Country Living Blog from Herne Cottage

Previous Townie, learning to live better in the Chilterns Countryside

Another Kitchen Garden Year at Herne Cottage 07/04/2012

Hello one and all, I am back again to report on what’s been happening at Herne Cottage so far this year!

We started on the veg garden later than usual due to work and other commitments, beginning with a tidy of old pots and pruning in the patio area, as well as some vigorous de-weeding! We brought in a few tomato and cucumber plug plants to get us started and these were potted up along with some pretty spring bulbs and aromatic herbs. This gave us back our lovely relaxing patio area that is just perfect for unwinding in with a glasss of wine after a hard day’s gardening, and of course eating al fresco when the weather is good! We then got on with catch up sowings of lettuce, spinach, chard and peas a few weeks ago, which have started to push through in their seed trays this weekend.

There was a frost this week however, that caught us out after a good run of sunny spells, so the tomato plants have perished as they were left outside and we need to sow some more after all! With the longer days and warmer weather on the horizon, we should have some new plug plants in no time..

The next job to do this weekend was to clear the raised beds, again of old plants from last autumn as well as the weeds, and dig in some rich organic matter.

This helps prepare and improve the soil ready for planting out seedlings. We added in some chicken manure pellets, as well as our own compost, freshly sieved from the bottom of the bins. This is a very satisfying task knowing you are putting something useful back into the earth from your own kitchen waste recycling and helping the next years crop of veg grow beautifully! Home made compost is also great for seed sowing as has just the right consistency needed for the seedlings to push their roots through into.

The first seedlings to then go directly into the ground were radish and lollo rosso lettuce in one bed, with beetroot and marigold flowers in another. I am hoping these pairings will look decorative next to each other when they are in full growth, making the kitchen garden look ornamental as well as functional. In the greenhouse were sown our replacement tomatoes, french beans, courgette and curly kale. This year we have also sown runner bean seedlings saved from last years pods, so that will be interesting to see how well they come up as well. This is a great way to save money instead of buying new seeds every year. If you can let some of your crop go to seed for this purpose it again is a recycling process of the whole garden, putting back into the earth some of what you take out.

The redcurrant, blackcurrant, raspberries, blackberries and gooseberry plants have all now been pruned in our fruit garden, and the base of the plants de-weeded with a sprinkling potash feed to get them off to a good start. The gooseberries already have flowers on as well as the sloes so here’s hoping for another bumper fruit harvest this year. The neighbouring damson trees from the railway embankment are also nearly in full blossom (and very pretty) so we should have another crop of wild fruits ready to make into delicious damson gin again ready for Christmas!

Lastly in the fruit garden, our rhubarb donation from mother in law last year has several healthy looking stems, so will have to find a delicious recipe to use that in over the next few weeks for when it is ready to harvest. I am hoping it is around the same time as the gooseberries as that will be a tasty (sharp tasting) pairing!

A final look back at the garden to the newly tidied raised beds and that’s our job done for this weekend. Now all we have to do is wait for the seedlings to push through, then the next round of kitchen garden tasks will need to be done, including thinning, potting on, and weeding…. but that’s for another post 🙂

Bye for now and happy gardening!

Spinach seedlings

Spinach seedlings

Clearing the raised beds of weeds

Clearing the raised beds of weeds

Sieving home made compost

Sieving home made compost

Home made compost

Home made compost

Saving runner bean seeds

Saving runner bean seeds

Damson blossom

Damson blossom

Tidied raised beds ready for another year of vegetable growing

Tidied raised beds ready for another year of vegetable growing

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July in the Kitchen Garden 10/08/2011

July was the month that the main harvest started and we’ve enjoyed plenty of peas, French green beans, courgettes, chard and lettuce to keep our kitchen larder stocked! The second early potatoes were also ready towards the end of the month and we’ve been enjoying those especially with seasonal fish suppers. The veg beds need constant weeding and tidying this time of year also to allow the veg to have the best conditions to come through, along with lots of watering and feeding to allow their fruits to swell! We’ve also been pinching out out tomato plants to allow them to concentrate on swelling their fruit and feeding regularly also. Towards the end of the month/early August the first kale and runner beans were ready to pick.

