Friday, December 30

Blogs that I like to read!

Diana at Kebun Malay- Kadazan Girls kindly awarded me this award.

It's always good to be chosen to receive awards but this one is a bit different - it doesn't ask you to reveal any dark secrets about yourself but was set up to spotlight up and coming bloggers who currently have less than 200 followers.

Strange to be considered up and coming when my blog has been going since 2006 but who knows there may still be a chance that I'll arrive at some time in the future. Arrive must mean to have over 200 followers - still about 50 to go then.

I don't know about you but as well as keeping up with long standing favourites it's good to meet new Bloggers and so I set about trying to fulfil the rules for accepting the award which are as follows:
1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.

2. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.

3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.

4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.
5. And most of all - have fun!

First rule - easy ! 
Second rule - not so easy - there are plenty of blogs out there that I enjoy reading regularly but some have already reached the heady heights of over 200 followers, others have already been given the award by someone else and others I have no idea how many followers they have as they don't have a followers gadget! How do I pick just 5 - I don't want to upset anyone by not choosing them!  Anyway I have finally settled on five that had less than 100 followers and deserve to have more than that.

As they say - in no particular order my selections are: pause for effect -------------------

Jenni at Rainy Day Gardener who at the moment is gardening in Oregon but is shortly to move home. It will be really interesting to see how her new garden progresses. Jenni's life is changing in other ways too as she enters the world of full time housewife and mum after re-evaluating what she wants out of life. Good Luck Jenni.

Kelli at My Garden Diary by Kelli Boyles. Kelli gardens an acre of land in Country Antrim Northern Ireland. Not only does Kelli have a garden that I would like where she grows fruit, vegetables and flowers but it's surrounded by beautiful countryside. 

Phoebe at Ballynoe Cottage in Melbourne- Australia who has a way of making use of things many people would just throw away. Not only does she use this stuff but she uses it with style. She also has the elements of nature to work with or against as recently her garden came under attack from large hailstones and the worst flash flooding that her area has ever seen

Brenda at Gardeningbren in Nova Scotia I'm only just 'getting to know' Brenda but I'm really enjoying her style of writing and look forward to finding more out about her and her garden. I do know that like me she loves to see wildlife in her garden - especially birds. She is also trying to extend her growing season by growing under cover.

I now have a problem as the one I was going to give my final award to has already been given it by someone else!! After quite a bit of umming and arring I'm going to give the last award to:
Martyn at A Gardener's Weather Diary OK hands up it is very close to home - couldn't be closer - but it isn't my blog and I haven't come across another blogger who has written a post almost every day this year. If you enjoy reading about the weather and its effects on gardening then pay him a visit.

And while you are at it don't stop there as there are some fantastic blogs in my blogrolls why not have a browse of them too. Now I have to complete rule two by telling the people they have received awards - I hope I get in before someone else gives them the same award!

I hope I can find some suggestions for new blogs to check out too - if you know of any that you think I would like then post a comment to let me and everyone else know about them.

Wednesday, December 28

Winter salad leaves and micro-herbs

In November I decided to use our Indoor Grow Garden to try and grow some salad leaves and micro-herbs over winter. I posted about it here

Within a couple of days the salad leaves/lettuce had germinated and they are now at the stage where we can use them. 
I decided to sow some more seeds so that I had some leaves to follow on from these once they are used and decided just to sow a few of all the types of lettuce that we have left over from last season namely Saladin, Red Iceberg, Great Lakes, Little Gem and Rougette du Midi. Some quickly germinated so it will be interesting to see how these varieties perform.

As for the micro-herbs; we have used the coriander. I waited until it had grown its first true leaves. Unfortunately at this stage the seed leaves had turned a little yellow. We used the herbs as a garnish to a curry and there was a distinct coriander flavour so it was a success. The one problem was that I had sown the seed as though they were going to produce full size plants - rather thinly and so we didn't really have much to pick. I've sown some more which has already germinated and this time have been a bit more generous. I'll have to start saving coriander seed as there isn't a huge amount in the seed packets for using in this way.
The purple basil is also growing well - not sure where the odd green leaves have come from.  Again I didn't really sow enough seed. We haven't used any yet as I am waiting for the first pair of true leaves to grow.

Friday, December 23

All is safely gathered in!

