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…
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 …
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…
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 …
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…
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…
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…
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…
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…
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…
It’s turning notably colder this week, and though there was a lack of dew on the ground this morning, I’m expecting the weather to take a turn for the worst. There’s been some highs and lows this week on my oasis, from continued tomato yields and thriving seedlings, to bad hatches in the chicken incubator.
One little chick….
I have to introduce you to the latest member of the chicken crew – Ayam (so named because he/she is a rare, jet black Ayam Cemani). They have a genetic condition which causes every part of their body to be black – pretty cool. Unfortunately, the incubation went rather wrong, namely because I’m a novice and still don’t really know what I’m doing.
I had six eggs; and after the first candling on Day 7 realised, happily, that 5 were fertile and growing well. It’s amazing how fast these little embryos get going – just 21 days (a few days less normally) and a fluffy chick appears. However, I totally screwed up the humidity.
Humidity, when it comes to incubation, controls the development of the air sac – I understand this now in more detail. Eggs have to lose a small percentage of their weight throughout the incubation, and this is done by perspiring air through the shell. A high ambient humidity restricts the growth of the air sac, a low humidity allows the air sac to grow rapidly. On previous hatches I’ve had a humidity of around 55% throughout, raising it at lockdown (a term for when you raise the humidity to around 65% on day 16 and leave the incubator well alone). The seller of these eggs advised 45%, so that’s what I went with. As bad luck would have it, this meant the air sacs grew too large, stunting embryonic growth and restricting the chick’s movement at hatching. It resulted in four deaths before they could get out of the eggs. Gutted.
I am determined to crack it, though. Next time, instead of going with a random number, I’m going to mark the air sac growth throughout the incubation and adjust humidity accordingly. I’ve got another six Ayam Cemani eggs on their way to me, so try, try again!
An extended season
If you watch any of the gardening shows about now, they’re all discussing cleaning your greenhouse ready for winter – wait, what? I STILL HAVE TOMS ON THE GO. That’s right. Perhaps it’s because I’m in the south-east and there’s a little more heat and sun, but I didn’t pick all my tomatoes last month because they’re still ripening. Are you finding that too? I can’t bear to pull them down yet when the fruit still seems to be doing well, so I’m leaving it as long as possible.
My Pak Choi and Winter lettuce seedlings are doing well too, but they’re not at a stage requiring potting up yet. As such, there’s no great rush to get the toms out to free up space so, for now, I’m enjoying the slight extension of season.
A burst of dahlia
You might recall me mentioning before that my autumn planting has never been great. As a result, aside from some nicotiana, a few stray cosmos and the few lingering verbena bonariensis, there’s rather a lack of colour. That is, apart from the dahlias, however. The tropical border is still full of vivid hues, with the bright green and silvers of the ferns contrasting wonderfully with the dark foliage and bright blooms of the dahlias. I’ve potted up about twenty canna seedlings too, so they’ll go into the border next year, hopefully creating an even more vivid display.
Got any great and unusual plants for autumn colour? I’m all ears – I’ll be planting up in spring for next year. Yes, there’s echinacea, rudbekia, grasses – anything you love and think there should be more of in gardens?
Perhaps not this – Euonymous europaeus. Beautiful tree I discovered in the quarry, but HIGHLY toxic!
If there’s one thing that almost rivals plants when it comes to retail-distraction, it’s solar lights. I’m a fan of lighting in the garden, albeit subtle illumination. You won’t find any glowing fairies, or light-up hedgehogs or strings of Chinese lanterns in my garden. I like the very calm, very simple, very elegant strings of solar fairy lights. When it comes to path lighting, a few carefully placed pedestal/post lamps will do it for me. I’ve been to a few ‘garden light’ exhibitions where they’ve played with various colours too – I’m yet to try it, though green and blues seem to work quite well.
But other than looking cool, garden lighting also goes some way to providing some security. When I moved to the new house, security lighting on both the front and back of the house was a priority. And then, when some reprobate came into the garden, opened the coop and stole Charlotte, I realised that further lighting was needed towards the bottom of the garden where the gate was. I bought a small motion sensor battery operated LED that was fixed to the yew – it was crap. It’s still in situ but it does little to actually put a spotlight on any would-be burglar. In fact, it probably gives them just enough ambient light to see what they’re doing. Big Fail.