The fruit garden has been abundant this year for us, helped by the combination of some warm sunny days to help ripen the fruit, but also rainy days to help swell it and make nice and juicy! We were still picking strawberries well into the month, along with blackcurrants, blueberries and raspberries. The blackberries are also early to ripen this year and we have picked a good 500g already! Now the only decision left is what to make with them?!

Here are some pictures of our harvest:

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June in the Kitchen Garden 19/06/2011

Wow – what a lot of rain we’ve had this month. Still, it has been very good for our kitchen garden and encouraged it to grow rapidly (as well as the weeds – lots of frantic clearing needed yesterday!). It’s our first real month of proper harvesting and we’ve enjoyed lettuce, peas, mangetout and plently of strawberries so far. We also harvested the last of the Cavolo Nero (black kale) before the cabbage white butterflies have a chance to lay their eggs! The last of our self raised seedlings went in the ground and bigger pots (wherever there was room basically!), so we now have our runner beans, french beans courgettes and tomatoes well into full growth – along with everything else! The potatoes, beetroot, spinach and chard are growing well – and our artichokes are MASSIVE!! Shame you only get one per plant, but we have to say, they do look spectactular!! Will have to search italian recipe books for how to use these.

So how have we used all this harvest? Well, the lettuce speaks for itself and we’ve been enjoying lovely salad for lunches and dinners for most of the month. The Cavolo Nero went into a mushroom and cheese omelette, and we’ve been adding the few peas (if and when they make it to the kitchen!), to risottos, summer stews etc. Strawberries have been the best so far, and as well as having bowls of them with luscious double cream for dessert, Rachel has made the main harvest into jam today (see strawberry and gooseberry jam recipe here). They are still cropping too so we’re expecting more yet. Oh and we’ve had our first few raspberries and the redcurrants are ripening nicely too!

Our wild food foraging this month has been centered around the abundant crop of elderflowers there seem to have been this year. They are definitely the taste of summer as far as we are concerned, so we’ve made them into some Elderflower Cordial. This will give us a refreshing drink ingredient, or lovely syrup for those strawberries and some ice cream!

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading – do share your kitchen garden stories too and we’ll see you next month 🙂

Tomatoes in their little greenhouse on the patio

Tomatoes in their little greenhouse on the patio

Beautiful Cavolo Nero

Beautiful Cavolo Nero

Salad bed with round lettuce and lollo rosso in good growth

Salad bed with round lettuce and lollo rosso in good growth

First Raspberry!

First Raspberry!

Architectural Artichokes!!

Architectural Artichokes!!

Purple French Beans in Containers

Purple French Beans in Containers

First full punnet of strawberries

First full punnet of strawberries

Salad Harvest - Round Lettuce and Lollo Rosso

Salad Harvest - Round Lettuce and Lollo Rosso

 

We’re Back!! 08/06/2011

Hello again everyone!

Ok so no new posts for a while, for various reasons but mainly due to a lifestyle change and review since last Autumn. We’ve done a lot of planning and replanning along with some soul searching over the last year or so, reviewing our progress and re-evaluating as we go, to enable our self sufficiency dream to fit in with a lifestyle that we were comfortable with, but didn’t restrict us having a ‘normal’ life as well !!

Our vegetable garden continued to grow well for the rest of 2010, giving us a bumper harvest throughout the summer and autumn months. We also continued with the Jam and Chutney sales up until Christmas, mainly selling from Tring Farmers Market and sending off jars to friends and family. We got the chickens in towards the end of last summer and enjoyed lovely fresh eggs from them for a few months, along with some great company from truly unique characters! However towards the Autumn it became apparant for various reasons that we wouldn’t be able to fulfill the complete self sufficiency dream as had hoped, so decided to downsize our plans.

