Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Trip to Bradley Gardens, Wylam

Yesterday I had an afternoon out with a friend. We went to Bradley Gardens and had lunch in their wonderful cafe, which is in the gorgeous setting of the converted glass-houses ..

Fortified by Tomato and Red Lentil soup, followed by Victoria Sandwich Cake (!) we had a good look round the gardens.
After doing a lot of reading about fruit growing lately I had a mental shopping list and was thrilled to discover a number of fruit trees I was interested was a hard choice but I purchased a Pear called Beth and a purple grape to go in the polytunnel. Both are being delivered later in the week!! Although at first they seem a bit pricier than those online, in fact they are much bigger plants ready to bear fruit.
That decision made we headed off to Tom and Joe's Nursery over the river, and again found an interesting selection of fruit. A Japanese Wineberry was high on my list of things I wanted to try out, and so I had to grab one of those.

I managed to resist Peach trees (for now), but succumbed to a pot of Ruby Chard as I only have plain Chard in the garden. Once I got the Chard home I was able to divide into 5 plants and pot on. So that has to be a bargain for £1.25.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

A closer look at the girls

I thought it was about time I took some better pictures of my lovely girls. So here we are -

Fist my two Light Sussex hens

and individually ...

and these are the two Bluebelles....

I can't imagine life without them now.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

First Lettuce Leaves and Rhubarb Cake

.. from the garden in my salad at lunchtime yesterday. Not the greatest Lettuce I've ever had, but its a start. They came from the plants I bought in the market at the beginning of the month.

It's my afternoon off today, and I've made the first Rhubarb Cake of the year - lovely with custard.

Succumbing to temptation (again)

After a bit of research among my online community I've learnt about some of the wild greens that my hens can eat. This morning they got two turves to pull to pieces for bugs/worms/greens ... and then I had a quick wander round the allotments and borders with a bucket. I quickly filled the bucket with handfuls of Goosegrass, Dandelions, Dock, and Chickweed... and this mix was strewn on the floor of the run. I'm curious to see what remains tonight. I'm very keen to give them as varied/healthy a diet as possible, while also keeping them from getting bored.

I also realised that I've been so busy sowing/potting on etc that I've kind of forgotten about the Mizuna that seeds itself in the poly-tunnel. The sight of someone elses harvested plants on a blog has made me think again. I really must replant some of it to grow to full size...for using in stir fries. There are also self-sown Nasturtiums which will be used in salads, and self sown Tomatoes - just appearing. I want to encourage this sort of thing as it saves so much work, not to mention savings on I'll be keeping an eye out for them from now on.

I usually have a wander round the Grainger Market at lunchtime…and today I succumbed to temptation again. As I have no sweet pepper plants I bought 3 nice sturdy Thor Pepper plants….and also to add a bit more variety on the tomato front, one each of Shirley and Sungold. I can always propagate them from side shoots if I feel like it. As they are quite big plants I think I’ll put them straight into a bed in the tunnel, covered with fleece.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

A relaxing Sunday

... is usually one spent at home, and today was no exception. I got up early again, and headed straight down the garden after breakfast to feed/clean out the hens. After giving them their layers pellets, I popped to the allotment and continued digging turves off the area I'm clearing. They go into the hen run where they are immediately pounced on, as you can see in this pic.

My husband and gorgeous dog had arrived, and we headed up the river.

There are more and more signs of spring....the first Swallows yesterday; the first Willow Warbler heard today; and a nice fat Bumblebee on some Blackthorn blossom.

Naturally by the time we got home large mugs of tea were needed, and some Green & Black's chocolate!! Once I recovered I went back to the allotments to carry on were I left off earlier. Cutting back dead growth from the Catmint hedge; edging the path; and planting some Leek seedlings....2 beds worth.
Yesterday I made a start on painting the hen house, but have had to leave the rest for today, with rain forecast (and arrived by lunchtime).

This afternoon will be very lazy to make up for all this effort.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

General update

It's a busy time of year....sowing and pricking out seedlings, potting on, and generally moving things around the house and polytunnel. In the last week I've sown lots of summer squash to go outside - Black Beauty, Yellow Bird, Round dk green one, Yellow Straightneck, and Italian stripey one ....I'm a bit obsessed by them. They are so prolific and useful...and best of all so lovely to look at.

