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 Wildflower Meadow Success

In 2015 I opened an Indiegogo Project to fund the seeds for a 2.5 acre wildflower meadow. I didn’t make the target BUT, I did get near-on £500. It meant I was able to start the sowing process and get this little conservation project on its way.

To say there’ve been some difficulties is an understatement. The soil is heavy clay and has been left undulating due to previous ploughing by farmers. The site is several hours away from home so scaring away the thousands of wood pigeons that descended was impossible. It didn’t rain for about a month after the original seeds were sown in 2015 either. Disaster. In fact, when I revisited the site with a team of scythers last autumn I thought we’d wasted the money because nothign much had really happened.

This year however….

LOOK!

A sea of daisies.

The fields are alive with the scene of flowers…

I knew there was a lot of perennial seeds in the mix and so there was a glimmer of hope that this year would be a far more decent show than last. At the moment it’s the oxeye daisies that are really stunning. But poke amongst the stems and there are poppies, knapweed, wild mallow, plaintain and all manner of other goodies. There’s a very obvious strip where we sowed but it looks pretty nevertheless. The only thing I’m now concerned about is this year’s scything….we’re going to be at it for days; weeks perhaps!! I also welcome the sight that any leftover oilseed rape plants have died; though in their place are now thistles and flowering docks. These will have to be dealt with at some point so they don’t overtake the field; scything will be extremely important to keep the nutrient levels down.

Honestly, the sight was glorious. There were a pair of buzzards circling in the thermals above, birds flitting in and out of the hedges and the lovely drone of insects. Come the autumn, when we start planting trees into the other end of the field too, this conservation space will be even better.

It’s all coming together!

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 small shrub given the chance. Meanwhile, my favourite geraniums, and those I’m talking about here, are a herbacious perennial that will die down and appear once again in spring year after year.

But why is there so much to love?

Firstly, there are so easy to look after. It’s pretty hard to kill a geranium – I’ve even grown one in deep shade and though I can’t say it prospered, it still grew and acted as ground cover. And that’s my second point – they make exceptional ground cover, partly because they grow quickly at this time of year. They won’t, of course, provide year-round cover but if you have gaps and spots in your border, a geranium will quickly close this.

Then there are the plethora of flowers available. These plants are prolific, and seem to turn from an innocuous patch of green into a flash of colour in no time at all. There are blues, pinks, whites, and then there are bi-coloured petals too. It’s also worth cutting plants back after their first flush of flowers to get a second showing. They won’t always grant your wish, but in many cases, especially with our milder winters here in the UK, they will keep flowering for months on end.

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Many geraniums are also incredibly easy to propagate too; mostly from snapping off bits of rhizome and potting on rather than taking cuttings. Most of my geraniums have been shoved in plastic bags for weeks on end before being planted up and they’ve survived. These are hardy beasts of the horticultural world.

So, if you’re looking for a great plant to give lots of colour without the need for nurture, geraniums are definitely on my list. Enjoy!

On My Oasis – Battling the Blues

The ‘blues’ is putting it lightly. I’ve suffered from depression for years and aside from a small medicated patch back in early 2001, I’ve always managed to yank myself out of it. However, this time it’s been really tough. Finding the energy to get out of bed has been hard enough, let alone get in the car, go to work, communicate with people – i.e. live a normal life.

A lot of this week, therefore, has been spent laying on the couch and watching River Cottage reruns and reading the plethora of smallholding books I have. It probably doesn’t help my mood actually. Whilst inspiring, when I’m in such a black place it actually built a despairing concern that I’d never reach my goals. So, though it should be making me feel comforted, it actually exacerbated my anxiety. Ahh, depression. What a bastardly mental muck-up it is!

