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!

Egyptian Walking Onions

One of the things we use most in the kitchen is onions so I'm always looking for ways to extend my onion growing abilities without giving over my whole garden to growing them. This year I am growing white and red onions (some overwintered and some spring planted from sets), shallots, spring onions, chives and multiplier onions. I am also growing Egyptian walking onions (also known as topsetting onions or tree onions). This is a new variety to me and the thing that makes it unusual is that the bulbs set at the top of the plant rather than under the soil like normal onions. This means that it can 'travel' around the garden if you don't pick the bulbs. As the bulb cluster forms, the plant becomes top heavy and bends down so that the bulb is on the soil. The bulb roots and throws up new shoots which create more bulbs. As long as you leave a bulb growing in the ground, you should continue to get new onions so this is a perennial plant.

I bought mine on eBay for a couple of quid and I have put it in a pot for the time being because I haven't yet decided on a permanent home for it. Like all onions, these like full sun and well draining soil. They can be planted at any time of the year as long as the ground isn't frozen although the Autumn is the best time. Egyptian walking onion sets will not produce topsets (bulbs) during the first year of growth apparently. I planted mine sometime last summer so I won't expect any bulbs this season - this explains why my plant is so small.

Possibly the best thing of all about this plant is that there isn't a part of it which can't be eaten. The green leaf stems can be picked and eaten a bit like chives and both the topsetting bulbs and the bulb below the ground can be harvested and eaten.

I can't wait for my first harvest! What unusual veg are you growing in your garden?

Green Woodworking

Recently I went to a green woodworking day for the press at Shovelstrode Forest Garden. Set in secluded grounds that offer what I would refer to as "glamping" (camping but in really cosy and comfy looking yurts), I met Lisa and Charles who own the forest garden. They were friendly and enthusiastic as they showed me round the grounds which are still very much a work in progress. It was a very homely place to be as we sat drinking tea and chatting. I have never been much of a camper - guide camp when I was 13 in a smelly canvas tent made sure of that; but a close inspection of the yurts started to make me think that a few nights without electricity perhaps wouldn't be so bad.
 I know that people choose camping holidays because they are perceived as cheap but my experience of trying to organise a camping trip in August to the Isle of Wight proved that having a "stay-cation" or holidaying in the UK, isn't necessarily any cheaper than a foreign holiday. In my mind, if you're going to go camping in the UK, then you might as well do it in style and a yurt seems like the perfect solution. Despite being in the English countryside, stepping inside the yurt felt like being transported to somewhere exotic and foreign.

The rest of the day was spent getting to grips with green woodworking. I won't go into too much detail about it here because there are lots of sources online that will be able to tell you much more than I could after just one day. Essentially it involves making objects or furniture from freshly felled, rather than seasoned wood. I was amazed at some of the examples of chairs and stools, and even more amazed that I might be able to make or help make something like this myself.First things first, I learnt how to chop up logs into pieces of wood to work on to make the component parts of a chair. I then got to grips with the lathe horse and how to gradually whittle the wood down into cylindrical posts for the rungs of a chair. I was quite surprised to find how naturally this came to me, and also how peaceful it felt. I know it sounds a bit cliched but it really did feel good to be working with something so natural in a rural and peaceful atmosphere. Charles was really encouraging and soon enough, I was onto my second and then third rung.
Although in just one day I didn't get anywhere near to making a chair in its entirety, I did get a feel for the craft of green woodworking and I would definitely recommend it. With just the few basic skills I learnt, I feel that with a bit of imagination it wouldn't be long before I could make something to be proud of. With all the tree chopping down that has gone on around here since we moved in, I only wish that I'd learnt this craft sooner so that I might have been able to do something with all the wood from the garden. With just a few tools and a few lessons, it would be quite possible to make objects as gifts at home.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Gardening Club

