Monthly Archives: April 2013

It’s been a busy old weekend….

 

While Mr Mac was busy digging, splitting and relocating irises and crocosmia earlier this week I was in need of something to make me look “busy” so I did not have to help him. To give you an idea of how much I really did not want to help him I decided to tackle my pot mountain……the pile of used pots accumulated over the summer of 2012 that had formed a heap where they had been thrown out of the greenhouse when their purpose had been served.

I think I even mentioned in my Jobs for February blog that it was the prefect time to wash and clean pots yet here we are at the end of April and mine were still untouched, caked in soil, providing the slugs with a comfy winter hotel.

I was so desperate not to wash the pots that I had even offered to pay some of my friends children to do it for pocket money during the Easter holidays but apparently the youth of today don’t need money!

I set about sorting through the pile, throwing away broken pots, trays and modules that were beyond saving and ended up with a nice, neat, tidy pile.

A tidy pile of pots ready for washing

A tidy pile of pots ready for washing

So yesterday when the sun was shining I got my chair, my scrubbing brush, a tub of warm water with some washing up liquid and bleach in it and another tub with clean water for rinsing….and set about scrubbing.

All ready to get scrubbing!

All ready to get scrubbing!

I did not get them all done, but the smaller pots I need for potting on seedlings are all clean and ready for use. The larger pots can wait for the next sunny weekend!

Clean pots drying in the sunshine

Clean pots drying in the sunshine

On Friday I had a delivery of “Million Bells” plugs that I had ordered for my hanging baskets. I read an article recently about planting plugs directly into pots and baskets if that is where they will ultimately end up, so as these were all destined for hanging baskets I decided to plant them up. There were six each of lemon, fire crackle, blue, deep pink and white so I planted the four small baskets with the lemon and fire crackle and the two large baskets with pink, white and blue.

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The instructions recommended three plants per 30cm basket so while they look slightly puny at the moment hopefully they will soon fill out. I will keep them in the greenhouse for a couple of weeks and then start hardening them off with a view to putting them out by the end of May.

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Today the forecast was for rain but we were fortunate enough to have gorgeous sunshine between showers and so we got the potatoes planted.

We planted Maris Piper and Pink Fir Apple varieties and this year we have decided to try growing them in the ground rather than tubs or bags (except the first earlies).

We have been watching Gardeners’ World and Beechgrove Garden on BBC and so did exactly what they did….dig a trench, plant the seed potatoes 12 inches apart and pull the soil up over the top to form a ridge. There has been a lot of talk about the soil being warm enough to plant main crop potatoes but we did not check the temperature and just planted them anyway.

Other than the obvious way of checking soil temperature I heard of another method recently and that is to scrape back some soil and stick your elbow in as if you were checking bath water for a baby. Apparently in Victorian kitchen gardens the way they checked if the soil was warm enough was to pull down your trousers and sit on it with your bare bum! Thank goodness for soil thermometers!

Maris Piper and Pink Fir Apple

Maris Piper and Pink Fir Apple

Even though the seeds have been in the dark garage rather than on a sunny windowsill, they still have chits!

Even though the seeds have been in the dark garage rather than on a sunny windowsill, they still have chits!

We set the seeds out in the trench but then dug a hole to put them in so they were even deeper.

We set the seeds out in the trench but then dug a hole to put them in so they were even deeper.

All haunched up and ready to grow!

All haunched up and ready to grow!

Finally we decided to make the most of the sunshine and planted the garlic (Solent Wight) and the rest of the strawberry runners. We forgot we had some old strawberry pots (yes they were lying under my dirty pot mountain where we could not see them) and so they were given a quick scrub to remove the  algae and planted up with the runners from the old strawberry patch.

The garlic had been hardened off for weeks but we could not get over the length of the roots.

The garlic had been hardened off for weeks but we could not get over the length of the roots.

We sneaked the garlic in beside the leeks.

We sneaked the garlic in beside the leeks.

Dirty strawberry pots.

