Out with the Old, In with the New

March 31, 2020

Gardening at this time of year always reminds me of the apocryphal resolution of some town council in Scotland somewhere to 1) build a new prison, 2) save money by using the bricks from the old prison in the new prison, and 3) to house the prisoners in the old prison until the new prison is built …

Veg plot in March

The focus at the moment is getting everything planted for the coming season but the old season isn’t finished yet – and at a time when access to fresh veg feels like a luxury I’m not ready to cut it off before it’s done. The purple sprouting broccoli is just getting into its stride, the kale is still hanging in there, the Swiss chard is gearing up to produce a final flush of leaves before it bolts for good, and the leeks … well the last remaining leeks are doing a convincing impression of spring onions. With the weather warming up and the days lengthening, they might well have plumped up a bit more before they bolted too but like time and the tide, seed potatoes wait for no man so today they got eaten, ready or not to make room for the spuds. ‘Baby leeks’ are totally a thing, right?

very small leeks

I’ve also been taking the chance to plant some of the hardier flowering plants I have been raising from seed. There’s still a lot of garden to take back control of, and I’m generally too tight-fisted to buy actual plants from a garden centre (village plant sales are another matter) but I have great difficulty in walking past a display of seeds without some seductively illustrated little packet ending up in my basket. Not all of these are successful, and my failure to find a plant labelling solution that remains legible after a few months means that those that do grow often end up as mystery plants before they are planted out, but I’m pretty sure that these are my white foxgloves (we have plenty of the normal pink ones) which I planted underneath our wedding anniversary birch trees while catching up with the latest government announcement on the radio.

foxglove seedlings

There’s a weird disconnect involved in doing something as generally pleasant and hopeful as planting out young plants, while listening to the daily announcement of the coronavirus death toll. I can only hope that by the time they are in flower (if indeed they do flower), the memory of this time will seem like something from the distant past.


Baselining

May 31, 2017

With the other half finally home, and things slightly easing off on the bonkers busy front, it’s been time to start getting to grips with the gardening backlog. Today, I managed an hour or so listening to the radio (PM is as ever the only news programme that’s bearable during election time, indeed increasingly the only news programme that’s bearable full stop) and planting out my leek seedlings while the other half tackled the grass.

leek seedlings

I’m putting this year’s veg growing down to establishing a baseline – things can only improve from here, effectively. Especially as I discovered this morning that the Small Emergency Backup Hare is using the potato patch as its current chilling spot. Clearly my hare defences need to be exchanged for something less rustic and more agricultural, possibly involving chicken wire and/or baler twine.

veg plot at the end of May

Meanwhile, the Large Main Hare and another Large Main Hare appear to be working on the stock of Small Emergency Backup Hares, although Mrs Main Hare doesn’t seem to be too keen right at the moment. Yesterday, as I headed off on my bike to Bigtown they were so busy chasing eachother round the farmyard at the bottom of the hill they were actually running towards me instead of away – I can only hope they’re a bit more wary around the cars. And I’ve discovered that, for an animal with a reputation for the uncanny and the magical, when hares get frisky with each other they’re actually pretty heavy footed (especially when you’re all alone in the house and wondering what on earth is thundering around outside). Humans clearly aren’t the only ones to totally lose their cool in the presence of the opposite sex…

frisky hares


All Good Things …

December 12, 2016

… must come to an end, and that includes the old veg plot and greenhouse.

destroyed kale

The rabbit has been systematically working its way through the curly kale (you know, you wouldn’t think rabbits were all that systematic but they do seem to like to eat things in order).

chillies ripening

I do like the way these chillies ripen, as if they had been dipped in paint (or held in the fire until they glowed red hot)

In the greenhouse, the tomatoes are finished and we should really put the tomatilloes out of their misery, but the chillies are still staggering on and producing chillies. In fact, there’s a three-line whip in the town mouse household at the moment – if it’s possible to put chillies in a dish, then in they go (fortunately they’re not that hot)

chilli crop

Meanwhile, after five years of trying, I appear to have cracked the secret of growing a decent crop of leeks: move house before they are due to be ready.

leeks

Fun as it is to have a new garden to play with and a whole new vegetable plot of my very own, I’m really going to miss the old plot. Not many people get a proper walled kitchen garden to play with (even a part of it) and a big greenhouse to boot. I’ve learned a lot in the past few years – mostly of the ‘what not to do’ variety – and we’ve eaten well as a result, even if occasionally it’s felt like an effort to get through all of the bounty that’s been produced. If I’m feeling sufficiently sentimental, I may even go through some of the edit highlights before I finally say goodbye.

