I’ll See your Veg and Raise you …

March 16, 2018

Vegetable plot in March

vegetable plot master plan

Master plan. Version 1 …

As I mentioned earlier, plans are afoot for raised beds in the veg plot, which is currently home to some overwintering and just-about-to-bolt leeks and some hare-nibbled kale. Indeed, I had gone so far as to measure out the space available, work out the size of raised beds I wanted and draw up an actual plan. I was quite pleased with myself at having done this by myself, no mean feat with a tape measure that’s not actually as long as the longest stretch of the vegetable plot.

Having sourced some locally made recycled plastic raised beds, and realised how expensive the whole thing was going to be, I then effectively parked the project to think about it for a while, until I either made a decision or some raised beds miraculously fell out of the sky, but with spring approaching and no alternatives magically presenting themselves, I ordered a single raised bed unit to see whether they looked okay in real life.

This arrived yesterday, about 3 hours after the email telling me it would be coming in 3-7 working days (always good to manage your customers’ expectations), so today I went out to do one last check of my measurements and set the bed up where it was likely to end up. Hmm. Top tip for gardeners: always best to ensure you have included the widths of the paths between the raised beds in your masterplan…

After recruiting the other half, a bit of re-measuring, the removal of one buddleia bush (don’t worry about the butterflies, the garden is currently about 30% buddleia by volume), the demolition of the hare defences, and the remeasuring of the space, we worked out that we did have space for everything, got the trial raised bed up and had a look.

recycled plastic raised bed

It is quite shiny, although I suspect that won’t last. Much as I like the aesthetic of wooden beds, I like the thought of adding to the market for recycled plastic products even more, so we’ve decided to go for it and buy 10 more to complete my master plan.

The master plan also includes better hare defences, and I’m thinking we can move our bay trees into the plot as well, as they seem to get fairly heavily nibbled by the hares, especially in the snow. But then again, there wasn’t much else in the garden they could eat during the snow apart from the kale. Obviously it would be ridiculous to have extra bay trees elsewhere in the garden, just for the hares. So we definitely won’t be doing that. Definitely. Ridiculous idea.

hare outside front door

Anyone know what other plants hares particularly like to eat?

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.


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 …

Mixing its Toasties?

September 30, 2015

his year is testing, possibly to destruction, my theory that one cannot really destroy purple sprouting broccoli, which over the years has survived caterpillar attack, frozen winters, and variations on the ‘user error’ theme and still managed to give us some welcome veg come the spring. Rabbit attack might be different though… it had recovered once, albeit starting to flower early, but the demon bunnies came back for another round.

massacred broccoli plants

I’ll say one thing for rabbits, they’re thorough. They don’t lollop around nibbling a tender shoot here and a tasty morsel there – if they did, we might be able to come to an understanding. Instead what they do is zone in on one particular bed and, over the course of a day or two, destroy it utterly

ex green beens

Less than a week ago, this was a flourishing patch of green beans with plenty more young beans coming through…

With the beans and the beetroot they scarfed the lot (well, they left a neat little pile of beetroot tops for me) but they leave enough of the kale and the broccoli to allow for some resprouting and then come back for another meal. Kale and broccoli might be tough but I don’t know how long even they can take that sort of treatment and survive.

chomped kale

Kale starting tentatively to resprout

But maybe they won’t have to, because the other half did discover a dead rabbit inside the fence this afternoon, half hidden under the bushes (I swear it wasn’t me). Cause of death unknown, and hopefully not mourned by its numerous offspring …

Weeding Frenzy

July 10, 2015

Let the record show:

vegetable plot in July

It may not last …

After a couple of weeks of a light workload and no gadding about, I have finally got the veg plot something like under control (with a bit of help from the other half). I think we can agree that this is something of an improvement on a month ago

overgrown paths on vegetable plot

Previously, on Town Mouse…

Not that everything in the garden is entirely rosy – those weedy things in the foreground are squash and pumpkin plants, which are looking especially pathetic, with the exception of the one which took matters into its own hands and sent its tap root so deeply out of the pot it was in, it effectively planted itself in the greenhouse (the other half took pity on it and cut it free of its pot in the end).

