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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Plant Pick - Growing Aquilegia

 

I grew up with aquilegia’s in the garden, and remember being around these plants from when I was tiny. As such, I don’t really think of them as all that exciting. Many species, particularly the wilder varieties, can be fairly bland and though the dainty flowers offer a welcome treat spring…

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How to Help Owls with Nestboxes

It’s spring 2016, and I have a new campaign! Some of you may remember last year’s project to sow a 2.5 acre of our Suffolk land with wildflowers. We funded around £500 for that conservation challenge and have got the meadow well underway. In Autumn last year I, along with a few helpers, also began planting a brand new English bluebell grove.

On both these occasions, we saw a barn owl flitting across the landscape at dusk. I love owls; they’re beautiful and magnificent creatures. But, as with many of our native flora and fauna, intensive farming, poaching and even road traffic accidents, have been killing these birds in their thousands. So, knowing there is at least ONE owl on Brimwood Farm, I’ve started a new campaign to raise £400 to buy four nesting boxes.

My husband is extremely excited about this venture and has already bought one box that we’re putting up during the first week of March. A lack of nesting sites is a serious problem for our owl species, made worse by the fact that jackdaw pairs begin their families earlier in the year and pinch all the good spots! If you want to know a little more take a look at this video.

 

 

If you want to help, please check out the campaign page. You can select a specific perk or just donate any sum you want – even £1 is a great help!

And if you can’t donate, please consider sharing the campaign with your friends, family and social media followers. The more eyes I can get to look at this campaign, the better chance I have at funding the nest boxes and giving all those amazing owls the chance to rear their own family.

New Chickens – Hatching Ixworth and Naked Neck Chicks

This week I’ve hatched out more chicks; yes, before you go any further – I KNOW I’m seriously obsessed. However, though the past hens have been more of an accidental impulse, there is a plan to my latest madness. Having cute, strangely shaped and fluffy feathered hens (like the polands and silkies) is all well and good, but on a smallholding, especially in an urban environment, livestock needs to serve a purpose. The egg business is taking off; I have more customers than I can supply, and this is largely because instead of having laying hens, I have show birds which, whilst gorgeous, are not built to lay frequently. Also, I would love to raise 25 meat birds this year; that’s one homegrown chicken to eat every fortnight. In an urban environment I don’t think that’s too shabby, and it’s quite feasible, especially if I stagger the hatching so I don’t have all 25 running around at the same time. And so…enter Naked Necks and Ixworth.

I have a strange love of Naked Necks in that I can’t quite tell whether they’re super cute or not. They look a little like vultures to me; a fact my husband says goes in their favour for interesting weirdness. But then, are vultures ‘cute’? They’re certainly not pretty. The Ixworth is a breed I knew nothing about until I sought out Naked Neck hatching eggs from Claire at SmallholdingDreams and she offered me some of this rare breed too. I was instantly taken. They’re a Suffolk breed developed by Reginald Appleyard in 1932 and named after the village of the same name. Unfortunately they became surpassed by other varieties as commercial poultry companies looked for ‘meat birds’ or ‘laying hens’. And so, the dual-purpose Ixworth (good for laying and the table) has fallen out of  favour. But, they are perfect for our intention to have a smallholding in Suffolk. AND, they’re ideal for hatching out at home because you can keep the hens and eat the cockerels.

I ‘think’ Naked Neck chicks are cute…

The first and last to hatch. Such a difference in size after two days.

The hatch has been….interesting. A couple of Naked Necks shot out of their shells and then everything went quiet. I obviously got the eggs mixed up (I thought I had eight fertile Naked Necks and one Ixworth) because the following morning there were two Ixworths. Then ANOTHER two Ixworths came out but sadly, one little chick didn’t make it. They were joined by another Naked Neck and then I had two eggs; one obviously dead (no movement, no peeping, nothing) and the other making all the right signs but no visible hole. Eventually I intervened and candled the moving egg; an internal pip. I left it a little longer and nothing. So I intervened again, opening a hole in the top of the shell in the knowledge that chicks can suffocate if they don’t crack through the shell fast enough. Unfortunately I was too late and it too had died.

A lovely little Ixworth chick.

A pair of Ixworth. I don’t think they’re sex-linked.

Many say that you shouldn’t intervene for a number of reasons. Firstly, nature should take its course. Secondly, helping out normally means you’ve got a weak, sickly chick on your hands. In the wild – okay, hands off, it won’t survive. But in my garden, where it’s cared for and fed, where she can live out her days laying if a hen, or get dispatched for the table if a boy, I follow a keep-alive-if-at-all-possible approach. After all, I helped our Barbu d’Anver rooster (picture below) out of his shell when he got stuck and he’s developed into a fine young man (incidentally, I saw him making some moves on his Mrs this morning for the first time…hooray).

