The Joy of Geraniums

Perennial geraniums are a fabulous plant. I mentioned ‘perennial’ because the misnomer that pelagoniums are geraniums continues, led by garden centres and nurseries around the country. In fact, both of these plants are perennial. Pelagoniums, though not frost hardy, will quite happily develop into a…

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A 'Blooming' Good Reason for Growing Houseleeks

Succulents have, by and large, passed me by for most of my green-fingered life. It was only when I began planning my wedding and looking at more masculine table settings and bouquets, that I began to realise just how wonderful Sempervivum (houseleeks) are. Until then I knew them only for nostalgic r…

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Making a Case for Violas

There’s no love lost between Pansies and I. I’m not really a big fan of gaudy flowers, and I’m afraid I normally put pansies in this category. Add the fact there’s a vast amount of deadheading to do throughout the season, not to mention these plants tend to be short-lived and get very straggly, and …

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Plant Pick - Growing Hollyhocks

I’m the first to admit I’m not a fan of short-lived plants. I like to plop a plant in and leave it, allowing its perennial nature to keep it growing year after year. All this annual and biennial sowing nonsense; no, I can’t be doing with that. Aside from a few plants, however. And one of these is th…

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Plant Pick - Growing Dahlias

‘Tis very much the season for dahlias. I’m a huge fan of these blooms, though I admit, I have a slight love/hate relationship. There are a vast array of varieties in the dahlia collection, from sinewy, single-petalled bloomers to small, clump forming plants with huge, gaudy flowers. It’s the latter …

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Plant Pick - Growing Tulips

If you hadn’t heard, it’s September already. That means it’s time to plant bulbs for a spring show in 2015. And, if you’re stocking up, then it’s definitely time to be thinking about tulips.

I often think that tulips are one of the more overlooked bulbs. We all fill our gardens with daffs, crocus…

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Plant Pick - Growing Osteospermum (Cape Daisy)

I always feel as if some plants are vastly overlooked for tropical looking species and varieties that are new on the scene. Osteospermum (African Daisy), for example, seems to have a new colour shade coming out every years. However, I still have an extremely strong affection for Osteospermum jucundu…

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Plant Pick - Growing Sedum (Herbsfreude)

Okay, hear me out; Yes, Sedum Herbstfreude is an extremely common plant that may seem rather dull to you. BUT, I feel this plant is often overlooked. It has a huge number of positives; it’s wildlife friendly, it’s easy to grow, it has fantastic cover during late summer/early autumn AND it provides s…

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Plant Pick - Growing Skimmia

Okay, I know it’s still summer, but winter will be here before you know it. I’m honestly hoping for a cold snap this year – the wet, grey winter of 2013 was horrendous; I don’t think we had even one frost in London. That’s BAD for plants – they need dormancy. And it’s BAD for gardeners – we need a r…

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Plant Pick - Growing Thrift (Armeria)

I think I must’ve first come across Thrift (Armeria) when I was a lad holidaying in Scotland. Our family didn’t head abroad, but jumped in the car and journeyed to the stunning landscapes of the Lake District, Scotland and Northumberland. I distinctly remember great swathes of thrift clinging to the…

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On My Oasis – A Taste of Autumn

Yes, I dared to say it, that hideous word – autumn. In fact, I like autumn. Whenever I’m asked about my favourite season I have difficulty choosing. I think it’s because I’m a fan of the changing season, the start of something new, rather than one particular set of months. Now, as August rolls towards September, there’s a little dew in the mornings even if it hasn’t rained. The breeze, despite the fact we’re about to have a heatwave, has a slightly different feel. And in the garden, whilst everything is still growing and thriving, there are signs that the season is changing. For example, sedum – a plant that is iconic for its autumn colour – is just starting to burst into flower. Dahlias pop colour across the borders, whilst rudbekias and echinacea throw up daisy-like flowers in the air. And then, when Japanese anemones start to drift across the horizon, you know the changing season is here.