I have recently started up a gardening club at work and it's amazing and brilliant to see people who I totally wouldn't expect to join getting really excited about the prospect of learning about gardening. One colleague in particular really struck me with how amazed she was by the whole growing process. I love being able to pass on the knowledge I have picked up and there are also plenty of more experienced gardeners who I am learning from.
Our corporate goal at work this year is all about sustainability so a gardening club fits really well with that, we are hoping to grow both flowers and edibles and our ethos is keep going until someone tells us to stop!
The club was started at the Spring Fayre and Seed Swap that I also helped to organise and then after lots of unproductive meetings to try to get some money I/we, I decided that we should just get going so last week we planted our first crop - potatoes.
We decided to go down the recycle and reuse route so members have been bringing in pots and grow bags from home to use and another member collected some compost made by the council from all the green waste they collect. We have also earmarked some office furniture no longer needed thanks to a refurb so we should have some slightly unusual methods of growing which I think makes it all the more interesting!
Following on from the 3 grow bags and one tub of potatoes that we planted last week (they were earthed up today), we are planning some carrots, lettuce and beans on the edible front.We also want to grow some pollinating insect attracting flowers that will have the added benefit of making colleagues and passers-by smile with a bit of summer colour.
Once it gets you, there is no stopping the gardening bug, not even work is safe!

Monday, 2 April 2012

A Sunny Afternoon At The Beach

Since we moved to Brighton, one of my favourite things to do on a sunny day is stroll along the seafront and sit and watch the world go by and the waves roll in. Our favourite beach is Rottingdean, it's quiet and scenic, it has an olde world charm AND best of all, if you're lucky you'll find some sand to sit on and not just pebbles. We spent Friday afternoon sitting on the sand, soaking up the rays and watching the world go by. (There was more world going by than my photos suggest!)
The beach is a great day out, our niece and nephew love it, running about, hunting for crabs and making sand castles keeps them amused for hours. I like wondering along the shoreline hunting for shells or pieces of driftwood to use in the house or garden. I have also been known to collect bag-fulls of seaweed for the garden. It makes a great addition to the compost heap, or you can use it to mulch around plants while it slowly releases nutrients back into the soil. Again, collecting seaweed is that it is totally free and great for the garden.
Best of all, a trip to the beach can feel like you've been transported to somewhere completely different and far flung, but it's completely free.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Allotment Waiting Lists

I put myself down on the allotment waiting lists in April 2011. One year on and that is exactly what I have been doing - waiting albeit not very patiently. Every time we pass an allotment site and I spot a less than perfect plot, I complain to the other half that it should be mine and that I would never let it get messy. Similarly, every time I spot a vacant piece of land I always comment that it could be used for allotment space and therefore bumping me ever closer to the top of the list.
Apparently where we are, the waiting time is around 4 years so I still have a lot more waiting to do. The person waiting at the top of the list for the site list I joined has been waiting since March 2009 so that gives us some idea of how long we are likely to be waiting.
Now, don't get me wrong, I am lucky to have a garden large enough to be able to dedicate some space to growing but not as much as the 125 square metres I will get when I finally get an allotment.
I guess allotment waiting lists go up and down in line with the general prosperity of the nation - during the second world war everyone clamoured for allotment space to aid the war effort and then as things were getting better in the 50s, interest waned and many allotment sites were lost. Since the current recession started, numbers of people requesting allotments has risen with people trying to save money by "growing their own." It doesn't appear that many local councils are doing very much to increase the amount of allotment land available, indeed my local council seems to have taken the view that it is better to keep cutting up the existing sites into smaller and smaller plots to give more people a go. I can see why this seems like a good idea but I can't help thinking that part of the reason that people want an allotment is to have the space to grow crops and enjoy their own bit of space rather than to be squashed in and limited by space as to what can be grown.
Do you have an allotment or are you waiting? I'd love to hear your allotment/waiting list stories.

Saturday, 31 March 2012


I love Freecycle. I would go as far as to say I'm an addict. Ever since we bought the house, things have cropped up that we need that we just haven't budgeted for, and even where we have planned for something, everything costs more than you think it will. I must admit, I was quite sceptical when I first heard about a website where you could get stuff for free and there was seemingly no catch. BUT that is exactly why I think it's so great, there really is no catch. Not only can you get some great things, but you can give your old things a home and someone will come and pick the items up from you so you don't even have to leave the house. Since we moved in,  (among other things) we've got material for my crafting, a freezer, rockery pebbles, plant pots, top soil, roof tiles, and best of all, the decking in the picture above. All completely free. The decking would be worth around £1000 to buy new, and all we had to pay was the cost of hiring a van for the afternoon to shift it all (£35).
I also really like the idea that something I can no longer use can go to someone who will really appreciate it, I love hearing what people intend to do with the stuff I give away and this is a much more personal way to recycle things that giving them to a charity shop (although obviously that is still a good thing to do).
Without Freecycle, there are lots of jobs around the house and garden that we wouldn't have been able to afford to do for several years - what freebies could you not live without?