Barbu d'Anver rooster

Barbu d’Anver rooster

And so, there are six chicks. As much as I’d like meat birds, I’d like a few hens too to up my egg production and, as a result, income. They’re pretty cute, right?

Growing Cut-And-Come-Again Salads for Year Round Harvests

I’ll be honest, I’m a bit crap at successional sowing. I get all excited in early spring and sow things with gusto. Then the soil gets really warm, the heavens open and weeds start to thrive and, as a result, I get so distracted I forget to keep sowing. But if you want a continuous harvest of things like salad, carrots and even beans, it’s a good idea to repeat sow every few weeks so you’ve got a continuous supply of plants on the go.

Two of my mesclun boxes; one of which is made from an old desk drawer.

Over the winter I’ve put in several small mixes of ‘speedy seeds‘ and ‘windowsill salads‘. These mixes of crops are also known as Mesclun (I only found that out today!) and the turnaround is quick. In general, most of the seeds start germinating in only a few days, and some leaves are ready to pick as soon as 21 days later. And the great thing is you can keep picking without destroying the plant; simply remove a few of the largest leaves and leave enough foliage behind for continuous growth. However, plants will eventually come to their end and, if you’re trying to start up a new market farm enterprise as I am, you’ll need quite a lot of crop; hence the successional sowing.

To make life easy, I made a little video for the Brimwood Farm YouTube channel which shows the process of sowing.

I’ve let the first three mixes (Italian Mix, Ovation and Micro-greens) get rather large already, but I’ll start harvesting from them straight away. I’ve now sown an additional two rows in each crate; about an inch apart with a thin scattering of seeds. I never actually prick out the seedlings but just let them get on with it instead. These plants have a short lifespan so as long as you’re using a good multi-purpose compost they’ll grow happily. Once the entire crate has been filled and harvested, reuse the compost elsewhere in the garden and sow into fresh, nutrient rich soil. As long as you have a windowsill or frost free place, you can grow around the year.

Sowing is extremely easy

A great little mixed leaves mesclun mix.

The next stage in my efforts is to begin selling these fresh salad leaves as part of the market farming enterprise. That means I need to work out the best storage, pricing and selling strategy. Exciting times!

Do you have luck with successional growing? I’d love to hear from you! Pop a comment below and let me know what you grow.

On My Oasis – April’s Winter

Where did the sun go? As we’re plunged into an end-of-April winter and temperatures plummet, my oasis has been busily growing. The chickens have been moved to the finished poultry yard, the greenhouse shelves are groaning under the weight of seedlings, the ornamental beds are springing into life and even the raised beds have now got some veggies in – though someone keeps coming and having a dig at night; this morning I found a couple of onions scattered on the surface. As yet they haven’t dug into my carrot or radish seed bed – I’ll be VERY angry when that happens.

Today my new Naked Neck and Ixworth chicks are hatching out; one NN so far and another three eggs pipped. This is my first hatching with a plan because everything that’s come before has pretty much been a whim. These varieties, however, are with a business eye to produce eggs for sale and meat for the freezer. I had planned on popping some quail eggs into the incubator straight away but an extremely naughty dog pulled the tray of TWENTY EGGS off the cabinet whilst I was out and ate them all. I was NOT impressed.

As far as vegetables go, I now have all 10 of my main crops sown. There will be some successional sowing, of course, and I expect I’ll pop a few extras in here and there too.

Kale seedlings continue to do well.

The slugs got my first lot of individiually planted ‘Winter Density’ lettuces. I’ve thrown in some new seeds which will need to be carefully pricked out soon.

The second raised bed has Pak Choi and Spinach already planted.

In the herb pots, the parsley is springing back into life.

As for the ornamental garden, there’s a lot happening too. I love this time of year when there is so much temptation of what’s to come.

Amaryllis may take its time to set up a flower stalk, but once growing, it develops quickly!

The following two primulas were SERIOUSLY neglected at my local garden centre. I got them for 10p each, gave a bit of care and they’ve rewarded me.

Peonies are already beginning to seduce with their fat buds.

This lovely little winter pansie is brightening up the greenhouse.

Acer leaves are unfurling. After almost losing the tree last year, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for healthy growth in 2016.