Some of the books keeping my depression company

One of the most frustrating things about having depression is that I find it actually strikes when life is going well. For example; I had some amazing news this week concerning the hens. You’d have read my woes last week about the suspected mycoplasma and how it was going to affect the future of my poultry. Well….the tests all came back NEGATIVE! I’m still going to have another testing round because I’m really not certain. Also, the sting in the tail is that Fiona – my lovely little white Poland – succumbed to illness. I could kick myself. She looked a little lethargic and had got her crest wet from all the rain. I should’ve brought her inside, I should’ve dried her off, but I didn’t….and she didn’t survive the night.

However, everyone else in the coop seems to be perking up. Eggs are up. Crowing is up. General naughtiness and escapism is up too!

There’s also great news for the Owl Nesting Box campaign. We hit 32% funded a while back and over the past few days this has climbed to near 50%. So, that’s TWO OWL BOXES FUNDED! There’s only two weeks left now so the push is on to meet the target. That way I can keep the project open and over the coming months and years, I can continue to run the campaign to fund more boxes.

We’ve almost reached 50% funded now!

Finally, my brother-in-law was ready to dump an entire box hedge into a skip – hundreds of pounds worth!! I couldn’t allow that to happen and so now I have 20 or so box plants individually planted up. They’re a little raggedy to say the least, especially those that were in the central part of the hedge, but I aim to try and turn them into upright columns. But with all these pots I’ve run into a problem – I know I might’ve only been in my new garden a year, and it’s three times the size of the old one, but I’ve run out of space already! Oops!

So, for now, I’m going to keep battling my blues though I do think they’re beginning to lift and there’s light streaming in once again. The weather and thriving growth in the garden certainly helps, and I’m keen to get the optimistic, happy Geoff back again.

Enchanted by Cows

If you follow my Instagram, you’d have seen rather a lot of bovine picture on Wednesday. The Suffolk Show was held on June 1st and 2nd, and having not been since childhood, I decided it was as good an event as any to thrust my husband into farming life and surround him with livestock. It sure worked…and he was soon gaga over goats and sheep. We visited the pig tent to shelter from the bitter wind and rain (yes, apparently it’s November weather in June) – I have to say, though I see the use of pigs on the homestead, I’m a bit scared of them. They’re huge. Have those chomping jaws. Make those shrill squeals and shrieks. I can’t say I’m keen. However, I was completely enchanted by the cows.

I just find cows magnificent; I always have. Many can be gentle giants, and I love their inquisitive nature and beautiful eyes. I’ve long wanted cows – it was always planned for our eventual smallholding to have a small herd and now I’ve seen them up close and personal again, I’m absolutely in love.

The rather wonderful thing about cows is that they don’t have to be big either. For anyone who watched This Farming Life earlier in the year, there might be the belief that every cow is as big as the Long Horn or the Limousin. But there are some tiny cows too. The Dexter, for example, is pretty small. In fact, there are some dogs that probably stand taller (though I’m thinking of the huge breeds; Great Danes & St Bernards). Dexters are also brilliant cattle for clearing – exactly what we need on our farmland. The pasture has long gone to weeds, but Dexters would quickly cut through the thistles, nettles and brambles. The Red Poll, too, is pretty small. It’s also derived from Suffolk and Norfolk stock, making it an ideal breed for our smallholding in terms of keeping local varieties. And, though some Highland Cattle are large, there were numerous teeny cows at the show too; making me think that I could definitely make hubby’s dream of a Highland Cow come true.

Some of the gorgeous Highland Cattle at the Suffolk Show

A beautiful Hereford. After seeing their size, I don’t think they’re the ‘starter cows’ for us!

Red Polls, originally derived from Suffolk and Norfolk stock, are also a manageable size cow.

*swoon*

Of course, as well as cows I’m still in love with sheep and goats; particularly the latter from which we can get milk as well as wool and meat.

Look at those ears!!! :D

Goats can offer meat, wool AND milk.

Brimwood Farm won’t be a real farm without some sheep!

Overall, it was a fantastic day for keeping the smallholding dream burning brightly. The only problem now is that I WANT COWS NOW!