We decided to finish up with the jam and chutney sales at Christmas, and after a few problems with the chickens (and discovering not having enough time to able to care for them as much as we would have liked), we found a new adopted caring home for them also. The winter months were spent resting and reviewing, and we finally decided to still keep on a few aspects of our self sufficiency life this year. This is mainly concentrating on our vegetable and fruit growing, with just producing enough for ourselves that time would allow and still making jam, chutneyand other delicious recipes with our harvests, with the occasional craft project too!

At the time of writing, the garden this year is doing well and we have been harvesting lovely ripe strawberries for the last few weeks. It looks like some peas are ready too! We’ve also got spinach, french beans, runner beans, artichokes, courgettes and tomatoes growing too 🙂

The subject of this blog will therefore change to a more general ‘Country Living Lifestyle’. Having previously both been Townies, we are still thoroughly enjoying our new life in the country, along with the new experiences and challenges it brings. We would love to continue sharing them with you too 🙂

Have you got any exepriences you would like to share about living in the country? We would love to hear them and look forward to talking with you soon!

 

May & June 01/07/2010

Filed under: Fruit Growing,Self Sufficiency,Vegetable Patch — hernegardens @ 10:16 am

May and June are when the season really picks up, hence not much posting for a while! There has been loads to do in the veggie garden over the past few months mainly consisting of planting out, weeding, successional sowings and general looking after/tidying everything as we go.

The first tasks were to start earthing up our potatoes. This protects them from frost, which you can still get in May, and encourages them to produce more tubers. It was a bit of a task in our garden, as our soil is loamy, so doesn’t ‘pack’ well unless wet. So we settled for a combination of the soil, grass clippings, manure and home-made compost. We stopped when the plants were about 20 cm tall and after the risk of frost had passed in late May. We did have some frost damage to our plants, with crumpled black leaves, but they seemed to pick up once the weather got warmer in late May/June.

Broad beans and tomatoes need looking after during these months too. The growing tops of the broad beans need to be pinched out to stop pests settling and to encourage them to produce pods. Also, with tomatoes, it is important to pinch out the side shoots to encourage the main shoots to concentrate on producing fruit. Both of these relatively tall veg garden plants need staking and tieing in too, to help support their growth and to avoid them toppling over when they are heavy with fruit later in the year.

After the risk of frost had passed in late May, around the 23rd, we planted out our tender plants such as courgettes, squashes, french beans, tomatoes and runner beans. Our brassica plants raised from seed (kale, purple sprouting broccoli, brussell sprouts) also went out into the beds too, with a cardboard collar placed around the base of them to help avoid cabbage root fly settling. A netted cage was also put up around the brassica beds to protect from cabbage white butterfly later on. These are the butterflies that love laying eggs on brassicas, whose little green caterpillars will devour a complete crop in one fail swoop!

The rest of May and June was spent regularly watering, weeding and tieing in new growth regularly all to help and support the young plants’ growth. We aslo applied some of our home made nettle fertiliser made in March. This is diluted to about 1/5th in a watering can and just sprinkled on. We had massive cabbages and courgettes last year due to this excellent stuff! The weather certainly warmed up considerably in late June, so watering every day, sometimes twice a day was absolutely essential.

As for  new sowings, in late May we sowed more fennel, mangetout, sweetcorn, gardeners delight tomatoes and successional lettuce. At this time we also took some of our first cuttings from the flower beds, to help fill them later in the season. These were delphiniums, sedum, heliotrope (lovely one purchased from an open garden, ‘Princess Marina’). We dipped them in rooting powder, placed them in a pot of compost, then a plastic bag over the top and left them in the cold frame to do their stuff. After about 6 weeks we were happy to see they had indeed taken root, and then could fill the gaps in our borders! On that note, the borders have been doing excellently this year, with lupins coming through in early June, aquilegias, delphiniums, anemones, etc, then giving way to roses, campanula, sweet peas, mallow, hollyhocks, foxgloves, irises later in the month. For the rest of the summer we hope to see our dahlias, gladioli, helenium, echinacea, and sunflowers do well, giving us a blast of summer colour, and endless cut flowers to enjoy in the house! We also started to establish another summer bedding area at the entrance to the veggie garden, with some rudbeckia, our heliotrope and sedum cuttings, as well as a lovely purple aster.

