20.04

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G R O W   L I T T L E   P L A N T S ,   G R O W . . .

I’ve been meaning to put together another kitchen garden update for ages now (my last one was in January!) but what with the months on end of snowy, drizzly, and grey weather we’ve had, it’s not really felt like the weather for gardening! But I’ve been getting out and cracking on with my seed-sowing as much as I can, to keep on top of my plans for the vegetable patch.

And things are looking good! With the upswing in temperatures over the last couple of weeks I’ve been able to start putting the young plants out into the beds, with the spinach (‘Red Kitten’ is the variety) planted and thriving, and a second sowing of broad beans (originally sown in toilet roll tubes to encourage strong root growth) out and getting ready to unfurl their first flowers.

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The first ‘Kelvedon Wonder’ peas are under a fabric cloche (I sowed a tray of peas back in March, and then planted those out a few weeks ago whilst also sowing more peas in between the plants to fill the gaps), and the last couple of weeks have also been a mad race to get all the potatoes in! I’ve done 6 rows, two each of extra early ‘Swift’, second early ‘Charlotte’, and main crop ‘Sarpa Miro’ potatoes. The Swifts are already popping up through the soil, which fills me with joy and dreams of early summer potato salads to come!

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I’d forgotten just how wonderful it to see tiny green shoots poking up through the soil, and how addictive checking daily for signs of new growth can be! This week has brought about the arrival of a green haze of carrot seedlings underneath the black netting of their cosy tunnel, though I’m kicking myself for not having checked back at the plan I made for each of the beds and having sowed these seeds in totally the wrong place!

I’d intended to sow the carrots alongside the cabbages and kales, so that I could net them all against their enemies the carrot root fly and cabbage white butterflies respectively, but I stupidly just sowed them right next to the broad beans. It’s no big deal, but just not as organised as I’d hoped to be!

Anyway, carrots were one of my favourite things I grew last year, so I’m hoping this crop will do well. I’ve got one row of ‘Chantenay’ carrots, and one of ‘Purple Sun’, and plan to sow two more rows soon to have a succession of delicious homegrown carrots all summer long!

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And so, to this month’s lists of seeds to get going with!

+ Lettuces, ‘Red Salad Bowl’ and ‘All Year Round Butterhead’
Strangely, though I sowed both these varieties of lettuce at the exact same time and into the same seed tray at the start of the month, only the red variety germinated! I’m totally stumped as to why the butterhead variety didn’t come up, but now I’ve transplanted all the red lettuce seedlings I’d better get on and resow the butterhead seeds or else we’ll be having some pretty boring salads over the coming weeks!

+ Peas, ‘Sugar Snap Ann’ and ‘Kelvedon Wonder’
I’m trying to keep a succession of sowings going with the peas this month, so that we have a nice long season of fresh peas from the garden! Sugar snaps picked fresh were the most delicious thing ever last summer (though I had trouble with caterpillars!), and I truly can’t wait to have them fresh from the garden again this year. The canes and netting are up and ready for sugar snaps to scramble up, and I need to go and cut some pea sticks from the hedgerows to support the peas.

+ Courgettes, ‘Soleil’ and ‘Striato d’Italia’
Roll on courgette season! The Soleil’s are up and potted on and happy and I’m about to sow the second variety, which were the ones I grew last year and that I recommend to EVERYBODY! I’ve learnt this year to only sow three or four of each variety, because a couple of monster courgette plants is plenty for a copious supply all summer long!

+ Beetroot, ‘Boltardy’
This is my first attempt at beetroot, and from what I hear it’s a pretty easy going veg to grow! I’m not actually sure I’ve ever cooked beetroot either, but have big plans for pickling some this year to eat at Christmas time!

+ Cucumber, ‘Marketmore’
I grew cucumber last year but not very successfully- I think I had two cucumbers in total! This year I found them tricky to germinate, but after asking for advice from Sam on Instagram (a veg-growing guru!), and a brief stint on a warm radiator to help them get going, we’re finally away! And I’m so excited because nothing beats a freshly picked cucumber!