Sedum is just beginning to turn its autumn shade of pink

Life hasn’t slowed though, and will continue full-throttle towards the bitter cold. Today the first chick of a new batch hatched; a Barbu d’Anver x Silkie cross – a funny little brown thing that looks nothing like I imagined and has me questioning my rooster’s parentage. The single gourd that survives sprawls across and between the raised beds, it’s tendrils unfurling as it grasps for new support. Lettuce seeds pop into life after a few short days, the soil they’re bedded in warm and moist; perfect for germination.

Dahlia buds (Bishop of Llandaff) before they’re fully open.

Dahlia buds (Bishop of Llandaff) before they’re fully open.

A wonderful nasturtium

Two Barbu d’Anver chicks moving to the new chick coop to make way for the latest hatchlings.

So though autumn might seem a scary thought, it offers a time of change in the garden and an opportunity – certainly in the vegetable patch – not to be missed. I, for one, love it.

On My Oasis – Harvesting Beets & a Fondness for Fushias

It seems incredible that it’s already August. How did that happen? It seems like yesterday I was constructing the raised beds and now they’ve gone through a season of growing and I’m already sowing my second lot of successional crops! It’s been all go here over the past few weeks – hence the lack of updates. Firstly, a HUGE thanks to those who’ve subscribed to my Brimwood Farm YouTube. FIFTY subscribers now! That’s amazing!

My latest video was on harvesting beets, and I thought I had quite a decent crop.

 

However, it seems when you cook beetroot down and shove ’em into pickling jars, it doesn’t amount to much; three jars to be exact. I will, therefore, be using Charles Dowding’s tip of NOT pricking beet seeds out but growing them in clumps. That should mean that I get 3 or 4 times the crop in the SAME space, though I will probably increase the size of the bed in 2016 a little too.

 

The beet harvest from that video? THREE pickle jars. That’s all. Oops. Lesson? Grow more next year!

The Poultry Yard

There’s been a lot going on with the poultry. The quail chicks have matured, and that means I’m getting a TONNE of eggs. My hens are also laying a lot, despite going through a bit of a moult. The latest incubator has (probably) confirmed that myco is present in the main coop. I’ve previously had 100% hatch rate with the eggs, but this time it was ZERO. The two d’Anver eggs (the parents of which are separate) did hatch, however. The only difference is the parents of the main coop eggs were different, but all were fertile; they just didn’t reach hatch. It could be a coincidence but I that’s more like wishful thinking. Alas, it does throw plans askew a little as I cannot hatch from my own birds any longer. That means I’ll have to buy in eggs or chicks to rear for meat…until we move to the farm, at which point any birds left in the myco flock will be culled.

 

A lovely rooster I would’ve sold, but with possible myco in my main flock, he’s now destined for the cooking pot.

This funny little Poland rooster has found a place in my heart, so he’s staying.

1.5 days, 19 hens – 29 eggs!!

However, I am very happy that Gertrude the silkie and my d’Anvers don’t have myco present. I will do my best to maintain this over coming months and years, and I hope to breed some show birds from these so all is not lost.

A Fondness for Fushias

I’m not terribly keen on fushias, particularly gaudy flowers with bright, clashing purple and pink clashing colours. However, one of the very few plants inherited with this garden was a woody, leggy fuschia shoved in a pot. I took a few cuttings, they took quickly and these are the resulting flowers. Wonderful! I think I’ve finally found a small fondness for these flowers.

I don’t know the cultivar, but I love the upturned petals.

 

Another plant I’m loving at the moment is the fennel. It was actually bought as bronze. It’s not; it’s the bog standard variety. However, it offers some structure and height to the garden, and the flowers aren’t bad either.

 

Fennel’s a lovely sculptural plant to offer height.

 

I can’t believe the gardening year is actually going to start winding down now. HOWEVER, we can look forward to all those glorious autumn plants, getting bulbs in, sowing winter crops and – I REALLY hope for – some heavy frosts this year to kill off all the pests!

Vegetables to Sow in July

One thing I’m really bad at when it comes to gardening is forward planning. And, yes – this is rather an issue when you’re trying to establish a Market Farm Garden. When it comes to vegetables the most important date for your calendar is the harvesting date. You can then work backwards from this, taking into account the seasonal, usual weather fluctuations etc to work out when you should sow. So much of running a kitchen garden puts the focus on all those early spring sowings when, in fact, you can sow various crops throughout the year.