self-planting pumpkin

And it looks as if Peter Rabbit has been busy with the perpetual spinach

perpetual spinach plant munched by rabbit

While totally ignoring our glut of lettuce.

totally untouched lettuce

The peas … what can I say about the peas? There is another bed of them which is doing slightly better but we’re a long way from having enough peas to trouble a saucepan with. Fortunately a handful of pods makes for a decent reward for a hungry gardener

pathetic pea plants

Still we will not be short of fennel in a hurry…

fennel plants

And we have kale. Lots and lots and lots of kale. This is about one-third of it. What was I thinking?

plenty of kale

Oh yeah, that I should grow stuff that’s suited to the Scottish climate and virtually unkillable even through neglect. And, apparently, not particularly palatable to rabbits…

Ground Force

May 16, 2015

Time will tell whether I look back at this spring as the year of ‘just in time’ gardening – or just ‘just too late’ gardening. Either way, today was the day when I basically had to plant out everything in one go, or come back from holiday to some sadly overcrowded, if not actually dead, veg seedlings.

plot before

Fortunately, the other half had nobly spent the last two days clearing and preparing the last of the vegetable beds, in return for Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers,* so all I had to do was dash around with my trays of seedlings, getting them in the ground as quickly as I could, ideally root-side down, although by the end I wasn’t being all that particular about it.

plot after planting

One back-breaking afternoon later and my spring onions, dwarf beans, climbing beans, three kinds of kale (I know, but it is very handy to have over the winter and it likes the climate so it basically grows like a weed), purple sprouting broccoli, beetroot and second row of broad beans were in. The neighbour has been briefed to water the greenhouse and sent away with the last lettuce and two of the random perennials, and there may still be time to plant out some pumpkins, basil and the last of the chillies before we go tomorrow.

kale red winter

Kale. It’s tough, right?

Whether any of it will survive is anyone’s guess.

* Much superior to the teacakes, especially since they brought out dark chocolate and (rumour has it) coconut versions.

Falling Behind

February 6, 2015

I hardly dare mention this, but we’ve had over a week now of clear skies and bright winter sunshine. Of course, clear skies also come with hard overnight frosts – but also a brilliant full winter moon that was a welcome companion riding back from the village the other night, with only a rather feeble battery-powered lamp to guide me home. The snow is still sticking around but that just makes the sunshine brighter, and in February we are none of us going to turn our noses up at a bit of extra light, wherever it comes from.

Cold though it is, even February marches on. I was reminded this morning that time stops for nobody, and gardeners least of all. I haven’t got my seed order in yet – hell, I haven’t even thought about it – but my gardening buddy in the village has already got his first tomato seeds in, and his onion sets sprouting on the windowsill. Time to get myself up to the greenhouse and get back in gear. Just as soon as I can find my vegetable beds under their blanket of snow…

Hungry Gap

January 20, 2015

I was reading some cookery writer in the papers describing the ‘hungry gap’ as this point in the year, when there’s nothing to eat but kale and root vegetables, which had me muttering ‘hashtag firstworldproblems‘ at my weekend supplement (yes, I do spend rather a long time on twitter these days, why do you ask?). In fact, as anyone who grows their own vegetables year round knows, the real ‘hungry gap’ is May and June when all your winter vegetables have either been eaten or sprouted and the rest haven’t really got going. At this time of the year, as I was tweeting smugly only the other day, we’ve got relatively plentiful fresh produce – leeks, parsnips, kale, more kale, a bit of perpetual spinach, some over-eager purple sprouting broccoli, and, bizarrely, spring onions.

Or at least that was the picture until the ground froze solid. The parsnips will now need a pickaxe to extract them from the ground, and the leeks and spring onions aren’t going anywhere until it thaws either. That leaves some beetroot which has been frozen and defrosted enough times that it has started to delaminate in interesting ways, and the kale, which is looking a bit … well over-harvested (you’ll have to excuse the quality of the picture; my phone camera gets almost as excited about a bit of sunlight as I do these days).

kale patch

Tell me, does everyone’s kale patch look like this at this time of the year or is mine the only one channelling Dr. Zeuss?

