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• Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Today we’ve had a mix of all types of weather which has not been favourable to gardening. Snow, rain and sun succeeded throughout the day. As the ground is still too wet to dig I decided to get on with clearing and cleaning the greeenhouse. First I removed all my pots of succulents and autumn cuttings from the greenhouse and cleaned all the window panes. I also removed any old grow bag and leaves left from last summer’s tomato and pepper crops.

Then as it started to rain it was time to bring back my old wooden bench from the shed into the greenhouse and set everything back in place. A little inquisite robin got trapped in the greenhouse as I was preparing a couple of pots for sowing. I sowed some sweet peas (of mixed colours) as well as some passion flower seeds which are both lovely climbers and which I will keep indoors for now.

Amaryllis Aphrodite

Amaryllis Aphrodite

I am in the process of sorting my seeds and getting all my pots cleaned and ready for the succession of sowings to come. This is probably one of the coldest and longest winters that we’ve had for a few years. In fact I was reading in a gardening magazine that magnolias which traditionally flower earliest in Cornwall are still not in blooms. This is due to the cold snap in that area. Hopefully by March they will be in blooms at Trewithen near Truro.

On this cold day I also bought some potato seeds from an early variety called Red Duke of York which I have never grown before. I intend to start chitting my seeds in the next couple of weeks. It was good to see my local garden center selling so many varieties of loose potatoes sold by weight. Mine only cost 1 pound per kilo.

But right now back at home I am enjoying the blossom of my lovely Amaryllis from a variety called Aphrodite and I look forward to warmer days.

Author:
• Sunday, January 31st, 2010

Planning my sowings for spring is one of my favourite activities in the winter time. It’s been too cold to dig my vegetable plot, and the new seed catalogues have arrived full of new ideas for growing flowers and vegetables. One newcomer in the 2010 seed catalogues is the sweet potato, which is available as cuttings or slips. Last year sweet potatoes were very much in fashion with gardening tv presenters like Joe Swift keen to give them a try on his new allotment plant.

Unfortunately it strikes me that the sweet potato cuttings are rather expensive so I shall wait until next year when they have become a more widely grown crop.

Hyacinth

Hyacinth

I’ve been scouring through my seed boxes and I still have a wide selection of flowers and vegetables which I shall use again this year.

I intend to start sowing later in the year. Chilli seeds can already been sown in February but since we still have negative temperatures in the garden I fear that my window sills are too cold for germination.

I have also pencilled in broad beans, peas, and sweet peas in the coming months, to be followed by tomato seeds which I will start off indoors. I may also sow a few passion flower seeds which develop into an exotic climber. And garlic is also next on the agenda. There is still plenty of time to consider all the other seeds that I would like to grow during the month of February.

Early spring is calling already with the first few lesser celandines starting to sprout from the snow (I have spotted a few growing in at the back of the university colleges in Cambridge). For now I am enjoying the yellow hyacinths which I forced back in autumn and which are signaling the gardening joy of the months to come.

Author:
• Monday, January 11th, 2010

Long-tailed tits have become more accustomed to gardens and this year it’s been particularly noticeable. Going back 3 years ago they were hardly ever seen, but now I spot them on a daily basis on my bird feeders. Apparently the long-tailed tits entered the RSPB Big Garden watch top 10 list of most common garden birds for the first time last year. Long tailed tits are small insectivorous birds with, as the name suggest a long tail (see the pictures taken in my garden below).

Long Tailed Tit

Long Tailed Tit

They didn’t used to be so common in gardens and preferred hedgerows and woodlands as their natural habitat but bird experts say that the long run of mild winters has resulted in fewer deaths each year which means that there are more of them able to breed in spring. And they also seem to have adapted and learned to feed from tables or feeders.

They are one of the most graceful little birds I have seen in my garden and I enjoy watching them mostly at the weekend. Long-tailed tits normally travel as a group and this year I have been able to count groups of 6 coming all together to feed on my feeders. Having obeserved them on a daily basis I get the impression that one of the birds of the group is in charge of keeping an eye out for danger whilst the other can feed safely.

Long Tailed Tit on feeder

Long Tailed Tit on feeder


They are very sociable birds indeed and not too scared of humans.
They seem to enjoy the fat balls as well as the special robin grain feed which I have included against a south facing wall near the house.