Then Philips got in touch about some of their solar products. I guess – largely due to my impulse solar light purchases – I’ve never thought about spending proper money on solar lighting. You know how it is; you pop into Sainsbury’s, there’s boxes of string lights for £9.99, so you buy a couple. They last a few years and die, but they were cheap so you just buy some more. Sitting down to actually look at spending some real money? Nope, hadn’t done that. However, now I know I REALLY should’ve, because the Philips lighting beats anything I’ve had before.
I have the MyGarden Pedestal Post Set. I mistakenly thought they were motion sensor to start with. Upon my realisation they weren’t, I actually had to move them away from the chicken coop; I was going to use them as a deterrent, but they’re so bright they were acting like a homing beacon!
I can honestly say, these lights are fabulous. They make ideal path lighting, particularly at the entrance or exit to a garden room because of their height. I’ve placed mine at the entrance to the lawn area, and they illuminate the callicarpa and acer beautifully. But they’d also be perfect for any seating area too because, boy, do they shed off some light – I reckon you’d be able to read by them. Another advantage is that they’re quick to charge – even on the dullest of days I get a couple of hours of light each night. The solar panel’s large and has a long cord too, so if you want to light a shadier spot of the garden, there’s ample flex to place the solar panel elsewhere to maximise light absorption.
It has to be said, I’m pretty impressed with these lights. Though I’m still going to get distracted by those cheapo supermarket lights adorning the spring and summer season shelves, I’ll give more care to buying lighting that’s a little more robust in the future.
One tip; I’ve always found that solar lighting doesn’t do well with frosts. The cold seems to percolate the solar panel and diminishes (or eradicates entirely) the subsequent season’s light. For this reason, I always bring my lights indoors during the winter. Philips lights are robust, however, but I may still err on the side of caution, particularly now I’m out of London and expecting some colder weather.
In terms of Philips outdoor solar lights, and especially the myGarden Flowers Solar Powered Posts, it’s a BIG thumbs up!
What a weekend! We had glorious weather in Suffolk – crystal clear blue skies and baking sun. It was perfect for a couple of the Brimwood Farm projects; scything the wildflower meadow and planting the bluebell wood. Once I’ve worked my way through the vast number of photos, I’ll do a proper post! In the meantime, here’s an update on my oasis back in Essex.
A continuation of veggies
I’ve still got a few foods on the go. I grew the runner beans in a trough, and they’re just starting to go over. I’m going to pop garlic in once I’ve cleared the greenery and once they’re complete next year I can tip out the earth for use elsewhere in the garden. We have REAMS of chard, though I’m yet to find a decent kitchen recipe; it’s a bitter plant and husbo isn’t keen so I’ve got to keep cooking different methods because it’s one thing I’ve grown a lot of. The radishes are starting to go over, but the tiny sprouts are now starting to appear on the Brussels – exciting!
Keen to try and get some overwintering stuff on the go, I’ve just begun germinating some Pak Choi and winter lettuce. I’ll be honest here – I’m a bit crap at thinning out. I’m always keen to get as many plants as possible. When it comes to all plants, but veggies in particular, this is just NOT a good idea. I’ve begun thinning out – grimacing as I do it – but I hope I get better harvests as a result. There are also some young spinach plants on the go and I MUST get my onion sets in soon!
Realising there’s all this land in Suffolk too, I’m keen to try some crops next year. However, as it’s a two hour drive away, I need to try veggies that require very little intervention. I reckon I can put a few rows of spuds in and leave them – yes, I won’t be there to earth them up, but at least they’ll grow. The only other thing that might be a possibility is onions. However, a) sets are pulled out by birds – of which there are many and b) onions can get very weedy, very quickly. I might circumnavigate the bird problem by starting the sets off in trays first, and if I weed a good patch, the creeping grass might stay out just long enough (wishful thinking). Still, it’s all an experiment!
The flower garden
I’ve never been great at extending the flowering season, and it’s never been more apparent in moving to the new garden and bringing my old plants with me. I still have wonderful colour from the dahlias – particularly Arabian Night (below) which is doing wonderfully. There are a few late flowering geraniums from the second flush after I slashed them back earlier in the year, and the sedum herbsfreude is now coming into vibrant life. Also, the verbena’s are all still on the go. Next year I need to concentrate on more autumn plants – rudbekia’s, echinaceas, grasses etc so I get a good show well into November.