+ Leeks, ‘Musselburgh’
I sowed some leeks a few months ago, but I’m not convinced the young plants look all that healthy. I’ve planted them out anyway, and have just sowed another row alongside them and hope they’ll do well! Leeks are one of my favourite veg to cook with, and apparently this variety are fairly easy to grow. Let’s hope!

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And last of all, a couple of book recommendations for you! Hollie Newton’s ‘How To Grow’ was my Bible last year, and I’ve just started reading it once again. It’s just the most beautiful, practical, wonderfully written book- a guide to growing vegetables and fruit interspersed with recipes and anecdotes from Hollie’s own garden. The photos are gorgeous, and it’s the most accessible gardening book I’ve come across so far. I love it!

Charles Dowding’s Diary is, funnily enough, a diary! There’s space to fill in information and notes about what you’re sowing and planting throughout the calendar year, though I’ll admit I’ve been a bit useless about remembering to fill it in. I’ve found the seed sowing calendar the most useful thing about it, plus all the information about no-dig gardening and veg growing in general is invaluable. Worth a read!

What are you growing this year?

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24.01

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T I M E   F O R   N  E W   B E G I N N I N G S .

The beds are finished and filled. Finally! It’s taken us a full month to complete, in scraps of time stolen whilst Ottilie naps and between our work and the household chores and trips out as a family.

The first lorryload of compost was delivered five days before Christmas, and carrying it all round to the vegetable patch round the back of our house one wheelbarrow load at a time was the most arduous task imaginable! During one of the days I spent trudging back and forth fetching soil and tipping it out into the beds, I managed to walk 7 whole kilometres without ever leaving our garden!!

There’s still such a lot to do though, it’s a little overwhelming! Our soil is heavy clay and seems to be slug central (heaven help me and my lettuces this summer!) so I need to copper tape the edges of the beds, the perimeter fence needs rabbit-proofing, and I’m also desperate to lay some pathways to suppress the nettles that are already popping up all over the place!

And possibly more urgently, I need to find a way humane of deterring the moles that have started creating mounds in one of the beds I so painstakingly filled and raked smooth. No doubt they’ve been tempted along by all the worms in the layer of sheep manure that’s spread along the bottom of the bed!

p.s. Anyone want links for my outfit in that photo above? ;) ;)

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But first things first, time to sow the first seeds of the year! My ‘to sow’ list for January has been as follows:

+ Garlic ‘Carcassone Wight’

The garlic went directly into the bed in a double row at the beginning of the month, and almost all the shoots are now up and poking their tiny green tips through the soil! It’s a happy sight.

+ Leeks, ‘Musselburgh’

These I’m hoping to sow successionally over the coming months, to give us a long harvest of leeks starting later in the year and continuing through next winter. I’m also going to test out a technique called ‘multi-sowing’, where a clump of young plants is placed into one position (instead of the traditional one plant per position) and then the leeks can be picked and eaten as they mature one by one. An unclear explanation I’m sure- have a look at Charles Dowding’s videos on YouTube for a much better demonstration of the technique!

+ Mini Savoy cabbage, ‘Caserta’

This will be my first time attempting cabbage (last year I didn’t have space for any winter veg in the tiny garden of our previous house), so I’m a bit nervous about keeping the dreaded cabbage white butterflies away from my crop! I’ve invested in a large sheet of Enviromesh (pricey, but brilliant by all accounts!) and plan on planting the cabbages next to carrots (which will also need netting against carrot root fly), to kill two birds with one stone! Or rather, deter two pests with one big net…

+ Spinach, ‘Red Kitten’

The sowing instructions on these say outdoors from February, but I thought I’d pop a few in a seed tray and try to raise some nice strong, healthy baby plants in the greenhouse to be planted out in a month’s time! If it doesn’t work or they get nipped by frost, then hey! I’ve only lost a handful of seeds.

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And lastly, to the broad beans!

I sowed a tray of broad beans (the variety is ‘Aquadulce’ in a modular seed tray back at the start of the month, but have since learnt that our dining room and kitchen definitely don’t get enough sunlight to raise healthy plants! The seedlings have grown so stupidly tall and leggy that some have keeled right over, so it’s off to the compost bin for them and onto a new batch!

