We’re Back!!

Hello again everyone!

Ok so no new posts for a while, for various reasons but mainly due to a lifestyle change and review since last Autumn. We’ve done a lot of planning and replanning along with some soul searching over the last year or so, reviewing our progress and re-evaluating as we go, to enable our self sufficiency dream to fit in with a lifestyle that we were comfortable with, but didn’t restrict us having a ‘normal’ life as well !!

Our vegetable garden continued to grow well for the rest of 2010, giving us a bumper harvest throughout the summer and autumn months. We also continued with the Jam and Chutney sales up until Christmas, mainly selling from Tring Farmers Market and sending off jars to friends and family. We got the chickens in towards the end of last summer and enjoyed lovely fresh eggs from them for a few months, along with some great company from truly unique characters! However towards the Autumn it became apparant for various reasons that we wouldn’t be able to fulfill the complete self sufficiency dream as had hoped, so decided to downsize our plans.

We decided to finish up with the jam and chutney sales at Christmas, and after a few problems with the chickens (and discovering not having enough time to able to care for them as much as we would have liked), we found a new adopted caring home for them also. The winter months were spent resting and reviewing, and we finally decided to still keep on a few aspects of our self sufficiency life this year. This is mainly concentrating on our vegetable and fruit growing, with just producing enough for ourselves that time would allow and still making jam, chutneyand other delicious recipes with our harvests, with the occasional craft project too!

At the time of writing, the garden this year is doing well and we have been harvesting lovely ripe strawberries for the last few weeks. It looks like some peas are ready too! We’ve also got spinach, french beans, runner beans, artichokes, courgettes and tomatoes growing too :)

The subject of this blog will therefore change to a more general ‘Country Living Lifestyle’. Having previously both been Townies, we are still thoroughly enjoying our new life in the country, along with the new experiences and challenges it brings. We would love to continue sharing them with you too :)

Have you got any exepriences you would like to share about living in the country? We would love to hear them and look forward to talking with you soon!

Handmade jam now on sale!

First jam now on sale

First jam now on sale

We are pleased to announce that we are attending our very first farmers market tomorrow armed with stock of our first batches of seasonal, fruity jam for sale!

We will be at Tring Farmer’s Market on Saturday 17th July from 9 am – 12.00 pm, Market Square, Tring. We have in stock Strawberry, Strawberry & Gooseberry, Raspberry and Blackcurrant jam.

The next dates at Tring will be 31st July, 14th August, 11th September and 25th September (which is a special harvest market).

Over the next few weeks, as the rest of the harvest becomes available, we will be adding to our collection a whole host of chutneys, jellies and other preserves. Also towards Christmas we hope to have other nature inspired gifts such as handmade soap, lavender pillows, cards and prints on our stalls. We will also be finding other markets to attend and will publish a full list of dates when we have them.

Online sales will also follow within the next few months, for those of you are not local but would still like to enjoy a taste of our jam and preserves!

We hope to see you at a market soon!!

Rachel & Philip xx

May & June

May and June are when the season really picks up, hence not much posting for a while! There has been loads to do in the veggie garden over the past few months mainly consisting of planting out, weeding, successional sowings and general looking after/tidying everything as we go.

The first tasks were to start earthing up our potatoes. This protects them from frost, which you can still get in May, and encourages them to produce more tubers. It was a bit of a task in our garden, as our soil is loamy, so doesn’t ‘pack’ well unless wet. So we settled for a combination of the soil, grass clippings, manure and home-made compost. We stopped when the plants were about 20 cm tall and after the risk of frost had passed in late May. We did have some frost damage to our plants, with crumpled black leaves, but they seemed to pick up once the weather got warmer in late May/June.

Broad beans and tomatoes need looking after during these months too. The growing tops of the broad beans need to be pinched out to stop pests settling and to encourage them to produce pods. Also, with tomatoes, it is important to pinch out the side shoots to encourage the main shoots to concentrate on producing fruit. Both of these relatively tall veg garden plants need staking and tieing in too, to help support their growth and to avoid them toppling over when they are heavy with fruit later in the year.

