Friday 14 December 2012

There's no need to be afraid....... (in the shed)

Thats right, its officially Christmas time and indeed, there is no need to be afraid - well, maybe a little.
I really really love Christmas, it had lost its charm a bit until Skye was born.  Then Eilidh came along and now with the girls at 6 and 5 there is no escaping the joy of it all.  It is true, it is for the kids.
Sometimes I find it all a little overwhelming though.  There is just so much to be getting on with and so much to spend on and so little time.  We have a big family Christmas at our house being "The people with the kids" and it is lovely but now and again I dissapear quietly.
Mrs M knows.  The kids know.  Even old Wullie next doors knows.  Davie is in the shed!

So what do you need for the ideal garden shed.  I'm not talking a store room to dump your rubbish in but a real shed to "work" in.

As a basic it has to be watertight and have a door that closes fully from the inside.

Ideally it should be near an electric supply or perhaps have an extention cable running to it.

Clearly as cover it must have a potting bench, sundry pots and gardening equipment.

Now the important stuff......

An armchair.  Thats right, your shed should really have an armchair.  Don't be bothering DFS for this (there is a sale on you know!).  Have a rake round any old junk shops, 2nd hand furniture shops or jumble sales.  I have a rather ancient but lovely Parker Knoll with wing sides which I paid the grand sum of £2.50 for.  It has a lovely old blanket over it which when required can be taken indoors and washed. It is soooooo comfy. I also have an alarm clock - thats how comfy it is!! 

A radio - get a fancy DAB if you want but again, I got my rather cool Pye radio  from a jumble sale.  50p well spent.  Shed rules.  No loud banging tunes.  There is a time and a place and the time in the shed is neither!  Please.  Radio 4 is fine - gardeners question time.  Radio Scotland is fine - Beechgrove potting shed.  Radio 5 live or general chat and sport programmes fine. 

A kettle or some means of heating water for a brew.  I have recently got a Kelly Kettle which is a great thing but the previous gas stove and whistling kettle is a versatile tool.  I also have a pan in the shed for boiling up the first new potatoes of the year - an old tradition - the first shaw  picked, boiled and eaten outside as nature intended with a generous serving of butter.  I also have a tea pot and a couple of mugs in case of guests - normally just old Wullie.

Sensible reading material.  Gardening magazines are of course great cover but I find the shed a great place for novel reading generally and a particularily great place for a long read of a Sunday paper.

So if you are ever at Martin Towers and I dissapear for an hour come down the bottom of the garden, thats where I'll be.  Enjoying a little solitude in this noisy happy house of ours!  Maybe you should get one!

A Truly wonderful shed* (and garden in fact)
*not mine!

 My great Kelly Kettle boiling away during the summer

Sunday 18 November 2012

Autumn Gardening - my, but its been a while!

Haven't blogged at all since ooooh, ages ago.  Sorry about that!

Its been a reasonable summer on the plot but the weather hasn't helped.

Successes this year have been garlic, root veg and surprisingly brussel sprouts.  Everything else has been OK.  Been a little too wet for great crops but you take the rough with the smooth..

some half decent carrots
The first new tatties of the year. Nom nom.
Garlic and onions all hung up to store.  Lovely.  :0)

The past few weeks have seen the real start of the autumn work in the garden.  Our fairly large 1/4 acre garden is surrounded on three sides by a nine foot high beech hedge.  As you can imagine that takes a bit of tidying up.  I try to wait until autumn to do this so as to give the birds a chance.  It saddens me to hear hedge trimmers going in the spring and summer when the hedges are full of nests with eggs and young chicks.  Next time you are tempted think about it - a hedge in need of a haircut isn't that bad a thing is it?

Don't burn all those lovely leafs either!  Gather them up and store them to turn into leaf mould.  If you haven't got room for a leaf mould box or a seperate composter then fill some bin bags with them, poke some holes in the bag with a fork and leave them hidden under some shrubs.  Given time and some good winter weather they will eventually turn into gorgeous crumbly leaf mould - quite simple the best thing for feeding plants in the spring.

Two big leaf mould boxes.

We also have a couple of internal ever green laurel hedges which need trimmed at this time.  Its not a good idea to compost ever greens so we shred them up and take them to the council to compost at higher tempratures than we can achieve and leave a few piled up in the "wild garden" for the hedgehogs to cosy under for their long snooze.

We dont do too drastic a tidy of our cottagy perenial borders either.  We cut back the stuff that will look truly soggy and rank but many of the big plants produce great seedheads that look glorious with frost on, give some shelter for ladybirds and quite frankly give some interest in the winter.  When people tear out all of their annuals and cut everything down in September in a mania of tidyness it really looks sad I think.  Leave the garden to be a garden and with a bit of a cut back in the spring, some mulching with lovely leaf mould and a little organic feed it'll be away again.  Embrace the scruffiness I say!