This next lot I’ve sown direct into the bed next to the garlic, and am keeping my fingers crossed that they grow well! I’ve heard that mice like to make a meal of broad bean seeds, so it’ll be just my luck to find out that alongside the slugs, snails, moles, and rabbits, we’ve also got mice to contend with too!

If the broad beans do well though they’ll be one of our earliest crops of the year, with the beans ready in late spring. They’re so delicious added to risottos, pasta sauces, and whizzed up into falafel and hummus, so I’m desperate for them to do well!

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And that’s our progress for the month! I’m so, so ready to start eating homegrown food again. The crisp lettuces and tender beans and shiny courgettes of last summer feel like a distant memory already.

So here’s to Spring!

~ ~ ~

What’re you growing this month? Are you hoping to grow any fruits or vegetables this year?

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14.08

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D I G   F O R   V I C T O R Y

For pretty much my entire adult life, I’ve wanted to be good at gardening. I always loved the idea of growing my own vegetables and fruit, dreamed of being able to base my evening meal around whatever was ripe and ready to pick in the garden that day, and was so taken with the idea of being so connected to the natural environment around me.

I have the most vivid memories of growing tomatoes in a little grobag on the patio with my Grandma as a little girl, and of the smell of warm vines and earth and fish food in the greenhouse at my Nanny and Grandpa’s.

I’m not sure what exactly’s been the catalyst for this year being the year that I really got going with my garden, but something’s just clicked and now I can’t imagine life without gardening in it! It’s incredibly gratifying, therapeutic, and an amazing way to find some peace at the end of each day.

To be honest, I have an inkling that becoming a mother has something to do with my love for gardening and growing our food. I’m keen to be kinder to the environment, love knowing that the veg I feed Ottilie is organic and as fresh as it gets, and am proud to be sustaining our family in a small way. Basically, I’m a pair of linen overalls and a toe ring away from my transformation into a hippy earth mother being complete…;)

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Since sharing snippets of the progress of my little garden over the past few months I’ve had so, so many requests to put together a post about how I got started, and so, here we are! All that I’ve learnt during my first summer as a grow-your-own obsessive!

R E A D   +   R E S E A R C H

There is a plethora of information out there on getting started with growing veg, both in book form and online. One of my favourite resources has actually been Instagram- there is a whole community of gardeners who share updates from their allotments and kitchen gardens, and the tips and info I’ve picked up from their knowledge has been great! Searching through hashtags like allotment, kitchengarden, growyourown, allotmentlife, homegrown, ediblegarden, urbangardenersrepublic will bring up some really inspiring accounts!

Hollie Newton’s book ‘How to Grow’ has also become my Bible over the past few months, with both tips for growing and delicious recipes for the fruits and veg you produce. It’s so simple to follow, fun to read and full of such helpful info, I really can’t recommend it highly enough. Or the delicious recipe for runner bean kimchi that I now add to at least 60% of my meals!

I also love Charles Dowding’s YouTube channel- it’s a bit less accessible, but has amazing advice and demonstrations about a method of gardening called ‘no dig’, which basically involves using layers of compost to build the soil structure rather than doing masses of digging every year. It’s fascinating and something I’m wondering if I can replicate in the large containers I use for most of my veg growing. Alys Fowler’s series ‘The Edible Garden’ is also beautiful and so so inspiring. I watched the whole series on a website called archive dot org, which I’m not certain is entirely legit but doesn’t feel especially dodgy either, so…

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S P A C E

I always had the impression that you needed masses of space to grow veg, but in actual fact, you can grow almost anything in pots, boxes and containers! The big black tubs you can pick up in places like B&Q are cheap and great, but I’ve also used regular terracotta pots (£4.99 from Homebase!), a big vintage metal tub I found in an antique shop (£30, and it’s massive), and wine crates from my local Majestic (a fiver a pop, money that’s donated to Majestic’s chosen charity each year)!

So far this year in containers I’ve done- potatoes, Chantenay carrots, courgettes (the bigger the better when it comes to containers for courgette, they’re monster plants and like to sprawl!), cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuces and rocket, strawberries, sugar snap peas, and Swiss chard.