After the risk of frost had passed in late May, around the 23rd, we planted out our tender plants such as courgettes, squashes, french beans, tomatoes and runner beans. Our brassica plants raised from seed (kale, purple sprouting broccoli, brussell sprouts) also went out into the beds too, with a cardboard collar placed around the base of them to help avoid cabbage root fly settling. A netted cage was also put up around the brassica beds to protect from cabbage white butterfly later on. These are the butterflies that love laying eggs on brassicas, whose little green caterpillars will devour a complete crop in one fail swoop!

The rest of May and June was spent regularly watering, weeding and tieing in new growth regularly all to help and support the young plants’ growth. We aslo applied some of our home made nettle fertiliser made in March. This is diluted to about 1/5th in a watering can and just sprinkled on. We had massive cabbages and courgettes last year due to this excellent stuff! The weather certainly warmed up considerably in late June, so watering every day, sometimes twice a day was absolutely essential.

As for  new sowings, in late May we sowed more fennel, mangetout, sweetcorn, gardeners delight tomatoes and successional lettuce. At this time we also took some of our first cuttings from the flower beds, to help fill them later in the season. These were delphiniums, sedum, heliotrope (lovely one purchased from an open garden, ‘Princess Marina’). We dipped them in rooting powder, placed them in a pot of compost, then a plastic bag over the top and left them in the cold frame to do their stuff. After about 6 weeks we were happy to see they had indeed taken root, and then could fill the gaps in our borders! On that note, the borders have been doing excellently this year, with lupins coming through in early June, aquilegias, delphiniums, anemones, etc, then giving way to roses, campanula, sweet peas, mallow, hollyhocks, foxgloves, irises later in the month. For the rest of the summer we hope to see our dahlias, gladioli, helenium, echinacea, and sunflowers do well, giving us a blast of summer colour, and endless cut flowers to enjoy in the house! We also started to establish another summer bedding area at the entrance to the veggie garden, with some rudbeckia, our heliotrope and sedum cuttings, as well as a lovely purple aster.

In the fruit cage, things have been a bit hit and miss. The bad news first: one of our blueberry bushes has completely died and we just cannot fathom why. We have another one left though that is happily producing fruit, so we will have to investigate that before next year to avoid the same happening to the one that is left. Also the first fruit that came through on the currant bushes seems to have been nibbled – by something with big teeth! So we think either slugs or mice. We are not too worried about it this year as they are still young bushes and perhaps next year when they are more established, they may be able to fend off an attack much better, producing more fruits to replace those lost. Now for the good news: most of our new raspberry canes have come through, so we should have a good crop next year, the strawberries are regularly producing fruit (after being netted, and straw layed under them) and we have apples starting to swell. The sloe bushes seem to all be doing well too, and we will have a good crop of damsons from the trees we have running along the railway siding (some gin or jam springs to mind there!).

In the herb garden, we began to harvest in May and June also, and now have a good crop drying ready for later use. These were oregano, lemon balm, mint, lovage, thyme etc and look rather fetching on our Provencal looking metal dryer (from The Secret Potager)! More seeds went in for a later crop including parsley, dill, oregano, basil and thyme.

Mid June we noticed some things nearly ready to harvest. The broad beans and early peas were starting to swell, with a small crop harvested later in the month. We planted out more winter brassicas – savoy cabbage, purple sprouting broccolli, swede, and borecale. Also celeriac and swiss chard plants went in the beds. We did some successional sowings of beetroot, kohl rabi, beans, peas and sweetcorn to keep the veggie garden producing over the seasons. Disappointingly our turnips bolted, so we sowed more in modules ready for planting when weather conditions more favourable. All the plants that need humid conditions are also now planted in position in the greenhouse, such as tomatoes, aubergine, peppers and cucumber. We started the regular feed of these plants too with standard liquid feed, to help the fruits swell. The rest of the nets were put up, including one over the peas (to protect them from birds, and also to help them climb up). So along with yet more weeding, watering and feeding that takes us up to July and we will leave you with some pics.

