Saturday, 15 February 2014

a new start

Managed to snip a few chives for a lunchtime sandwich today. Not much I know but chives are always the first 'new' crop of the year. Each autumn I split off a clump, pot them up and overwinter them in the greenhouse. February is normally when they first start to show new growth but they are well up this year, almost a month ahead of last spring, in fact.

I also sowed some radishes in a big tub last October and just left them in the greenhouse. Never overwintered them before and was expecting them to be quite woody but I was pleasantly surprised.
overwintered radishes
They did have a slightly woody core but mostly they were perfectly palatable, although lacking in the 'heat' I expect from a radish. Definitely an experiment to repeat next winter, perhaps using several varieties.

I know it's been quite a while since I posted anything. Put it down to the time of year, health problems and appalling weather but the sight of new growth in the garden has me itching for a new start. Just have to remember not to overdo things......not much chance of that, according to my wife!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

bird food

I'm not a greedy gardener and don't mind sharing what I produce with the local wildlife, some of it, anyway. This year there has been enough for all of us and I was happy to let the birds have all the cherries as I was far too busy harvesting bush fruit to worry about climbing a ladder for yet more fruit.

The autumn rasps are still producing like mad but, to be honest, there's only so much you can eat and store so I've decided to leave what's left of the crop for the birds as well.

It really has been an amazing year for fruit. I have enough jam to last me several years and can't squeeze another thing into the freezer!

Thankfully I'm not going to be reduced to eating cotoneaster berries so there's two bushes worth for the birds to go at. A couple of years ago we had a flock of waxwings in a nearby tree and they stripped the cotoneaster bush in the front garden in a matter of minutes.

The hedgerows round about are still heavy with wild fruit. Not many brambles left but hips and haws aplenty so I'm hoping that our local wildlife has more than enough to last through the winter.
Haws, the fruit of the hawthorn

Still a few crab apples left on this tree
but look what's on the ground underneath!
a veritable larder for the local wildlife

I always think it's amusing that some people seem to be paranoid about eating anything that grows outside but there are not that many things that are seriously poisonous. Most of the berries that people shy away from are simply unpleasant to eat so, faced with the choice between a raspberry and a rose hip, they usually opt for the rasp.

It was my intention to make a batch of cider with some of the apples, something I haven't done for a couple of years but I've just been too busy so the critters can help themselves. This tray of windfalls is there for anything that fancies a nibble.  I also scatter windfalls all around the veg plot where birds can peck away all they want. As a bonus they leave their droppings behind as fertilizer - every little helps!

Sunday, 27 October 2013



I try to grow a few new tomato varieties each year in order to see a) if I like them and b) how they cope with the Cumbrian climate. I also grow a few 'standards' like Alicante, Gardeners Delight and Tumbler but these are too well known to need comment.

The results for this year are shown below.

Bloody Butcher
The earliest to crop. Nice looking golf ball sized fruit with moderate flavour but nothing special. Seemed to run out of steam quite early.

Black Russian
Large fruit and good flavour with nice acidity. Some people don’t like the sharpness of the taste but I found it refreshingly different.

Vintage Wine
Large fruit, nice looking but flavour a bit disappointing, in fact it hardly tasted of tomato at all. That was on first picking, though. Later in the year I left the last of the crop hanging in the greenhouse to ripen and, like real vintage wine, the flavour improved enormously. Certainly not the write-off I originally thought.

Golden Sunrise
Potentially heavy cropper with 8/9 good sized fruit per truss and closely spaced trusses. Flavour is superb so this is a must for future years. I had two plants, one in the greenhouse and one outside and the outside performed as well as that under glass. Of course, the good warm summer obviously helped there.

Pink Oxheart
Has potential to produce huge fruit. Picked one which weighed 612g but was actually two grown together. Flavour is nothing special although they look nice!

Gave a plant to a neighbour and it died so I’d say this is certainly one I probably won’t grow again.

Patio Orange
Good cropper with 16/18 cherry fruit per truss and good flavour. I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of the very small tomatoes and, weight for weight, this variety is nowhere near as productive as tumbler.

Ananas Noire
Large fruit which tasted good but not many of them. Largest weighed in at 410g. Also prone to splitting and BER.

Dense, compact bushy plant producing a good crop of billiard ball size fruit with good taste. Perfect for small spaces.
As a general observation I found that all the ribbed fruit were more prone to BER than any of the smooth varieties.

No pictures this post... we all know what a tomato looks like.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Nature's plentiful harvest

Well, after that cold and miserable start it's been a petty good year for us growers with some bumper crops. My fruit harvest in particular has been excellent and jam making has begun in earnest. Dear old Mother Nature has also been blessed this year with some amazing sights in the woods and hedgerows.

So far I've picked about twelve pounds of brambles and made some rather nice jelly. I prefer to strain out the seeds of these fruit as they stick in the gaps in my teeth and cause great annoyance!

This crab apple has so much fruit the branches are bent right down into the surrounding grass. The apples make a nice addition to home made cider and can also be used to add pectin to other preserves. Talking of preserves I found a jar of cherry and blackcurrant jam that I made in 2010 at the back of the cupboard. It's in perfect condition but I'm not sure how long it'll keep now that I've opened it. Just shows that preserving food really does work.

