Almost ready to cut in the Cutting Garden

It feels as if I’ve been working on my Cutting Garden for a loooong time; since about June in fact. Still I love a challenge and I’m lucky that Mr Fig is happy to lend some muscle and a sharp eye for straight lines! The Cutting Garden is being carved out from a rectangular paddock that used to be home to many, many apple trees. It is being slowly transformed into a very different kind of productive space with a fig orchard, a Nuttery, a Herb Garden and a Cut Flower Garden. This is how the Cut Flower Garden looked in June.

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Pretty Bleak. It’s at times like this that you have to have a strong vision! The bare bones are in place with paths marked with weed mat and blue stakes to indicate lines of bulbs.

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The next stage was building very simple edging to contain the soil and the gravel paths. I really like neatness in a garden and the straight lines please me enormously!! If only my house had this kind of order!

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We spent (the Royal We) quite a bit of time flattening the path before weed matting and gravelling.

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Finally the last bit of gravel was raked into place and this is the basic structure. The general idea is to start with bulbs in the spring and once these die back I’ll plant out annuals and biennials in between to grow over the dead foliage. The perimeter beds will house mainly Perennials and the sweetpeas. Dahlias will go in the central square beds. I started this project too late to do an autumn sowing of biennials like poppies, stocks and sweet williams but this will be the plan for next year.

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Other structural work included adding some posts and netting for the sweetpeas that have been overwintering merrily in the greenhouse. I started with two supports but ended up needing four – there were a lot of very happy sweetpeas to re-home!

It hasn’t been all plain sailing with this project. Apart from being very time consuming we’ve had a few pests to deal with.

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An army of Pukekoes have invaded the paddock and have taken great delight in playing in the Cutting Garden. I say playing because Pukekoes are like toddlers – they do things randomly and without much thought. So, iris bulbs were plucked from the soil, branches were snapped from perennials and the tips of tulip leaves were ripped off. Bad pukekoes! I think I’ll need to plant a hedge around for protection. However, it’s certainly not all gloom and doom. There’s plenty of colour to be seen and enjoyed even from this embyonic Cutting Patch.

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Tulips…….

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Anemones….

And here’s a photo of the next part of the project; The Herb Garden. As you exit the Cutting Garden you will move through to the Herb Garden. I haven’t quite decided on a theme (if any) yet. Possibilities are Aromatherapy or perhaps a mixture of fragrance, medicinal and a few culinary. I like to keep culinary herbs near the house so there won’t be many of these. Not sure but it’ll all come together eventually! In the meantime I’m busy sowing cut flower seed and pricking out and potting on. More about that next time.

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Sugar Free Ginger and Date Muffins

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It’s the start of the Busy Season here and what with seed sowing and orchestrating a huge School Fundraiser my blog has been sadly neglected. However, recently little ideas for posts have been popping into my head so hopefully I’m back on track again. I have to say I’ve a lot to blog about what with choosing trees for The Nuttery, sowing seeds for the Cut Flower Garden not to mention my plans for a Herb Garden (Aromatherapy and Tea) and of course the usual vege seed sowing. I’m exhausted just reading that list!

To even begin a To do List like that I highly recommend a little toothsome snack. It’s a Sugar Free Date and Ginger Muffin. Strictly speaking you will of course find sugar in the dates and the apple juice but…..for a pretty healthy, tasty option this little muffin is hits the spot! It’s such an easy recipe too; no butter to cream or melt just a little light date chopping and you’re halfway there.

To Do List Muffin

Ingredients
150g dates
140g self raising flour
1 egg
125ml apple juice
3 Tbsp veg oil
1/2 tsp powdered ginger

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Sieve the flour and ginger into a bowl. Chop up the dates and add to the bowl. Mix all of the wet ingredients in a jug and pour over the dry ingredients.

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Give it a mix but don’t go mad and over do it. Spoon into prepared muffin trays. Bake for 12 minutes at 200c.

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It’s a cute little cake and not too heavy. Just enough sweetness to give you a mid morning boost after an hour or two of gardening. So next time you’re staring at an endless To Do List make some of these to lighten the load!

 

Sowing seeds for the Cutting Garden

Seed scene

I know my blog has been a bit quiet recently but I’ve been quite busy behind the scenes. I’ve been planning and dreaming and just recently sowing seeds. You know all about the vege seeds I’m growing but I’ve also started sowing flower seeds for my Cutting Garden. I’ve been a bit cross with the cutting garden or rather the man who ploughed and grassed our paddock. I marked out my Cutting garden with canes and asked him NOT to grass inside the canes. Yep you guessed it. As my carefully planted bulbs began to peep out from the soil so did millions and trillions of grass. The air was as blue as the grass was green that morning. Annoyingly I had to spray the whole lot and I HATE spraying but what can you do? So, I’m back to square one but progress is on it’s way in the form of tiny little seeds.

