Monday, March 28

The tortoise has left the starting blocks.

All talk of seed sowing on other blogs has left us feeling a bit like the tortoise in its race with the hare. Although we had sown some seeds under the indoor growing garden our seed sowing activity paled into insignificance alongside everyone else. I can now report that our seed sowing is now well underway. The first serious sowing of the season – broad beans – Witkiem Manita – has taken place. The seeds have been sown into small pots and will be planted out as small plants.
The cut and come again lettuce that was grown under the growing light was a success and has provided us with lots of salad leaves. We may manage another helping but I think that will be the end of that mini harvest. If we had transplanted the young plants maybe they would have continued to produce for longer but that wasn’t the point of the trial – we wanted to see if just leaving the lettuce to grow under the lights would provide some useable leaves. The next seeds to take up residence are the newly sown tomatoes - Moneymaker and Amish Gold to be joined shortly by other varieties of tomato, peppers and any other seeds that need a more cossetted start to life.
We managed lots of tidying on the plot – so much that we produced a gigantic heap of dry material. It was too dry to compost and so a bonfire was called for and the pile very quickly disappeared. Too quickly to take a photo other than at the very end.
Most of the permanently planted fruit beds have been tidied. The soil has been loosened and the bushes and trees fed with pelleted chicken manure. Last year’s canes of the autumn fruiting raspberries have been cut down to the ground – this year I think I’ll reduce the number of canes that are allowed to grow as quite a thicket is being produced.
Buddleias that mark the end of some of our long beds have also been cut back hard – it’s always hard to imagine how much they will grow after this treatment.

The heat treated onion sets arrived – three varieties, Fen Early, Hytech and Hyred and these have been planted directly into a bed on the plot. These always arrive later than the ordinary onion sets as it can take up to three months to prepare the sets. We have used these type of sets for a few years now and it has certainly saved us from the problem of onions bolting.

I had a happy surprise when clearing away the straw that had protected the carrots over winter. We thought we had dug the last of the useable carrots but I found quite a lot more large firm roots. We also pulled some spring onions that had been left in all winter and are also still harvesting parsnips and leeks. Fresh curly leaved kale is providing some fresh greens.
The frantic activity in the garden pond appears to have quietened down. The brief courtship ritual over, the frogs have hopped off leaving a clump of frog spawn to fend for itself.

On the other hand activity in the nest box has increased. Although at the moment there doesn’t appear to be a great deal of nesting material being collected what has been deposited in the box is being constantly rearranged and each night one of the blue tits roosts inside.

Don't forget to check our latest updates from the web cam update link on the sidebar.

I also have a detailed diary of activities in the garden and on the plot on my website which can be acccessed from the link on the sidebar.

There are more photos of our progress on Martyn's blog

Just a little warning about computer security. I had a call from a very persistent man with an Indian accent trying to tell me that my computer had been compromised and he wanted to help me rescue the situation. He tried all sorts of scare tactics to get me to agree to let him help even after I made it clear that I thought it was a scam. I contacted a computer expert friend who pointed me to this article . Just thought you should be aware!

Wednesday, March 23

Spring means primroses and goings on …

21st March the first day of spring kick started us into some overdue action in the garden and on the plot. We actually spent the first full half day of the season working on the plot pruning and tidying. Martyn spent a second half day clearing, digging and burning yesterday. Then today we had another afternoon mainly tidying the permanent fruit beds. More photos of our progress are on Martyn’s blog.
Beds are being dug so that soon we can plant out the fruit currently patiently waiting in the greenhouse. The raspberries were planted this afternoon. The fruit bushes on the plot are looking healthy and coming into growth. The greengage and plum trees have flower buds which I hope don’t suffer from any frosting. One fruit centred job that I never look forward to is the pruning of the blackberry which was done belatedly this week. The way we tackle this is explained here.
The trouble with things beginning to grow is that we may have harvested our last carrot as the ones still in the ground appear to have started to go mushy. Our last carrot wasn't a bad effort though weighing in at over 500g and that was after peeling.
Going by the sights and sounds spring was very much in the air.