Dirty strawberry pots.

Home Sweet Home!

Home Sweet Home!

 

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Help! We’re under attack!

Last year followers will recall around this time of year (perhaps slightly earlier) something ate our garden. The tulips were eaten or the bulbs pulled out and the raspberry canes were stripped from the ground up to about one metre.

This year, at the end of March, we noticed something was scratching away the grass leaving holes and unsightly bare patches. Then the tulips started to disappear again. However, Mr Mac had taken no chances with his raspberry canes and they were well protected with mesh. The last straw was when the brand new strawberries were eaten.

This is the grass in the back garden which has been scratched away leaving big holes.

This is the grass in the back garden which has been scratched away leaving big holes.

Tulip bulbs pulled out of the bed

Tulip bulbs pulled out of the bed

the primulas were pulled out of the pot but were not eaten.

The primulas were pulled out of the pot but were not eaten.

Two huge holes were dug among the lilies but again, these were not eaten.

Two huge holes were dug among the lilies but again, these were not eaten.

Frustrated, I consulted the font of all knowledge – Google – with a search of “what eats tulips?” The answer………….chipmunks! “How cute”, I thought, my sole experience of chipmunks being the animated kind that have wild, wacky adventures of the non-destructive kind. The only problem is we don’t have chipmunks in the UK!

However, neighbours had been suffering similar problems and after blaming the deer, squirrels, pheasants and pigeons, a badger was spotted leaving our drive early one morning. So Mr Mac promptly went to the agricultural supplies and bought a mile of mesh to attach to the stob and wire fence which surrounds our garden. Our garden is now badger proof – hopefully – we just need to remember to shut the gate at night! Apparently they can dig under fences and climb walls.

The attraction? According to the Badger Trust, “Badgers digging for insect larvae in lawns can cause significant damage. Some lawns are more likely to support a significant insect larvae burden than others, and this is often determined by the condition of the lawn. Lawns in good condition, particularly if they are well drained and free of moss, are less likely to suffer.”

The condition of our lawn has been causing us concern for some time and as it is currently 80% moss / 20% grass, it must be badger paradise!

We left a booby-trapped pot of old tulip bulbs from last year to see if they were still being eaten but it looks like we have solved the problem as there has been no further damage since the mesh was added to the boundary fence.

The booby-trap!

The booby-trap!

But then…….

I was positive the other evening when I shut the greenhouse for the night I had three sunflowers which had germinated but the next morning there were only two. Then when I opened up a couple of mornings later, all the zinnia seedlings had been eaten leaving only stalks. Now something is in the greenhouse eating the seedlings…….likely culprits are either mice or earwigs so I am keeping everything covered just to be sure.

What is left of the zinnia seedlings

What is left of the zinnia seedlings

To add insult to injury, yesterday when wondering around the garden I came across not just one but TWO slugs. They were promptly dispatched. These battles may have been won but I fear the war is going to be a long one!

Strawberry Relocation

One of the first things we planted when we moved to this house was strawberries. We found a quiet patch at the bottom of the garden and planted Elsanta, Cambridge Favourite and Judibell – early, main and late croppers.

However, we soon discovered that the quiet patch is also a very wet, soggy, waterlogged patch and while we had a reasonable crop in the first year, there has not been enough for a pot of jam since!

We decided to move them but as the plants were coming to the end of their producing life (they should be replaced every three to four years) we simply tried to catch as many runners as we could to supplement new plants.

So last weekend we dug up the runners. There were quite a few but none that looked particularly healthy so Mr Mac went off to the shop and bought 18 new plants.

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We had an old cold frame which had been made from our old front door and some lengths of wood. Some of the glass had smashed and it was lying empty so we decided to take the door off and tidy the surrounding area.

The old cold frame which was to become the new strawberry patch.

The old cold frame which was to become the new strawberry patch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We filled it with stones for drainage…

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then topped it up with compost…

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and covered it to warm up the soil.