While I’m pretty excited about all the seeds I’ve chosen to grow there are a few Stand Out Stars that I really can’t wait for Here’s my Top 5 seeds to grow for the Cutting Garden.

Stocks

These are stock seeds (Matthiola Incana). I can’t wait to smell their spicy scent! They were a very popular Edwardian flower that went by the name Gillyflower. There are two types of stock; hardy annual and biennial. Brompton stocks or ‘ten week stocks’ are treated as an annual and take ten weeks to flower. They produce just one stem so are definitely not a cut and come again flower. They often produce fancier flowers though and have a greater variety of colour. The biennial type of stock are sown in the Autumn, put on growth over winter and flower in early Spring. They form branched plants so you can pick them over a long period of time. Biennials are a great idea for the cut flower garden because they will flower earlier than any spring sown seeds. The variety I found (and there wasn’t a huge amount of choice) are hardy annuals. It seems that they’re a mix of singles and doubles as they advise to select light green seedlings for doubles and darker green ones for singles.

Ammi Majus

Ammi Majus is another flower that I’m really looking forward to. It’s a member of the carrot family so has a long tap root which doesn’t like to be disturbed when potting on. It’s white umbrels are very similar to cow parsley that froths and frolics in English hedgerows. It’s a filler plant and can be used with a huge variety of flowers to add bulk and a relaxed meadow feel. I much prefer natural looking bouquets and posies. They have  a sense of quirkiness and vitality that glossy imported perfect specimens lack.

Antirrhinum Princess White

Snapdragons or Antirrhinums are such charming flowers with their dreaming spires of individual blooms. You need to get the taller varieties for a good cut flower option. Garden centres prefer the bedding varieties but you can still buy seed for the taller varieties. I found three varieties; Princess white with purple eye, Snowflake and Brazillian Carnival. All grow to about 85-90 cm and will simply fizz with colour (Brazillian Carnical) or radiate peace and calm (Snowflake).

Briza Maxima

Briza Maxima is a grass that also goes by the name Quaking grass. The grass heads have a pearl lustre to their coats and they hang from gossamer thin stems which naturally tremble and shake in the breeze. I love the idea of adding this energy to a bouquet so I really hope they germinate. Apparently you need patience as they take their time.

The final cut flower in my Top 5 is Larkspur the smaller cousin of the delphinium. This seed requires stratification which means pop it in the fridge for a few weeks. It needs a cold spell to break it’s dormancy and germinate. These flowers benefit from pinching out the growing tip to produce a bushier plant.

It’s the first day of spring tomorrow! My favourite season of them all!

 

 

I’m going back to my roots….yeah

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Beetroot is such a hotly contested little root. Don’t be fooled by the vinegary pots of lurid purple slices to be found on the supermarket shelves. Beetroot has had a makeover recently and is now a vegetable in it’s own right; sometimes even the star of a dish rather than something to pop in a sandwich or on the side. It’s definitely worth growing your own beetroot because you can harvest it as a young little orb and you can also eat it’s baby leaves. Where can you buy fresh baby beetroot leaves for a salad? I don’t think you can. If you’re still not convinced perhaps I can temp you with a beetroot brownie recipe!

This is successional sowing post #2 and I’ll focus on beetroot and hopefully give you some Top Tips. It’s always best to sow beetroot in situ; that goes for all root vegetables. They don’t like disturbance and who can blame them since all the action is going on in the root. So, once your soil starts to warm up you can sow beetroot outside. If it’s still a bit cold start a box/bucket in the green house. You can really pack them in. As they mature you can harvest the tiny beets and leaves for salads which effectively thins your crop without wasting a single one. The beets left behind will have more room to expand and you can go back for them later.

The beetroot seed is a tough old nut. It actually has a naturally protective coating which can hinder germination. It’s advisable to soak your beetroot seed in water to dissolve this coating and hopefully improve germination rates. It doesn’t take a minute. Pop them in a bowl of water and by the time you’ve made your drills and popped some compost in you’re ready to rock.

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I sowed my beetroot a little too early so germination has been poor. If you close an eye and squint you might be able to see the 3 or 4 seedlings that have bravely soldiered on. I’ve added a few more seeds and fingers crossed the soil has warmed up a few degrees and I’ll be on my way to harvesting.

