'll post an update as soon as I have made some progress!

Hampton Court Flower Show

What seems like a lifetime ago, Sam and I went to Hampton Court Palace Flower show on 8 July. I have never been to a flower show before so I was pretty excited to find out what all the fuss was about (and empty my purse on all those must haves I was bound to find).
I did  work at the flower show a couple of times in my student days when I worked out of a sandwich van, so I had some idea of what it might look like but I had no idea of the size. I booked us full day tickets but after Sam's usual flapping about, we missed a good few hours and had to rush around a bit to see everything we wanted to.
We chose to buy tickets on the Sunday because we knew it would be the plant sell-off and therefore there might be some bargains to be had that fitted in with our next-to-nothing budget. After paying £10 (yes that's £10) to park the car, we trugded through the mud to get to the ground. It was not a good day to discover that my wellies have a leak - but luckily, despite the torrential rain of the morning, the sun came out to greet us as we arrived.
We wandered around the show gardens, surprised by how small they were compared to what they look like on tv, I particularly liked the This is Me garden by James Callicott. It was a garden about dyslexia but it somehow reminded me of the secret garden or the type of place you could imagine getting lost in and having adventures as a child. The other garden that particularly interested me was the urban garden designed sround the London riots last summer, to me it was about the way that beauty can grow out of the most disaterous or unfriendly environments. I particularly liked the bench made from double yellow lines which had lifted up from the road and curved around a tree.
I also like the use of wild flowers that you would often see in urban environments. However, although it was nice to waner around these gardens, they are often not really the kind of thing you could emulate in your own garden at home. I am also more keen on growing things that I can eat than just things to look at. This was one area I was slightly disappointed with at Hampton Court. There was an edible plants marquee but it was rather small with a lot of fruit tree/bush stalls and not much in the way of the unusual veg I like to hunt down. We did manage to get a kaffir lime plant - Sam loves cooking Thai and asian food so to have our own supply of freah kaffir lime leaves is pretty exciting - and hopefully money saving in the long run. I also managed to get so vegetables from one of the stands as they were clearing away and a couple of plants (tomatoes and chard) which have replaced some of my own plants that haven't done quite so well.
The floral marquee was really the place to be though, bright colours and heady scents were everywhere and every turn of the head provided us with something else to look at. Seeing plants at their best really does make me understand why some people prefer these forms to edible plants (I'm still firmly in the edible camp though!). I particularly liked the Waitrose stand which conbined fruit and vegetables with flowers to create stunning dispalys. We were able to pick up lots of plants at end end of the day during the sell off - dhalias from the national collection, alliums, lillies and roses from the displays as cutting flowers and lots of nursery plants from as little as 50p each. I think the best way to demonstrate the things we saw is for you to take a look at the pictures so here are some of the stunning plants we saw:


Topiary creatures

Lillies and a cottage garden display above

Long Delay

So it's been a long while since I've written any new posts - things have been hectic here to say the least. I don't know if I mentioned before but Sam and I are getting married, not until next year but there already seems to be so much to do. In true BB&B tradition, we are trying to keep costs down (not easy as soon as you say the word wedding) so we are doing lots of the organising and making of things like favours and decorations ourselves.
Lots has been happening here at BB&B so look out for lots of posts and updates coming shortly!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Fresh Garden Salad

We have been harvesting fresh leaves from the greenhouse for a few months now. With the small glimpses of sunshine we have had recently and the slightly less arctic temperatures, we now have more salad than ever and I am battling to stop some things bolting. In the picture, going clockwise from top left, we have a mix of mini gem and all the year round lettuce, wild rocket, radishes and right at the front you can just see some coriander (which started to bolt almost before it got any real leaves). In another greenhouse bed I have more rocket, mizuna and corn salad (I think it's corn salad, the label disappeared and I threw the empty packet away). I regularly patrol the beds for slugs and snails, I don't think I've ever seen as many as I have this year. I love taking my trug and a pair of scissors up to the greenhouse and snipping away until I have the right mix of leaves for dinner that night. The mizuna is very spicy with a mustardy flavour, while the rocket is peppery and the little gem leaves are refreshing. I have also been adding fresh garden herbs to my salad mixes. I really like the freshness and lightness of produce seasonal to this time of year. Add my salad mixes and herbs to the broad beans and baby new potatoes we have been harvesting and you have a pretty perfect dinner. Next time it stops raining I must dash out and sow the next lot of salads to keep the supply coming - and to mix up the ingredients of my salads!