I’ll also just mention that the two olive trees bought from IKEA for £10 have done exceptionally well this year. I planted them up into two larger planters and put them either side of the lean-to – a real suntrap – and they’ve thrived.
Chicken frenzy is most definitely still here. However, of the ten hatched chicks this year we got SIX roosters and only four hens! Luckily, one of those hens is a Barbu d’Anver so we now have a lovely little pair of these birds for breeding next year. Meanwhile, the two cinnamon Polish chicks are hens, as is the black-dotted girl from the second batch. There’s a poultry auction at the end of the month, so I think I’ll sell off the three younger roosters and keep Ivy Winters and his brother. It’s not the ideal scenario, but only Ivy is crowing at this point – and fairly quiet at that.
But wait – there’s more. Tomorrow we’re expecting ANOTHER batch of eggs to start hatching! Yes, I’m mad. Hubby really wanted some Ayam cemani’s but the two pullets at the auction last month were bought for too much. So, instead, we grabbed some hatching eggs and they’re due to start tomorrow. Five of the six are fertile, though I’ve not had huge luck so I’m expecting two hatches at most.
So, despite the autumn quickly rolling away and winter looming on the not too distant horizon, there’s still a lot going on. To keep sane, I need to garden all year round, and slowly, I’m filling as much of my time as possible with growing and livestock husbandry chores. 😉
What’s going on in your patch? Growing anything through the winter?
Good Lord, isn’t it wet? I know I’ve harped on about the lack of water, but now it’s here with great abundance. I’m stuck inside with a stream of toxic gas coming from the dog (I gave her a new chew bone yesterday and boy has it created some filth). I’m also battling lousy depression today – for no apparent reason I’ll add – so I thought sitting down and writing a gardening post might help a little.
Things have been fairly quiet gardening-wise mainly due to the rain. Poultry-wise? Not so much. Last week one of my ex-battery hens, Guilleflower, experienced a prolapsed vent. I only noticed because I could see the other two hens pecking at her rear. Upon inspection, she was bleeding heavily. I pulled her from the coop immediately, bathed the prolapse and gently pushed it back inside, though it popped straight back out. I can’t say I ever expected to be sat on the lawn with my finger up a chicken’s bum! Unfortunately I couldn’t get it to stay in, and over the two next consecutive days, she laid eggs too which definitely didn’t help the matter. I read online that sometimes the prolapse can shrivel up and fall off so, because it hardened and got a large black lump, I left it alone other than cleaning. Then, a couple of days ago the blackened part fell off and I tried to push it back in and this time it stayed. Hoorah! I’m waiting for her to lay an egg before I put her back with the others because I want to make sure the prolapse holds, but I have my fingers crossed at this point.
Meanwhile, the heavy rain caused a slight problem in my Polish bantam coop and I had to rescue the frizzles and bring them into the shed too. Unlike normal feathers, frizzle feathers don’t provide protection to either wind or rain and so a chicken can very quickly get chilled. That was the case of my favourite hen – Clumsy (named due to her obvious characteristic) and she was shivering quite a lot. She’s been tucked in the shed with her brother for four days now with tonic water, scrambled eggs and lots of other goodies and is looking much better. I popped them back into the coop today and, you guessed it – a downpour. Still, she’s disappeared inside the hutch with her brother so it seems all is okay. I will have to keep a close eye on her during the coming days.
As for flock management, there’s a new hen – Brianne. She’s a black cresting hybrid laying hen. A lovely girl and she’s settled in quite quickly, though no signs of eggs yet. I picked her up at the local auction, after attempting to get several others. There was another couple there who were obviously putting together a laying flock and had quite a lot of cash – they kept snapping up all the gorgeous birds! I missed out on the Ayam Cemani pullets and so hubby bought six hatching eggs – yes – the incubator is BACK on. Meanwhile the five younger chicks are all growing and it looks like four of the five Polish are roos! So that’s eight Polish chicks hatched and FIVE roos! Ack! The next poultry auction is the end of October so those younger three roos may have to go. Ivy’s now started crowing, though rather quietly and so far his brother and the d’Anver cockerel haven’t made a peep. I bought a low ceiling’d hutch purposefully so when they’re shut in at night, it’s hard for him to stretch and crow. However, I HAVE bought some cock collars so if it comes down to despatching or attempting a collar, I’ll have to try the latter.
