Chillies in Wales.

This is the first year I have grown chillies, I picked up a free packet of seed from a local garden centre, (I can’t bear things going to waste!) I started them off in a heated propagator and grew them in the poly tunnel.
cayenne peppers ripening in the poly tunnel

We had a slow supply of chillies in the late summer, I used some and froze them as they ripened, (chopped without seeds), they weren’t as hot as I thought they might be, considering they are cayenne! As the first frosts approached in early December I thought I’d better pick the last of them that hadn’t ripened on the plant, and was going to freeze them green… I put them on the side and then got waylaid doing other things, as is my wont!

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There were some lovely horned fruits, couldn’t resist a picture.

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They started to ripen and shrivel and after a month sitting in a warm kitchen they are looking lovely, now I’m thinking I should roughly chop them and put them in a jar, try to keep the heat, for some heartwarming winter meals…

colour around the garden

Feeling a little glum last week through two days of grey and rain, the sun came out so I decided to look for some colour in the garden to cheer me up. It worked for a little while at least, in between trying to get my head around my newly discovered menopause symptoms and lamenting the rude health of teachers these days! (Hence little supply work) Here is a sample of what I saw, from porch to porch again!

The photos I have shrunk very small for speed, if anyone is interested I’ll happily send proper full size ones by email, just comment by clicking on the speech bubble at the top of the post.

our climbing hydrangea has been in the ground ages, on a north facing wall, but only just coming into it's own since we cut down the pussy/goat willow that was cramping it

our climbing hydrangea has been in the ground ages, on a north facing wall, but only just coming into it’s own since we cut down the pussy/goat willow that was cramping it

more cosmos and my "house" plants relegated to the porch in winter getting their summer sun, as soon as the first frosts are likely they go in, though there is a massive hole in the porch roof so it's only just frost free!

cosmos and my “house” plants relegated to the porch in winter getting their summer sun, as soon as the first frosts are likely they go in, though there is a massive hole in the porch roof so it’s only just frost free!

sweet peas, sown this spring and doing well, I gave some to a friend she put them against a fence in a very unpromising slither of ground and they are still flowering and ten feet tall

sweet peas, sown this spring and doing well, I gave some to a friend she put them against a fence in a very unpromising slither of ground in a small back yard and they are still flowering and ten feet tall

these troughs have had pansies in since last november, they were getting a bit ragged so I cut them back and put in some lobelia and allysum in July or August, the pansies are still there under the canopy of blue and white

these troughs have had pansies in since last November, they were getting a bit ragged so I cut them back and put in some trailing lobelia and alyssum in July or August, the pansies are still there under the canopy of blue and white

annual linaria I sowed this late and thought nothing would happen then all of a sudden purple

annual linaria I sowed this late and thought nothing would happen then all of a sudden purple

along a fence, hazel and forsythia mainly wow what a pink

along a fence, hazel and forsythia mainly, wow what a pink

these tubs have bedding plants left over from last year and still going (though maybe not strong!)

these tubs have bedding plants left over from last year and still going (though maybe not strong!) overwintered in the poly tunnel, I open the doors to save the brassicas going mouldy but to keep the worst of the weather off, some very tender things get a wrap of fleece in the very cold weeks

cosmos hanging on, I've seen a lot of cosmos around this year, unfortunately mine are all on the pale pink side this year, oh well next year more bright pinks I hope, lobelia still hanging on too

cosmos hanging on, I’ve seen a lot of cosmos around this year, unfortunately mine are all on the pale pink side, oh well next year more bright pinks I hope, a lighter blue lobelia still hanging on too

berries galore on the cotoneaster horizontalis growing on a steep sandy west facing bank

berries galore on the cotoneaster horizontalis growing on a steep sandy west facing bank

rosehips on the long hedge, see earlier post on pruning this monster!

rosehips on the long hedge, see earlier post on pruning this monster!

and a close up of the red oak, I have laminated the leaves for Christmas cards, the colour lasts wonderfully

a close up of the red oak (also below) not fully scarlet yet, I have laminated the leaves for Christmas cards in previous years, the colour lasts wonderfully

a pair of ashes one has lost nearly all and the other hardly any of it's leaves, massive hazel on the left and a small red oak on the right

looking over what we laughingly call our wildflower meadow, a pair of massive ashes one has lost nearly all and the other hardly any of it’s leaves, massive hazel on the left and a small red oak on the right

lime green feverfew still flowering, how does it do it? One of our two hens, bronze, they always follow me around the garden when I'm outside, waiting to massacre the worms I disturb

lime green feverfew still flowering, how does it do it? With one of our current “flock” of two hens, bronze, they always follow me around the garden when I’m outside, waiting to massacre the worms I disturb