Spring Has Sprung

Spring has well and truly sprung in my garden, there are blooms, buds and bees and every time I go outside, I can't help but smile. I love spring flowers, the bright colours, the heady scents and the buzz of the first bumble bees of the season bringing the promise of a great growing season ahead.
This year, I have some particular stars of Spring. For scent, it has to be the Hyacinths, I planted them at the edge of the pathway and steps leading up to the house and on breezy days, the air is filled with the smell of them.
The daffodils win for all-round cheeriness and longevity. The first daffs bloomed in early March and there are still plenty of flowers going strong. These are mostly from bulbs I bought last Autumn in Wilkinsons, they were selling 2 large sacks full of mixed daff bulbs for £6. This provided enough to scatter around the front garden, the cottage garden area and to fill several pots.
I also love the snakes head fritilliary bulbs which have just started to flower in the last week. The chequered effect that looks like snakeskin amazes me every time I see the flowers boobing in the breeze. The maroon colour is different to the blousey, bright blooms of the other bulbs and looks great next to the creamy white fritilliaries.
We've also been lucky that many of the bulbs we put in when we first moved into the house in October 2010. We added about £10-15 worth last Autumn and the plan is to keep adding bulbs and allowing them to multiply until there are drifts of bulbs covering the whole of the front garden.
I think the best thing of all about Spring bulbs is that as one thing is finishing something else is always just beginning. Our Spring began with snowdrops back in February, succeeded by crocus, and then muscari, daffs and hyacinths. The tulips are just starting to come out now and they will be followed later on by alliums. I just love that there is something new to see in the garden everyday.
What are your favourite signs of Spring?

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Lavender Hedge

Last year I decided that I would like a lavender hedge to go up the sides of the steps up to the house. I love the idea of a garden being about scents as well as visuals and something like a hedge being beautiful and insect friendly as well as functional.
I began looking around for lavender plants to build my hedge and quickly realised that to have enough plants to create a hedge on both sides (probably about 7-8 metres in total) would cost a fortune. I set about propagating my existing lavender plants with varying success (mostly not very much!) but soon realised that this still wouldn't give me the numbers of plants I needed.
Then, early this year, I was flicking through a plant catalogue which was an insert in a magazine (Van Meuwen). They were offering 48 lavender mini plugs for about £8. This is the best price I have seen this many lavender plants so I ordered some and they finally arrived today (hurrah!).
They really are teeny tiny, I'm hoping they grow nice and quickly so I can plant them out once the threat of frost has passed. I can't wait to brush past them as I come home and smell wafts of lavender on warm days. I know I probably won't be able to class it as a hedge for quite a while but it should at least attract plenty of bees and other insects to the garden over the summer.
 I have potted the plugs up into modules of damp compost. I carefully pulled each plant out of the plastic plug holders and teased the roots out a bit to help them grow into the new pot. I will leave them indoors for a couple of days to settle down after being in to the post and then I will put them out into the mini greenhouse and eventually into the polytunnel to grow on.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012


This is one of my rhubarb plants as it was just starting to peek through the soil a couple of weeks ago. I love the first flushes of Spring when you can go out into the garden and hunt for signs that Winter is nearly over. I bought this plant last Summer but only got round to planting it late into Autumn so I was a bit worried that it wouldn't have time to settle in before the weather turned cold. Luckily it seems to have come through pretty well. Since this is a new plant, I won't take more than a couple of sticks off the plant this year so that it has time to establish and I don't weaken it. This particular variety is Timperley Early, apparently the earliest variety of Rhubarb which can be ready as early as February.

As well as this variety, I also bought a crown of the variety Champagne which is an old variety which apparently has a really good sweet taste. Sadly it doesn't seem to be doing very much so I'm keeping everything crossed that it will show some signs of life soon.

Both plants are in the same part of my vegetable patch in a nice sunny spot. Last year I grew runner beans in that spot. After all the beans were harvested last year, I dug the ground over and added some compost from a used grow bag along with some pelleted chicken manure. I left it to break down for a few weeks and then dug a large hole and added some homemade garden compost. I planted the rhubarb so that the crowns were sitting just proud of the soil and watered them in.

