Potager Garden: July 2020

The sunshine of late July beckoned us to the woodlands and with it being such a busy month in the garden too, I am a little behind on my garden diary.

I signed off in June with the sight of our onion crop harvested and drying on the raised beds. Soon after, the garlic was gathered up, dried in the open air and plaited. I wove in little handles so that they could be hung up for storage.

Within days, the weather changed and lightning storms were forecast. We eagerly anticipated the rain’s arrival, which would bring an end to the stifling humidity of water-saturated air. Little speckled showers came and went.

Then, one evening, we saw the oncoming storm and headed to the fields to watch. I have never seen such a clear divide between a summer sky and the swirling mass of darkness across the horizon.

It rained for several days and as the dry ground was replenished, we watched our resident snail venture out for a daytime drink at the stream.

The garden itself, which had been on the cusp of a new harvest, suddenly burst into life.

Our first radish crop of the year was followed a few days later, by the season’s first lettuces.

The rhubarb was moved as part of the winter garden re-design and is thriving in its new placement by the stream. As tasty as it looks, I am letting the rhubarb have a year to settle before I start cropping again next year.

After just four weeks, the onion beds were full to bursting with broccoli, courgette and pumpkins plants, all pushing up against the protective bird netting. Last year our courgettes were destroyed by snails before they even grew their first full leaves. This year I kept the seedlings on my kitchen windowsill, then surrounded them with a copper mesh and gravel when I transplanted them into the raised beds. So far, so good.

A peek under the netting revealed newly formed pumpkin buds. It is amazing to think how quickly they will grow between now and October.

Just as we reached the start August, the hollyhocks burst into flower. The little trumpets that announce the height of summer.

The flurry of work is now done. August, for me, is the month of enjoying the garden, of long summer days that merge into beautiful evenings.

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Potager Garden: June 2020

The heatwave of spring has made way for rolling thunder storms.

A bright lit early evening was swallowed by a swirling mass of darkening clouds gathered directly above our garden. It was one of those heart racing moments when my count between the lightning and thunder is zero. (The photograph below is not monochrome.)

After one of June’s many sudden downpours had slowed to a drizzle, I spotted this fellow crossing the path. From my normal perspective, snails can be something of a greyish-brown nuisance. We often find ourselves having to collect them at dusk from our vulnerable seedlings, or otherwise sigh as we spot tell tale trails across our raised beds. Up close, they can be fascinating to watch as they carefully choose their route and their shells have tinges of shiny gold. A little biodiversity goes a long way, so I let this chap, who was a fair distance away from the veg plot, continue on his journey.

My onions are equally puzzled by the drastic changes in weather and have started to bolt, putting forth long flower stems before they have had time to fully fatten the bulb. They are therefore a touch smaller than last year but we do not mind. There are always changes from one summer to the next, depending on the weather. I am just so glad they made it through a winter of constant flooding and the unrelenting dry heat of early spring.

I spend an afternoon going through recipes and counting how many glass jars I have free. On Sunday the kitchen will smell like the ocean, whilst half of the onions sit in brine before pickling. The remainder are destined for salads and large batches of sauce.

As the weather clears, we start to prep what was the over-wintered onion bed for what will become our pumpkin patch. The sudden bolt of the onions is good timing after all, as the Jack o Lantern and squash seedlings, spurred on by the soggy conditions, are starting to outgrow their cardboard egg boxes.

Artichokes are included in our local vegetable box delivery this week. I love my veggies – how have I never tried them from fresh before? I soon discover that raw artichokes do not want to be eaten. These pangolin-like oddities have armour plating and spikes. A curious crowd gathers in the kitchen to watch. De-barbed and steamed, the leaves are then snapped off and dipped into garlic mayonnaise.* Later, when I peel the carrots for dinner, it feels as quick and easy as a ready meal.

A much simpler kitchen experiment this week was our first attempt at making our own bird feeders, complete with little perches of homegrown bamboo. We saved the coconut shells from shop-bought versions and refilled them with mixed seeds and melted vegetable suet.

After a few wary days of hopping gradually closer, the local wild bird population and our resident pigeon family give them a seal of approval.