I'd forgotten I planted these asters (I presume) years ago hadn't noticed any flowers before, but the dogwood has kind of taken over as it does

I’d forgotten I planted these asters (I presume) years ago hadn’t noticed any flowers before, but the dogwood has kind of taken over as it does

weird, winter jasmine usually flowers in January... alongside a mallow, flowering very late indeed

weird, winter jasmine usually flowers in January… alongside a mallow, flowering very late indeed

dogwood's berries are not often mentioned but the large bunches are easy to see from a distance

dogwood’s berries are not often mentioned but the large bunches are easy to see from a distance before the leaves fall and you see the red stems

the one lovely pink hollyhock fell over onto the grass, careful with the lawnmower

the one lovely pink hollyhock fell over onto the grass, careful with the lawnmower

weird, honesty flowering very late alongside some seed pods from this summers flowers!

weird, honesty flowering very late alongside some seed pods from this summers flowers!

evening primrose and white hollyhocks

evening primrose and white hollyhocks lovely tall things next to our border with the “highways” yard

runner beans still flowering and producing lovely beans, we keep waiting for them to run out, but no! a carrier bag full every other day since mid August, as you can imagine I've given loads away, any tips on how to freeze well I have in previous years tried blanching or not but always soggy and grey when defrosted.

runner beans still flowering and producing lovely beans, we keep waiting for them to run out, but no! a carrier bag full every other day since mid August, as you can imagine I’ve given loads away, any tips on how to freeze them well? I have in previous years tried blanching or not but they are always soggy and grey when defrosted.

elderberries, the pigeons have usually finished them by now, in previous years TOPCOE has made elderberry and clove cordial, yummy

elderberries, the pigeons have usually finished them by now, in previous years TOWPCOE has made elderberry and clove cordial, yummy

the hawthorn has gone mad this year, never seen so many berries

the hawthorn has gone mad this year, never seen so many berries

honeysuckle has been flowering for so long, started early, finishing late, we have loads of lovely berries on it too

honeysuckle, planted next to an old hawthorn stump, it has been flowering for so long, it started early, finishing late, we have loads of lovely berries on it too, the stump collapsed earlier this year, the honeysuckle doesn’t seem to be bothered though it’s big enough to support itself in a large mound

our apples are often all green, with the long warm summer we have a hint of red, anyone got a cure for the black blotches... calcium? magnesium? iron?

our apples are often all green, with the long warm summer we have a hint of red, anyone got a cure for the black blotches… calcium? magnesium? iron?

cayenne peppers ripening in the poly tunnel

cayenne peppers ripening in the poly tunnel

a hardy fuscia, planted just in front of the poly tunnel door

a hardy fuscia, planted just in front of the poly tunnel door

seed head from a cranesbill (native geranium)

seed head from a cranesbill (native geranium)

Cheating I moved this into the porch the other day, the white stuff (a common bedding plant) survived from last year

Cheating I moved this pelagonium into the porch the other day it and the white stuff (a common bedding plant – Bacopa I think) survived from last year

Leeks… How to grow them.

Apparently the new superfood, so TOWPCOE says. I have been growing leeks now for a few years, very satisfying, not a lot of work and something lovely to eat in the horrid winter months (as long as the ground is not frozen).SL701737 This was a particularly lovely one, look how the leaves fan out, just like the ones on the seed packet, they’re not all so perfect! We’ve had a couple this weekend, one in a ‘special’ cauliflower cheese also with bacon, the other steamed with some cabbage. We eat as much of the green parts as possible too, they taste lovely a shame they don’t travel so well so you don’t often get them with greens intact at the shops.
So buy some seedlings, (they look like thick blades of grass) or sow some seed. The books say wait until they are pencil thick to plant then out, I have found that they don’t get that thick in the seed tray and seem to plant out well much smaller. One year they developed little bulbs at the bottom as I was waiting for them to get big enough, they didn’t work as well that year.
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I use my dibber as I don’t have very deep soil, sink it to the hilt and twist it out to leave a nice hole. The soil needs to be quite wet so it stays as a hole, too dry and the sides will fall in! Then pop a leekling (don’t now if that’s a word) in, I have tried trimming the roots or putting them in with all that I can untangle, it doesn’t seem to make any difference, it’s easier to get them in the holes with less root, but takes time to trim, trim to about 2-3 cm if you are doing that. The holes are around 15 cm apart, further apart may give you bigger leeks. These went in the ground mid June, about 100 of them, (some didn’t survive). Then give them a good water to get a bit of soil round the roots, but the holes should stay. I have some netting on a wooden frame covering them to stop the chickens digging them up.
SL701187small By late summer they look like this, once they’re big enough they don’t actually need protection from the chickens and visiting pheasants but the onions and broccoli at the far end did and are by this lovely temporary fencing I invested in this year. The onion sets that went in a bit late and haven’t done a lot yet, maybe they’ll get going when the weather starts to warm up!
There is some self sown feverfew in the foreground along with a parsnip that went way too woody and then to seed, Bob Flowerdew said that he gets better germination from self seeded parsnips, I don’t seem to have had that luck so far, but maybe this spring will prove him right.

