April

What was started in March, continued in April in our Kitchen Garden, all with the aim of giving us a full larder later in the year and moving further along our aim of being totally self sufficient in fruit and vegetables.

Our seedlings potted on

Our seedlings potted on

We potted on the brassica, tomato and pepper seedlings when they were big enough to handle and these are now sitting in the greenhouse waiting to be planted out later in May. The tomatoes and peppers will stay in the greenhouse, and the brassicas will go into raised bed 4 (carefully netted too, to protect from the dreaded cabbage whites!). The broad beans were looking nice and big and healthy so these went direct into the soil at the beginning of the month and are doing well as I write this, needing the growing shoots to be pinched out to avoid blackfly settling. We also planted out the pea that germinated (only one, the rest rotted unfortunately), with replacements sown directly into the ground (and still are not through. Maybe they have been taken by the birds, so will try in pots again soon). We installed some natural supports for the peas also, which were saved cut down stems from our large Astrantia in the Autumn. These are perfect sturdy supports and look beautiful too, adding height and structural interest until the peas cover them. We also added some into the ornamental borders for the sweet peas to grow ulong, and a clematis. When these are in full growth, should give us some lovely cut flowers too!

All potatoes are in the ground now with the 2nd earlies and maincrops safely in, and the first earlies needing to be earthed up regularly as the first shoots come through. We are growing King Edwards as our maincrops this year as are a regular winter staple food for us (make perfect roast potatoes!). We had some onion sets left over too and have started an experiment with permaculture, by pushing them into the soil of our ornamental borders. Update will come later in the year on how that went! We also planted out some lettuces here too (lollo rosso and little gem) as they are natural pretty and might help confuse the pests.

Earthed up first early potatoes

Earthed up first early potatoes

Seedlings coming through in raised bed 1 (roots)

Seedlings coming through in raised bed 1 (roots)

In the fruit area we planted some more (from the garden centre) strawberry plants and put up a fruit cage to help protect from pests. We moved the two blueberries we have in pots underneath here to, which gives added interest from the shape of the pots.

New fruit cage

New fruit cage

Mid month we sowed beans, courgettes and squashes into indivual 2″ pots and left to germinate in the greenhouse. These large seeds didn’t take long at all to germinate (with the help too, of some lovely warm weather) and at the end of the month most were through. When they are a bit bigger and the risk of frost has passed we will plant them into the kitchen garden (probably later in May).We also did some successional sowings of brassicas, including new ones of Savoy Cabbage and Borekale, leeks and swiss chard. Later in the month we sowed some kohl rabi, a new vegetable for us, direct into bed 3 along with more swiss chard and another try at the salsify which didn’t germinate from last months sowings.

Other tasks in looking after the garden have been regular hoeing of weeds, picking off slugs, caterpillars and other pests, and digging out the dreaded bindweed that has begun to come through! We’ve installed supports when we can for the climbers, and the netting of strawberries and precious brassicas started at the end of the month ready for when the next pests come along! We try to avoid chemical pesticides where possible, preferring to rely on more organic and eco-friendly methods. A few new impulse buys (oops!) of flowers have appeared in the borders too, including Auricula, Pasqueflower, Oriental Poppy and Valerian (in the medicinal herb area).

Our first handmade loaf

Our first handmade loaf

Meanwhile in the kitchen Rachel decided to have a go at making some bread from scratch. We’ve used a breadmaker before but could never seem to get the recipe quite right (making bread that was too dense). So, armed with the River Cottage bread handbook, she began to experiment, first making a sourdough loaf. The ‘starter’ began it’s life over Easter and has been sitting quite happily in a tub in the kitchen ever since, giving a better flavour to our loaf. The sourdough loaf was lovely but very time consuming to make (perhaps a special one to make at the weekend), so, mid month she made a normal loaf from the easy to follow recipe, with a mixture of white and brown flour. Each loaf made now gets better and better,  with us now well on our way to being self-sufficient in that department too (with a nice dollop of our own jam on top!). What’s next? Well there is butter making and of course hand grinding our own flour – but we’ll carry on practising with the bread for now!

March

March was the month that seed sowing began in earnest in the vegetable garden. We began by sowing tomatoes, leeks, broad beans, peas, lettuce, kale, purple sprouting broccolli (psb), brussels sprouts, peppers, spinach and swiss chard in modules in the greenhouse. At the beginning of the month the ground was still a little to cold to sow direct into the soil so we decided to wait until later in the month to plant out our onion and garlic sets, and chitted potatoes. In the meantime, we covered the newly dug and manured area for our potatoes with fleece to warm the soil for when the tubers were ready to go in. We also assembled a cold frame to help with the hardening off of our seedlings to come, before planting into the garden soil.