When to Harvest Pak Choi

Last year, with my first ever greenhouse and a desire to grow vegetables around the year, I was on the hunt for winter-hardy harvests I could get going in late November and keep growing until spring. I think it was Andrew over at Life on Pig Row who suggested Pak Choi; something I’d never eaten, let alone grown.

During the winter months, as you might expect, they looked a little bleak and I wondered if they’d come to anything at all. However, once I’d assembled my raised beds, I quickly got the young plants out of the greenhouse and into the ground and they whooshed away.

Now, I’m a grower, not a cook. And, unfortunately that means I often forget things need to be harvested at certain times. Pak Choi is an asian green that’s ideal for stir fry’s (I’ve been using this great recipe with soy and honey). The good think about this veggie is it’s slow to bolt…though, as you’ll see below, I didn’t harvest early enough and so have had little brassica flowers develop. Incidentally, I just keep breaking these off and throwing them into the chicken coop until I’m ready to harvest.

So, when is the perfect time to harvest Pak Choi? 

Seemingly about mid-April before the weather warms up too much and encourages the plant to bolt. You can remove single leaves if you just want to nibble or, as is normally the way, use a sharp knife and remove the entire plant at ground level. You can, of course, continue harvesting over subsequent months but as the plants bolt they’ll put more energy into flowers than leaves.

Cut through the base with a knife. Note…the stem shouldn’t be this elongated (oops!) It’s best to harvest when they’re more dense, like a cabbage head.

My Pak Choi have been left in a little too long! Still good for harvests though.

And the bugs (and chickens) enjoy the flowers and stalks.

So, next year I will endeavour to harvest sooner. They keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks without going too limp, so you can easily pluck multiple plants at once. Also, it’s best to get them out the ground earlier so you can use that space for other quick growing veggies, like radishes, carrots or lettuces, for example.

On My Oasis – New Plants and Quails

Well, wouldn’t you know it; it’s cold, cloudy and blimmin’ windy – yes, it MUST be May Bank Holiday! I’ve managed to get out in the garden and weed the path, water the fruit trees and do a little potting on, but it’s definitely not the May warmth we should be having. The poor Japanese maple is getting blown all over the place; no wonder it’s not thriving. I’d move it to a more sheltered spot…but I don’t have one! The quicker I can swamp the trellising with plants, the better.

The Ornamental Garden

It’s my birthday tomorrow, but as both I and my husband have to work, we headed out on Friday for some plant shopping. As ever, it was completely unplanned and I bore none of my own advice. So, instead of going armed with a strict list of plants to help get that design look, I ended up buy one of this, and one of that, and another of the other. You know the drill, I’m sure.

There was some thought in my shopping. Firstly, I’ve had an old tin bath for ages that I’ve wanted to pop a small pine tree into. Despite looking, nothing’s leapt out at me over the past few months, but I finally found what I was looking for – this gorgeous mugo subsp, mugho. For now I’ll be keeping it in the planter, though I’ve not quite decided what will be planted around it. I have some lovely miniature cyclamen I’ll put in for spring colour, but the rest of the year? I’m undecided.

 

Pinus mugo subsp. mugho

 

I also keep a wish-list of plants on my phone, and the nursery had a huge selection. In the end, I ended up ticking-off (i.e. buying) an astrantia (Florence), a kniphofia (Orange Vanilla Popsicle) and Brunnera (Mr Morse). Of course, I should’ve bought multiple items of each, as well as limiting my buys for a more cohesive look but – ahhh, to hell with it, I just want lovely plants…says the plant hoarder. And I can propagate to my heart’s content. I also snagged a gorgeous and unplanned perennial geranium (Chocolate Candy). I’ve never seen one with such dark foliage before; simply beautiful!