I may not be doing much gardening at present due to the cold weather but there are many birds to take care of and feed.

Author:
• Sunday, January 03rd, 2010

I’m really looking forward to a new gardening year and preparing a calendar with garden activities for the months to come. I haven’t been very active in the garden over the last month of December as the winter frost caught me by surprise. In East Anglia we got 2 inches of snow and this morning, as I ventured in the garden lured by the sunny sky, I was unable to dig the rest of my vegetable plot as the ground was frozen and hard.

Holly in the snow

Holly in the snow

So instead I set about trimming back the pampas grass which is next to my line of redcurrants and becoming too invasive. I came across a few brambles which needed pulling out promptly before they start spreading around my redcurrants.

I have also topped up the bird feeders and water supply in the garden as we’ve enjoyed watching the birds from the cosy lounge window. Even though the garden activity seems more limited at this time of year, it’s good to be outdoors roughing it out in the cold and keeping busy to get warm.

One last thing for me to do before I head back indoors for a well deserved cuppa is to force the rhubarb plant by covering it and get an early crop like I did last year with a simple cardboard box filled with straw.

Author:
• Thursday, November 26th, 2009

You can save a lot of money by checking out the gardening discounts at this time of the year. I went to my local garden centre and found some reduced price packets of seeds which actually don’t expire until 2011. For a mere 10p I was able to pick up some unusual flower and herb seeds such as Borage and Gypsophilia. I would not normally consider buying these seeds but at that price it’s worth a try.

Strawberry plants are also reduced to half price at this time of year and although it is probably late in the season to be planting them, there is a good chance that they will be fine next year if they can survive the winter. The two varieties which I found were: Hapil and Elsanta, which I have never grown before.

Similarly bulbs like Alliums (Mars) which normally cost about £3 were 50% off as it is getting a bit wet to get planting in the garden. This variety of allium grows really tall flowers (48″) which look lovely in a mixed border and dry out nicely as they fade out. I noticed on their instructions that these alliums can actually be planted successfully right until the end of autumn. Many garden centres also have offers on other spring bulbs such as daffodils and tulips.

Finally I have also bought some broad beans (100 grms for 80p) and although these should have been planted earlier in the month, I have sown them in modules and placed them in the greenhouse to help with germination.

So when you next visit your garden centre to find some Christmas decorations check out the seasonal discounts on seeds, bulbs and plants, and you could save yourself a lot of money.

Author:
• Sunday, November 15th, 2009

November is perceived by many as a grim wet month with nothing exciting to do in the garden, and yet for me it signals the turn of the year with so many things to do in preparation for next year’s Summer.

In fact today is actually sunny and warm and I have been able to potter around in the garden and take stock of what’s changed and what needs sorting.

Green Manure

Green Manure

I started by creating a bit of space in my greenhouse in order to provide shelter for frost tender plants such as succulents and the plant cuttings such as rosemary and sage which I made at the end of Summer.

I have also cleared my strawberry bed and pulled up all of the plants as they had been in place for 3 years. Usually strawberry plants don’t crop so well after 3 years hence the need to replace them. I found a lot of ladybirds in my strawberry patch which seem to have really thrived this year. Since l like these dear ladies I have provided them with a shelter in the greenhouse.
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Author:
• Monday, October 26th, 2009

It is possible to grow grapes in the UK as long as you choose grape varieties which are suitable for growing in your region. In my case however I simply bought a rootless stick from a small village market in Languedoc Roussillon for a mere £2.50.

Garden Grapes

Garden Grapes

I chose a red grape variety called Alphonse Lavallée which is well-known as a good accompaniment to cheeses such as Comté or Gruyère for example. I did have second thoughts about buying a red grape variety since I was concerned about the weather in England, in particular the fact that it would need a lot of sun to ripen into red grapes. East Anglia enjoys some of the driest weather in the UK and just £2.50 I was happy to give it a go if only for the decorative quality of the vine.

I planted my twig two and a half years ago in my south facing garden and I have trained it to grow along the top part of a white painted brick shed. I was amazed to see some healthy shoots sprouting from such a small and frail rootless stick.
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• Monday, October 19th, 2009

The month of October is an ideal time to sow green manure seeds, which will improve the structural quality of your soil. Green manures include mustard seeds, rye grass, etc. This month I am giving a go at sowing Mustard seeds which I have never grown before. Already after just a couple of days the mustard seeds have started to sprout in profusion, covering the area with a green carpet of leaves.