In the fruit cage, things have been a bit hit and miss. The bad news first: one of our blueberry bushes has completely died and we just cannot fathom why. We have another one left though that is happily producing fruit, so we will have to investigate that before next year to avoid the same happening to the one that is left. Also the first fruit that came through on the currant bushes seems to have been nibbled – by something with big teeth! So we think either slugs or mice. We are not too worried about it this year as they are still young bushes and perhaps next year when they are more established, they may be able to fend off an attack much better, producing more fruits to replace those lost. Now for the good news: most of our new raspberry canes have come through, so we should have a good crop next year, the strawberries are regularly producing fruit (after being netted, and straw layed under them) and we have apples starting to swell. The sloe bushes seem to all be doing well too, and we will have a good crop of damsons from the trees we have running along the railway siding (some gin or jam springs to mind there!).

In the herb garden, we began to harvest in May and June also, and now have a good crop drying ready for later use. These were oregano, lemon balm, mint, lovage, thyme etc and look rather fetching on our Provencal looking metal dryer (from The Secret Potager)! More seeds went in for a later crop including parsley, dill, oregano, basil and thyme.

Mid June we noticed some things nearly ready to harvest. The broad beans and early peas were starting to swell, with a small crop harvested later in the month. We planted out more winter brassicas – savoy cabbage, purple sprouting broccolli, swede, and borecale. Also celeriac and swiss chard plants went in the beds. We did some successional sowings of beetroot, kohl rabi, beans, peas and sweetcorn to keep the veggie garden producing over the seasons. Disappointingly our turnips bolted, so we sowed more in modules ready for planting when weather conditions more favourable. All the plants that need humid conditions are also now planted in position in the greenhouse, such as tomatoes, aubergine, peppers and cucumber. We started the regular feed of these plants too with standard liquid feed, to help the fruits swell. The rest of the nets were put up, including one over the peas (to protect them from birds, and also to help them climb up). So along with yet more weeding, watering and feeding that takes us up to July and we will leave you with some pics.

More photos on our Facebook page here

Harvested onions drying in the sun

Harvested onions drying in the sun

Patio pots doing well - can just see tomatoes & carrots

Patio pots doing well - can just see tomatoes & carrots

First flowers on our purple french beans

First flowers on our purple french beans

First peas

First peas

Flowers to help attract wildlife in full bloom

Flowers to help attract wildlife in full bloom

Carrots and peas

Carrots and peas

Artichokes growing more each day (swiss chard alongside)

Artichokes growing more each day (swiss chard alongside)

Greenhouse Veg - Peppers & Cucumbers

Greenhouse Veg - Peppers & Cucumbers

Lovely Strawberries

Lovely Strawberries

Runner beans starting to flower

Runner beans starting to flower

Lovely nasturtiums climbing around galvanised containers!

Lovely nasturtiums climbing around galvanised containers!

Tomatoes in mini greenhouse

Tomatoes in mini greenhouse

Apples swelling well

Apples swelling well

 

April 01/05/2010

Filed under: Breadmaking,Fruit Growing,Self Sufficiency,Vegetable Patch — hernegardens @ 5:53 pm

What was started in March, continued in April in our Kitchen Garden, all with the aim of giving us a full larder later in the year and moving further along our aim of being totally self sufficient in fruit and vegetables.

Our seedlings potted on

Our seedlings potted on

We potted on the brassica, tomato and pepper seedlings when they were big enough to handle and these are now sitting in the greenhouse waiting to be planted out later in May. The tomatoes and peppers will stay in the greenhouse, and the brassicas will go into raised bed 4 (carefully netted too, to protect from the dreaded cabbage whites!). The broad beans were looking nice and big and healthy so these went direct into the soil at the beginning of the month and are doing well as I write this, needing the growing shoots to be pinched out to avoid blackfly settling. We also planted out the pea that germinated (only one, the rest rotted unfortunately), with replacements sown directly into the ground (and still are not through. Maybe they have been taken by the birds, so will try in pots again soon). We installed some natural supports for the peas also, which were saved cut down stems from our large Astrantia in the Autumn. These are perfect sturdy supports and look beautiful too, adding height and structural interest until the peas cover them. We also added some into the ornamental borders for the sweet peas to grow ulong, and a clematis. When these are in full growth, should give us some lovely cut flowers too!