Sunday, 10 June 2012


So apart from five days of actual summer about three weeks ago when it was hot and dry, this has pretty much been the wettest drought ever. I was very pleased with myself that my water butt was full and I even ordered two more through a deal with the water company before the drought kicked in (although they didn't arrive for over a month and missed most of the wettest weather). However, it seems that just by announcing a drought, mother nature decided to show us all who's boss and make it do nothing but rain for weeks on end. As you can see from this photo, I have had to become an all-weather gardener/photographer, this was taken on a particularly foul day. I know it looks like night time but it was actually the afternoon. The garden seemed to respond well to all the water for a little while with everything shooting up and looking lush and green. Fast-forward a few weeks and the weeds are overtaking the veg, seedlings have rotted off and the onions are forming flower buds which I am picking off to stop the plants putting all their energy into forming flowers instead of swelling the bulbs. Gardening has become a game of cat and mouse where I dash outside and get as many jobs done as possible before the next rain cloud sheds its load over my garden.
I hope the drought conditions are called off soon, despite all this rain I have had a taster of watering the garden using watering cans and it is hard work. The water butt also empties out much faster than the time it takes to fill so I'm not sure how we would have coped in a long, hot, dry summer. Last year, to save on our water bill, we saved shower water in the bath and used it to water the garden - so we are well prepared with water saving if the drought ever does turn up. What are your experiences of the drought so far?

First Broad Bean Harvest

I don't know about you, but I am a pretty impatient gardener. I plant something and then obsessively check it on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis to see whether it is growing, producing a crop or flowering. So it was a rather pleasant surprise when my first broad bean crop of the season kind of snuck up on me. I would throw them a cursory glance and note that they were getting taller (but not nearly as tall as Monty Don's) as I made my way to somewhere else in the garden but didn't see the appearance of bean pods. Then last weekend (before the deluge of wind and rain) I was helping Sam put our decking together (to be the subject of a separate post) right next to the veg patch and there they were, gleaming green pods of ready-to-pick broad beans. I immediately fetched my trug and eagerly collected up the fattest pods and there were loads!
I love the contrast in the second picture of the bright green beans against the red bowl, the beans look so fresh and appetising. Sam cooked them up by blanching them for a couple of minutes and then adding them to a pan with some strips of streaky bacon and garlic. He finished it off with parley and mint - both from the garden and they were lovely. There really is nothing like eating something a few minutes after you've picked it from the garden, knowing exactly how it was grown and how much love and care was put into the growing. I am savouring these moments when I get them because I think with the difficult weather we have been having, I may have some disappointing harvests, or rather non-harvests this summer.

Elderflower Champagne

I booked the last week off work in the hope that we might get some good weather and that I could catch up on jobs in the garden... no such luck though. Luckily I found plenty of jobs to keep me busy (and dry) indoors. Sam and I are getting married next year and as with everything here at BB&B we are doing it on a VERY tight budget. For those of you about to close this window thinking you're in for an avalanche of wedding related bridezilla posts, don't worry, I will be keeping them to a minimum!
We have decided to make and do as much as possible to keep costs down and one of the things we are doing is making some of our own food and drink. We got really into foraging last year and we wanted to include something we could make from foraging (ie free) for the wedding. So this week I collected some elderflowers and had a go at making elderflower champagne. It was actually pretty easy, or at least the recipe I used was.
First I collected six heads of elderflowers, I put these in 4.5 litres of cold water with 2 sliced up lemons. I left this to steep for around 2 days although you could leave it for as little as 24 hours. I then strained the liquid through a muslin cloth, added 2 tablespoons of vinegar - the recipe I used said that cider vinegar would be best but I didn't have any and neither did Asda so I used white wine vinegar instead. I also added 750 grams of sugar and stirred until it dissolved. It smells delicious and although very sweet at the moment, it tastes pretty good too. I bottled the champagne in plastic bottles (apparently this is better than glass because it can't explode!). The lids are only gently screwed on to stop fruit flies and other beasties getting in. According to the recipe, I now need to leave the champagne for about 2 weeks, tiny bubbles are already starting to form which is a good sign apparently because it means the natural yeast in the elderflowers is working on the sugar. When bubbles have stopped forming I will need to screw the lids on tight and leave them to carbonate for a couple more days. Then all that will remain will be to chill and drink! According to the recipe the champagne will become drier the longer it is left and will most likely be too dry after about three months (not that booze ever lasts that long around here!). This means that to make it in time for the wedding which is in August next year, I will need to make up enough for all our guests around the end of June/beginning of July. We will do several taste tests with this batch to see exactly when it is perfect for our tastes. I can't wait to try it now!