Just a few of seeds I’m preparing to germinate this month.

July is a great time to think about sowing some new veggies. The earth is warm and the days are long, so not only will seeds germinate faster but  you’ll have extra time to get out into the garden to weed, water and watch those babies grow. It’s also a time when you might’ve already harvested some crops and, as a result, have some free space. For example, my broad beans are dug up, half of my carrots have been harvested, and my onions and garlic are beginning to go over so I’ll pull them up and put them out to dry this weekend. Suddenly there’s all this space in your veggie patch for new goodies, so it’s important not to waste it.

Grow for THIS year

Luckily, there are still many delicious vegetables that have a quick enough growing time that you’ll be harvesting this year. For example, I’m still sowing carrots and radishes every few weeks. Though most carrots should be sown by August at the latest, it’s worth shoving a few extra seeds in if you have space because a) if you get a mild autumn they’ll keep growing and b) tiny carrots are delicious too.

This is also a great time to put in lettuces and spinach. If I put mine in too early in the year I find they bolt quickly. That’s what hot, dry long summer days do; encourage these plants to flower. You can keep the crops as well watered as possible but I always find they bolt quickly. However, by sowing now you’ll have crops growing as the weather begins to cool and it’s easier to stop them from going to seed. In the case of spinach, you may be able to get yummy leaves all through the winter if you give enough protection in bitter temperatures. Chards, salads and even beets if you’re growing for the leaves, are also ideal.

Grow for NEXT year

Now, this is the part I’m not so good at, and it means that when March and April arrive, there’s hardly anything to harvest. To ensure there is, I’m starting off some cabbages, broccoli and pak choi. It’s worth noting that spinach, too, can survive the winter and can be thought of as a crop for the following season.

So, with these long summer days, I have PLENTY to keep me going, what with harvesting and then re-sowing into the same bed. By using raised beds with lots of great compost, I’m simply germinated direct into the same soil that crops have already been growing in. But, if that’s something you can’t do, re-enrich the area with some good multipurpose compost and looking forward to autumn, winter and spring crops ahead.

On My Oasis – Purple Roosters and Dancing Dahlias

Heeeeeeeaaaatwave. Cor blimey, gov’ner, bit hot ain’t it.

Once again, this is why us Brits are notorious for our weather ramblings; it’s because it’s so changeable. Last week it was monsoons, storms and lashing rain. Now, I’m sat in next-to-nothing with a fan (though, it’s actually pointed at the dogs) and trying to survive the sweltering heat. I do like it in the evenings though; perfect for watering your garden…and catching a few Pokemon whilst you’re at it. 😉

The Ornamental Garden

It has to be said that this year, more than last, I’m noticing the poor soil quality. When I first moved in I got by on a wing-and-a-prayer, but any nutrients in the soil were taken by last year’s season and there’s been lacklustre growth in 2016. However, I have several wheelie bins FULL of chicken dung. This will be nicely rotting down as we speak and then, come November-ish time when I hack back all the herbaceous perennials, I’ll cover the garden in a thick layer of the stuff. Hopefully we’ll have a nice cold spell to break it down further and let all the goodness seep into the soil.

It’s not doom and gloom though, and a lot of plants are growing marvellously. We’ve had a lot of slugs and snails this year, so I’m glad I’ve kept my dahlias in pots. I normally start them off in the greenhouse and plant them out at a later stage. I placed the pots into the borders when I got some decent growth, and then promptly forgot to actually take them out of their plastic pots and dig them in. HOWEVER, this seems to have worked in my favour; the snails haven’t been able to nibble as much, they’re easier to water, there’s added height so the flowers seem to dance above the other plants AND the root system has grown through the pots bases and into the soil. With any other perennial you would not want to do this but as I did my dahlia tubers up each year, this isn’t an issue.

Echinacea prepares to flower

Daisy petals are unfurling

Dahlia ‘Arabian Night’ puts on a show

Elsewhere, though I lost my lavenders due to a certain young lady peeing on them (I’ll quickly add, that’s a canine young lady, not a human), the verbena bampton is just wonderful. I’ve taken some cuttings and will do more over the coming weeks. Salvia ‘Kate Glenn’ is also putting on quite the show.