I know you are probably desperate to know how my Successional sowing Spreadsheet is working out. It’s working out really well!

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The back row are the second sowing that I made today.

There’s something about filling in the spreadsheet cells with sowing dates then germination dates and in a few weeks time harvest dates that appeals to the geek in me. It also makes me focus on other factors like which peas are easiest to germinate (Pea Blue Shelling and Snow Pea Goliath without a doubt)

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… and which ones are a struggle (Pea Alderman unfortunately as this came highly recommended to me).

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I was also unable to fill in the Eggplant and Sugar Snap Pea germination cells (shock horror!) because (wait for it….)  No Germination Occurred…….

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……not a sausage let alone a pea of an eggplant. Very disappointing. Golly Roll On Spring or this blog is in danger of becoming scarily Dull!! Photos of soil and little else do not a good blog make :-)

I’m even able to see what kind of germination percentage I’m getting (I’m not recording this but I could if I wanted to!). Anyway, care, patience, meticulous – they’re my new watch words…..

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Radish, broccolli, spinach, lettuce are all merrily germinating

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Here’s what I’m sowing in the second half of August

Pea Alderman Tall Climbing
Pea Blue Shelling
Dwarf Sugar Snap
Snow Pea Goliath
Beetroot Bull’s Blood
Broccolli Tender Stems
Broccolli Sprouting Summer Purple
Radish Pink Beauty
Eggplant Long Purple
Eggplant Purple Gem
Spinach Approach
Lettuce Lollo Bionda
Lettuce Little Gem
Rhubarb Cherry Red (I didn’t actually sow this in the first half so I’m sowing it now)
Peppermint
Oregano

Let’s see how this second sowing goes. I’m hoping it’s going to be a warm Spring so that I can plant my hardier seedlings outside because at this rate I’m going to run out of greenhouse space!

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Mind your Peas and Qs

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Self sufficiency post #1 and it’s all about the Peas really. I’ve always been quite successful with peas in the Spring. I start with the rush of enthusiasm experienced by many gardeners and sow trays and trays of peas. By the time these peas appear I remember to sow some more but then summer shimmies along and I get caught up with other tender greens seeking my attention and no more peas. So what’s the change for this year?

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This year, I’m sowing every two weeks from August till I get sick of peas (!) and I’m growing both dwarf and climbing varieties. I have Alderman Tall climbing, Snow Pea Goliath, Sugar Snap Dwarf and Blue Shelling.

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The reason for trying out the climbing varieties is that, unlike the dwarf varieties, the climbers will fruit, then grow a bit, then fruit, then grow a bit and finally give you a third lot of peas. Whereas the dwarf varieties give you one lot of peas and then shut up shop. The dwarfs really put the pressure on for successional sowing but the climbing peas allow a little room for error! I’ll try them both and see what happens.

Peas

You may have read about sowing peas in old bits of guttering? It does sound like a good idea. I tried it once. It wasn’t a good idea for me. You really need to be an octopus to pull this one off. Two hands to hold the guttering and two hands to gently slide the peas and soil into the ground. As I cautiously manoeuvred the guttering from the greenhouse to the pea bed I managed to knock down a willow obelisk, trip over the dog and lose a third of the peas that I’d painstakingly grown. Perhaps I’m just clumsy. Perhaps you don’t really need guttering to grow peas. I sow 6-8 peas in little plastic trays (2 trays per variety) with good seed compost. If there’s one thing that peas don’t like it’s over watering.

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You’ll know when you’ve done this because the pea seeds go mouldy.  You can see in the photo above some mouldy Alderman Tall Peas looking a bit worse for wear. It happens. Don’t be disheartened just grow a few extra peas to allow for casualties.

Sugar Snap peas

Here’s what I’m sowing in the first half of August.

Pea Alderman Tall Climbing
Pea Blue Shelling
Dwarf Sugar Snap
Snow Pea Goliath
Beetroot Bull’s Blood
Broccolli Tender Stems
Broccolli Sprouting Summer Purple
Radish Pink Beauty
Eggplant Long Purple
Eggplant Purple Gem
Spinach Approach
Lettuce Lollo Bionda
Lettuce Little Gem
Rhubarb Cherry Red

So when can I expect some food from this sowing session? Well, I’ll have some radish next month in September followed by spinach, baby beetroot and lettuce and of course peas in October! Eggplant will be a lovely surprise in February and rhubarb won’t be ready for 15 long months. It doesn’t seem much does it but if I continue sowing little and often through the year the menu will increase!