Before the dreaded winter dig in the veg plot I will need to buy a new digging fork.  My old faithful finally gave up the fight this year and the metal rotted through.  I've had that fork for over 20 years.  I was genuinely upset at its passing.  One new but used purchase (you know what I mean) was an old kelly kettle.  What a fabulous old thing for the shed.  No need to light the gas stove any more I can light some twigs in the kettle and have boiling water in no time lovely and has its own great rustic charm.

I'll be back to post more regularily now that things are slowing down.  Remember to take your time and enjoy the garden.  Even in the autumn there is plenty going on!

Ahhhh, old friend.  :0(

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Bloody Weather!

Been a bit weird lately eh?

Last week here in the garden in Dumfries it was 19c and lovely and sunny.  Spectacular spring weather.  Has been for a couple of weeks.

Of course for the garden this brings its own problems.  The young seedlings (of which there are loads) in the greenhouse were literally cooking.  At one point it was 50c inside despite having fully open vents etc.  This meant moving plants in and out to keep them cool - in late March!!! Saved a fortune in heating although it was still cool at night.  No rain for the newly planted onion sets and seeds in the garden.  No rain, for 2 weeks in Dumfries in March???

The perenials have been booming away with loads of new buds and the younger ones have been needing a drop of water

And then almost overnight.....

Freezing cold, howling gales and lashing rain. 

We shouldn't be surprised really.  It is just April!  If we are finding it a shock imagine how the plants are taking it.  They can't throw their coats back on!

2 weeks ago in the local garden centre there were people buying loads of lovely tender bedding plants.  Reminded me of a friend who used to own a successful garden centre.  He told me once that they purposely grew on loads of bedding plants in heated green houses getting them ready for some early spring sun.  They then got them on the shelves asap without hardening them off.  People got summer in their heads, bought loads and got them planted while the sun shone.  Then my friend would hope for a sharp cold spell - like now.  The poor plants of course would die in the cold and a few weeks later he would sell the people more plants, this time hardened off! Kerching!!

I appreciate thats a bugger of a trick but who's to blame?  Don't plant tender plants out when there is still a chance of cold.  Fools rush in.  Its a long time until the cold is past up this end of the country!

Stay warm out there!!

Sunday 25 March 2012

Onions and bags of tatties

Not withstanding the dreaded man flu I got a bit of gardening done yesterday. 

With the "help" of the kids we sowed 4 rows of white onions and two rows of red onions.  I always sow sets since I've had little success in the past with seeds but hey give seeds a go if you fancy.  The sets are just the standard ones you see in decent garden centres but I resist buying the pre-packed ones and just bag up as many as I need into the paperbags provided.  That way you can pick your own lovely firm fat sets.

As a rule I try and buy onion sets that have been "heat treated".  This helps to prevent "bolting".  Basically, in really hot summers the onion gives up trying to swell and forces up a pretty flower spike with a globe flower on the top.  Looks lovely but you don't get any onion.  By heat treating I understand this can be prevented.  I don't know if its right or not but I always have more trouble with red onions bolting in my garden.  You can try shading them and stuff but I think if they are going to do it then they will do it anyway.

We also sowed a short row of spring or salad onions. (these were seeds).  I notice these are now sometimes  being called scallions on TV cooking shows.   I imagine they charge more for scallions.  Mrs M's Grandad calls them green-tails but then he is a very literal Father Jack type character.  He probably calls sprouts "Green balls" like Eilidh does! I sowed short rows of these because I'll sow some more in about 2/3 weeks.  This is called successional sowing and basically means I won't end up with too many spring onions all at once.  The reason for sowing these now is that there is nothing finer with new potatos and as you'll read below I stuck some of those in yesterday too.

Despite having plenty of space I grow my new tatties in bags.  This leaves more room for other crops (including maincrop potatoes), which, because I can plant up bags all over the place in turn allows me more of the delicous new baby spuds when they are at their most expensive in the shops AND I think they are so delicate and fine skinned that they genuinely perform better in bags.  Great news if you have limited space!  My sister grows them on her patio, my youngests nursery has them in their garden.  It really is a simple and lovely way to grow what is a hugely expensive early season crop.   If you've ever seen the tiny bags of first Jersey Royals hitting the supermarket shelves you'll know how expensive they are.  Well these are cheap as chips AND taste miles better! 