We had a trip to the plot yesterday to gather vegetables to keep us going over the Christmas period. Despite our relative failure with carrots we did manage to find some and three cheers for club root resistant sprouts!
Can you spot the tiny green cauliflower in the top right corner? - If not here's a closer look.
This is one of our coloured cauliflowers that was attacked by pigeons earlier in the year. It's rallied a little and so we decided after all the effort that it has made it would be churlish to turn up our noses at it.

The red cabbage makes up for it - just hope I have enough pans to manage to
braise it all - some for Christmas dinner and the rest to freeze. We already had some parsnips, beetroot and leeks gathered in so along with the stored potatoes, onions and shallots we should be OK for vegetables and we still have some apples to use in the braised red cabbage.

A much more enjoyable way to gather food than a frantic expedition to the supermarket. 

Tuesday, December 20

Happy Christmas

Saturday, December 17

Garlic Report

In this post dated 21 November, I mentioned how the garlic that I had planted directly on the plot was faring. The varieties of garlic that were furthest on a that point were Lautrec Wight, Edenrose, Germidour and Purple Wight. Albigensian Wight was just beginning to produce shoots but there were no signs of the other varieties. I haven't checked on the garlic on the plot since but said I would update on how the garlic that is being started off in the garden greenhouse was coming along.

You may remember I planted three cloves of each variety in small pots to be transplanted outside later and I planted three cloves of each variety except elephant garlic into large tubs where they will grow to maturity.

This week I decided to check how things were going and the results were as follows.

So far the quickest off the mark are Germidour (on the left) and Lautrec Wight (on the right) all the cloves both in small pots and the tubs are growing well.

Early Purple Wight (top) and and Edenrose (bottom) both are growing well in the large tub but only one clove of each is at the same stage in the small pots.

Two of the three cloves of Iberian Wight are growing well in the tub but the cloves are just beginning to shoot in the pots. One of the cloves in a pot is producing two shoots.

Albigensian Wight on the left and Chesnok Red are performing slightly better in the small pots than in the tub. 

Messidrome is just beginning to shoot with one clove in a small pot being ahead of the rest.

Wight Christo is just beginning to shoot in both situations.

And the elephant garlic hasn't really moved at all. I didn't plant any elephant garlic in the tubs as I thought that as it should grow much larger than the 'real' garlic that it would need to be planted out in the ground rather than trying to grow it to maturity in the tub.

Four of the five varieties that were most advanced on the plot are the same as are most advanced in the greenhouse. I'm guessing that the variation is more likely to be due to the fact that different varieties are earlier maturing than the others so at the moment I'm not drawing any conclusions about which are the better perfomers. 

Germidour was one of the smallest bulbs in the collection but is one of the first off the mark so size obviously isn't an issue.

On Thursday I checked on the progress of garlic on the plot and so far the same varieties as mentioned before are the only ones showing any growth. There was a dusty of icy snow covering the ground when we visited though so it's possible that some small shoots were covered.

Thursday, December 15


On Monday we decided to have the afternoon out at a nearby RSPB reserve and as usual my camera was really busy. I only took about 190 photos so I thought that I'd share them all here! Don't worry - only kidding! I've just selected a few.

I really couldn't resist sharing this one - not the sharpest photo in the world but definitely a female pheasant with attitude.
It's only fair to show her a little more composed.
Like all sensible males this one knows when to keep his head down.
The proof that birds of a feather really do flock together or rather nibble fat balls. There are at least 8 long tailed tits feeding together.
Again it's not brilliantly sharp but it was a fair distance away and pretty gloomy.

Until we looked at the photos and video we didn't know what the female great spotted woodpecker was tucking into.
Dried mealworms in a basket - we'd already got the mealworms so Martyn went out and bought a basket - maybe we can tempt our own woodpecker visitor! We have had them in the garden previously so who knows!

A bit of a mystery bird here:
I don't think it's a wood pigeon and I know there are stock doves visit this sight but this doesn't look like the ones I can find pictures of - any ideas?

Then there is always an opportunist about isn't there.
After a bit of an absence the birds are flocking back to the garden - not all last year's species have returned yet but we have quite a large flock of beautiful goldfinches and if you haven't had enough birds, Martyn took a lovely bit of video of two love doves which is here on his blog

Monday, December 12

Green shoots.

The sun was shining this morning which tempted me out into the garden with my camera. 

I could see from our house windows that some of the bulbs have begun to push through the soil which is always a welcome sight at this time of year so I decided to have a closer look. I don't actually know whether the bulbs are shooting earlier than last year as snow covers the ground in many of my December 2010 photos or it was too cold to venture out to take photos.