Greenhouse sowings

Greenhouse sowings

Meanwhile, in the ornamental garden we planted out some alpines, including heather, thyme and sea campion into the rockery area. This is normally covered in ground elder during the spring and summer months, so we decided to plant some more ornamental ground cover plants to help suppress this pernicious weed. Hopefully it will work! Also from the garden centre we planted some campanulas, red hot poker and aquilegias in the borders to give us wonderful colour during the summer months. We already have many shrubs and evergreens in our garden, which is good in the winter months, but it is lacking a bit in flowers which we are hoping to fix this year. We are hoping for a border that is eventually crammed full of traditional cottage garden plants all billowing over the grass edges and giving us wonderful cut flowers to brighten up our rooms indoors! Sweet peas planted in January will also go into these borders and we also pushed some seeds direct into the soil.

Later in the month when the soil was sufficiently warmed, we planted the first early potatoes, onions sets and garlic into the soil. Also most of our root crops were sown direct into the first raised bed. These were carrots (early summer and yellowstone), beetroot (standard and yellow cylindrical), parsnips, spring onions and radishes. The carrots were covered with fleece to stop the root fly getting in but hopefully the sowing of spring onions will confuse them also and we won’t get an infestation. We also planted 3 artichoke tubers into raised bed 2 (where the asparagus currently is), hoping for a taste of this wonderful vegetable later in the year giving us an architectural look to the raised beds area in the meantime! In raised bed 3, we planted seeds of turnip and salsify. We noticed that something had been eating our spring cabbages (probably a rabbit), so Rachel took off the damaged leaves, leaving the new shoots coming through and covered with a polytunnel again, which meant that they were rescued later in the month, for us to add to our dinner plate again. Early Spring greens are most welcome when all the rest of the vegetable garden is almost bare (except the Kale of course!).

Our raised beds in March

Our raised beds in March

We added some more plants into our herb garden and are hoping for some lovely purple flowers on the chives this year. In this area we should have, in addition to the established rosemary and sage, some mint, lovage, lemon balm, fennel, oregano and tarragon. We decided to keep the parsley, thyme and basil in pots this year, adding colour and interest to the patio and indoor windowsills.

Back to the ornamental garden again and later in the month we planted some edible flowers in pots such as calendula, nasturtium, violas, chamomiles etc. We also added a few nasturtium seeds to the brassica beds, to hopefully help later in the year with the cabbage white caterpillar problem and encourage the butterflies to lay their eggs on those instead! Other wild flowers were also sown including sunflower, yarrow, wild strawberry, borage etc, which when large enough, will be transplanted to our wild flower/medicinal herb border. This will give us a natural medicine chest, as well as helping the bees. The spring bulbs we planted back in the autumn are also all starting to come through and flower, brightening and cheering our days as we move towards the warmer part of the year. We’ve got several daffodils, narcissi, hyacinth and tulips starting to come through.

Finally, we made some comfrey and nettle fertiliser by adding a few carrier bags full of leaves into a black dustbin and topping up with water. In a few weeks time this will be ready to feed to our plants and help us with higher yeilds, glossy leaves and colourful flowers. Rachel also started making lovely nutritious nettle soup for lunches and we started to enjoy salads made with edible wild plants in the garden (wild garlic, dandelions, chickweed etc).

The area marked for our wildflower garden

The area marked for our wildflower garden

Towards the end of the month also, the unusually warm weather encouraged the rest of the weeds to start growing in earnest, so the regular ritual of hoeing and digging them out began.

There are also a few new additions this year to our garden. We have added in all our fruit now, with the crab apple trees and sloe bushes planted into the ground ready to give us (hopefully) some crops this year and adding to the currant bushes and respberries we planted in February. We also have many more pots in the patio area now, thanks to a kind donation from Rachel’s Mum of the pots and compost. These are now filled with lots of lovely plants in a ‘black’ (i.e. dark purples) and white colour scheme, with as many scented flowers as possible. These should look very pretty when they come up and give us a nice backdrop and smell to the patio area when sitting out there on warm sunny evenings.

New pots for the patio area

New pots for the patio area