Tattie sacks ready for action

Get your strong waste bags, shopping bags, bin bags, specialist tattie bags, pots etc and lob about 20 or so cm of multipurpose compost into them.  Then, as below, stick 4 seed tatties in each bag - eyes pointing upwards.  (The bags need a couple of drainage holes btw)

Awww, look at them all full of life and ready to FEED ME!

Cover these bad boys with about 20/25 cm of multipurpose and water well.  By water well I mean until the water literally pours out the bottom.  Spuds like water!

Dinnae skimp on this bit!

And now we just wait.  In time the potatoes will poke their little shoots up looking for light.  Once these have grown to 10cm above the compost lob some more compost in and cover them up.  Water them regularily and keep covering the shoots up as and when they grow.  Eventually they will reach the top of your bag and then just fil lit right to the top with compost and let them grow on.  Remember to keep watering though, even when its pouring down not much rain will run down into your bag so water well.  Got that?  Water!  Then, for new tatties, a few days after they flower cut the shaws (tops) off and go explore.  Have a poke around in your bag (oooh matron) and feel the little beauties or be impatient and do as I do and tip the bloody lot out!!  You'll be surprised how many potatoes you have and they will be lovely little things untouched by worms, rocks or slugs. Awwww, gorgeous. 
We have a long standing tradition in our family.  The first tatties of the season are taken within minutes of being discovered to the garden tap, washed and flung in a pan of water on a camping stove to be eaten on their own, al fresco in the garden with some real butter and maybe some freshly picked and chopped spring onions and perhaps home made bread.  This for me, is luxury food at its best!  Makes me happy just thinking about it.

So go on then.  Get some seed tatties and some compost.  Chuck them in a bag and I guarantee they will be the best tatties you'll have tasted.  Eat them al fresco straight from the bag and a little bit of heaven shall be yours!

Just don't skip the watering eh?!?

Happy gardening.



Monday 19 March 2012

Frugle Gardener Tip - be properly tight!

I was out at our local garden centre here in Dumfries on Saturday.  Its just been extended again and is now officially pretty massive.  It has always been really good too, and I have got to know one or two of the staff there over the years and most of them are actually gardeners.  (You'd be surprised how many aren't in some places - just ask a tricky question).  Its a lovely place for a wonder round, the kids love all the toys and books, Mrs M likes the lovely flowers and gets ideas for different plants and I can browse exotic veggie seeds to my hearts content.  I tell you what though, its not half getting an expensive place to shop!  Thats not a criticism of this garden centre, I imagine its comparably priced but generally the sector is getting really pricey in direct correlation to gardenings growing popularity!  Funny that!

I'm a proud Scot and with that comes a love of being, shall we say, a bit tight!  I enjoy saving money, I can't explain it, its a cultural thing!  When we were there there were people loading up baskets and trolleys with lovely lush looking plants, buying packets and packets of seeds and countless specialist tools.

Do you want to know the secrets of not spending a fortune in the garden centre?  Make friends with your neighbours, always carry a pair of secateurs and some freezer bags with you and gather seed where you can!

I know, neigbours can be a pain.  I'm lucky here, my neighbour Wullie is 176 years old, a lovely man and knows stuff about gardens.  Know your neighbours and you can take divisions of their perennial plants from them as they will from you.  You will be able to see what grows well in their garden and will therefore (probably) be alright in yours.  If you grow too many tomato plants they will probably have something to swap with them.  Same with relatives and work mates!  Take advantage.  Once you become "a gardener" you become part of a secret all knowing and very friendly society!

At one time I would have suggested carrying a sharp knife but that can land you in all sorts of legal horrors these days.  Carry secateurs though when out walking the dog or to the pub or to visit friends and suddenly every plant is a source of lovely fresh wood cuttings!  Especially in the next few months.  Nip a little of that lovely flowering thing of neatly, stash it in your bag.  Pop it in some moist compost with the bag over the top for a few weeks on a windowsill and old Mumma Nature might just bless you with some rooting.  And there you go - a free plant!!  Ok it won't be in the scale of some of the beauts that sell for £25 in the garden centre for a few years but who's rushing??  Mrs M also is a big one for doing this with the odd (very odd) bunch of flowers she gets bought.  Below is what transpired from the supermarket bunch of carnations she got yesterday for mothers day....

Baby Carnations - for free!

Gathering seeds sounds almost mystical but in fact its very easy and once you get the plants growing and then grow some more from their seeds it really does become extremely rewarding.  I still grow certain tomatoes from seed which Wullie the neighbour grew first 30 years ago - thats a lot of generations from one seed packet!!  You can get your seeds from flowers, some veg, many many plants.  Most will need dried off slowly and stored but with a bit of luck on your side, some moist compost and a bit of TLC the world of free plants will be yours young Jedi!