I can't wait to tuck into some rhubarb crumble made from my own rhubarb!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Overwintered Broad Beans

This is one of my over-wintered broad bean seedlings. The variety is Aqualdulce Claudia and I planted them around October last year. All of the plants survived the winter, however, the growth is quite leggy. Also quite a few of the plants seem to have rooted very close to the surface and so aren't very well anchored which is a definite no-no in my wind tunnel back garden. I think the reason for this leggy growth is the incredibly mild autumn and winter we had until February when the cold kicked in. The shoots started to come up in November when I wasn't expecting to see any growth until January or February.
As a result I have had to pull up some of the plants because they'd grown at strange angles and couldn't be saved and some were rotting off at the base. I started off some seedlings indoors a few weeks ago and transplanted those out to make up for some of the disaster plants. They are doing much better than the over wintered ones so I'm not sure if I will bother overwintering broad beans again. Today I planted out the last of my aquadulce seeds directly into the plot so we will see how they catch up to both the over wintered ones and the transplanted seedlings.

Have you had any winter-weather related growing problems?

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Wild Garlic

These are my wild garlic plants, I bought them at Seedy Sunday in Hove back in February from a specialist nursery called Edulis. They specialise in growing rare fruit, veg and herb plants. I bought five bulbs, bought them home and kept them in a plastic bag with enough water inside to keep them moist. Ideally you would plant them out to their final growing spot straight away but I bought them on the weekend when we had lots of snow. Once shoots began to grow, I planted them up into this seed tray while I try to find a suitable spot for them to go permanently.
Previously I tried growing wild garlic from seed but after a germination success rate of zero, when I saw these bulbs at the seed swap, I just had to have some.

The great thing about wild garlic is that you can eat and cook with all parts of the plant - bulbs, leaves and flowers. We recently got some green garlic in our organic veg box which seems to be pretty similar (if not the same) as wild garlic and according to the helpful instructions we got with it, you can use it in salads like you would spring onions, or fry it off and use it as you would ordinary garlic.

Also known as ramsons or bear garlic, it can be quite invasive and can colonise an area pretty quickly in the right conditions. In the wild, it grows in woodland areas so prefers shade and damp conditions. I have one side of my garden which is completely in the shade most of the time but due to huge fir trees, I think it is more dry shade than damp so I am unsure whether to plant them here.

If their growth and vigour so far despite my lack of attention is anything to go by, I'm sure they will do pretty well, and best of all, they will keep me in garlic long after my normal garlic reserves have been used up.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Bean Trench

First of all, I must apologise for the photo but there's nothing very exciting to see in a bean trench! Today I dug over the area where I am planning on growing my runner beans this year. It is an an area about 1.5 metres squared so I will most likely grow them around a circular wigwam instead of the double rows I used last year. I am hoping that the wigwam method will be a bit sturdier against the wind that rips through my garden.

I dug over and weeded the area and then dug out a strip across the width of the area and filled it with part rotted manure and fresh kitchen scraps. I then covered this up with the earth I'd dug out and then dug another strip and filled that with the same mix. I repeated this until the whole area had a good layer of manure and kitchen waste just under the surface of the soil. This will rot down over the next few weeks and then by the time I am ready to plant out my runner beans in May. I will also be planting out some sweetpeas mingled in with the runner beans to help attract plenty of lovely bees to my veg patch.

First Early Potatoes

I planted out my first early potatoes today in re-useable grow bags. (I'm saving all the space I can on the plot for maincrops varieties). I am growing two varieties of early potato - Pentland Javelin and Rocket and this will be the first year that I have really paid attention to the difference between earlies/mids/mains and lates. Usually I just chuck them all in the ground at the same time and dig them up gradually from one end of the plot to the other. This year I am keen to get more succession going with my crops so I am doing everything I can to have home grown produce for as long as possible.

The seed potatoes have been chitting on a windowsill for several weeks now (you can read about chitting potatoes here) and finally I couldn't wait any longer to get growing.
I put a layer of home made compost (about three quarters rotted) in the bottom of the grow bags, about 10 cm worth. I also added a handful of wood ash and put the seed potatoes in, chits facing upwards, three to a bag. I added more compost and some bagged topsoil that we got from freecycle so that the potatoes were just about covered.