The sunshine is due return next week and the forest pathways have reopened after the lockdown. Early morning woodland walks through the dawn mist? Soon it will really feel like summer.

*All artichoke recipe and preparation suggestions very much welcomed ūüôā

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Potager Garden: Winter pots, the briefest snow shower and homemade lavender soap

Our toddler daughter has become custodian of the assorted terracotta pots of late winter bulbs. Every day, she carefully lifts them over to the raised beds for inspection.

Each crocus is petted, kissed and whispered to, before being placed back on the wooden ledge. I wonder what she is telling them for it must be working – they have more than outlasted their usual flowering time.

The heavy rains have brought yet more stones to the surface of the beds. It is taking a long time to hand pick them, so I am looking at investing in a garden sieve. I glance up from my work and spot that my daughter thinks my kneeler makes a great trampoline for her ball.

Being March, it is not long before the sun vanishes, and the skies look an ominous, uniform, heavy grey. The air smells like snow.

Sudden changes in the weather acutely affect our two autistic younger sons, who are extremely sensitive to air pressure drops, so this is my cue to tuck them into bed, wrapped in blankets with a chewy treat to munch on, to try and reduce the symptoms of dizziness and headaches.

Time to prepare lunch. I find if I almost par-boil whole, peeled carrots, my daughter’s blunt baby knife will cut through them and she can practise her cooking skills alongside me. We spend some time building giant carrot towers. She sneaks the occasional slice; carrots are so sweet that she thinks they are a special treat.

Then the hail arrives, soon replaced by snow. Not cold enough for it to settle, the little dots of ice quickly melt away. Within ten minutes, there are light blue skies again.

In the afternoon, my second son and I make homemade soap together with the last of the dried lavender we preserved the previous summer. We use small lego moulds to create calming, soapy, building blocks for the youngest three children. The larger soaps will be given to friends and family as gifts.

Here in the kitchen our windowsill seeds are starting to germinate. Looking out, I see the white furry buds on our apple tree and miniature leaves are sprouting on the hardy shrubs. It gives me the inspiration I need to complete any leftover indoor winter tasks, knowing that when spring arrives we will be spending long, happy days in the garden.

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Potager Garden: Umbrella boats, windowsill seeds and chocolate flapjacks

The rain continues. The morning is spent with much-loved grandparents, playing card games at the table together and drinking mugs of tea.

After lunch, I grab my coat, pull up my hood and wander through the little potager garden, finding stillness in the water droplets balanced on petals and leaves.

My daughter is always ready for the outdoors, in any weather, and today she tries out an umbrella for the very first time. She does not quite understand it. She shows me that when she holds it up, she can no longer feel the lovely rain on her nose, surely I have got it wrong? She places it in the stream, with a toy inside. See? It is surely a boat.

Our small cornus plant is sprouting leaves from the tips of its scarlet woody stems … spring is on the way.

As her brothers play on their scooters, my daughter points at the veg plot, and when I open the gate she squeals and runs to grab her tools from the corner. A few weeds are shooting up in the raised beds and we remove them together. My daughter replants them tenderly. She takes some convincing that they really need to be composted. I notice that one is a stray parsley seed that has germinated early, so I let her keep that one in a pot.

The rain is really heavy now. Her hands are freezing cold and she still sobs when I tell her we have to go back inside.

Indoor gardening it is. A happy hour spent filling up plant pots ready for seeds.

As the rain thunderously streams down the windows behind her she is content, learning to use a brush to sweep up spilt soil.

My eldest sons and I have already arranged all of our leftover seeds into the months in which they can be planted. February has a few offerings for us to choose from.

My second son, who loves to draw, creates beautiful labels for our selection. He then carefully plants the seeds, wishing them good luck as he covers them up.

Then the planters are all lined up on the windowsill, safe from the chill of wintry weather.

In the evening, I spend time baking with my third son. He has autism and has recently discovered a love of cookery. Last week his nana brought over a box of chocolates and we are making flapjacks with these sugary treats hidden inside. As we cover the chocolates with a layer of oat and sugar mix, he is convinced I am being sneaky and keeps saying sssssshhhhhh! which makes me smile.