All potatoes are in the ground now with the 2nd earlies and maincrops safely in, and the first earlies needing to be earthed up regularly as the first shoots come through. We are growing King Edwards as our maincrops this year as are a regular winter staple food for us (make perfect roast potatoes!). We had some onion sets left over too and have started an experiment with permaculture, by pushing them into the soil of our ornamental borders. Update will come later in the year on how that went! We also planted out some lettuces here too (lollo rosso and little gem) as they are natural pretty and might help confuse the pests.

Earthed up first early potatoes

Earthed up first early potatoes

Seedlings coming through in raised bed 1 (roots)

Seedlings coming through in raised bed 1 (roots)

In the fruit area we planted some more (from the garden centre) strawberry plants and put up a fruit cage to help protect from pests. We moved the two blueberries we have in pots underneath here to, which gives added interest from the shape of the pots.

New fruit cage

New fruit cage

Mid month we sowed beans, courgettes and squashes into indivual 2″ pots and left to germinate in the greenhouse. These large seeds didn’t take long at all to germinate (with the help too, of some lovely warm weather) and at the end of the month most were through. When they are a bit bigger and the risk of frost has passed we will plant them into the kitchen garden (probably later in May).We also did some successional sowings of brassicas, including new ones of Savoy Cabbage and Borekale, leeks and swiss chard. Later in the month we sowed some kohl rabi, a new vegetable for us, direct into bed 3 along with more swiss chard and another try at the salsify which didn’t germinate from last months sowings.

Other tasks in looking after the garden have been regular hoeing of weeds, picking off slugs, caterpillars and other pests, and digging out the dreaded bindweed that has begun to come through! We’ve installed supports when we can for the climbers, and the netting of strawberries and precious brassicas started at the end of the month ready for when the next pests come along! We try to avoid chemical pesticides where possible, preferring to rely on more organic and eco-friendly methods. A few new impulse buys (oops!) of flowers have appeared in the borders too, including Auricula, Pasqueflower, Oriental Poppy and Valerian (in the medicinal herb area).

Our first handmade loaf

Our first handmade loaf

Meanwhile in the kitchen Rachel decided to have a go at making some bread from scratch. We’ve used a breadmaker before but could never seem to get the recipe quite right (making bread that was too dense). So, armed with the River Cottage bread handbook, she began to experiment, first making a sourdough loaf. The ‘starter’ began it’s life over Easter and has been sitting quite happily in a tub in the kitchen ever since, giving a better flavour to our loaf. The sourdough loaf was lovely but very time consuming to make (perhaps a special one to make at the weekend), so, mid month she made a normal loaf from the easy to follow recipe, with a mixture of white and brown flour. Each loaf made now gets better and better,  with us now well on our way to being self-sufficient in that department too (with a nice dollop of our own jam on top!). What’s next? Well there is butter making and of course hand grinding our own flour – but we’ll carry on practising with the bread for now!

 

March

Filed under: Fruit Growing,Self Sufficiency,Vegetable Patch,Wild Foods — hernegardens @ 4:49 pm

March was the month that seed sowing began in earnest in the vegetable garden. We began by sowing tomatoes, leeks, broad beans, peas, lettuce, kale, purple sprouting broccolli (psb), brussels sprouts, peppers, spinach and swiss chard in modules in the greenhouse. At the beginning of the month the ground was still a little to cold to sow direct into the soil so we decided to wait until later in the month to plant out our onion and garlic sets, and chitted potatoes. In the meantime, we covered the newly dug and manured area for our potatoes with fleece to warm the soil for when the tubers were ready to go in. We also assembled a cold frame to help with the hardening off of our seedlings to come, before planting into the garden soil.