I do have photos showing bulb growth last year as early as 2 January though so maybe last year's shoots were hiding under a white blanket in December.

This morning I spotted miniature and large daffodils, crocus and snowdrops shoots. There may be some muscari as there were shoots that seemed different to the ones named above.

Tuesday, December 6

After two years of failure and then ...

For the last couple of years we have bemoaned the fact that we have been complete failures when it comes to growing sprouts. 

Having club root in our soil we have always sown seeds in pots and planted the young plants out. They were always given a good start in life but couldn't seem to maintain the capacity to thrive.

We read everything we could on sprout growing - we firmed the soil, we fed and watered the plants, we tended them with loving care - nothing worked!

Other bloggers teased us with photos of their newly harvested buttons while all we had to show were tatty remnants of buttonless sprout plants.

It hadn't always been like this but suddenly we had become a sprout free zone. Now for some people I know this could only be a good thing but we like sprouts and missed them.

Last year browsing seed catalogues we came across a variety - Crispus - that it was claimed was club root resistant so we decided as a last ditch attempt we would give it a try.

Now this year wasn't the very best of seasons for making sure sprout plants had adequate water so we seemed doomed to yet more failure, however, I am delighted to announce that this year we have sprouts!
We are guessing that club root had affected the plants badly enough to prevent them taking up the nutrients and moisture that they needed.
The roots on this year's plants certainly look as though they have weathered the club root problem.
There is one other factor that could have helped which was the much lower numbers of whitefly on the plot last year during summer. These have been a big problem on brassicas most years - in fact they've been a problem on most things, so we may not yet be on the road to sprout filled years ahead.

We'll enjoy this year's sprout-fest and look forward to a repeat next year. Crispus is going to be top of our seed list along with a few other club root resistant varieties of brassicas. Let's hope this year wasn't just a flash in the pan!

Sunday, December 4

Plot in the gloom

We needed to replenish our vegetable stock and so despite the gloomy weather on Friday we needed to pay a visit to the plot.

The photos in this album show just how gloomy things were but fail to show just how cold it was. It actually felt much colder than the temperature showed - maybe we have become soft what with the lack of frost so far.

I did think of lightening the photos so you wouldn't have to try peering through the darkness but that's how things were - not an ideal day for taking photos or in fact doing anything else.

A full list of what we managed to harvest is here

Thursday, December 1

Green Roof?

I just wish that the bird weren't such messy eaters. We are forever cleaning up the floor around the bird tables and sunflowers sprout in the most unlikely of places.

Now though our birds seem to have been reading up on green living and have started to create a green roof on the top of one of the bird tables.
I can't see the sunflowers surviving - maybe the birds will have their own supply of fresh greens.

Short digression:
If you remember I started a new project designing greetings cards - well just to mention that one of my designs has been chosen to include in a charity collection for Help the Heroes. If you're interested in taking a peep click here

Monday, November 28

Skilled lace maker?

We came across a couple of spider webs on the plot the weekend before last. ( Just hadn't got round to posting the photos).
One was on the soil and the other was in the compost heap. 
The water droplets caught in the web twinkled in the sunlight
I'm not sure what type of spider is responsible for this lace-work but it's beautiful!

Saturday, November 26

Isn't it satisfying when things work out!

You may remember that I challenged myself to grow some cyclamen from seed this year.

I was prepared to have wasted my money on this seed but what is life without a challenge!

In October I posted that I had eight small cyclamen plants and one was even flowering.

Well the latest is that now all eight plants are flowering.
Despite only being eight seeds in the packet the potential colour range was for nine different colours. Obviously I knew that I wouldn't have all nine! I did wonder whether I would end up with all the plants the same colour but despite having some duplication I think I have ended up with a good mix of colours. Now it's a matter of keeping them as cool as possible - not easy with central heating - so I manage to get as long a flowering season as possible.

Thursday, November 24

Another fungi or is it something else?

Wandering round the plot at the weekend I noticed some strange white substance on some of the blades of grass under the plum trees.
I couldn’t really decide whether this was animal or vegetable so as I always do on such occasions, I took some photos.
You can always get a much better look at something when you zoom in to take a photo.
I’ve discounted my first thought which was that the white coating was some sort of woolly aphid and think that we have yet another type of fungus or lichen.
From searching the Internet I think it’s some sort of slime mould. Not a very appealing name and one that conjures all sorts of sinister science fiction type scenarios!

Anyone got any better ideas?