Other fruits growing in abundance round here are rose-hips, haws, rowan berries, elderberries and sloes, all of which can be used in jellies or jams or in numerous other ways. If anyone is not sure what to pick I'd recommend getting hold of a copy of Richard Mabey's book 'Food for Free'. I've had my copy nearly forty years but I'm pretty sure it's been reprinted many times as it's such a useful reference.

If you do get hold of a copy you could try some of the more esoteric foods such as pickled ash keys or water lily roots. I have to say that neither of the above appeal to me but it's useful to know that they are actually edible. 

Friday, 23 August 2013

shed hunting

There are not many things that a gardener would find it impossible to live without but I guess the most important of these is...the shed. To say mine is dilapidated would be an understatement. It was dropping to bits when we moved here seven years ago so you can imagine what all those Cumbrian winters have done to it. Lots of things live in it but that really isn't the purpose of a garden shed. Anyway, I need a new shed so it required a day out to see what was available. I think a slight upgrade is required and by re-arranging the concrete slab base I can fit a 10x6 where there is now just an 8x6. Wow, that's another twelve square feet of floor space to fill with rubbish!!

My wife seems to think that I have something akin to OCD in that I simply can't throw anything away. Not only that but I also can't pass something that I consider might be useful at some unspecified time in the future. So, I accumulate things and they end up in the shed and now I have to start the cull. I found a broken fold-up clothes dryer, lots of damp wood, boxes of rusty nails from when I worked on a construction site forty years ago, dozens of glass jars, assorted lengths of handy angle get the picture. Two trips to the recycling centre later and I now have a shed with nothing more in it than things I actually use. It looks empty.

While we were out shed hunting I took this picture of the bridge over the Border Esk at Longtown.

It's a lovely structure made of red sandstone and would have formed a border crossing  at some point in the fractious history between England and Scotland. Longtown is the most northerly English settlement of any size on the west side of the border which has shifted backwards and forwards many times over the centuries. Its main claim to fame is the huge livestock auction mart where hundreds of thousands of sheep are traded annually.

After all that I suppose a bit of gardening news might be appropriate. Everything is going according to plan, not that I have a plan but you know what I mean. I've had so much fruit this year that I left the cherry crop for the birds. With all the bush fruit now cooked, frozen or made into jam I'm waiting for the apples and plums

Sunday, 11 August 2013

amphibious visitors

We have a healthy population of amphibians in the garden, which is handy as they do like to eat some the things that nibble my precious veggies. I'd like to show you some of my web-footed pals.
This one was waiting outside the back door yesterday. They often seem to want get in and we've even had one in the living room when we left the patio doors open.

While clearing some rubbish this afternoon I met this one. The difference in colour between the two is quite striking.

Thankfully I've seen plenty of young ones this year so the population seems secure for the time being.

But, back to gardening. The onion crop is now drying nicely in the greenhouse.

Most of it is. I still have a block to lift but I have to say that, for all the good weather this summer, the onions are a little disappointing. Perhaps it's the lack of rain.....I never thought I'd say that, living in Cumbria!

The peas and broad beans are now finished but the french beans are in full production. No runners this year as I'm growing climbing french beans to see how they compare. Although runners are much more prolific the french beans seem more forgiving in that they don't go stringy quite so easily.

It looks like being a reasonable year for apples. After the June drop (in July) there are still too many fruit on a couple of the trees so I've been up the ladder thinning them out a bit. From the James Grieve I took at least a hundred small apples in order to end up with a crop of decent sized fruit. I suppose I'll now have to clean out the demijohn's and fermenting barrels in order to turn those glossy globes into alcohol....what a chore!

Wednesday, 7 August 2013


A neighbour popped round today with her mother-in-law who is also a gardener, but in Catalonia, Spain, where she has lived for the last ten years. I was very pleased that she was impressed with my meagre efforts but then she told me of her little plot. The poor dear has to manage with two acres from which she is more than self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables. She has a small almond grove and olive grove from which she produces all her own cooking oil! The hens provide all the eggs she needs and some meat which, along with the almonds, satisfies much of her protein requirement. At seventy-two years old she manages all this on her own which I found quite inspiring. I was also just a little envious.

Interestingly she also said that the Catalan people, even in the towns, have a very strong affinity with the land and with food. They tend to eat seasonally and mostly what can be grown different from the U.K. On that point she mentioned that she'd recently met a chap who was a fresh produce buyer for one of the major supermarkets. Our recent good weather has taken many by surprise so to keep the shelves stocked they were sourcing salad crops from Egypt. Now, the food value of a lettuce is negligible so can anyone explain the sense in shipping them thousands of miles?

Like me, she believes that in the very near future many people are going to get a nasty shock when they realize how much they are going to have to pay for their food. If you don't grow at least some of your own now might be a good time to start.

Well, that's the preachy bit over so now for something completely different. Earlier this year I was doubtful of ever seeing a butterfly in 2013 but now they are everywhere. Our buddleia was alive with them this afternoon. Peacocks, painted ladies, red admirals, tortoiseshells and the not so welcome whites. Butterflies in abundance after all the prophecies of doom. We think we know what's going on in the natural world but we really haven't a clue. Nature is in charge, not us.

Sorry, no pictures this time but I'm sure you all know what a butterfly looks like.