In the garden we can almost watch the camellia, magnolia and crab apple buds opening.
The frogs are back – maybe some have never really left as males do sometimes hibernate in the mud at the bottom of ponds. They made their presence known by the now familiar croaking of the frog chorus. Obviously I wasn’t the one being serenaded and over the past couple of days more frogs have arrived increasing the level of activity. I just hope the croakers have managed to attract enough females and leave our fish alone as the frantic males can latch on to anything that moves in their desperation to grab a mate and fish don’t always survive unscathed!
The native primroses are looking fantastic full of flower so that must mean it is spring.
Activity has also increased in the web can nest box. A tentative attempt has been made by a pair of blue tits to start nest building – very tentative as they seem to take as much material back out as they do bring in. One bird has spent the last two nights huddled in the box so hopefully this is a sign that they are going to take up residence. Up to date images can be viewed here - well almost up to date as the latest activity won’t be available until later in the week as we have been too busy working outdoors to process and sift through the images.

The sun has shone all day (it's been actually warm) and Martyn has mown the lawns for the first time this year - IT MUST BE SPRING!

Sunday, March 20

At least the birds will have missed us!

We were away in Cumbria last week so I was really hoping that none of my perennials would arrive whilst we were away. I had noted our holiday dates to suppliers but you never really know whether they will take any notice.

When we arrived home our first batch of plants were waiting at the back door – fortunately they had only just been delivered that morning. The plants were a collection of veronica from Hayloft Plants. They were supplied as bare rooted and as I expected were nothing like the size of the plants from Beth Chatto. I can’t complain as this was made clear on the website.

Even as a collection plants work out far more expensive than the larger plants sold by Beth Chatto but they didn't have the plants that I wanted.

To be honest I’d forgotten to include the veronicas on my planting plan and so had to adapt it. As soon as we had unloaded the car and had something to eat I potted them up. I’ve quite a few more plants to come from Hayloft and so I guess they will all be fairly small so maybe my dream of a mass of flowers at the front of the house won’t be fulfilled until next year!

The hellebores that I bought a couple of years ago from Hayloft have produced really good plants so I am hopeful that these plants will be the same, it's just a little more patience will be needed.
On the other hand the plants from Beth Chatto are growing well. Some are even on flower (the ones intended for the area under the crab apple tree). Once in position these should flower before the tree leafs up and then have attractive leaves that with stand out in the shade – well that’s the theory – I still haven’t found a statue for here though!
All the fruit biding time in the greenhouse is growing well including the replacement raspberries so we will now have to make a concerted effort to get them planted out. The cobnut is starting to produce female flowers.
They look a bit like sea anemones – being wind pollinated they don’t have any petals - they just stretch out the stigma and hope to catch some passing pollen grains! They’re not going to have much chance of that in the greenhouse so if I find any catkins on a nearby hazel bush I’ll steal some of its pollen top try and artificially pollinate them. If not it will be no nuts this year.
As a homecoming treat we picked our first lot of salad leaves grown in our indoor garden.
The plants may not have missed us but the birds have – the goldfinches (maybe with a bit of help form a few other species) had emptied the fairly large sunflower hearts feeder – it’s now full again and soon the birds were homing back in. We couldn't leave the bird cam running so have no idea of what went on in our absence but no-one has yet moved in.
 More March garden photos are shown in a photo album here

If you enjoy looking at other people's holiday photos Martyn has posted one or two on his blog here

Wednesday, March 16

Do you love 'em or hate 'em?

When I was a child the sight of a spider would set me off shrieking and climbing onto anything available to get above the level of their scurrying eight legs.

I don't know whether or not I was actually frightened of spiders but looking back I think I was maybe programmed to fear spiders. Little girls screamed at spiders didn't they? It was the thing to do and also caused a fuss!

When I grew up I started to learn more about spiders and gradually came to be fascinated by them. I even stroked a tarantula this year when it was making a public appearance at a local pet shop. Last year when we were on holiday a spider was spinning its web outside the kitchen window and Martyn got some great video which show how skilled a garden spider is at spinning. I was saving it until I could get some frosty or dew laden spider webs photos but conditions haven't provided any and so I decided to share the video now instead of waiting longer.

I have also written an article on Garden Spiders on our website here

I hope you're not too frightened of spiders as most gardeners can't avoid coming across them in greenhouses and sheds.

Saturday, March 12

Indoor Growing Garden - update

It's a while since I reported on how things have progressed using our Indoor Growing Garden.

We are still impressed by the set up and it seems to be living up to expectations. We went with the majority and didn't thin out the lettuce seedlings which seems to have been an OK decision as the lettuce don't appear to be suffering and are growing really well.
They are now at the stage where we could nip off a few leaves to add to salads if we wanted to - they have had no extra treatment other than to add water to the reservoir. No sign of any legginess.