My neighbour reckons that I should be able to use some of the mustard plants to spice up my salads which I shall try. I bought my mustard seeds from a local small garden shop in Ely which supplies loose seeds sold by weight. But I think that I over-estimated the quantity as it seems that I have enough seeds to cover the whole of my vegetable plot!

Spring Onion is another crop which can be sown this month, or at least some varieties are suitable to Autumn sowings.

Hollyhocks in the garden

Hollyhocks in the garden

And there’s also still some time to sow lettuces such as Mizuma and Lamb’s Lettuce. I have also sown a few winter lettuces in my cold frame, which has a removable glass panel that was taken off in the hot summer months. When the first frosts arrive I shall put the panel back on to protect the lettuces from the worst of the cold weather. Hopefully this should enable me to make the most of the crop well into winter.

October is also a good month for sowing hollyhocks, and in fact I have noticed that the flowers heads in my garden are full of seeds ready to self propogate. I have already collected these before the arrival of the frost. Hollyhocks are really easy to grow but they will normally only start flowering the following year.

Another flower which can be sown and kept in a frost free place is Sweet peas. The advantage of sowing sweetpeas right now is that they will flower earlier next year. I will however need to take care of them and make sure that they make it through the winter.

Finally I may look into sowing some broad beans although my last year’s sowing suffered from the heavy snow and cold which we endured at the beginning of this year and resulted in a relatively poor crop.

As we step into the colder month of November the sowing activity will start slowing down but there will still be so much to do in the garden whilst I take stock of the new season to come.

Author:
• Friday, September 25th, 2009

I was reading this article about a gardener being banned from exhibiting at his local county vegetable show and it occurred to me that I need to keep an eye out for local agricultural events to include in my diary. I think that it’s important to support your local show even if you are not exhibiting. Quite often you will find that the events include the opportunity to discover and buy delicatessen products such as home-made jams, cakes or chutneys.

I have previously exhibited vegetables at a local amateur vegetable show and did win a couple of small prizes for some of my peppers and cherry tomatoes. But most of all I enjoyed watching what other people grow to get new ideas. The morning of the show is always an exciting moment for me as I go round the garden selecting my best looking vegetables. I am not very experienced at showing vegetables – having exhibited my garden produce only twice at the local village show. Sadly this year the horticultural show will not take place in my village due to lack of interest but hopefully next year it will be scheduled again.

This weekend is forecast to be largely sunny in the UK so if you are not busy watering the garden and harvesting crops you may wish to visit a local show.

One of the largest events to take place soon is the Malvern Autumn Show on 26th & 27th September. And if like me you also enjoy learning about activities related to the land, and you are visiting the region of East Anglia then the Grandsden Agricultural show (26th September 2009 – Cambridgeshire) may be of interest too.

Author:
• Wednesday, September 09th, 2009

As the days are drawing in and getting colder there are fewer opportunities for outdoor sowings in September. Having just come back from holiday I will need to take the time to do the following sowings before winter stops me in my track.

Clarkia in Summer

Clarkia in Summer

Lambs Lettuce: my recent sowing has started to sprout. I like Lambs Lettuce (also called Corn Salad) because it’s one of the very few lettuces which keep well throughout winter and I can keep pinching off the leaves until the frost arrives. Mizuna and Rocket are another of these lettuces which are often used in exotic mixed salads and can be sown in September.

Winter spinach: I have a nice supply of spinach and chard which can make up for the lack of greens in winter.
Winter cabbage: having noticed that my brussels sprouts are being eaten by the White Cabbage Butterfly caterpillars I may need to dig them out and replace them by winter cabbage or cauliflowers which can be sown now.
Last sowing of culinary herbs (parsley): my recent sowing has just come up and I find that you always need parsley to flavour a great many dishes.

Calendula & Clarkias: I have just noticed that my packet of seeds indicate later sowings in September. I did sow these flowers in Spring and enjoyed the blossoms in summer but apparently a September sowing would allow for earlier blossoms next year. Something to really look forward to in 2010.