If you do happen to have space for a bed, there are tutorials for building raised beds online that look so simple I feel like even I could manage it myself! We only have a small amount of actual garden bed space that gets decent sun (our garden is tiny!!) and so I’ve used most of it for runner beans and then put one large courgette plant down the far end, with a jungle of nasturtiums growing in and around them all.

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T I M I N G   +   P L A N N I N G

Gardening and growing veg takes a fair bit of planning- who knew?! The newfound appreciation I have for my food is staggering- having seen the months of growth and nurturing that goes into every bean, carrot, potato and lettuce leaf, I could cry with guilt if I ever have to throw something in the bin that’s gone soggy in the fridge!!

Early Spring, March/April time, is the start of the ‘growing season’ (i.e. when the bulk of vegetables can be sown from seed), but even now there’s plenty to be planted up! Lettuces and leafy greens like spinach prefer cooler temperatures and will keep going through the Autumn, and look so lush and lovely in pots on a deck or patio.

To get an idea of what to plant when, back in Spring I spent time noseying through all the packets of seeds at the garden centre, reading on the back of each packet when the recommended months were for sowing, planting out and then harvesting. I’ve also got this book arriving today which supposedly is an amazing month by month guide for a year of homegrown veg!

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^^ Baby cavolo nero kale seedlings popping up! This pot had a courgette plant in it until the end of July, and once the plant finished fruiting I pulled it out, chucked in a layer of fresh compost, and sowed some kale seeds. Kicking myself for not starting the kale off in a seed tray a few weeks ago though to get going with growth before planting out!! ^^

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Y O U   W I N   S O M E ,   Y O U   L O S E   S O M E

Between the slugs and the caterpillars, the blights and the mildews (who even knew those were a thing?!) it can seem like you’re destined to fail before you’ve even started! I’ve definitely had my fair share of disasters this year, but by and large, the good has more than balanced out the bad.

Some losses though, for example…

Sugar snap peas. A late frost at the start of May killed off my first sowing when they were only an inch or so high, then the caterpillars moved in when my second sowing had just begun to bear fruit and ate their way through most of the leaves, and then a random mildewy-type thing spread over all the plants! BUT, the peas themselves, though few, were insanely delicious!!

Rocket. I’ve tried twice to grow rocket this summer, and both times it started flowering and was finished before it even started. I’ve since learnt that it was just too hot for rocket this summer, and so I’m trying again with another sowing…

Swiss chard. There’s a nasty bug called a Spinach Leaf Miner fly that’s been eating my Swiss chard from the inside out, and no matter how many times I take off the affected leaves I keep finding more and more damage. I need to work out a way to net it all, even though it’s in a container…

It’s funny though, because even the things that don’t work out don’t feel like failures. It’s a learning experience, and is all part of the fun!

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Whilst I don’t feel like I’m experienced enough to share any real tips of my own, there are a few things I’ve learnt this year that’ve been so valuable…

- Nasturtiums are the ultimate sacrificial plant! I read that they’re ideal to plant alongside runner beans as they’ll entice away any caterpillars and slugs, and it’s worked a treat. They’ve been munched to within an inch of their lives in parts, still look great in their own way, and my runner beans are healthy and happy! Hooray!

- Don’t waste super sunny spots in the garden on greens. Lettuces, rocket, spinach, and Swiss chard are all perfectly happy in semi shady spots, and the sunny patches can be kept sun lovers like tomatoes and beans!

- If in doubt, buy bigger pots or containers and give your plants more space than you think they’ll need. I put two tomatoes into one not especially large terracotta pot and they’re not very happy for it! Ah well, I’ll learn for next time!

-  When you’re told to give runner beans plenty of water and to put a mulch (a.k.a. a top layer of compost/manure, etc.) around each plant, don’t ignore the advice and think you know better. I managed to bring mine back from the brink during the early summer heatwave, but nearly had a very sad bean-less season after they got so dehydrated the flowers started dropping off without ever turning to beans!

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I think this might be the most mammoth post I’ve ever written, so perhaps we’ll leave things there for today! I’d love to share more from the garden over the coming months, and would love to know if there’s anything specific you’d like to read more of.

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Posted in COUNTRYSIDE LIFE, EATING SEASONALLY, GARDENING, KITCHEN GARDEN

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