As shoots start to grow, I will keep covering them with more earth until the bags are full. If there is going to be a frost, I will lift the bags off the ground and protect them with some fleece. Hopefully, I will be harvesting my first potatoes of 2012 around May or June time.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Spring Fayre & Seed Swap

I helped to organise a Spring Fayre and Seed Swap at work a couple of weeks ago and I decided to hold a stall myself. I made soaps (you can read about how I did it here), lavender bath milk, lavender hearts and fizzy bath salts in two flavours - lavender and coconut.

I also made some little hearts (you can see them at the front of the photo) with letters on them that I was making to order to spell whatever word people wanted.

Despite working in a pretty male dominated environment, I did quite well. Lots of people were asking whether I had actually made all of the things and were pleasantly surprised that I had. It gives me a lot of pleasure knowing that people like the things I make and especially when they like them enough to give them away as presents to their friends and family.

As part of the Spring Fayre, I also organised a seed swap. I asked people to bring in seed they didn't need to swap for something new and if they had no seeds to start with then I asked for 50p per packet which I am using to set up a gardening club at work. We are hoping to grow some flowers and veggies around the office grounds, and maybe even have a few competitions and trips out. I was surprised at the amount and variety of people who signed up for the club. There were a lot of people who had never done any gardening before and were interested but didn't know where to start. Both of my parents did some gardening and passed on knowledge to me when I was a kid and it's nice to think that even a novice like me can pass on what I have learnt to other people. Here comes the gardening revolution!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Seedy Sunday


Seedy Sunday in Hove is the biggest community seed swap in the UK and it has very quickly become a staple calendar event in my gardening year.
We braved the snow on Sunday to go, packets of saved seed at the ready, Sam somewhat more reluctantly than me admittedly...
I decided this year that I would hand over the growing of one type of veg to Sam - he's kind of interested in the garden but not in quite the same way as me. He's been really pleased with all the harvests but he's not one for the slow burn of sowing something in February and not eating it until September. He chose chillis so armed with five packets of saved seed to swap, he was quite happy to wander round looking for which varieties he wanted to grow. He was also impressed with the food on offer (Vegan chickpea curry amongst other things).
I find it so useful to have an event like this to go to (especially as I don't have an allotment and therefore an allotment community), it gives me a chance to meet and speak to other growers - mostly more experienced than me and always willing to share experience and advice with newer growers like me.
It is also a great place to find unusual plants or varieties that aren't readily available from seed catalogues or garden centres. This year I bought some wild garlic to grow in the shady side of the garden (5 for £2) and some oca which I'd never heard of before but apparently it's a bit like a potato that you can eat it raw as well as cooked (5 tubers for £1). I also swapped some seed for some multiplier onions from the Heritage Seed Library and got some borlotti bean seeds from a seed company specialising in bean and herb varieties.
However, the best thing about a seed swap event like this is that it can be completely free. This one charges a £2 entrance fee which is put back into the event, but after that, if you have seed to swap, there is no need to spend any money which is great for growers like me who are on a budget.

*Image taken from the Seedy Sunday website.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Sunday Walk

This year we made a new year's resolution to make the most of the beautiful green space around us and go for a walk every weekend.
The other week we drove just five minutes down the road to a bit of the Downs we drive past every single day and went to explore. It's a nice feeling to see something you see all the time from a different perspective.

It was a great chance to play with my new camera and it's amazing how fast time goes when you're wrapped up against the wind and you see a new photo opportunity with every step. Quite soon a quick half hour walk had turned into an hour and some very cold fingers and toes so we headed home, our thoughts turning to the comfyness of the sofa and the warmth of a cup of tea. There really is nothing better after a Sunday walk in winter than cozying up on the sofa afterwards with a cup of tea!

Chitting Potatoes

These are my seed potatoes which have been chitting happily (apart from when one of the cats had a nap on them) on the windowsill for a couple of weeks now.
This year I am mainly growing three varieties plus a couple of early ones to get some successional cropping going on.
I have Maris Piper which I haven't grown before but they are a good all-rounder and Sam asked me to grow these.
I'm also growing Pink Fir Apple, I grew these last year for the first time and they have a delicious flavour and are particularly delicious roasted with some garlic and rosemary.
Another new addition this year is the Salad Blue. It has dark purple skin and the flesh is also purple and retains its colour when cooked which I am very excited about. According to the seed company, it tastes just like a normal potato but has similar health benefits to the sweet potato.