All the tulip were removed from the border and grown in clay pots this year. They’re preparing to burst open.

Pulmonaria; the perfect stop-off for hungry bees.

Lastly, here’s one of the first little Naked Neck chick. It’s cute, in a weird and slightly ugly way….

The first Naked Neck chick; boys for eating, girls for laying.

I hope everything’s growing furiously where you live. Have any questions, or want to let me know about your garden? Leave me a comment. 🙂

Three Ways to Bring Plants onto Your Driveway

When I moved to my new house I was overjoyed, not only in having a bigger garden but of having a driveway. London was a nightmare for parking; I’m a relatively new driver so having to parallel park into the tightest of gaps on my street every day was a nightmare. Suddenly, with a drive to call my own, life seemed a lot brighter. However – what to do with it?

© Ben Holliday - Flickr

A bland, paved driveway is an eyesore – get some planting in there somewhere.

A lot of front gardens/driveways seem to be forgotten spaces. Perhaps people don’t want to garden out the front where *shock, horror* they might have to talk to passersby. Or maybe it’s simply just become a spot to park your car. But, you can do BOTH and it doesn’t have to be an eyesore.

The first thing I set about was actually creating a drive; knocking down the old brick wall so I could drive the car off the road and onto my property. The bricks were recycled in the back garden as pavers for the path. I then had three main options;

        1. Fully Paved – Having a fully paved garden is a popular choice for many people as it creates one large driveway for multiple uses. However, it’s fairly expensive to have done (unless you have a little DIY knowledge and don’t mind hours on your knees faffing around with sand, bricks and a spirit level). If you do want to avoid the hard labour yourself, it’s best to get in a landscape specialist like Thompson Garden Services.  Remember there will also be some maintenance; paved drives look good for all of six months, after which time plants, weeds and moss start to grow up between the cracks. These are a nightmare to get rid of, even if you’re using weedkiller, so make sure you deal with any greenery as soon as it appears instead of leaving it until the roots have got a good, strong hold. Though you can use a sealant, I’d avoid it because it causes water run-off and can leave a dangerously slippery sheen.

          Planting
          – If you decide to go for a paved drive, design some flower beds into the structure, and not necessarily thin strips running up the edges. A large organic shap in front of the front window, or several formal blocks can create great planting areas. Don’t be tempted to pave the entire thing and put out pots; it’s a false economy. You’ll spend half your life watering, or pulling dead things out from manky, neglected containers.

 

        1. Gravelled – A gravelled front garden and driveway can be a great cost saver as the materials are cheap and it’s relatively easy to install yourself. Gravel and other small aggregates cover a multitude of sins; you don’t even need to level the area properly before pouring in the gravel and raking it flat. However, you must make sure you put somethign to suprress the weeds below the gravel. This can be a proper weed suppresent membrane, carpet or plastic <- if you’re using the latter, punch some holes into it to allow drainage. You will need to create some form of barrier between the pavement and your driveway; otherwise in six months time half your stones will have migrated down the road. You’ll also need to regularly rake everything over and pull out a few weeds…nature always finds a way.

          Planting
          – The nice thing about gravel is that you can plant directly through it by slashing a small slot in the suppressant membrane. You could opt for a minimal style with a collection of rocks and small shrubs that are reminiscent of a Japanese garden. Alternatively, plant clumps of complimentary plants for year-round colour; grasses, lavender and osteospermums.

 

      1. Planted – To maximise your driveway’s planting you could simply opt to turn the entire thing into a garden with a couple of strips of hard-standing to drive the car onto. You can even plant between the gaps with creeping thyme and camomile for those times you don’t quite turn onto the pavers correctly. Bear in mind, though, these can’t take too much regular traffic so try and stay off them as much as you can. You can utilise stepping stones to create an obvious walkway to your door. However, make sure you make the walking areas of your driveway extremely obvious; otherwise you might find yourself getting infuriated as the postman crushes your beautiful new clover plants without a seconds thought. Also remember that if you’re an unsocial gardener like I am, this is not a wise choice because you’ll be gardening out the front a lot!
        Planting
        – If you going to turn your entire front garden into one large border, there is still the need for structure. Use architectural plants like verbena bonariensis to create height, screening and interest in front of your windows. Bear in mind that areas with lower growing plants are more likely to be used as walkways, so keep fragile specimens out of harms way.