Tuesday, November 22

Don’t you just love a proper nursery.

I’ve been looking for plants to grow in one of our redesigned borders. As this is under a crab apple tree I decided to have a blue and white colour theme to try and lighten things up a little.

I must admit to straying from the colour constraints a little by planting an acer as it’s a plant we have both always fancied having in our garden and until now didn’t really have a good position for one.
I also wanted another shrub to balance the acer and add a bit of structure. Browsing the Internet I came across what I thought would be an ideal plant - hydrangea quercifolia. Like the acer it is supposed to have striking autumn colour and also white flowers in late summer. After hearing Janet at Plantilicious praising the one she has in her garden I made up my mind to have one.

There were some for sale on the Internet but when you just want one plant postage is quite expensive in relation to the cost of the plant. I decided that would be my fall back option if I couldn’t find a plant locally. Searching garden centres over summer I did come across a batch but they looked very drawn and straggly so they were left on the shelf!

As a last resort before I bought one online I asked at a local nursery whether they ever had any for sale. Now bear in mind this is a ‘proper’ nursery than just sells plants and gardening stuff not a garden centre that is more like a department store with plants! I call it a local nursery which isn’t very true but it is local to where I was brought up and we have been visiting for years. 

Anyway back to the hydrangea - the answer was that they didn’t usually get hydrangea quercifolia in, but they would ask their supplier if they could get one for me. They took my phone number and promised to be in touch if they managed to source one for me.
Time passed and I didn’t hear and wondered whether the note made on a little pad had been lost so when I visited the nursery I asked whether they had forgotten me. They hadn’t and my request was taped to the till with the message that a plant would be available in November. Then I had a call to say a plant was ready for me to collect. When we arrived we had a choice of four plants and I was even given a discount as they hadn’t had time to pot on the plants before I arrived.

The plant is now in its permanent planting position so I hope it realises the trouble we went to to find it and that it repays us by growing well.
As for Swillington Nurseries thank you for remaining a ‘proper’ nursery when most of the ones around you have been seduced by the desire to become all things to all people.

Monday, November 21

Overdue plot visit!

It’s almost a fortnight since we visited the plot. The gloomy weather hasn’t encouraged us, we’ve also had lots to do in the garden and seem to have busy doing other things too.

Encouraged by the appearance of the sun and the need to replenish our fresh vegetable stocks we decided to go allotmenting this weekend.

As always the first thing that has to be done when visiting the plot - that is after donning waterproof boots, a necessity at this time of year if we are to avoid soggy socks - is to wander around checking on what is growing or in need of most urgent attention.

The peas that we sowed in October have now germinated well - much better than they did earlier in the year. Now it’s just a matter of waiting to see whether they make it through the winter. We’re not going to give them any special protection, just leaving them to fend for themselves  to find out just how hardy late sown peas are! 
The winter onions are growing well and some of the garlic is shooting. The varieties of garlic that are furthest on are Lautrec Wight, Edenrose, Germidour and Purple Wight. Albigensian Wight is just beginning to produce shoots but as yet there is no sign of the other varieties. I’ll update on how each variety is performing in the greenhouse in a later post. All was not completely well in the onion bed though as it wasn’t only the onions and garlic that were growing. Chickweed was beginning to stake a claim for soil domination. As onions don’t really enjoy competing with weeds I decided my priority task was to do a bit of weeding.
It hasn’t taken long for our soil to go from as dry as a desert to wet and sticky. We haven’t had a great amount of rain but enough to make weeding out chickweed a very yukky task as the state of my gardening gloves will prove. Anyway the job is done and the bed looks better for it.
While I was weeding Martyn was tidying up the plum tree that cracked under the weight of so many plums during summer. He's posted about it on his blog here.

There should no longer be any white butterflies about trying to find a suitable place to lay their eggs and the wood pigeons only tend to attack young plants so we also decided to take the insect netting off our brassicas. Last year we think that the damage to overwintering brassicas was down to the snow building up on the net which eventually collapsed onto the plants. If the snow had covered the plants naturally it would have built up gradually but we think the collapse of the netting meant the plants were in effect squashed by the sudden weight that dropped on top of them. Hopefully if it does snow heavily again this year the plants will have a better chance.
Our harvesting list is here but one rather amazing mini harvest was a handful of autumn raspberries. Very strange to pick fresh raspberries in the last half of November. 
If you want to know what we harvested - including our first parsnips and sprouts of the year the list is here