The basil is also growing well albeit much slower to develop. Both basil and lettuce have been left under the lights.

The coriander has been potted on into pots and popped in the cold greenhouse - a risk we know but this is after all more of an experiment - more coriander will be sown at an appropriate time. The seedlings had developed a really good root system maybe helped by the fairly constant supply of water - no wet then dry periods to deal with. Topping up the reservoir about once a week seems to do the trick and is the only real effort involved on our part .
The spring cabbages had seemed to stop growing but not really the fault of the set up - we think the compost had just run out of nutrients and that the small plants needed repotting so this has been done. Like the coriander the cabbages had a really good root system.

These have also been left in the cold greenhouse - the colder temperatures shouldn't harm them and if very low temperatures are predicted we will throw a piece of fleece over them. The spell in the cold greenhouse will be the first stage in the hardening off process,

More cabbage seeds have been sown and popped under the lights where they will shortly be joined by seeds such as tomatoes and peppers.

I'm writing a full report on our experiences with this system on my website here so if you have missed out on any early reports and wonder what on earth I am talking about follow the link and all will be made clearer.

To digress:
The perennials that are potted up in the greenhouse are growing really well - I am really pleased with them - the pulmonaria has even produced some flowers which are a really lovely blue. Once the rest of my plants arrive I'll be planting out the front bed.
I've added to my perennial order and have ordered a collection of five dark leaved single dahlias from Unwins which were featured in a catalogue they sent me - they looked so good I couldn't resist. As I am waiting for a Penstemon collection from them and rang and added them to my order so I can save a little on postage.

Wednesday, March 9

Stocking up on raspberries.

Last year we bought thirty new raspberry canes – ten each of Glen Moy - early, Glen Ample – mid season and Glen Magna – late summer. Just as with the strawberries we wanted to try and make sure that we had raspberries for as long a season as possible. As well as being delicious unlike strawberries, raspberries freeze really well too so that’s an added bonus.

We already had a couple of autumn fruiting varieties that have been growing for ages now, Fall Gold or All Gold (it seems to have two names!) which as you can guess from its names has yellow fruit and Joan J (which is really not doing very well – I think it suffers from being planted in the shadow of Fall Gold).
Another raspberry that we planted last year was Glencoe a purple raspberry which is quite unusual as it grows more like a blackberry than a raspberry. You only need one plant as it forms a clump of long vigorous stems. It produced lots of fruit over a long period of time last year.

When the new canes arrived just as this year the conditions were not really good enough for planting and so they were healed into a large pot and kept in the garden greenhouse away from the worst of the weather.

The Glen Ample raspberries in spite of being new produced a reasonable amount of really delicious berries and the Glen Magna although not as good as Ample grew well and also produced a small crop. That left the Glen Moy canes which were a disaster – not one grew.

Glencoe was cut back in the same way as the summer fruiting varieties but the new canes were so long that they needed to be supported.

So here’s hoping for a good crop of multi coloured raspberries this season. Can’t wait!

If you are interested I’ve written more about how we prune our raspberries here
We had bought the canes from Keepers and so I emailed them to ask if we had done anything wrong when planting them and received a reply saying that the very bad weather had caused quite a lot of casualties and that if I let them know how many and which variety of plant had died they would replace them at an appropriate time. This wouldn’t be until the next growing season.

Anyway true to their word last month a couple of bundles of replacement canes arrived. One bundle of Glen Moy and a couple of Glen Magna canes. Just as last year the conditions are too wet to plant so hopefully this batch will survive in the greenhouse. They have been heeled in, in a large pot of compost – the method which worked for the other varieties last year.
Must say yet another supplier who has offered good service! Surely our luck can’t hold out for much longer!
We are hoping for a really good crop from the raspberries that were planted and survived last year. They sent up some strong new canes. As these varieties fruit on the season before’s canes all the old canes that had fruited were cut down to the ground.
The autumn fruiting All Gold are a different proposition as they fruit of the same year’s canes and so once the weather bucks up all the canes will be cut down to ground level. This year I really do need to thin out the new canes as a raspberry thicket is forming.

Update on Nest Box cam: Most days blue tits continue to give the nest box a thorough looking over but as yet no signs of moving in - latest images etc can be viewed from the Bird Box Cam link on the sidebar.