Monday, 21 May 2012

One Year of Veg

When I got going with growing fruit and veg when we moved into the house, I set myself a challenge. I decided it would be interesting to see if in my first year I could have something to eat from the garden every month for a whole year from the first harvest.
Well... fast-forward a year and... I MADE IT! Woohoo! Starting with lettuce which we harvested last April, we have eaten food from the garden every month, finishing up this April with chard (yes more chard and it's still going), radishes, herbs and purple sprouting broccoli - which is still going.
The Summer months are obviously the easiest to keep the harvest coming, from salads, tomatoes and courgettes to potatoes, onions and garlic, but the Winter months and the so-called 'hungry gap' are the bigger challenges.
By far the biggest stalwarts of my patch have been the leafy veg like chard and kale, the chard has been giving me harvests for about a year now and the kale came into it's own over the winter.
This year I am hoping to have more to keep us going over winter, including more stored veg. Last year I had a few spuds - they were used up fast, and we froze a lot of runner beans, carrots and parsnips. This year I would like to have a good stock of onions and garlic and maybe extend the season a bit more by making more use of the greenhouse (if a) the greenhouse stays standing and b) we ever get any sunshine to make anything grow.
Do you ever set challenges for yourself to keep things interesting?

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Making Woodash

A few weeks ago (when it wasn't raining), I spent the afternoon making wood ash. Wood ash is particularly great for onions. It can be a good source of potassium - the nutrient that helps fruit and flower production. It has a liming effect so is particularly good for very acidic soils. I often use it as a mulch and if I have a lot, I also add a layer to the compost heap as a general soil improver. I usually make mine using our chiminea, but if we have a lot of material to burn then we will have a bonfire and I collect the wood ash up into bags afterwards. We happen to have a lot of wood around the garden from all the tree felling we have done. It is best to use dry wood because it burns easier and is a bit less smoky. I try to use wood that has been seasoned - left to dry out, for a year or so. I begin with a small amount of twigs and any dry kindling type materials, I also make sure I have a decent stack of different sized sticks and wood pieces so that I can keep feeding the fire.

However, as useful as wood ash can be in the garden, it should be used sparingly as creating too much alkalinity in the soil can damage plants. Wood ash can also cause scab in potatoes.
I love being able to recycle things from around the garden and put them back into the earth, it's good putting nutrients into the soil when I know where they have come from in the first place.
What do you recycle around the garden?

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Pricking Out and Potting On

My life has been consumed with pricking out and potting on. Every spare centimetre of space in the house has been taken over with seed trays and plant pots. Each lot of seeds sown has a small window in which they should be pricked out into their own pots before they become leggy and tangled and their growth is checked. I have been having mixed success this year. I have got to lots of things just in the nick of time but I have also lost a couple of trays in their entirety because I didn't manage to pot them on in time. Sam has been very patient and understanding of me taking over the entire house and my constant reiteration that it will all be worth it in the end when the garden looks brilliant and we have loads to eat off the veg patch in the summer.
The trouble with this time of year is that although I need lots of space, because of the winds and bad weather, I can't leave too many seedlings in either the main polytunnel or in the mini greenhouses. I have learnt my lesson after losing countless plants when gusts of wind have knocked over mini greenhouses or rocked everything off of staging in the the polytunnel.
I find pricking out quite therapeutic, there's something quite nice about a repetitive task that you don't really have to think about. I quite often spend the evening pricking out seedlings with an episode of Eastenders in the background - I know how to live it up!
My top tips for pricking out are:
  • Always hold seedlings by the leaves and not the roots
  • Keep everything well watered - it is easier to break up damp earth than hard compacted earth
  • Make sure you use clean pots and sterile seed compost, this helps prevent damping off.
  • Work out how many plants you will need, and prick out a few extras just in case you lose any.
  • Fill a few pots at a time and dib holes into the soil to get ready for the seedlings you will be transplanting.
  • Rope in some help - if you have lots of seedlings to prick out, see if you can rope someone in to help, I always get Sam to give me a hand.
Hopefully the weather starts getting a little bit better soon so I can start moving pots into the greenhouses and maybe even out onto the plot. It's certainly beginning to feel like the growing season is well and truly underway!