More photos on our Facebook page here

Harvested onions drying in the sun

Harvested onions drying in the sun

Patio pots doing well - can just see tomatoes & carrots

Patio pots doing well - can just see tomatoes & carrots

First flowers on our purple french beans

First flowers on our purple french beans

First peas

First peas

Flowers to help attract wildlife in full bloom

Flowers to help attract wildlife in full bloom

Carrots and peas

Carrots and peas

Artichokes growing more each day (swiss chard alongside)

Artichokes growing more each day (swiss chard alongside)

Greenhouse Veg - Peppers & Cucumbers

Greenhouse Veg - Peppers & Cucumbers

Lovely Strawberries

Lovely Strawberries

Runner beans starting to flower

Runner beans starting to flower

Lovely nasturtiums climbing around galvanised containers!

Lovely nasturtiums climbing around galvanised containers!

Tomatoes in mini greenhouse

Tomatoes in mini greenhouse

Apples swelling well

Apples swelling well

Elderflowers

elderflowers

Elderflowers from our garden

We’re pleased to finally see the Elder tree in blossom at the end of May/early June. That means Elderflowers, and all the yummy things you can make with them! We’re having a Midsummer party for some friends in a few weeks, so the first thing to make was some elderflower ‘champagne’ for our guests to enjoy. We found an old recipe in one of our books, and is detailed below:

Elderflower Champagne

12 elderflower heads
juice and zest of an unwaxed organic lemon
1.5 lbs of sugar
2 tblsp white wine vinegar
4 litres/1 gallon cold water.

Put the washed elderflower heads in a bowl/bucket with the lemon, sugar, vinegar and water and leave for 24 hours. Then strain through muslin and pour the liquid into sterilsed screw top bottles. Leave them for about 10-14 days, then drink it, preferably before the end of the third week. The champagne is naturally effervescent so pressure will build up in the bottles. For this reason, we’ve left them in a room where we don’t mind if the tops blow off, and put the liquid into plastic bottles!

We’re not sure how it will turn out without some sort of yeast to make it alcoholic, but is definitely bubbling away in the bottles as we speak, and will let you know how we get on!

Also, not wanting to miss the best of the season, we thought we would try another traditional recipe for elderflowers, and that is elderflower fritters. As ever inspired by the excellent book by Richard Mabey, ‘Food for Free’, we had a go at his recipe this lunchtime, and very nice it was too!

Elderflower Fritters

4 tablespoons flour
1 egg
1 1/2 cupfuls water
elderflower heads (as many as you want fritters for!)
oil for frying (we used rapeseed from our local farm shop)
fresh mint
sugar for dusting

Make up the batter with the flour, egg and water. Then hold the flowerhead by the stalk and dip into the batter. Shake off any excess batter and then plunge into hot oil and deep-fry until golden brown. Trim off the excess salt and serve with some sugar, the mint and some lemon.

Our attempt below with some lovely salad from our garden. We omitted the sugar as this was a savoury dish, but the mint complemented it perfectly!

Elderflower Fritters

Elderflower Fritters

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

Nettle Soup

Lovely nutritious nettles

Lovely nettles

Have enjoyed one of the first batches of nettle soup from our garden for my lunch today, so am now inspired to share the recipe with you. This is a great way to get plenty of vitamins and iron in you at a time of year when the pickings from your veggie garden may be slim. It is also brilliant for making something useful out of plants (or weeds if you like) that you would otherwise be tempted to clear from your garden at this time of year and consign to the compost heap – please don’t! As these plants thrive on any type of soil and are prolific growers, they are packed full of nutrients and you can even use them to make an excellent fertiliser for your garden too. Just fill a carrier bag full of nettles and add them to a large bin filled with water, and let steep until it absolutely stinks, then you know it will be great for your garden! Use neat, or add to your watering can :-)

So, onto the soup recipe, it really is very simple. Please also do not be put off the fact that these plants have a sting, it will disappear when they are cooked and wont hurt your mouth, I promise! Do wear gloves to pick them though! Please note also that nettles are only good for cooking from about March – June when they are young, any time after that they will taste stringy and bitter. With young plants you can take the first 10 cms or so, but towards the end of the season take only the top 4 leaves to avoid bitter tasting soup too. You can forage from the wild if you dont have any in your garden.