We’ll have to wait and see what lies beneath the carpet in the spring and start a whole new vegetable growing adventure …


Hitting the Big Time

November 20, 2015

Well, finally. After more than ten years of steady, even prolific blogging, someone has actually contacted me to offer me something to review that I would actually want. OK so it’s not the ‘waterproof in Scotland’ reviewing gig I’ve long been touting for (I note, with only a slight twinge of professional jealousy, that Lovely Bike is currently helping check whether things are ‘waterproof in Ireland‘ for Georgia in Dublin, but then again she manages to look entirely chic and soignée in their rainskirt whereas I look like a cross-dressing farmer so I can’t say I blame them) – but someone has actually read what I’ve written about my gardening and is still prepared to risk their heritage garlic bulbs to the tender mercy of the Weather Gods, Peter Rabbit and my own absent-mindedness so that I can review them. Thank you Marshalls Seeds … and watch this space.

With the garlic in the post, and my new found reputation as a pro-gardener at stake, I thought I’d better actually get up to the plot and try and retrieve the situation after what has been a season marked mainly by neglect. The good news is that the rabbits have either been eliminated or are on a diet because the purple sprouting broccoli is recovering from their attentions

purple-sprouting broccoli

I told you it was indestructible

and I even found two tiny surviving perpetual spinach plants; they won’t be much use on their own, but I didn’t have the heart to grub them up.

two surviving perpetual spinach plants

I suspect that for the rest of 2015 we’ll mainly be eating leeks and Red Winter kale though.

kale and leeks flourishing

Just occasionally, my somewhat slapdash approach to gardening pays off in unexpected ways – I was slow getting my second batch of salad in over the summer and had pretty much written it off in September, but the weather has been so mild, we’ve started picking it again. Not for much longer, I suspect, as the forecast for tonight is to reach freezing, but I have moved a few plants which I hadn’t got around to planting out and were still in modules (you may detect a theme here) into the greenhouse.

lettuce in November

Lettuce. In November. In Scotland. What is the world coming to?

Even so, I shall be sharpening up my act for this garlic and giving it my best shot so I can review it thoroughly. I’m sure you would expect nothing less…


Last of the Winter Leeks

April 5, 2013

last of the leeks
This represents not just the last of the winter leeks – but probably 50% of the entire harvest… Riddle me this: why is it my leeks come out looking like spring onions, while everyone else here seems to be able to effortlessly grow enormous sturdy looking leeks – while my parsnips, which nobody else seems to be able to grow at all here, come out looking like this?

giant parsnips

This year, it will be different…


Winter Gardening

March 28, 2013

First find your leeks…

snow covered leeks

Actually, scratch that – first find your basket…

snow covered basket

In the interests of strict accuracy these pictures were taken a couple of days back, and today we’ve had actual sunshine and, if not warmth, at least the return of sensation to our fingers and toes. The snow is also gradually melting, although I expect the big piles along the roadsides will be with us for a while.

I had hoped that the snow would offer me one benefit – I might find out who or what has been eating my kale, which has basically been reduced to sticks. Yesterday, the other half reported pheasant footprints around the kale bed in the snow, so I went up this afternoon to get documentary proof only to discover this:

non-snow-covered kale

The miscreant has obviously been watching CSI:Bigtown and has decided to cover its tracks. As this would make it some kind of garden criminal mastermind, I think we can pretty well eliminate pheasants from our enquiries…

Update

I wish a certain grey furry miscreant would learn the same trick

muddy cat footprints


Let the Sun Shine In*

March 9, 2013
shed_windowsill

shed windowsill once the growing season gets underway

If I learned anything from my vegetable growing experience last year (and there are some who may question that…) it’s that a few really healthy plants (eg. Squash) are far more productive than a lot of weedy ones, like my leeks. Of course a whole load of really healthy plants would be more productive than anything, but that does tend to lead to problems of its own. I know already that almost nothing germinates here unless I start it off indoors, but windowsill space is at a premium around here as I haven’t a greenhouse. The kitchen windowsill is the warmest spot but faces east so anything that spends too long there tends to end up rather spindly. The only south-facing window we have is in the shed and so that’s where things get hardened off and there’s just not enough room to give everything the space it needs.

shed window

So this spring, gee’d on by Gardener’s Question Time’s seasonal tips, I decided to get the shed in a bit of order and try and increase the amount of sunny window space available so I don’t have to cram everything in so much. The other half came up with a cunning plan for putting some height in, but first I decided cleaning the window for the first time in what looks like this century would be a good idea

ancient cobwebs

I think some of those cobwebs might have been Grade II listed.

Now all we need is the sun. Oh, and time to get everything planted, of course.