So what did I choose? I went with a gravelled garden as I could do it myself, keep it cheap, cut back on the maintenance and choose exactly where I wanted plants to go. My theme is wildlife formality; I have four cyprus trees on either side of the drive to frame it and add some privacy, but wildlife friendly plants like lavender, japanese anemones and verbena to add colour and interest. I’ve also planted a wisteria to train up the house and, hopefully, hide away some of its terraced 1930’s blandness.

So, if there’s one thing when planning your new driveway, try and incorporate planting. Lots of evergreen foliage, and plants like grasses and phlax are extremely low maintenance, so even if you’re not a gardener, it’s easy to green up your home and add some curb appeal. And, if in doubt, get the professionals in!

On My Oasis – Warm Rain

Warm rain. That’s the feeling I had today as the skies opened and I pottered around the garden. It lacks the bitter iciness of winter’s downpours and is a tell-tale sign spring is here. There’s no scurrying for the greenhouse, unsure whether you’re about to be battered by hailstones or jolted by storms. It’s just a light, warm rain that feeds life to everything around you. And I LOVE it!

A long weekend in the Lakes

This week on my oasis has been rather busy, mainly because we went to the Lake District for a long weekend which meant over 10 hours of driving. Still, I won’t complain because the weather absolutely beautiful, the snow-capped mountains remained and there were fields of tiny newborn lambs bleating away and adding to the orchestra of calling birds. A little closer to home, things are marching on in an extremely quick manner.

More hens?

The poultry yard is complete, giving the hens a safe place to be locked away at night and far more room than the coop allowed. Within the yard they’re free-range; something I’m a little cautious of. There’s no netting or mesh should Mr. Fox appear in the middle of the day. Still, they’re happier rooting around the compost heap, nipping at the weeds and laying eggs all over the place.

The chicks continue to grow apace, and the young ayam cemani has started to crow already. He’s several months earlier than our first ever started to vocalise. I’m taking him to an auction on Sunday so hopefully he can go off to a new home and leave us (and the neighbours) in peace. However, I mentioned more hens!

A week ago we visited Claire on her smallholding in Suffolk. She has a lovely blog – Smallholding Dreams, and I got in touch in the hopes of getting some Naked Neck and Ixworth hatching eggs. Well, seven days in the incubator and we’ve got 7 NN’s and 1 Ixworth developing! I really want to grow more chickens for meat birds. In fact, I’d like to have 25; that’s one home-reared chicken every fortnight. I think that’s very achievable in a garden setting. Both NN and Ixworth are good dual-purpose birds and I’m particularly fond of the latter as they’re a rare breed native to Suffolk; ideal for our smallholding on the eventual Brimwood Farm.

Day 7 and the Naked Neck embryos are developing well.

Veggies Ahoy!

The vegetable growing season has really started now. Onions and broad beans are quickly growing, and I noticed today that the first carrot seedlings are beginning to poke through. There are winter lettuces, kale, pak choi and beetroot seedlings in the greenhouse, and I spent a couple of hours making a new bottle garden. I’m intending on planting lettuces into this; I think it’ll be a good way of keeping them out of reach of slugs and snails.

My first attempt at a bottle garden – great for recycling!

I’ve sown seeds for all our planned crops this year (see this post) but many will need later sowings for succession so I’ll keep the pace up. I’ve also decided to grow some chard too; a U-turn on last year. I’d also simply steamed it before, but it left a bitter taste I could do without. However, Claire had cooked them in a stew and they were delicious!

There are also TWO flowers on the plum tree (ooh, yes, a glut of fruit – not). Seeing as it was a £5.99 plant from poundstretcher, I’m still pretty happy. Seriously, if you want cheap fruit trees, you can find a lot of things in bargain stores. The raised strawberry trough is starting to green into life too; I’m hopeful for a nice harvest this year!

Just two plum flowers – better than nothing!

The Forgotten Ornamentals

From all this home harvesting talk, you might think I’d forgotten ornamentals, but they’re still very much on the cards. In the greenhouse, the bright new leaves of the chocolate cosmos plants are appearing. I’ve brought the dahlias out of storage and potted them up too; just as the first buds have begun to appear. Geums are well on their way to flowering, and I’ve planted two new bee-friendly containers for the front garden (I’ll be revealing what I planted in a post later this week).

Perennial geraniums are appearing.

Lovely new foliage on the heucheras

These simple geums are already flowering

My acer, which very nearly died last year, is unfurling its leaves and the pyracantha plants I’ve put in to create a new anti-burglar hedge are greening up. I need them to put on a lot of growth this year so I’ll be feeding them in a frenzied manner so I can really get as large a hedge in as short a time as possible!

All in all, spring is here and everything in the garden is thriving!





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