January “mood board”

Inspired by my sister (somethingimade) who pointed me towards some blogs using the tag mood board, I went out into the garden last weekend to see if I could cheer myself up.

I wasn’t hopeful to be honest, however I found lots of interesting stuff.

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There are so many different shapes of seed head still giving food for the birds. Clemitis, teasel, sweet william, sedums, hollyhocks, knapweed, hogweed that I missed I removed as many of the flowers as I could find last summer before they went to seed, trying to reduce the quantity of them in the garden!… and some kind of yellow thistle thing…
The polytunnel has just that little bit more warmth, so the fennel I harvested last year but left the roots in has sprouted lots of lovely feathery shoots, also in there is flowering feverfew.
The red pelagonium (geranium) is from the porch, where I am trying to keep the plant alive, as is the alyssum which is hanging on in there.
The hogweed is from the open garden, luckily the only one growing at the moment!
Lovely berries/hips from the Hawthorn all over the garden, Kiftsgate rose I have growing on a fence, honeysuckle, and St Johns wort, self sown by the birds.
Pansies, Heather Catkins from the hazel and Winter Jasmine flowering at about the right time, the pansies seem to be food for the slugs (or something else with an appetite!) and a supposedly Autumn flowering Cherry that has been seriously confused in the 5 or so years since planting!
Lovely stem colour from the dogwood, and a yellow stemmed willow, both need cutting soon, before they start to grow too much, however I can’t bear to loose the colour yet so they’ll have to wait, hopefully it won’t effect their growth this year too much.
Of course in the vegetable garden I still have a load of brassicas, Russian Kale, Cavelo Nero, Purple sprouting broccoli (not sprouting yet!) cabbages and some calabrese in the polytunnel hanging on. The leeks have been brilliant this year, deserving of a post on their own!SL701585

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Snow

One good thing about snow, life has to slow down!

I was unable to get to work on Friday, TOWPCOE also lost Today and looks like no catching up tomorrow. So we’re hunkered down for an evening by the wood burner after shifting over 20 tonnes of snow* between 4 of us, makes you realise there are disadvantages of having a 100m long drive.

Chicken coop Saturday morning.

Chicken coop Saturday morning.

A large branch from the Wellingtonia that fell Friday night, luckily missing most of the veg beds.

A large branch from the Wellingtonia that fell Friday night, luckily missing most of the veg beds.

Polytunnel after one snow clearance, we had to dig it away from the sides too, it was stretching the skin a bit.

Polytunnel after one snow clearance,
we had to dig it away from the sides too, it was stretching the skin a bit.

We've not had it this deep in 10 years.

We’ve not had it this deep in 10 years.

 

* Apparently 1 cubic foot of snow weighs about 15lbs
so 300ft by 10 ft and it was at least a foot deep works out as just over 20

Chickens being intrepid, we cleared an area around the coop for them, but they do like to come and hang around the porch all day.

Chickens being intrepid, we cleared an area around the coop for them, but they do like to come and hang around the porch all day.

tonnes!

tomatoes

I love growing tomatoes, eating them straight off the plant and the smell of the leaves and stems on your hands is a treat when you’re out in the garden. In the kitchen fresh in salads, or cooked they’re much better than tinned. We had half a winters supply in the freezer last year, they’re a little runnier than a tin, but usually that doesn’t matter.
I will get around 12 kilos off 8 plants this year, maybe not quite as many as last year but good compared to what other people have said about theirs.