Nettle Soup

Nettle Soup

Nettle Soup

Serves 4

1 carrier bag full of young nettles or nettle tops
about 1 tbsp good olive or rapeseed oil, or 25g butter
1 onion chopped
1 large potato (floury potatoes such as King Edwards give a richer texture)
1 litre of good chicken stock (or vegetable, or from cubes if that’s all you have)
pinch of ground nutmeg
Optional – double cream or milk to serve

1. Wearing gloves, wash the nettles well in a colinder and remove any large stalks – set aside to drain
2. In a pan, melt the fat until sizzling and add the chopped onion to saute over a medium heat until clear
3. Peel and chop the potato into chunks of about 2-3 cm square and add to the pan with the onions. Turn to coat in the oil.
4. Add the nettles and let them wilt in the pan, then add the stock
5. Season well, add the ground nutmeg and bring back to the boil.
6. Turn down the heat and let the soup simmer for about 20 minutes until the potato is soft and squidgy.
7. Let the soup cool a little and blend until smooth, adding a swish of cream or milk if you like before serving.

Enjoy and let me know what you think! You could substitute the nettles for spinach if you like, or add some wild spring leaves like sorrel or chickweed, all adding to that earthy spring flavour.

Early Spring Photos

Here are some photos of our garden in early spring 2010!

Newly restored greenhouse

Newly restored (and tidy!) greenhouse

Herb and flower bed mulched with our own compost

Herb and flower bed mulched with our own compost

New Compost Area

New compost area and bins at end of garden

Potatoes Chitting

Seed potatoes chitting well

Shallots

Shallots planted in the autumn now coming through

New area for fruit

Our fruit area prepared with raspberry canes and currant bushes planted

How to make compost

Kitchen waste into compost bin

Kitchen waste into compost bin

Home made compost is great. Not only does it make something useful out of food and household waste – something I always felt guilty about throwing away – it helps your garden and the environment at the same time. You can use home made compost to improve the soil, mulch your borders, or mix with other things like sand to make an excellent seed sowing medium much cheaper than in the garden centre!

After having good success with our home made compost this year I am inspired to share with you how we made it:

1. We began by buying a black compost bin from our local council. It is a lot cheaper to buy one this way. Ask your council for details.

2. A suitable site was the next thing to find, and for us this was on a concrete path near the back of the house in a sunny position (to help the bin get warm and ‘cook’ the compost inside). As it was on concrete, we began with a layer of old compost/soil to get things moving.

3. The kitchen scraps we had saved were the next thing to go down to start the ‘layers’. Compost needs layers to work, so that you get a good mix of ingredients and it doesn’t become too wet (from kitchen/food waste as it decomposes), or too dry from just plant materials. The two types of waste you need are ‘browns’ – such as kitchen waste, cardboard etc and ‘greens’ – such as garden clippings, prunings, some weeds etc.

4. Then a layer of cardboard was added. It is important to break this up into smaller sections (along with anything you put in the bin actually) to allow it to be composted effectively.

5. Next came a layer of garden prunings, leaves etc along with a ‘starter’ such as bonemeal, grass clippings etc to get it going. I’ve heard urine is also a good starter but we are yet to try this!

6. All of this food was enough to get the small organisms/insects etc to start eating it and breaking it down into the final compost through their own waste (Compost is basically worm ‘poo’ – lovely!).