The Poultry Yard

The poultry yard has been getting a little crowded, so I thinned the roosters down again last Friday. This time it was the beautiful Polski cockerels who met their end. It’s quite disconcerting when they’re plucked – they’re a strange sheen of lavender…I expect due to the Silkie gene. Once again I did a wet pluck; that is, dipping the bodies into near-scolding water so the feathers come out easily. It’s SO much quicker this way. It’s all well and good saying I’ll put the feathers to good use, but the last box from the dry pluck is still in the garage…and that took me HOURS. This way, I was able to kill, pluck and dress three roosters in about two hours.

chickens

The broom handle method works best for me; there’s no uncertainly. No head = dead.

Polskis have inherited silkie skin-colour traits – slightly lavender!

I also moved the young quail into the aviary. They’ve grown to almost adult size in six weeks. I LOVE the colours, so I’ll probably keep all of these and then think about butchery for the next batch. On a non-poultry note, I’m also deliberating bunnies; as in rabbits for nice little bunny burgers. Quick to breed, easy to keep, great grass eaters and you can kill them at home without the need of going to an abattoir. I’m looking into it but am not quite decided – I’d love another source of meat, but killing bunnies…that might be too much for me.

The Vegetable Patch

Have I mentioned how much I love raised beds?! Well I do. They’re fabulous! The onions are almost ready to harvest, the broad beans are done, carrots, radishes and spring onions continue to be sown, pricked out and thrive. The kale is just – WOW; I probably planted too much to handle. I’m going to see if I can sell some along with the eggs, but I’m not sure how many people want to buy kale!

With it now being mid-July, when space allows I’ll also start thinking about sowing lettuces and spinach again. I found they’re very quick to bolt when the weather’s hot but if I sow them now they should thrive in the warm soil and be mature towards the end of August.

Finally – thank you so much for everyone who’s subscribed to the YouTube channel. I’ve got 40 wonderful viewers now! If you want more from The Guide but in video format, click the ‘subscribe’ link at the top of the page on the right-hand side.

How’s your garden growing? Highs? Lows? Tell me about it in the comments!

On My Oasis – A Turbulent Season

You know, there’s a reason us Brits are renowned for talking about the weather; it’s because it’s so bloody changeable! June was soooooo wet with a few rogue days of sun. This past weekend gave the hope of a summery spell in July and then, today….raaaaaaain again. It’s not good for my mood, my bank balance or my livestock.

The Kitchen Garden

In the vegetable patch there’s been highs and lows. As you’ve noted, my first ever carrots were harvested, as were the last broad beans. The extremely leggy beets seem to have straightened up a little, though you can see their roots are far from the nice little round harvests. Onions are swelling, nasturtiums are flowering, and the latest round of seeds are sprouting. On that; I’ve had some dismal attempts with seedlings this year. My aubergines and peppers didn’t germinate the first two times, my cucumbers got slugged and my beans looked promising…until I planted them out and they too were decimated by snails (this is the problem with continued wet weather because slugs and snails can munch around the clock). I HAVE started all of these again. Though I’m hopeful for a few beans, cucumbers, marrows and gourds later in the season, it may have been too late to try again with the peppers and aubergines; we’ll see.

My cordon fruit trees have also suffered from the turbulent weather, and have put on little growth. And my newly planted chard was decimated when I had an escapee rooster. Bad, BAD rooster (looks at the cooking pot).

Kale is thriving…though cabbage whites are now appearing.

Nasturtiums acting as a great lure for insects. But the leaves and flowers are also edible.

Leggy beets have thrived…but the harvest looks a little sausage shaped!

Bronze fennel allowed to flower.

Ornamentals

It’s also been a mixed bag for the ornamentals. I love when the dahlias start to come out. This year I haven’t even planted all of them out, deciding instead to nestle the plastic pots amongst the borders. Yes, I need to water but I don’t have to worry so much about slug damage. Hemerocallis is about to burst into life, as are the daisies, echinacea and crocosmia. I haven’t had so much luck with some others though. For instance, I wanted to swathe my ugly but much-needed trellis with Spanish flag (Ipomoea lobata). Though the seedlings started off really well, they have NOT liked being planted out. And so, I continue to live with the bare, rickety, horrible fencing. The same could be said for the jasmine which has lacklustre growth. Meanwhile I wondered what awful thing had attacked by beautiful patch of lavenders amongst the grasses…until I saw Bo peeing there. Dog pee, especially bitch pee, is potent stuff. It’ll kill off pretty much anything, especially if its dumped in huge quantities in the same place repeatedly.