Aside from squashes I've sown Kailaan Brocolli, and Brocolli Raab, more Spring Onions, Bordeaux Spinach, Dill, Nigella in modular trays. In the propogator - Cosmos, Didiscus Blue Lace, Dk Blue Larkspur. Pre-soaked Yellow French Bean and Sweetcorn have been sown in a bed in the polytunnel.

I've also been enjoying getting to know the hens and my new routine. I go down to see them first thing in the morning before work. I feed them, check their drinkers are full, clean up any droppings, and then cut some turves from an area I'm trying to clear at the allotments, shaking off a lot of the soil, then putting the chunks into their run. They absolutely love them and dive straight in, tearing at them, and picking out any bugs. Then all I have to do is a quick dig over of the area left behind, clearing any weed roots. I do a little every day and it doesn't seem such a chore when the hens get so much fun from it.... and I will benefit from the extra planting space. This year I hope it will provide space for a cutting (flower) patch, and a patch of multi-coloured Quinoa.

The evening routine is another quick check on the drinkers, throw them a couple of handfuls of corn, collect the eggs (I'm getting four every day) and just enjoy them. Personalities are beginning to emerge. Every morning when I open the big door of the coop to clear out any mess and let fresh air of the Light Sussex hens comes over clucking at me to make sure I'm doing a good job. Can't help being reminded of Margo (of the Good Life) with her cleaner; So she has become Margo....will her sister be Felicity? The lighter of the two Bluebelles is Violet, and the darker one Belle (or The Beauty as in Raffaellla Barker novels). Tonight I've packed up my first half dozen eggs to sell to a colleague....a bit of a landmark.

Now that I've spent a bit more time with them, the two Sussex girls seem very chatty and I've renamed them Matty and Jessie after two of the ladies from Cranford (who all love a good natter!)

Thursday, 8 April 2010

I've got hens!

... at last. I made the most of my time off work to pop over to a local farm on Tuesday, to see what hens they had in. I was secretly hoping for Blue Bells, (a lovely soft grey hen), really beatiful, and they had them .... So, needless to say I was back on the phone later that evening to book 2 Blue Bells + 2 Light Sussex hens that had also taken my fancy.

Yesterday my other half and I took a sturdy box to collect them. I think we both found the experience a bit traumatic, as after going into the barn to catch them, the farmer appeared, holding all 4 upside down by their legs, flapping pathetically. We were glad to get them back here, and then close them in for rest of the night, to become accustomed to their new home. So this morning was my first chance to get a proper look at them, give them a feed, and see them explore their new surroundings. They are living in a friend's garden in a good sized enclosure that is very securely fenced, including overhead - and includes some shrubs to provide shade.

I expected that it would be a little while before I got any eggs, as they had to readjust to their move...but found at lunchtime two eggs!! Brown ones, so I suspect the two Blue Bells. I'm absolutely thrilled with them, and think I'll be spending quite a bit of my time just enjoying watching them.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Work in the polytunnel

My main job in the polytunnel now is to get the beds thoroughly watered and mulched I did one bed this afternoon. First I gave the soil a good watering, then tried a new mulching technique. I was planning to mulch with some horse I've tried a layer of kitchen peelings etc under this, directly on top of the soil.

This is partly based on my reading of Ruth Stout, who suggests that any matter can be used to mulch the soil, and partly on my own experience with the wormery.

I've been placing some kitchen waste on top of the soil in the wormery, and this is covered with several layers of wet newspaper. The soil is staying moist and the worms seem to be thriving --- and these are exactly the conditions I want to encourage in the soil in the beds.
As all of my seedlings are so tiny, I couldn't resist some Lettuce plants I saw in the Grainger Market during the week. They have settled in well, and I'm looking forward to the first salad!

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Winter again

.. well it certainly feels like it. Very heavy rain during the week led to parts of the railway being closed, a very high river and flooded allotments. I'm very lucky that mine are a bit higher and unaffected.

I did manage to get some seed sowing done during the week - since there was no chance of working outdoors. I sowed sunflowers in pots, a lovely patterned flower called Sunburst...

I also sowed Phacelia/Yellow Trefoil/Briza Maxima/Lupin sunrise/Ammi/Spring Onions/Broccoli Raab/Beetroot Boltardy/Little Gem Lettuce in modular trays -- which are still huddled in the warmth of the kitchen, as the wind is pretty chilly today.