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

Spring coming, plants budding, March ‘mood board’

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A close up of Hazel, tiny, pink female flower and male catkin, (stunningly described by a 6 year old child this week as like your spine).
Having worked all week I’m totally exhausted! It’s all or nothing with supply teaching!
Anyway Saturday was beautifully sunny here so after some urgent chores I spent some time wandering around the garden noticing everything waking up for Spring. The birds are also looking ready to build nests and start mating. Luckily for everything this year it appears there won’t be a late cold snap- if the forecasters are to be believed!
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PHOTO CAPTIONS ALL WRONG, sorry can’t get the right format today, having a mental block! So they are in the right order but not the right place!
Below
Forsythia in front of a hazel, loads of catkins everywhere this year.
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One of our 3 snowdrops! They just don’t seem to like where I’m putting them, I planted about 20 in the green last year!
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Stunning colour.

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Judas tree, or as I call it Pom Pom bush getting ready to go mad.

My new Witch Hazel, a birthday pressie from TOWPCOE’s parents, I have to get it in the ground soon.

Lovely sun on the remaining traces of frost on the moss.

Climbing Hydrangea, finally getting somewhere since we cut down the Pussy Willow that was shading it.

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.

beetroot, first success!

I’ve been trying to grow beetroot for a few years, mainly because I love small roast beetroot, but til now haven’t had much success, they’ve not really germinated before. However this year we had loads, I sowed them, well chucked a load of seed at the ground, in 2 blocks about 1 metre by 30cm at the end of April, between the broad beans when I planted them out. I think they need a lot more water than I have given them before, after the show in August they got a lot more water than before and suddenly they started to grow. There are still a load in the ground, I’m hoping they’ll keep better there, they won’t get frozen in as they’re in the polytunnel. (Some purple sprouting broccoli plants went in when I took the broad beans out). We had quite a few tiny beets that weren’t worth the bother, but lots of lovely ideal roasting size…

Recipe: Roast Beetroot
Scrub, top and tail, at least one, 3-4cm diameter beetroot per person.
Lightly crush and peel a clove of garlic for each beet.
Use a piece of foil big enough to enclose all the beets.
Spread a little olive oil on the foil, put on the beetroot and sprinkle with thyme, (ideally fresh), a dash more oil and the garlic cloves.
Seal up the foil and cook in a hot oven (around 200 celsius) for about 40 minutes.
EAT

Recipe: “Borscht”
Equal quantities of beetroot and red cabbage roughly chopped, approx half a cabbage and 4-5 med beetroot.
Two (preferably red) onion, chopped, and garlic.
Saute gently in oil for a little bit,
add 1 tblsp cumin and some thyme.
Add 3 pints of water (or stock), bring to the boil and simmer until largest bits are soft, approx and hour.
Add an optional dash of balsamic vinegar to give a little sharpness, if using yoghurt you may not need it.
Puree and serve hot or cold with a dollop of yoghurt or sour cream.

After a visit to my parents last weekend Dad was “miffed” that I hadn’t credited him for this recipe, so there you go!

(After eating either of these, the next day on the loo, remember what you have eaten and you’re not dying of internal bleeding!)

what’s come out of the garden this season?

Recipes for vegetables from the garden will appear very soon, but first a gallop through the results of all the effort put into the garden this year. You may have seen my what a show post, here I’ll concentrate on the eating part, the best bit of growing.
We’ve had an odd year on the vegetable front, as have most people I’ve talked to wherever they are in Britain.
Sorry I haven’t got any pictures…

The peas I started off early were fabulous and lasted through til the end of July, I tried a second batch, sown 3 weeks later then planted outside, they almost caught up with the first lot. I didn’t weigh them, but masses of peas and mangetout for weeks and weeks made me very happy. I did plant loads this year, I have found by trial and error that they like to be quite close together.

Germination of all my tomatoes, courgettes, cucumbers, peppers and squashes was rubbish. They all sprouted and then stopped with that cold spot at the end on March/beg April and never started growing again, so for the first time since I started growing veg I bought some plants!