HERE’S MY GUIDE TO GROWING TOMATOES (IN A POLYTUNNEL?)
Planting…
Soil should be pretty good, they are hungry plants, we dig in some manure, approx equiv. to a 3 inch layer, digging seems to be better for us in the polytunnel. The soil is pretty poor generally, it dries out quickly and is crumbly and pale when it does. Sometimes I have added a bit more into each planting hole if I’ve got some spare. I have to make sure the soil is well wetted right through before I plant, because it dries out quickly (I will talk about mulching another time) if you leave dry pockets the water will never get through capillary action etc. see watering bit later for details.
About 2 foot apart when they have at least 2 sets of real leaves, not too big as they could be a bit stunted in the pot, I pull the roots out of the spiral they’ve usually grown into, end up breaking a lot, but that doesn’t seem to matter.
also see watering and supporting.
Supporting… In the polytunnel for the last 2 years I have used string to support them rather than canes, (I think that was a Bob Flowerdew tip) from the uprights of the polytunnel I have stretched some string above where I want to plant them. Then I tie a length of string long enough to hang from the string above and leave about 8 inches /20cm to bury under the roots as you’re planting out, it has worked really well. As the plant grows you just gently wind it around the string. For extra side branches I have tied them to added string just dangling, not as good, next year I’ll try burying a few strings with each plant…
Watering… Every other day, unless not at all sunny.
I sink bottles in when I plant so that using the hose on full doesn’t damage the soil structure, wash away too much soil around the roots and also when the plants get big you can see where to aim for!
What to do- a 2 litre “pop” bottle lid off, bottom cut off, neck down, buried about 3-4 inches/8-10 cm or so deep, in well dampened soil, make sure there are no dry bits. (Our soil gets so dry and powdery, once in this state water cannot penetrate at all well and it could stop a plant getting enough water.) Dig a hole push the bottle neck in hard, (hand in and lean!) back fill and firm around the bottle. Put in 1 or 2 plants by each bottle, this year I put 4 bottles in a row of 8 plants. Fill the bottle with water, it shouldn’t drain away, if it does the soil is too loose around the bottom. (Or you’ve hit a mouse run!) On the other hand it shouldn’t still have water in the next day! (You may have a stone in the neck.)
If the surface of the soil around the plants is particularly dry I give them a bit direct with the hose to moisten the soil then fill the bottle to make sure the capillary action can work around the roots.
The age old question… to cut off side shoots or not?
To be perfectly honest I’ve always been a bit lazy about that, sometimes I rub off the small shoots as I’m watering, but I find it difficult to go and take them off when they are big and flowering. The last couple of years i have “gone in” when they have got to impenetrable jungle stage and thinned out a bit, well a lot actually, this year about the middle of August. That’s when I took off a lot of the large leaves and the ends of each branch down to the truss with set fruit on them. I had about 6 branches on each plant, and I suppose about 3 – 6 trusses of varying sizes on each branch, the fruit are small but I’m assuming they are meant to be. Would I have got bigger or more fruit had I cut back harder? I might try that next year on alternate plants…
Feeding… irregularly would have to be the answer, I started this year with good intentions and did weekly comfry feeds for a bit. Then the smell got too much when the weather was hot, (yes it was -don’t forget!) I got round to getting some tomato food eventually and did that for a bit.

Growing in pots… I also bought a couple of gardeners delight when none of my seedlings got beyond first real leaf stage in the cold snap in April. I put them in pots with the aim of putting them on my “terrace”, they never made it out of the polytunnel and didn’t do very well at all about 15 toms in total. I think it was probably being in pots, not as much water available to them they’d probably prefer watering every day and the feeding… I really should have done more of that.
However the others have done so well I’m not at all bothered.

Next year I will try to…
Feed regularly,
Try cutting side shoots off at least one plant to see if the yield is better (for the time taken to do it),
Get some tomatoes to eat before August! I’ve been thinking and I have never had enough ready for the show, that’s always 2nd weekend in August. Maybe cutting side shoots off would mean earlier fruit?
TAKE PHOTOS! just looked through all this years and none of the tomatoes.

Wet again!

So after a week of feeling a bit apathetic I felt motivated this morning despite the hangover from a couple of small glasses of not fabulous wine last night. So out to check on the new hens at 8.20, they hadn’t been pecked to death, after almost a week of the two older hens being rather nasty they weren’t this morning. I was getting ready to go and get a load of manure from up in the hills nearby, I have the broad beans and mange tout ready for the owner of the muck pile, but then the heavens opened. (Or in Welsh, Mae hi’n bwrw hen wragedd a ffyn, it’s raining old ladies with sticks!) So the cabbages will have to wait a bit longer to go in the ground as the muck pile will be seriously soggy now and will weigh down my back andlittle car too much. My motivation was very fragile and has disappeared, so have been popping in and out of the rain, pottering about and starting to get this blog going (another plan that has been lingering in my brain since my media savvy sister started one). One of the motivations for blogging is to give myself a bit more of an incentive to do the stuff I’m always thinking of, planning and then not getting round to! If there are people out there following me in the future then I may feel more inclined to get on with it! Same as my sister, isn’t it strange, however different siblings are on the surface there are deep underlying similarities.