Monday, 31 May 2010

Strawberries for Tea

Over the last few weeks, our strawberry plants have come into flower. I had been a bit anxious that there were not enough bees visiting them, but that soon changed, and today we realised that the flowers were more or less finished and there were loads of strawberries starting to ripen!

We'd read up on what to do and had already bought some straw from Pets At Home, so Braveheart got a wheelbarrow full and began laying the straw under the plants.

We found an old fence panel behind the shed, and removed some timber from that to make stakes, and then fastened fruit netting to the stakes using a nail in each one. Now we just have to wait for the fruit to ripen.

The rest of the vegetables are coming on well, too:

I've moved on to one of the flower beds for now, which was already planted up but had got rather overgrown.

Three Bags Full

Since I last posted, I have spent a week away working in Northern Italy, near Milan. While I was there, our topsoil was delivered, three cubic metres of it, and it was quite lucky my car was parked at Heathrow Airport as it would not have got onto the drive.

The first task when I got back was to begin barrowing the topsoil to the new raised bed. This took about three days, what with having to go to work some of the time. I moved two bagfuls and Braveheart moved most of the last bag - we still have a bit left, which is being used to top up other flower beds elsewhere in the garden. Then the bed was raked smooth and level.

I planted a row of shallots which had been waiting for some space, and we sowed some more broad beans, onion sets, carrots and the last of the seed potatoes.

A neighbouring cat then thought it had found the largest litter tray in the world, so we have had to put netting over it for a few weeks while the seeds germinate and the plants get established.

Job done!

Sunday, 16 May 2010

A New Vegetable Bed

Yesterday we were up at the crack of dawn, all excited because we were going to build a new vegetable plot. We purchased the timber from Travis Perkins on Friday (yes, a Honda Civic can transport 8 ft long gravel boards), along with some stakes for the corners, so we were eager to get started.

We marked out the position of both future vegetable plots on the grass with the timber, and the position of the future greenhouse and future apple trees and future Japanese Maple with flowerpots. We have a Grand Plan, you see ;). Once we were satisfied that the layout was right, I went off to the gym and left Braveheart to begin removing turf from the designated vegetable plot area.

He marked it all out with string and began cutting strips of turf. It took him all day! At the end we had a vegetable plot and a big pile of turf strips.

Today was spent constructing the raised bed. First of all we dug around the edges to loosen the soil and create a channel for the boards to sit in. Then we began hammering in the stakes and attaching the boards to them with screws. We left one open at the end so it will be easier to tip three tons of topsoil in from a wheelbarrow.

We are very satisfied with our weekend's work - but wait! there's more...
I also planted up all the tomatoes, chillies, peppers, aubergines and courgettes.

And I stacked as much turf as I could get into these leaf mould bags, grass to grass and roots to roots. It takes a year or so but does rot down into lovely compost.

We finished the day with a well-earned glass of cider from last year's sparkling batch. And very nice it was , too.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010


Gosh, isn't it cold at the moment? There has been a frost almost every day this week. In May! We have had to keep the new plants in the growhouse and keep that closed at night, and keep cloches on the vegetable beds. The good news is that there are pea shoots coming up!

We have also decided that we need a new vegetable bed to take some of the plants and those seeds we have not had space for in the current bed. We already planned to have two more vegetable beds, and had worked out what size they should be and where to place them, but they were scheduled to be constructed in the autumn. The schedule has now been brought forward to this weekend! We have some timber which was left behind by the previous owners, and so only need to buy a little more, and apparently we need 3 tons of topsoil. Seems like a lot, doesn't it? I wonder how many wheelbarrow loads that makes...

On a completely different topic, I have been knitting (my first ever) Baby Surprise Jacket, in assorted Sirdar Snuggly, for a colleague on maternity leave. She had her baby on Monday, so I'd better get it in the post.
I'm also co-ordinating a baby blanket, for the same colleague, for which learner knitters in the office have been contributing squares. I'm currently sewing the squares into strips, and when we've got enough I'll join the strips and add a crocheted border. I think we are only three squares short now. But you know what it is like with babies, you think you have time and then suddenly you are wondering if a crocheted baby blanket is an acceptable 18th birthday present.

Monday, 3 May 2010

The Herb Garden

Today we focused on getting the two raised beds at the side of the house organised, between the showers, that is. There are two beds, one higher than the other, which had some herbs in, and one longer, low bed with an eclectic mix of (mainly) mint, a few foxgloves and two bluebells.

Starting with the higher bed, the foxgloves were transplanted to another location. Then I spent some time with the secateurs cutting back the overgrown marjoram, rosemary and thyme currently in the bed. Finally, I took some herbs which had been living in a pot for the last two years, and planted them out. On the advice of Braveheart's Dad, we also buried some terracotta pots in the bed , and filled each with some mint.

The second bed was completely cleared and dug over except for the two bluebells - as they haven't finished flowering yet, and I didn't want to move them. We have sown coriander, parsley (although the seeds are quite old, so I think I might invest in some newer ones), wild rocket, mixed salad leaves and spring onions. We've left space to sow further rows of each every few weeks.

Next weekend I think I'll be buying some more herb plants. As there is plenty of space, I fancy some oregano, lovage, hyssop, dill and lemon balm.

All in all we've had a very constructive weekend! Let's hope everything starts to grow soon.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Perfect May Weather

When I was about 10, a group of us at my school learned to do some Maypole dances, using ribbons so we could weave patterns during the dance and then unweave them as the dance finished. The plan was that we would give a display of Maypole dancing at our school fete that year. The day of the fete dawned - grey, cold and wet. I remember looking at the rain dripping off the empty stalls, which had been left outside, and running down the forlorn maypole onto the sodden grass. It was clear to me that we would not be giving any dancing displays that day.

Today's weather reminds me of that long ago May day. It has been raining steadily since about 10.00 am this morning, and isn't looking like stopping any time soon. The patio is covered with pools of water and rain is dripping off the teak table and chairs and off the shed roof. And I'm delighted, because yesterday was spent sowing vegetable seeds, and the water butt was empty, and this is just the weather the garden needed.
The new house has a long garden, with a nice big patio, a shed and one flower bed. Most of it is laid to lawn, and we are working on a garden plan to be implemented over a few years. At the end of the garden is a vegetable plot (which is approx 31' x 7', including an area set aside for composters - of which we now have two).

This plot had clearly been used by the previous owners for vegetables, as there is a row of what looks like raspberry canes at the back fence, plus a large patch of strawberries. We also discovered a couple of rows of carrots - obviously left from last year - and (while digging over the plot) quite a few potatoes that had started sprouting. We rescued the best carrots - they were very small as they hadn't been thinned out - and made a pot of carrot and coriander soup, which was very nice.

The vegetable plot is the largest area I have ever had for growing vegetables, and we made a plan of what to plant there and bought seeds. Over the last week we have sowed red onions, sugar snap peas, runner beans, broad beans, dwarf beans, carrots, potatoes and white onions. Now the bed is full, and we still have leeks, parsnips and more carrots to sow, and shallots and courgettes to plant out. Oops! I think we might have to construct one of our planned new raised vegetable beds this year. Tomorrow, even.
Onions, peas (under the cloche) and runner beans. Strawberries on the right.

Potato Trench

We did do our display of Maypole dancing in the end, by the way - at the school summer fete, in July. That's the British weather for you!