Sunday, March 6

Can anyone help identify this bird?

Sorry to post so quickly after the last post but we need a bit of help with the identity of a new bird we spotted in the garden this morning. The nearest that we can get to identify it is a female linnet. When it flew off it had very noticeable white feathers down the sides of its tail. The tail was longer than a sparrow too. If it was a female linnet I hope a male is nearby although we haven't heard one singing!

I've included the video taken by Martyn and my photos to help identification.
The bird was eating seed from our bird table which is a bit of a distance from the house. Are there any bird experts out there who can either confirm our identification or offer a better one?


Saturday, March 5

It's not that I'm ungrateful but ...

Every year we buy all our seeds and settle down to our planting plans at the beginning of the year - we want to get started with our gardening but it is just too early but at least we can plan and order all the seeds and plants that we want!

Orders duly dispatched we sit back and wait for seeds and plants to arrive and the conditions to be right to let us get gardening!

Then the gardening magazines move in on the act! They start adding free packets of seeds to each edition. Now it's not that I'm ungrateful but a little imagination would be welcome. Each year we are provided with more lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, beetroot and maybe just maybe some herbs. And guess what they always seem to choose varieties that we have already bought.
I know that much of this is to encourage new gardeners but something to tempt us to grow something just a little bit different would be most welcome. Or maybe as a compromise they could include the free seeds in earlier editions before we had bought our own.

Whinge over - now to change the tone. The siskins may have gone but we still have a variety of great birds to watch. Two that used to be infrequent visitors seem to more or less have taken up residence.
The goldfinches seem to adore sunflower hearts, the feeder seems to always have at least one or two perched on it. They even look in our window to pose for a photo. I couldn't get a photo of one with the sun shining on it which is a shame as its colours are really bright then.
The long tailed tits prefer fat based food - they were always on a fat coconut until we bought some buggy nibbles which they can't seem to get enough of. At times there have been four on the feeder at one time. They also seem to be going into a berberis quite a lot - an ideal prickly location for a nest? Hope so.
Not to neglect those birds who seem to have been around forever - the robins love the fat filled coconut - that is if they can beat the blackbirds and dunnocks to it.

And now for some exciting news - yesterday it was all go inside the nest box cam. Prospective tenants coming and going all day - one even brought its mate for a look around.

For more photos visit the link to nest box cam on the sidebar. It's not a live display but gives some idea of what happened yesterday. Things look promising again after a few days of none activity!

The images have been converted to black and white as they are clearer.

And I've now got 99 followers - how exciting is that - will you be number 100? Martyn is really really jealous!

Stop Press - Kalipso has beaten everyone to number 100!

Tuesday, March 1

Sunshine and flowers - so is it spring now?

Regular visitors may remember that last year I planted up the area close to the house with hellebores. This area is in shade during the summer months as it is under a large magnolia. At this time of year it is ideal for early flowering plants which also provide something beautiful to look at from the house window. After growing the hellebore plants on at little at the plot, last April they were planted in their final positions and looked like this:
Now they are beginning to flower and will hopefully grow to look like their older cousin – the original lone hellebore that was planted here and inspired us to buy more.
But the youngsters are definitely making an effort with lots of buds still to open.
The flowers that are open ones are lovely although many seem shy to lift their faces.

Also straight outside one of our windows is a small bed at the foot of one of our bird baths. And yes I know the bird bath isn’t straight but we never seem to be able to get it just right!

This area gets quite wet during summer as the splashing birds produce daily rain showers and so is planted with ferns and astilbes most of which don’t shoot until later so to bridge the spring gap this bed in planted choc a bloc with spring bulbs. The crocuses (or is it croci) were a bit of a disappointment having been battered by the bad weather and having little sunshine to encourage them to open up fully, (although they haven’t completely given up just yet), but we now have our first miniature daffodil flower which has opened specially to celebrate St David’s day.

And as the magnolia tree is a favourite feeding area for the birds I also have an excuse to include a couple of photos of another bird, long tailed tits, that we seem to have a flock of at the moment. They are spending lots of time chasing one another around but keep still long enough to peck at one of the fat coconuts and allow me to take one or two photos.
Sadly after being around almost every minute of the last few days, the siskins seem to have gone - the sunshine must have told them that it was time to move on to their breeding sites! Hope they come back next year!