Greenhouse sowings

Greenhouse sowings

Meanwhile, in the ornamental garden we planted out some alpines, including heather, thyme and sea campion into the rockery area. This is normally covered in ground elder during the spring and summer months, so we decided to plant some more ornamental ground cover plants to help suppress this pernicious weed. Hopefully it will work! Also from the garden centre we planted some campanulas, red hot poker and aquilegias in the borders to give us wonderful colour during the summer months. We already have many shrubs and evergreens in our garden, which is good in the winter months, but it is lacking a bit in flowers which we are hoping to fix this year. We are hoping for a border that is eventually crammed full of traditional cottage garden plants all billowing over the grass edges and giving us wonderful cut flowers to brighten up our rooms indoors! Sweet peas planted in January will also go into these borders and we also pushed some seeds direct into the soil.

Later in the month when the soil was sufficiently warmed, we planted the first early potatoes, onions sets and garlic into the soil. Also most of our root crops were sown direct into the first raised bed. These were carrots (early summer and yellowstone), beetroot (standard and yellow cylindrical), parsnips, spring onions and radishes. The carrots were covered with fleece to stop the root fly getting in but hopefully the sowing of spring onions will confuse them also and we won’t get an infestation. We also planted 3 artichoke tubers into raised bed 2 (where the asparagus currently is), hoping for a taste of this wonderful vegetable later in the year giving us an architectural look to the raised beds area in the meantime! In raised bed 3, we planted seeds of turnip and salsify. We noticed that something had been eating our spring cabbages (probably a rabbit), so Rachel took off the damaged leaves, leaving the new shoots coming through and covered with a polytunnel again, which meant that they were rescued later in the month, for us to add to our dinner plate again. Early Spring greens are most welcome when all the rest of the vegetable garden is almost bare (except the Kale of course!).

Our raised beds in March

Our raised beds in March

We added some more plants into our herb garden and are hoping for some lovely purple flowers on the chives this year. In this area we should have, in addition to the established rosemary and sage, some mint, lovage, lemon balm, fennel, oregano and tarragon. We decided to keep the parsley, thyme and basil in pots this year, adding colour and interest to the patio and indoor windowsills.

Back to the ornamental garden again and later in the month we planted some edible flowers in pots such as calendula, nasturtium, violas, chamomiles etc. We also added a few nasturtium seeds to the brassica beds, to hopefully help later in the year with the cabbage white caterpillar problem and encourage the butterflies to lay their eggs on those instead! Other wild flowers were also sown including sunflower, yarrow, wild strawberry, borage etc, which when large enough, will be transplanted to our wild flower/medicinal herb border. This will give us a natural medicine chest, as well as helping the bees. The spring bulbs we planted back in the autumn are also all starting to come through and flower, brightening and cheering our days as we move towards the warmer part of the year. We’ve got several daffodils, narcissi, hyacinth and tulips starting to come through.

Finally, we made some comfrey and nettle fertiliser by adding a few carrier bags full of leaves into a black dustbin and topping up with water. In a few weeks time this will be ready to feed to our plants and help us with higher yeilds, glossy leaves and colourful flowers. Rachel also started making lovely nutritious nettle soup for lunches and we started to enjoy salads made with edible wild plants in the garden (wild garlic, dandelions, chickweed etc).

The area marked for our wildflower garden

The area marked for our wildflower garden

Towards the end of the month also, the unusually warm weather encouraged the rest of the weeds to start growing in earnest, so the regular ritual of hoeing and digging them out began.

There are also a few new additions this year to our garden. We have added in all our fruit now, with the crab apple trees and sloe bushes planted into the ground ready to give us (hopefully) some crops this year and adding to the currant bushes and respberries we planted in February. We also have many more pots in the patio area now, thanks to a kind donation from Rachel’s Mum of the pots and compost. These are now filled with lots of lovely plants in a ‘black’ (i.e. dark purples) and white colour scheme, with as many scented flowers as possible. These should look very pretty when they come up and give us a nice backdrop and smell to the patio area when sitting out there on warm sunny evenings.

New pots for the patio area

New pots for the patio area