The younger children are tired tonight. Falling air pressure always seems to make their limbs go heavy and their eyes blink sleepily as dusk falls. They tuck in earlier than usual. Time to put the kettle on and write in the quietness. I may have a warm flapjack with my cup of tea.

Update: Here’s my recipe, if you want to try the above treats: English Cherry Flapjacks

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Potager Garden: When the veg plot becomes an outdoor classroom

Today in the garden, whilst I have been working on the veg plot and sweeping the paths, my little daughter has had some lucky finds. She has gathered them in her wheelbarrow, and is now laying them out neatly.

We use them to practise her counting, one to ten. She pauses and concentrates after “123” because she always has the urge to shout “go!” and run off. Once she makes it past this hurdle and onto 4, we can get all the way to 10.

I have been taking pebbles out of the raised beds – recent heavy rains have drilled them up to the surface – and have made a small pile to add to the birdbath. My daughter inspects them, wrinkles her brow and waves a finger at me. My heap of lucky finds is very messy. She organises them for me, in a line to match hers.

We practise sharing. She gives me a few of her treasures, I give her a few of my stones. We make pictures together: a face, a hedgehog, a bridge.

My daughter enjoys seeing all of the new flowers in the garden and quickly spots if something has changed since yesterday. She believes the primulas have faces. She points out their noses to me.

I pot up the last of the bedding plants in need of a new home. My daughter copies me by adding an old piece of evergreen into a tiny pot next to a delicate crocus. It takes a bit of a knock, but will likely perk back up. For the garden to belong to the children as well as me, I embrace these little gestures.

Whilst I remove bark pieces from the stream, she pokes at the waterfall with a stick. We seem to have a lot of these about, brought back by all five of the children from our woodland walks.

It escalates pretty quickly to her clambering up onto the giant rock, laying across it, coat sleeves dipping into the water.

I stop my gardening for the day, pull up my sleeves and join in. We build damns, pools and harbours. We search for fallen leaves to float down the choppy rapids. A happy hour together passes.

When the sky clouds over, we notice how cold our hands are – the difference the sun makes to a chilly winter day!

Soon after, we are back inside to get warm. My husband puts the kettle on and the whole family pause for tea and biscuits. My older boys tell me about the maths they have studied; my younger boys have been practising their singing. I tuck a woollen blanket around my daughter and the kitchen fills with voices.

My eyes catch a glimpse of a stack of old newspapers set aside for recycling. I decide to keep a few back. Next week I will teach my youngest two children how to make paper boats for the stream.

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Potager Garden: Cabbages, Sunflowers and Fuchsia … the start of May in the garden

We spent our bank holiday hiking in Staffordshire in search of wild garlic, however we are now back and tending to the garden.

We have been getting all of our late winter and early spring baby plants settled outside, and making room for lots of new seedling trays in the kitchen. ¬†Any sudden frosts and I’ll move all of the pots back indoors overnight, but the end of the cold snaps is almost in sight!

Today our silver birch burst into full leaf…

… and the courgette leaves have changed from tiny seedlings just a few weeks ago …

… to the size of lily pads! ¬†I love the veins in the leaves when the sun shines through them and how the bright orange petals¬†gracefully open and close each day – to me, vegetables plants are every bit as beautiful as ornamental flowers.

Our brussels sprouts are now too large to be troubled by slugs, which prefer to munch on younger baby leaves.  They are growing in a sheltered spot, which will provide protection and support against winter gales, once they have (fingers crossed!) grown into towering structures later in the year.  The leaves are recognisably like brussels now.

The cabbages, too, are fending off the slugs well now – and because our raised bed is quite close to a large buddleia, which butterflies love to swarm over, I’ve added nets as protection against Cabbage Whites laying their eggs there. ¬†I also have many nasturtium seedlings on the way, as they provide a great distraction for pests too.

We have fuchsias growing all over our garden, grown from cuttings my mum gave me when we first moved here, and we spotted our very first fuchsia flower of 2017 today.  I can never quite believe that such an elegant, delicate-looking bloom is so hardy and easy to look after.  It grows in abundance without any help whatsoever, I just cut it back almost to the ground once a year.