Delicious with Strawberries and Cream

January 2, 2015

beans being cooked
It is a truth universally acknowledged that home-grown veg, by definition, is more delicious than any other kind (why else do I bother, after all? No, don’t answer that). So it seems almost irrelevant to wonder how the dinosaur eggs turned out once we came to actually eat them. After all, they were kind of cool looking, germinated easily, climbed up their beanpoles (a first for me), looked decorative, cropped heavily and were easy to harvest, and then kept well as dried beans, so there was no real rush to, you know, actually eat them as after all, they were bound to be delicious. That more or less makes them the perfect grow-your-own crop, especially for the recovering veg sceptic like myself. But in the interests of narrative closure, I thought we should probably actually try them one of these days, it was just a question of how. The guy who had passed them on to us suggested ribollita, but we made ribollita back when we were working our way through Hugh Fearnley-Washingup’s Veg Everyday Book and I remember looking down at the resulting bowl and thinking if my seven-year-old self had been presented with it she would have sat at the table and wept for up to a week rather than eat a single spoonful, and once I had proved that I was a grown up by finishing the bowl, I then decided the seven-year-old me had a point. So not that, then.

This year, it looks like our January cookbook of choice will be the other half’s magnificent tome on Mexican cooking (which, among other things,* recommends frying everything in lard, thereby undoing at a stroke this month’s home baking moratorium, but that’s another story). As he was looking through the recipes he asked whether we had any dried beans to make refried beans. And lo and behold, we had.

burritos with refried beans

And so tonight we had burritos with spicy beef, and avocados, and soured cream and refried dinosaur eggs.

They were, naturally, delicious.

*Like drying your corn – to make your own tortillas, naturally – with quicklime. I’m afraid we resorted to buying ours from Tesco’s


August 30, 2014

You know, I did wake up this morning wondering if I shouldn’t just have a quick glance at the village show schedule to see if there wasn’t something I could enter after all (we’d have absolutely walked last year’s novelty salt and pepper set wildcard, with our elaborate French feathered clockwork cruets on wheels), but I’d had an early start yesterday and by the time I was up and coffeed and showered and breakfasted this morning, let alone in a fit state to consider village show entries, I had missed the cutoff time for putting in the entries and so I didn’t bother.

So it was only this afternoon that I discovered that, not only did the village show actually have a comedy vegetable category, but that only one person had bothered to enter it.*

oddest shaped vegetable

I think you’ll agree that when it comes to oddly-shaped vegetables, a forked carrot is as nothing to my mutant potato

monstrous potato

And in other years, I wouldn’t just have won, I’d have absolutely smashed it.

Next year. I swear, next year.

I did have fun giving people goes on my Brompton though.

* Not only that, but there were no entries at all for the Heaviest Onion prize. I could have walked it. Indeed, I could even have won with my spring onions, which have rather got away from me this year and are magnificent. Some of them might even be heavier than my actual onions

Space for Gardening

June 10, 2014

I knew I was taking a bit of a risk, but I thought I would chance it. I had to be in Edinburgh for the day and was coming back via the station just as the local guerilla gardening group were holding their plant swap evening … at the station. There would be plants there absolutely free, for anyone who wanted to take them. Anyone who had the space in their garden and the time to tend them. Anyone entirely unlike me, in other words.

So it was a danger. Going into a garden centre without ending up with a whole nother garden worth of plants is hard enough; walking past a free plant stall is something else again. Especially as friends of mine would be there helping organise it and it would be rude not to stop and chat. But I was careful, I took precautions. I was on my big bike, so no danger of having a handy basket ready for a tray of homeless seedlings. I didn’t even bring my pannier bag, which can just about take a potted plant or two if they’re carefully wrapped and not too delicate. All I had was my backpack, and that was already full of my laptop. No matter how tempted I was, no matter how persuasive my friend on the stall, no matter how much some exotic plantling (tomatillo! Kohl rabi! Come on, admit you’re tempted) batted its eyelashes at me, there was no way I could take it home. It was a shame, but no. I would be firm. I just haven’t the time or the space or the energy for any more plants in my garden. And fortunately I haven’t the space for them in my bag either…

plants in backpack

… I suppose I should be grateful that at least they aren’t tomato plants.