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.