Luckily I had been given some fab tomato seedlings when I admired some at one of TOWPCOE’s customers houses (I had gone along to help out on a day I wasn’t teaching) I was genuinely impressed by the size of her plants in February, mind you over by the coast they get a bit more sun than we do. She gave me 8 plants, a small plum tomato, can’t remember if she told me the variety, they are delicious and not something I would have ordinarily gone for. The ones I can’t eat fresh I have cooked up for the freezer, about 1.5 kg in a large pan on a low heat stir when the first ones start to cook and just cook them until they are all covered in juice. Last year I let them cool and then picked out the skins by hand before freezing them but this year I couldn’t be bothered so they’ve got skins in, I’m sure they’re better for you that way! That gives 3 x 500g yoghurt pots full then freeze them. I have looked up bottling, but got worried when they started talking about botulism, I wish I’d asked my Grandma before she died, I’m sure she used to do it, I remember seeing jars on her pantry shelf, a real north facing pantry up in the peak district.
One plant turned out to be a marmande which is great cos they’re my favourite. There are still a load left on the plants some of which will still ripen, (the advantage of a polytunnel is even though we have had a little frost they are safe in there as long as it’s aired a bit and doesn’t go mouldy!) So far I have had over 9 kilos, the first only in late August so not the best for salads this year, the ones that don’t ripen by the end of October will be for chutney, recipe to follow later on.
See tomato post for growing ideas.

Beetroot have been prolific this year, I’ve never had success before, I did plant them too close together again! When will I learn?

Garlic were smaller than last year, who knows? Not enough water at the right time or not enough sun? Anyway got loads, pulled them at the end of August washed them and took off some of the outer layers of skin. We layed them out on two metal grids we have and put them in the sun when there was some. Otherwise they’ve been in one of our porches, kept the door open, brought them in to the house about 2 weeks ago and I got round to plaiting some of them last night.

Courgettes from 2 plants I bought, a nice variety, loads as usual but they’ve slowed down a bit now, the polytunnel i great as it keeps the frost off for longer.

We had a few Calabrese this year, they got seriously caterpillars, not grown them before and didn’t spot the signs of the buggers hiding in the heads. I’ll try them again next year, but we’ll keep our eyes peeled, we have got so many off the purple sprouting and kale. Killing caterpillars better not figure highly in the karma stakes or we are well and truly stuffed! They can always stay on the nasturtiums, there’s always loads of them in the polytunnel.
Nasturtiums make great cut flowers if you like a random shape, cut 2 foot long “branches” stick them in a tall vase and a day or so later cut off the leaves that haven’t taken to being in water the flowers will grow to face the light in a day or two and look fab for a week or two.

Beans haven’t been as good as normal but still plenty, the purple variety we’ve grown for years is very prolific. This year all were from collected seed from last year and have been as good as usual, it’s a shame that they go green when cooked, but it’s a good indicator that they’re done. There are still some on the plants outside, the indoor ones finished at least a week ago. The Borlotti beans were ok, after visiting my sister who got 30 g off 3 plants I decided to weigh ours, 1.1 kg from 30 plants, one row about 3 metres long, tied on strings (see tomatoes post for how to do it).

We’re on the second raspberries, I planted them last year and thought I’d killed them in March when I cut them down to the ground, but luckily they recovered. Next year I’ll cut them a lot earlier Jan or Feb and hopefully the fruit will come a bit earlier. There are still loads of green berries and I can’t see them all ripening. We’ve been getting about 250g for the last few days, before that a trickle, enough for breakfast every day for the last month.

Brassicas for this winter went in far too late again, a couple are ok, but we’re not going to be living off cabbage! Perhaps that’s a good thing…

I ran out of steam a while ago, and I’m sure you have too… If you got this far well done. May continue this later, or not?

TOWPCOE just brought in some logs from an ash tree we had chopped down in Feb, going to try them in the woodburner tonight, nice and cosy and finish plaiting the garlic.

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.