 

Geranium ‘Chocolate Candy’

Brunnera ‘Mr Morse’, Kniphofia ‘Orange Vanilla Popsicle’, Bearded Iris ‘Rimfire’, and Astrantia ‘Florence’

The Poultry Yard

Life in the poultry yard has been extremely stressful. I bought in four new hens a few weeks back because I wanted to really ramp up egg production as selling has been going well. All the ladies were quarantined, all seemed fine, all were finally put in with the rest of the flock; that’s when the worse happened. The cheapo brown layer I’d just bought to ‘make up numbers’ became ill, and was snuffling. In my naivety I thought nothing of it…until the horrors of the Internet! It seems she might be a mycoplasma carrier and the stress of moving brought it out. I isolated her, but not soon enough. Now everyone has it.

That’s not so bad,’ you might think. ‘Just treat it‘. The problem is, it never goes away. Think of the cold sore. It lives in your system and comes out at times of stress; as does mycoplasma. It’s very contagious too. Chickens can spread it even when they’re not actively ill. It can also be passed vertically through eggs. It is FINE for humans to still eat eggs, but it means I cannot sell my chickens, sell hatching eggs or take birds to shows. It also all-but quashes any dream of developing healthy, pure breed stock lines of show quality birds like I’d intended to do with my Ayam Cemani’s, Barbu d’Anvers and Ixworth.

How to get rid of it? Cull my entire flock of 40 chickens. Burn all the bedding and detritus. Disinfect everything from food hoppers and nestboxes, to perches and coop flooring. Honestly, that fills me with dread. The other issue is mycoplasma is apparently EVERYWHERE, even wild birds have it. It also lives outside the hen for several weeks. I could cull my entire stock, only to get new hatching eggs that are in infected. Or have a wildbird poop in the run and pass it. Or miss the tiniest speck when I’m disinfecting – easy to do when I have the whole poultry yard, three coops and an old, tin shed to try and sterilise – and have my new birds catch it again. I should also say that my swabs from the vet haven’t actually come back with results yet but I’m pretty sure my diagnosis is correct.

So, instead I’ve made the decision to treat it with antibiotic Tylan and have a mycoplasma-positive flock. I can still sell eggs for eating, but no showing or selling. I can still breed chicks for meat birds, but they mustn’t leave my premises. And, when the eventual move to Brimwood Farm arrives, I’ll have to cull any remaining birds so I can start fresh.

It’s been fairly devastating, and I’ve not know what to do; especially as many people say kill, kill, kill. But to cull and have it happen again would be even worse. And to euthanise all my lovely hens – who, I might add are otherwise healthy and laying – all because they have something that might never rear its head again is something I also cannot feel comfortable with.

There has been some GOOD NEWS however, in that my quail chicks hatched. That, in itself was rather stressful though because three were crippled. I put booties on one to align his toes and help him walk…and then he drowned overnight. The other two were beyond help and I had to dispatch. When they’re this young and tiny you can simply snip their heads off with a pair of scissors. It’s still horrible. TIP: close your eyes when you do it. There are still 12 happy chicks though, as you can see below.

 

The Market Garden

Can you tell this has been a week of woe? Things haven’t exactly gone right in the vegetable patch either. My first batch of peppers never germinated, and my second batch have developed into wonderful seedlings…and then a chicken broke in and ate them all! DISASTER. It’s now too late to sow – I’ve done it anyway, just in case – but I’m going to have to buy some plants as a back up.

Luckily, everything else has been going rather well; minimal blackfly on broad beans, carrots coming up well, kale, beets, spinach etc all doing well. Lets keep our fingers crossed I don’t have a massive failure here too!

Owl Boxes

And, finally, the Owl Box campaign is coming to an end. So far it’s only managed to get 11% funded; not even enough for one owl box. So, if you can spare £2 (just the price of a coffee) please consider helping fund the project and get it off the ground! We’ve got 22 days to go and need to make £450; every penny is extremely important. Springwatch starts on BBC 2 today, so get in the spirit and help me out. 😀

Okay…enough begging. Until next time, may your gardens keep growing!





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