*assuming it ever comes back, that is


Spring Harvest

February 25, 2013

Heading up to the veg plot yesterday to see what it is like when it isn’t doing its best impression of a rice paddy,* I was surprised to hear the sounds of voices from people working in the woods beyond. It turns out that the landlords have had the cunning wheeze of getting their snowdrops thinned for fun and profit: some nice young men come along with implements of destruction, dig up the snowdrops while they’re still in flower (so they know what they’re getting) and then pay £20 for a tray of singles – and £35 for a tray of doubles. Given that the snowdrops very quickly grow back (in fact they’re better for the thinning) and grow like weeds up here anyway, it’s a bit like finding someone willing to buy rain, or mud, or midgies (all of which I have no doubt you’re going to tell me have a lively online commodity market. OK, maybe not midgies).

Still, it put the landlord in a good mood and meanwhile I have at least managed to convert mud and rain and midge bites into a number of giant parsnips, one of which I traded for one of the landlord’s giant leeks, my own being disappointingly weedy this year. These were then converted into curried parsnip soup for lunch and, ultimately, cycling fuel (or possibly extra padding and/or insulation…) I would like to say that there can be no nobler fate for my garden’s produce but honesty compels me to state that I wouldn’t mind finding someone willing to pay me cold hard cash for crocosmia corms or, come to think of it, ground elder roots, especially if they’re willing to dig them up themselves.

Offers in the comments please. Unless you’re about to tell me that ground elder is edible, in which case I KNOW, it’s just that it also tastes like hedge.

* we have had a week – A WHOLE WEEK, people – of practically no rain. I’ve not yet heard someone complain about the drought but it’s surely only a matter of time


Back in Harness

January 2, 2013

Right, enough of that gallivanting about, we’re back now and there’s gardening to be done. Having slept 12 hours last night, and still feeling zonked, I decided this afternoon I needed to be out in order to persuade my poor jetlagged brain that it was daytime (although I could tell it wasn’t all that convinced seeing as how the sun was struggling to make it through approximately seven miles of cloud cover and I was peering through the murk before it was even half past three). So I squelched up to the vegetable plot with my new gardening gloves (if the 17-year-old me knew what my 40-something self had asked for for Christmas, she’d have had words) to see what I could see and what had survived the wettest year in recorded history. It’s a bit odd to have come from a desert climate where every drop of water seems to be contested to a place where the water just lies around everywhere where the ground isn’t actively sloping. So here is the gardening news. Yes, I know you’re excited…

Amazingly, after 2 years of complete write offs there’s a faint chance we may actually have some cabbages this year, albeit little tiny ones

miniature_cabbages

The leeks are looking particularly unconvincing though. We’ve actually been reduced to buying leeks, oh the shame

unconvincing leeks

Those perpetual spinach that the mice left me seem to be hanging in there …
what's left of the perpetual spinach

… probably because the little buggers have been busy hollowing out the beetroot again.

hollowed out beetroot

In truth, there wasn’t much I could do because the ground was so wet, so I came back down and spent a bit of time clearing out the flowerbeds where everything is now thoroughly dead and bedraggled. I know you’re supposed to leave that stuff over winter for the wildlife but it will take me the rest of the winter to get around to clearing it all so I reckoned we could share. And besides, if this afternoon was anything to go by, most of that wildlife consists of slugs, snails and midgies, none of which are exactly in short supply. Nor, indeed, are mice.

Remember this?

blue Colorado sky

I do …


Making Mountains

November 17, 2012

molehill

I’ve never quite understood what it is about moles that gets gardeners so worked up. Sure, they can turn a lawn into an ankle-twisting assault course (I’m not entirely certain how they haven’t drowned in their tunnels this last summer, so soggy has the grass become), but compared to rabbits (and mice) they hardly really count as a pest. If you ever see one in person they are so strange and so endearing, it’s hard to know how anyone can bear to send for the mole catcher or attempt to polish them off.

molehills in leek bed

Well, that’s one way to earth up your leeks I suppose

Of course, that was before they stopped excavating the lawn and turned their attention to my vegetable patch, and specifically my leeks, instead… although in truth, my leeks are not up to much this year, half of them having bolted and the other half barely bigger than my spring onions (which are still going strong). So on the whole, although I’d prefer it if they didn’t re-engineer my raised beds with their molehills, I’m not quite at the stage of making a mountain out of it. Ask me again when they start using my parsnips for pit props… or I put my welly through one of their tunnels.

broad bean

Last of the summer broad beans

 

But all is not doom and gloom – lurking among the (still-flowering) broad beans, I found this surprise. Anyone got a recipe for just one pod of broad beans? The rest, I’m afraid, got sent to the compost heap. They might still be hopeful of producing beans, but there are no pollinators around to help them out. I also noticed a tiny, perfect, cauliflower lurking amid the leaves, and the purple sprouting broccoli seems to have given up all thought of sticking to its spring schedule and continues to sprout away like mad. Might be time for another of my (un)seasonal veg medleys

Anyone else’s garden still throwing up the odd surprise?