And finally, I’ll leave you today with one of our sunflowers … which are looking far happier outside than they ever did in the kitchen! ¬†These are a dwarf¬†variety, that provide a spectrum of orange and yellow flowers. ¬†Meanwhile the giant sunflower seeds have just started to germinate on the windowsill.

We hope everyone is having a lovely start to May ūüôā

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Potager Garden: Baby mushrooms finally visible …

I had the idea, because a mushroom fairy ring used to pop up, seemingly overnight, every year in our old garden, that mushrooms grow exceedingly quickly.  This certainly does appear to be the case as now that three weeks have gone by since planting and the little caps of our homegrown mushrooms are showing, they really do seem to double in size every day.

Week 1 – Here is the kit on the day of planting.

Week 2 – Little fronds of fungi form close to the edges of the kit.

Week 3 – The tiny caps of baby mushrooms are visible…

… here’s a close up view …

… definitely looking shroomy now…

… the growing guide informs me that we are 17-21 days away from our first homegrown mushrooms on toast!

Meanwhile, early this morning,¬†we ventured through a beautiful enclosed woodland labyrinth made of rhododendron branches, boardwalks and wood carvings. ¬†We took a video as we ventured through, which we’ll get online tomorrow. ¬†Here’s a sneak peak of what’s to come…

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Potager Garden: mushrooms, recycled planters, seedlings and a birthday

Here in England¬†we have had the most perfect spring week of bright sunshine, so we have been away from our blog getting lots of work done on converting the garden into a potager. ¬†Here’s a little update on how it’s going…

With thanks to our online friends, we have our slug problem humanely under control using grapefruit peel.   The brussels (that were munched almost down to stalks in just one night) have recovered wonderfully with fresh new leaves.

Throughout March we collected all of our soup and vegetable tins, and my husband has drilled holes in them so that they now have a new life as planters.

The basil, thyme, dill, chives and coriander seedlings are coming along nicely.

As we are working in a relatively small plot, we are¬†experimenting with using garden wire to hang the tins from the fence as a vertical herb garden … more on that later!

The french beans¬†on the camping table suddenly had a growth spurt one night and started to try and attach themselves to the ceiling light fitting (!) So they’re now in giant pots on the kitchen floor, trained up¬†large bean poles … safe inside until after the May frosts.

The little raspberry plant is growing very quickly now, which is such a relief after it arrived in a terrible state.  Around the pot you can see the remains of soap nuts.   We use this brilliant little nuts in our washing machine to clean and condition our clothes, then we are able to recycle the husks on the garden to enrich the soil.

Then it was my birthday, and my husband and children built me a raised bed as my present …

… and¬†my friends and family were really supportive of the way we are trying to live as sustainably as we can; hand making or sending virtual cards, giving us plants for our home and garden, or books to help us learn about how to make the most of this year’s surplus. ¬†I have one kind friend who bakes me a wonderful vegan chocolate cake every year, even though she’s an omnivore herself.

And then finally, great news on the mushrooms we are cultivating.  The tiny domes of baby mushrooms are just visible Рand we have some great photos to share in our next post.

We are now moving onto the next phase for this growing year and have many new seeds planted and more gravel boards and posts on order from the local timber yard Рenough for three more raised beds!

Happy spring gardening everyone x

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Potager Garden: When your kitchen becomes a greenhouse…

We’re currently in that 4-6 week period where all of the indoor-sown seeds have sprouted and are growing really fast … but we’re still waiting on the frost to clear before they can all move outside.

So today, the children helped me to carry the camping tables into the kitchen from storage.  You can just make out the twigs we collected in our local woodland, being used as canes for baby sunflowers and french beans.

My 9 yr old’s courgette plants are turning into a jungle and just alongside them are my 11 yr old’s tomato and pepper plants.  He has plans for homemade pizza, so we’re growing basil too…

… and our potatoes are just starting to show signs of green shoots now.

So we just need the frosts to clear now, so that there will be enough room in the kitchen to cook all this beautiful veg when it is ready to be harvested!

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