7. The same principle was applied to build up the material in the bin over the next few months, saving food waste, old cardboard, garden waste etc and adding it in layers to enable a good mix.

8. The bin took at least a year to start producing good compost, which we could get to from the hatch at the bottom.

So that’s basically it. For more information on what you can and can’t put in to your compost see see http://www.recyclenow.com/compost. Some items should not go in, for example waste from non-vegetarian animals, perennial weeds etc (you don’t want them re-growing again in your garden!). The site also has lots of information about what to do with the finished compost etc. This month we did ‘turn’ the compost to help separate out the ready compost from the compost still to be broken down. This also gives it a mix again after the cold months to help get it started. We also moved it to the end of the garden as found it attracted rats (for the food) and didn’t like them so close to the house. We now need to make more use of a kitchen ‘caddy’ to save up the food waste for less trips down the end of the garden! The new site is still sunny, but we put the bin on a layer of plastic matting first, to stop bindweed growing up into it. We now have two bins also, one for ready compost and one for cooking compost.

Of course you can also make compost in a more traditional arrangement of a wooden slatted ‘box’ but we found this was an easy way to get started. We have also found though that we need much more compost than one bin can make so may have to set up this system too (we certainly have enough waste for it!).

Good luck with your compost, and do share your own tips and experiences!

February

The weather was still very harsh this month, with some more snow and sleet interspaced with some sunny and clear days. Our attentions turned to clearing tasks both in the house and in the garden to make sure we were ready for Spring!

Phil worked really hard digging over a new plot for our fruit bushes, unearthing mounds of old rubbish and debris underneath the soil. We live next to a railway line and think it may have come from an old fire or something when clearing the land for the garden. Some of it was interesting, like old food packaging for marmite, findus pancakes and coca cola – no people, that sort of stuff does not compost down! Anyway, once it was all dug, soil improver worked in and raked over, we planted our first fruits – blackcurrant & redcurrant bushes, along with 10 raspberry canes. I moved the strawberries that were on our herb patch to this new area too, hoping they get more space to grow, along with the other ones I have sown this month. Now all that remains to do in this area is to put up some sort of cage, to protect our precious fruits from the hungry birds! Sloe and crab apple trees are also on order.

We made some other early sowings, some are doing better than others though. These were (early) purple sprouting broccolli, celeriac, tomatoes, peppers, leeks, salads, basil & parsley. Sweet peas came up okay from January’s sowings but are looking a little leggy, so will get them in the ground soon. Potatoes are out to chit and doing well ready to be planted later in March when the soil warms up.

Our other major task this month was sorting out our compost bin. We had previously sited it near the house and birdfeeder but this soon attracted the rats who were quite happily sorting through it all. It was time to turn it over anyway, so we coupled this with a move down the end of the garden and sorted out ‘cooking’ compost from ‘ready’ compost. The ready compost looked good! So much so in fact that it was put to use straight away in the raised beds to improve the soil and to mulch some of the flower beds. Fleeces were also put over the bare areas of soil on the raised beds to help warm up the soil for putting things in the ground in March.

The front (ornamental) garden needed some tidying, and old growth was cleared away (after the birds had fed on old seed heads), ready for new. Pruning was done and our thick blackberry bush cut right down to the ground to hopefully rejuvenate it for this summer. Hopefully we haven’t cut it too far back and might buy some new canes just in case! Oregon Thornless look like a good, juicy variety. Blackberries were a good fruit for us last year to turn into jam.

I’ve had some more ideas for the front garden and growing cottage garden flowers, so we can have seasonal vases of flowers. Needs some planning though, to ensure colour all year round. Talking of which, we’ve seen no daffodils yet or primroses – probably due to the cold winter. Hoping they arrive soon.

Oh, and the greenhouse is all fixed up properly now with new panes etc. Looking forward to being able to propogate this years veggie seeds properly, with the maximum amount of light. A cold frame is on our shopping list for March too, to help to harden the newly emerged seedlings off, ready for planting later in the month. Pictures to follow soon :)