I bought six single seed potatoes with three each of Rocket and Pentland Javelin.

I will probably grow some in pots or reuseable grow bags and the rest in the main plot. The ground is frozen solid at the moment and it's a bit early to get potatoes in the ground yet but I will probably plant them out in March sometime.

What varieties are you growing this year?

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Happy Birthday to Me

It was my birthday on Sunday. We went to a ball on Saturday night for Sam's Uncle's 50th birthday so I kind of knew the day would pretty much be a right-off (and it was). Sam took me to an amazing restaurant in Brighton called The Chilli Pickle, an Indian restaurant which specialises in yummy regional street food. Eating there took me back to our time in India nearly 4 years ago. On Monday, I took the day off work and we went to Middle Farm, a lovely farm and shop with a nature trail and lots of cute animals to look at. We had a spot of lunch there and bought some yummy cider and gooseberry wine. I also treated myself to the metal trug you can see at the back of the picture.

I was very spoiled with presents this year and the theme was USEFUL. Sam, my Dad and my big brother all chipped in to get me a brilliant new camera (Nikon Coolpix 500) so that my blog photos will no longer be fuzzy iPhone pictures.
Sam's family and some of our friends all chipped in to buy me a new polytunnel to replace my greenhouse after the Great Greenhouse Disaster - we started putting it up on Monday but I am holding off putting the cover on until the weather is a bit more settled.
Sam's Mum bought be the 3 baking books you can see in the bottom of the picture, I haven't made any of the recipes yet but they all look yummy.
Sam also bought me 2 books:
  • The Spade as Mighty as the Sword by Daniel Smith is the story of the wartime Dig For Victory campaign. I'm about a third of the way through and I just love all the little facts that pop up as I read, like how people used to grow cabbages and tomatoes on top of Anderson shelters. Just the sheer amount of food grown by the British public during the war amazes me.
  • and while we're on the topic: Dig On For Victory by C.H. Middleton. Know as Mr Middleton, he had a wartime gardening radio programme on the BBC and wrote this book as a guide for growers. This is the second wartime book he wrote and I have just ordered the first book, Digging for Victory.
I also got a bottle of gin from my lovely work colleagues, they know me so well!

 All in all a lovely birthday haul. I love having presents that aren't just immediate (maybe apart from the gin anyway), the camera I will have to learn how to use properly, the polytunnel will need to be put up and the books will take me a while to get through.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

How to Make Soap

There's a Spring Fayre coming up at work next month and I have decided to take up a stall. I had one at the Christmas Fayre which was a surprise success. At Christmas I made sample decorations and took orders so that I didn't end up with lots of something no one wanted. I probably spent about £20 on materials - I already have a lot of craft stuff at home, and I took about £100 so not a bad profit.
This time around, I am making soaps and lavender hearts and maybe some other bits (but I haven't quite decided yet).
Here's how I make my soaps.

You will need:
Soap base
heatproof jug
essential oils for scent
colour (optional but don't use food colouring if you don't want to dye people's faces)
botanicals (flowers, salt/scrub granules, cocoa butter etc)

First, take the soap base and cut it into small even sized pieces (I got my base from Hobbycraft, it cost about £6 for a big block and I use about half a block at a time)

Put the pieces into a plastic jug and melt in the microwave - stop it and check every 15 or 20 seconds, you don't want to boil the soap base because this can discolour it and you seem to end up with lots of bubbles in it.

When all of the base has melted, you are ready to pour it into moulds. At this stage, add any scent or colour, you don't need very much unless you want really strong fragrances/colours.

Pour the liquid soap into your chosen moulds - I use silicone cupcake cases.

If you are adding any dried ingredients, only fill the moulds half way and let the soap set. Then add the dry ingredients and another layer of liquid soap to fill the mould. Leave about half a centimetre at the top of the mould to make it easier to get out once it has set.

If you want to, you can decorate the tops of your soaps with anything you like.

I have made 3 different kinds of soap for the Fayre; coconut and cocoa butter (the cocoa butter makes your hands feel really soft), lavender and rose, and elderflower and lemon with nutshell exfoliants.
I'm hoping everyone will like them (or I will have a lot of soap to get through!).