It has to be said that my veggie attempts this year haven’t been great. The tomatoes are actually ripening, but I haven’t had a heavy crop. The onions and broad beans failed. There’s been a few beans and peas, but the gourds have failed to go mad. My late planted brassicas really are growing SLOWLY so I’m not expecting too much there either. The only things that ARE okay are the radishes, chard and brussell sprouts – the latter of which I cheated on and bought plug plants from a local nursery.
There’s a number of reasons for my failed attempts; firstly in that this is a brand new garden that hasn’t been used and so the soil is pretty poor. I’ve also never had a greenhouse before, so that’s a learning curve. Also, the local wildlife is very different to that of London. I can honestly say that the vast ladybird population in the capital means aphids aren’t a problem. Well, here in Essex – they’re a nightmare! So that’s stunted my crops, as well as the plagues of cabbage white butterflies flitting over the garden. They may be insects but damn, they can find their way through the tiniest hole to lay those eggs!
In my attempt to look forward instead of despair, I’m trying to take winter growing by the horns. Crocus were having a 20% off sale yesterday so I snapped up some Pak Choi and Winter Lettuce seeds. I also grabbed some onion sets and garlic whilst I was at it. I NEED to get this stuff going as soon as I can; particularly if I’m intending on doing some farmers’ markets next year. I’ve also realised that I need MORE space. I haven’t quite worked out what I’m going to do about this yet – but I expect some veggies will work their way into the herbacious border. I want to sell veggies, eggs and plants. It means that I need more of EVERYTHING!
Finally, I’ve got another farm project weekend in a few weeks’ time where my band of merry helpers and I will be strimming down the wildflower meadow, raking off all the excess to make straw/compost and planting bluebell bulbs. I’m praying for good weather because camping in the rain is NO run. This is also rural camping – we have no loo or showers etc. So strimming a wet field down will be filthy work and if we have nowhere to clean up? Yes – we won’t be happy bunnies!
So, there’s a lot going on in my mind right now. Perhaps that’s why depression’s taking hold – because I’m struggling to organise my thoughts. Still, it’s only one day so roll on tomorrow.
As I’ve mentioned before, I love the changing seasons. However, what I’m not so keen for are the glimpses of winter’s non-growing months on the horizons. With a new garden, utilising a greenhouse for the first time and spending a lot of time outside, I’ve had a blast since we moved. Pottering down the garden path to check on the hens, squash some cabbage-munching caterpillars and deadhead the dahlias has become a happy morning ritual. With winter starting to stir in the distance, there’s that disheartening feeling that there soon won’t be much gardening to have. I still love the winter – especially if it’s properly cost and frosty – but I like growing things!
So, with that ominous feeling on my mind, I’ve set about creating a small task list for the coming months (and fall) so I can keep that green-fingered urge alive.
Planting a bluebell wood
As many readers know, I have big dreams to move to Suffolk and build a house on our family’s farmland. Over the past decade it’s been rented to local farmers, but much of the traditional landscape’s become wild and uncontrolled. Earlier this year I set out to rectify with the Fund It, Sow It, Grow It Wildflower Meadow Campaign. At the beginning of next month, I’m heading back to Brimwood Farm with a band of merry men to scythe down the flower field in preparation for it’s second year of growth in 2016 (and also take some pictures as I haven’t managed to get up there and see how the seed took).
As well as the field maintenance, we’ll be planting a new English bluebell wood in the old chalk quarry. Over the years, it’s been used for a variety of things including a dump, a sheltered lambing spot and for pheasant rearing. There’s quite a copse there, so the plan is to introduce our proper British perfumed bluebell and bring a new and beautiful aspect to this forgotten patch. I’ve got 200 bulbs that, I hope, will multiply over the coming years.
September’s a great month to plant bulbs. I inherited a lot of tulips with the new house, but they were in the wrong place entirely. I dug them all up and have stored them through the summer. I’ve decided it’ll be best to grow them in terracotta pots that I can dot the path with next spring. It also means I can shift the messy, dying foliage out of the way to keep things looking good.
A few years ago I forced some beautiful paperwhite narcissus to fill the house with scent at Christmas. This year, I want to go a little further and get a load of forced bulbs on the move – not only for home, but for gifts too. Everyone’s so driven by commodities these days that the holiday season has just become an expensive gift-giving enterprise I can’t afford. Buying a DVD or giving vouchers is also so in-personal. I’m increasingly wanting to put some time and effort into creating my own gifts, so some perfumed beautiful flowers during December and January seems perfect.