The passion flower is the one climber doing well.

I love the intricate flowers.

And even the buds look great against the white

Chocolate cosmos adding some lush appeal

Daisies preparing to flower…

 

The Poultry Yard

Down in the poultry yard I’m happy to say we’ve had an upswing in luck. Tylan put pay to my hens’ respiratory illness and egg count is up – I’m getting 8/9 per day now which is great! I finally have eggs to fulfill demand.

I’ve hemmed and hawed for many months about getting ducks for a number of reasons. A) I love them, b) duck meat and eggs are yummy and c) unlike hens, you can let them out into the garden because they won’t scratch about, they’ll just snap up the slugs and snails. The problem is, we’re running out of space. I really want Muscovy’s, both for nostalgic reasons and the fact they’re pretty much silent. However, when I went to the poultry auction this weekend I realised my childhood memories were askew and they’re bigger than I remember; in fact, they’re like small geese. Also, the ducklings for sale looked less than healthy, so I decided against a purchase….this time.

The number of roosters continues to climb too, and now I’ve got the hand of sexing Pilkies/Polskis (Silkie x Poland) I’ve realised there are more roosters than I believed. AND, I’ve just shoved another load of eggs into the incubator. I’m excited as these will be first ayam cemani’s and barbu d’anvers from my own birds.

A funny little Poland rooster named Skeksis. I think we’re keeping him.

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Cuckoo – a polan hen

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Clumsy – my favourite Poland.

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Onyx is my Ayam Cemani pullet. She’s just started laying and some of her eggs are now in the incubator.

Flame is another rooster we may keep. Typical Polski characteristics with small comb and fluffy hairdo.

Finally, though I didn’t buy any ducks at the auction I did buy a pair of budgies. I know – not strictly smallholding birds. BUT, you could also consider that running a homestead involves creating new revenue streams with livestock. I may not be eating budgies, but I sure can breed them in the future. For now, though, I’ll enjoy Luna and Pluto’s sweet chirping.

Luna and Pluto are the newest additions to the menagerie.


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Growing Carrots – My First Crop

Though I may have been growing veggies for many years, I’ve never harvested a carrot crop. A few of these tasty veg were sown on the allotment but as soon as the summer season arrived, I always got busy, the crops got weedy and nothing ever came of the carrots. This year I set about growing three different varieties in my no-dig raised beds and, upon pulling some up today, am amazed!

The three varieties were Amsterdam F1, Purplehaze and Yellowstone. I found poor germination of the Amsterdam, despite thinking they’d probably be the best. In fact, whilst I had to thin out the purple and yellow carrots a lot, I was actually plugging gaps with Amsterdam.

Yellowstone, Amsterdam F1 and Purplehaze

A few things I’ve learned:

  • I left Yellowstone in the ground for too long. Despite being sown at the same time as the others, it grew more vigorously and, as a result, the larger ones are a little woody. In fact, one had sent up a flowering stalk. Oops. Must pay more attention to harvesting. 
  • My soil was probably too rich in manure. I filled the beds with chicken manure and I think this has attributed to the fibrous roots and some of the splits seen. I won’t add so much poop next year. 
  • Yellowstone, when small, is extremely sweet. Yummy!
  • Also…carrots are EASY to grow. I’ve hardly done anything with these. They were direct sown next to onions in a bid to keep the carrot fly away <- this has also been helped by using a raised bed with a lip (carrot flies aren’t very good at flying, actually, so can’t zip up and over things).

The season for sowing carrots is FAR from over, and if you read the back of packets, you’ll note you can sow through till mid-July. I’m going to sow some in August too just as an experiment; we get warm autumns here in the UK and small carrots are delicious so I may as well try for another crop.

Now…to investigate how to store these lovely crops to make the harvests last longer.





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