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Tuesday, 13 September 2016


So a friend of a friend was going on holiday for four weeks during August and was looking for someone to look after his smallholding whilst he was away. Somehow my name cropped up as an option and after a few phone calls I agreed. It was only fifteen minutes away and I had no plans to go anywhere, besides the kids would love it, feeding the cows and running around the fields.

The smallholding was thirty acres in total with twenty five of that being woodland and just five acres as pasture; perfect size for a novice like me to look after. There are three cows, one Highland and two Dexter that are really there to graze the hillside and act as conservation for the fauna that's found there.

Along with the cows were three beehives that were managed by a beekeeper that would visit every ten or so days. Although interested I left him too him to it rather than try and get involved at the risk of getting stung.

Each day we went up checked the cows water and made sure there was still enough grass in the field they were currently in. They always seemed so happy to see us and would come running down the field to the gate in the hope that we had some sort of treat in the form of food for them. Admittedly this did make me slightly worried that they were being under fed but on his return the owner assured me they are always like that and try to push their luck if they can.

Although we had a great time after four weeks of going out of the way I was rather glad to be back into the normal routine. We did stay up there a few times but with the chickens at home we would always have to be between the two which was bit of the pain.

Certainly something to aspire to in the future though, our first experience of having our own cows was definitely something that we would like to pursue further one day.

Monday, 12 September 2016

The Dreaded Blight

After moving house last year I ended up with three tomato plants which I planted in a big container out on the patio. Without much care or attention we enjoyed a good crop, a mix of varieties but all of them tasted great. This simplicity  restored my faith in growing tomatoes, having suffered blight in previous years I did briefly consider giving them a miss and putting the space to use for something else.

This year started off so promisingly, some Black Russian plants were given to me to add to the Gardeners delights that I had grown from seed myself. Of these the strongest twelve were planted out in grow bags along the back fence in the sunniest part of the garden. Come early July fruit was starting to set and I was beginning to think of all the things I could use them for in the kitchen.

However it wasn't to be. Due to the wet July within the space of a week what I was worried looked like blight on one plant soon engulfed all twelve and drastic action needed to be taken.

If like me you have suffered blight before you know there's no half measures. Any affected foliage needs to be taken away from the site and preferably burned to stop the spores from spreading further.

I do have a brilliant recipe for green tomato and fennel chutney which I was hoping not to make this year, instead I've got another pile of jars full of it. the best of a bad situation I suppose and it is particularly good.

For the past three weeks I have been looking after some cows for a friend who has been abroad on holiday. Not much required, topping up their water, moving them from field to field as the grass gets low, it's actually be a pleasure. By chance whilst showing me around he pointed to greenhouse full of tomatoes asking if could keep them watered and of course help myself to any that ripen while he's away. What a stroke of luck!

So I haven't gone without, just without my own.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Out with the old and in with the new

It's getting to that time when the majority of vegetables planted earlier in the year are now ready to harvest. Whilst successional planning is always key for us gardeners it can sometimes be quite daunting when you're left with a big open space in the middle of the growing season that was full of plants only yesterday

The broad beans have pretty much come to an end now, I probably went a bit over the top with them to be honest, I was getting bored of waiting and these are one of the earliest seeds that can be sown. I ended up with a lot more than I bargained for, although that's been no bad thing over the past couple of weeks with us regularly enjoying the harvests. I am now left with a gap in the veg patch which is only going to get bigger when the potatoes come out alongside it. They should be out by now having planted Red Duke of York as first earlies, however, we lifted a few plants a couple of weeks ago and thought that they would make better eating as maincrop potatoes due to their floury texture.

So what to fill the space with, the majority of seed packets will tell you to sow March - May? This year I had the forethought to sow some brassicas inside on the windowsill back at the beginning of June in the hope that they would slot straight in after the broad beans. My windowsills have been full since early February and show no sign of slowing down yet. Anyway it's not quite worked out the way I wanted. I sowed the seeds in peat free compost trying to be as organic and environmentally friendly as possible and it's just turned out to be very poor for root growth. Admittedly it wasn't a seed compost but at the time local choice was limited and I have, in the past, regularly used a standard multipurpose compost for sowing.

Although they're a little way behind where I wanted them to be I've decided that the best place for them is in the ground rather than potting on into something more suitable and giving it a few more weeks. As ever I have sown too many so the majority will be planted out with the rest staying as they are for back up, I may squeeze them in somewhere else in time.

With the weather not being too temperamental at the momnet they should establish quite quickly. I have sown Cavolo Nero kale which should be ready around October; Brussel sprouts for Christmas time, cabbage January King for the New Year and because of this year's success plenty of Purple sprouting broccoli.

There's still plenty of time to sow most things. This week I'll be sowing carrots, French beans, beetroot and some cima di rapa. Of course there are things that can be sown almost all year such as lettuce and spring onion. Time spent planting now will see you eating out of the garden right through Christmas and beyond.