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At the weekend we planted the new plants. All Elsanta variety as we found these to be the best, we will get some straw from Rob the horse next door to sit them on and Mr Mac planned to craft a cover to protect them from birds.

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However, it was too late. Look what happened!

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Something has been getting into the garden, scratching up the grass and eating the tulips. They also have a taste for strawberry plants! It just seems to be the leaves that they have eaten and the centres and roots seem to be ok. We were not sure whether it was deer, squirrels, pheasant or pigeons. But yesterday morning Mr Badger was seen leaving our garden in the early hours.

So Mr Mac has created a protective cover! Fingers crossed they will recover.

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So here are some hints and tips for growing strawberries:

  • Choose a sunny sheltered spot with fertile, well-drained soil with plenty of well-rotted organic matter worked in.
  • Plant them 18 inches apart or in a raised bed with deep, rich soil they can be planted 12-15 inches apart.
  • Apply potash every spring.
  • Once the fruits form spread straw or synthetic strawberry mats between the plants to protect the fruit from dirt, damp and mud splashes.
  • Protect the fruit from birds.
  • Plants crop well for 3-4 years after which they are best replaced with new young plants in a new location.
  • Try raising new plants from runners – the stems produced by the plant to regenerate itself. Peg down the runners into pots of seed compost. Once the runners have rooted snip the “umbilical cord” connecting them to the parent plant and grow them on in a cold frame until they are ready to plant.

Glazed figs with mozzarella

In anticipation of all the juicy figs our new fig tree is going to produce I thought I would share this lovely recipe with you. Last Christmas we had this as a starter, an alternative to the usual curried parsnip soup. It is quick and easy and very tasty. It takes 20 minutes and serves 8 people.

Ingredients

  • 12 figs halves or quartered
  • 3tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 2tbsp caster sugar
  • mozzarella, 3 balls torn into pieces
  • 8 slices parma ham
  • 50g rocket

Method

  1. Put the figs cut side up on a baking tray. Mix the sherry vinegar and sugar then spoon over the figs. Grill for 6-8 minutes until glazed.
  2. Divide the figs between the plates then add the mozzarella, parma ham and rocket.
  3. Spoon over the cooking juices as a dressing.

Per Serving 276 kcals, fat 19g.

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Mr Mac has a new toy!

My attention was caught recently by a magazine flyer advertising a lightweight garden tiller. If the marketing was to be believed, this piece of equipment would revolutionise gardening life. It would do everything except bring you a chilled glass of wine while you lay in a hammock watching it do all the work.

I waved it under Mr Mac’s nose and after some humming and hawing and Google research he decided that it might not be such a bad idea given the state of our soil, the number of vegetable beds and borders (soon to be increased) and the amount of landscaping in this year’s garden plan.

But for Mr Mac it was to be none of this namby pamby lightweight nonsense. Oh no! Off he went to the agricultural machinery shop (I’m sure there is another name for it!) and on Friday last week, our garden saviour was delivered.

Life changing!

Life changing!

So despite the single figure, coldest Easter weekend on record temperatures, we set about seeing just how life changing this piece of kit was going to be. First of all the empty veg bed……

This is the veg bed before.

This is the veg bed before.

An action shot!

An action shot!

The result after 25 minutes!

The result after 25 minutes!

Impressive I think you’ll agree. Mr Mac was now a man on a mission to rotivate anything that did not move but as there was not anything else ready, he decided to try it on the compost.

Now I am ashamed to admit that our compost bins have been badly neglected since last summer and all three bays were full and needing turned. Mr Mac attacked them with the tiller, churned it all up and I (because Mr Mac had put his back out by this point) turned it all to be left with one bay of finest useable compost, one bay “in progress” and one empty. All in all this took us a couple of hours but mainly due to the fact that (a) there was so much and (b) I’m a girl!

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Now while this was also very successful, Mr Mac has decided that to make the compost break down even faster (and hence transform our lives beyond recognition!) he really needs to get a shredder.

Boys and their toys!