Monthly Archives: August 2015

round and around…

We have 6 compost bays.  3 are at the end of the long vegetable patch and 3 close by the polytunnel.  Because of the heap size the compost making approach is a passive one – the heap is built up, covered over and then left to breakdown.

compost heapIt’s a lot of work to turn the large volume of material, so we don’t do it, (though strictly speaking it would be the lovely OH who would be out there with a fork).  Our heaps take about a year to convert to usable compost, hence the 3 bays – one with usable compost, one full bay breaking down and one being added to.  All our green waste; paper; cardboard plus some hay and the occasional feather pillow gets put into the mix.  In spite of this we don’t produce anywhere near enough to put back onto the soil.   Last year the council delivered over 10 tonnes of compost from their recycling centre.  Ideally we would like to add a good 2-3 inches to the soft fruit and vegetable growing areas at the start of each new growing year.    So we need all the extra help we can get.

A couple of weeks back we sowed winter tares, (Vicia sativa), on the section where the onions; garlic and shallots had been.

winter taresWinter tares are legumes and so are good at fixing nitrogen in the soil as well as adding bulky organic material. We haven’t had much luck with green manure germination in the past and so this time we did sow more thickly with more success. The intention is to leave the tares over winter and then rotovate them into the soil a month before the ground is needed.   We shall sow more green manure through September as areas are cleared of crops.

Another approach I’m keen to try is a hay mulch.  We have a number of bales which are several years old languishing in the dutch barn.

old hay balesOnce the squash area has been harvested we shall spread the hay over the remains of the squash plants and then cover with mypex.

squash patchIn the spring we can plant directly into the hay or spread a layer of compost and sow.

Ready to go again.







step forward tomato geek….

Hmm… I’m not one yet because I don’t have enough time but I can see how easy it is to become obsessed – just check out the cover of Jenny Linford’s book ‘The Tomato Basket’.  That bowl of tomatoes on the cover looks SO delicious and the mix would cost a fortune at the market/supermarket, but is so cheap to grow once you have tracked down the seed.

DSC_0688The other book is by Craig LeHoullier – who  is a COMPLETE tomato geek.  If you love tomatoes check these books out from the library.

DSC_0684Here at the holding the polytunnel is yielding a steady crop.    I started sowing tomatoes way back in January.  The first attempt was a total disaster and I had to re sow in February.   Of the varieties sown, Tigerella; Sungold; Minibel and Gardener’s Delight are early ripening varieties.  Tigerella, a yellow/red striped variety, is mildly pretty but the flavour isn’t great so I wouldn’t buy the seed again. I find that Sungold, Minibel and Gardener’s Delight have a far superior flavour so a tick in the box for sow again.  We found that cutting back on watering whilst the tomatoes ripen helps to concentrate their flavour.

Marmande and Harbinger are beginning to ripen and will be followed by Principe Borghese and San Marzano.   I have heard good things about the flavour of the variety ‘Black Krim’ so I’ll be on the look out for the seed for next year.  You can find quite a selection of online sellers who have significant catalogues of tomato varieties – for example, just check out the range at Nickys Nursery!

The small cherry tomatoes I’ll save for salads and if the glut becomes overwhelming – for sun dried tomato – the larger specimens of Gardener’s Delight and all of the Tigerella I will convert to tomato sauce and freeze.  The later varieties such as the beefsteaks are good for slicing; San Marzano and Principe for sauce.  As with all fruit and veg. – certain varieties are better suited to particular culinary uses.   I shall be checking out the seed companies’ lists. Off to find my inner geekiness…

Soon to be reading: Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier.



fruit salad…..

One of the best things about the smallholding in summer and early autumn is the bumper crops of fruit.  The harvest started with strawberries, and gooseberries; cherries; currants; blueberries and smatterings of mulberries.

DSC_0214currantredWe are starting to pick plums and greengages.

DSC_0639Waiting in the wings are fruits that need a little longer to ripen – melons; peaches and apricots.

DSC_0656DSC_0679DSC_0677Autumnal fruit will end the growing year with a flourish – cultivated blackberries; late raspberries; apples; pears; medlars and quinces.

DSC_0650Fruit is easy to grow and every garden or plot should have some!   Possibly the hardest part is making sure the choice harvest is protected from marauders.

Fresh fruit needs little embellishment.  Today – grilled apricots with honey and greek yoghurt.

DSC_0682Reading this week: Woodlands by Oliver Rackham








Prince Charles is planting a 1000 tree orchard of heritage top fruit varieties near Highgrove.  Well, I expect it’s actually the gardeners who will do the planting. The grafting for the new orchard was carried out by staff at Frank P Matthews and the scion wood came from Brogdale.  Still, next in line provided the land and the funding for the project so all’s good.

I visited Brogdale some years back and I’m glad to see that the charity seems to be on a safer footing with monies now also coming in from various events run throughout the year – sadly I won’t be able to attend the ‘Artisan Cider Festival’ running on the 29th-30th August; I hope it is a huge success.  However I’m off to visit Frank Matthews in September which is so very exciting!

Back in early February I did a bit of grafting myself.

applegraftetailThe technique used was ‘whip and tongue’.  This graft has a very good take success rate but it is also one of the most difficult to do really well.  My first attempts aren’t very good – the angled slices on the scion and rootstock should match  exactly but the grafts seem to have healed over so fingers crossed.  The rootstock is M116 which in vigour is similar to MM106 but is meant to have better resistance to Phytophora and woolly aphid.

applegraftI now have 5 new apple varieties, (Cat’s Head; Golden Noble; Adam’s Pearmain; Brown’s and Beauty of Bath), in a holding bed which I shall plant out in the new orchard next year.   Brown’s is an excellent sharp cider apple (1885);  Cat’s Head is a very old culinary variety (1600s) which makes a good puree; Beauty of Bath is a dual purpose apple which was popular in the late Victorian period; Golden Noble was introduced at the start of the 19th century and is a good juicing and culinary apple; Adam’s Pearmain is another popular Victorian variety – a dessert russet style apple.

Our orchard extent is only a 10th of that of the PoW but it is a significant holding of genetic diversity.   Pats on the back all round.




as I walked out one summer morning…..

…along with the OH as well.  We plumped for a 5 mile amble round our country side. The best stretches were the cool, green, dappled shade stroll alongside a canal, matching the pootling holiday barges in pace, and the sandy lane in full shimmering sunshine – shut off from any 21st century noise, the banks lined with gorse and a constant background crick crack sound of seed pods twisting open and flinging out their contents.

We picked up bread, cheese and a bottle of wine for supper; tomatoes and salad picked from the vegetable plot; the meal was rounded off with a bowl of greek yoghurt marbled with gooseberry and elderflower puree.

Tonight we shall set out our steamer chairs and watch the Perseid meteor shower.