You need ‘prepared’ bulbs as these have been subjected to an adequate cold spell. It’s also best to buy several bulbs and plant them a week apart as that’ll ensure you’ve got some flowering at the right time. I’m going to try paperwhites and, as I’m not really a fan of gaudy flowers, hyacinth ‘White Pearl.”
I’m going to hold my hands up here and admit; my tool and pot storage leaves A LOT to be desired. I always start off with good intentions, but my attempts normally turn to chaos. I was going to have a pot storage behind the shed, but that’s now become a second coop area for the additional hens. So, instead, I’m debating buying a storage bin like the ones they sell at Tesco – I may as well get some Tesco points on my purchase! The chest ones, in particular, are good for optimising space whilst not becoming an eyesore.
In addition, in this new, grown-up house (am I an adult now?) we actually have a drive-way and that means – THREE huge garbage bins. Though this is great for recycling etc, they are rather an eyesore. My carpentry skills only just managed to create the chicken coop, so I’m thinking a wooden storage bin might be perfect for hiding them away.
Utilising greenhouse space for winter crops
It’s the first year that I’ve had a greenhouse and man, I LOVE it. However, the winter brassicas have now been planted out and the tomatoes and aubergine are on their decline. But I’m desperate now to allow this space to languish between autumn and spring, and am determined to grow some winter veggies so, as well as putting in some onion sets outside, I’m going to sow pak choi and winter lettuce. Hopefully that’ll at least me something to go and look at on those cold, frosty mornings.
Two more fruit trees
I’m really happy with the apple cordon I planted this year, but to maximise the growing space, I’d like to put a plum and pear in too. They’ll both be planted at a 45º angle the same as the apple and should, hopefully, look beautiful in the years to come.
Finally, I really don’t want to go a month without planting any flowers, so I’ll be putting some hardy annuals. These will germinate in the September sun and then sit in the greenhouse through the winter awaiting planting. I’ve also popped in a few calendula and I’ll add some nigella, cornflowers and sweet peas in the coming weeks and months.
Okay – I’ve just looked back at that list and realised I have quite a lot to do! What about you? Any plans for growing in the autumn? Anything I’ve missed? Let me know!
Summer is definitely waning. Mother Nature was entirely in sync with the changing months, and though we’ve had sunny days in September, as soon as the 1st arrived, mornings seemed chillier, dew was prolonged and there was a shift in the air. I love the change in seasons; in fact, I look forward to this transitional phase more than any particular month itself. But, with veggie crops on their way out, my thoughts have turned to the cold, short winter days and how to extend my horticultural season.
The Kitchen Garden
I’ve never had a proper kitchen garden before; I shared the allotment with my godmother and I grew a few salads and herbs at home. In preparation for the future of growing on a larger scale in Suffolk, I’ve decided it’ll be a good idea to ramp up food growing at home now. The two large raised beds are working wonderfully, though they’re now full of cabbage, kale, leeks, Brussell sprouts and radishes. When November arrives I’ll plant the over-wintering onions, garlic and sow some broad bean seeds in preparation for 2016.
But, this is the first year I’ve ever had a greenhouse, so I’m keen to maximise food production year round. What are you growing through the winter? I’m going to try some Pak choi and winter greens. Does anyone else have some good ideas for things I can cram onto the shelves?
I’m gradually getting more room because the tomatoes are going over – though, can I get them to ripen? VERY slowly. I think I’ve harvested a grand total of THREE so far. I’ve removed the growing shoots, excess flowers and superfluous leaves in an attempt to push growth to the fruit. However, what we need is sunny weather – and that’s something that’s like to start disappearing!
It may be a little late, but the Black-eyed Susan has finally begun to flower. The vine’s taken off with vigour now – just as the summer’s leaving us – and I’m gradually training it up the sunroom wall. Now, the packet says this can be a short-lived perennial given the right conditions. If it were outside, then it would have no hope. As it is, it’s in the ‘sunroom’ (read between the lines – lean-to). It certainly won’t be that warm during the winter, but the frost will be kept off. So, it’s a trial to see what happens. I’d love for it to survive. If no, I’ll have to unwind the whole thing and retrain something new next year!
Finally, the liriope muscari has come into its own. The entire time I had this at the old house, it never flowered. When we moved, I ripped the rootball in half and planted it out – and now look! It’s not where I want it to finally be, but for now, it’s putting some bright colour.