Until next time, Happy gardening!  Don't spend it all at once!

Wednesday 29 February 2012

I plough the plot and scatter.......

Just  a quick word about ground preparation.  Sadly and as with most things in life doing the boring mundane things well leads to long time joy and satisfaction.

If you haven't yet there is still time to give your garden a good dig.  (More on ways of digging in a later post),  Just turn the soil over and remove as many stones as you can.  Do it now!!  I normally pay the Junior Gardener and the Under Gardener in smarties for doing this for me.  This part does really pay dividends.  I always wonder where the heck  all the stones come from because no matter how many I dig out this year there will be more next.  Even worse if you live in a modern or new build house this is when you find out where the builders dumped all the brick rubble I'm afraid.  I helped a friend set up a new plot last year and the bricks we dug out went towards a fairly substantial wall!

The junior gardener looking for more stones

Anyway, once you have dug it over then its time to dig in some "organic material".  We produce and use masses of compost over the year and this is where it goes mostly.  I'll talk about composting sometime but thats a whole subject on its own.  If you don't have any compost you can of course buy some in in great big bags or sometime get it from your council.  If your plot is fresh you might also want to apply some manure to it.  I love a bit of shit in the garden me!  If you are digging dung in please please please make sure it is well rotted down, I get a delivery every year and it gets dumped in a dark corner of the garden for a year to rot down before use.  Also.  And this is getting more important.  Know your source.  There have been many reported cases where dung applied to a garden has actually made the garden almost infertile due to the amount of pesticides used on the farm and passed through the animal.  Disaster!  Ask the farmer or ideally get it from an organic source if you can.  My prefered shit of choice is horse but cow will do and the creme de la creme is chicken shit. It is so full on with nitrogen though it really needs proper rotting - and a whole stack of chickens!!

Fairly well dug.  (Note the surface coating of shit!)

Anyway, once you've done all this, taken paracetamol and paid the chiropractors bill its time for yet more soil prep!  Rake your soil to what the garden books call a "fine tilth".  This means get as many stones out and make it as smooth as you can be bothered with in my book.

When this is finished, on a normal cold winter I'd cover the soil with a bit of polythene to help warm it up for planting in.  I don't think you'll need to bother this year it's so warm.  It's still a bit too early for planting anything much in the ground up here so now its time to kick your wellies off, pour a cup of tea and plan what you want to grow..........

More soon!  Happy digging!

Monday 27 February 2012

Go on then, lets talk gardening!!

I've been a right grumpy old bugger lately. (Sorry about that).  In fact the only thing that has made me truly happy recently is the kids and pottering in the garden. Last night a few good and trusted twitter friends suggested I write about gardening - so here we go.

Before I start writing all about it I'll tell you a bit about our plot. 

Luckily for a house in the town we have just under 1/4 of an acre of south facing garden which believe me is plenty.  It has the usual lawn and borders with some really lovely touches.  It is what estate agents refer to as mature established gardens.  In no way can I claim the credit for building this garden.  It was what contributed to selling us this house 5 years ago and I am thankful to the last 100 or so years of owners who have looked after it so well.  I hope I leave it as nice when I get carried out many years from now in my box! 

So, the garden!!  Heres the highlights.  It has an area we have christened "The secret Garden" which is a hidden away area with some lovely herbacious borders, a nice little pond, an old sundial and a lovely old sandstone patio.  This is our child-free part of the garden where us grown ups can sit, enjoy the fire in the chiminea and a glass of wine while the sun sets. 

The main part is mainly lawn with borders and some really beautiful trees and shrubs.  Its great for playing football on, for learning to ride bikes, for having a paddling pool in and for lazing on a summers day (remember them?). As well as a couple of massive fir trees, a pretty birch and a rowan we have a full size cherry, a plumb tree and a really old but productive big apple tree which much to the dissapointment of the kids produces masses of fantastic cooking apples.

Great for playing on.  An arse to cut!

Then we come to the part that I will mostly write about, my domain - the kitchen garden. 

Our permanent fruit bushes are: blackcurrants, red currants, white currants, gooseberries, blueberries, raspberries (red and gold), rhubarb and a strawberry patch.

Also within the kitchen garden of course is the veg patch.  What is in this varies depending on the fads of the time. We also grow some of our veg in bags or pots.  As standard however every year we always grow - potatoes (main crop and early), carrots, onions (red and white), garlic (yes, in Scotland!!), lettuce (various varieties), spring onions, peas, beans, leeks, brussel sprouts, squash and normally a pumpkin for halloween.  Apart from that we do whatever takes our fancy.  This year that means purple sprouting broccolli - so delicious but so expensive to buy and maybe cauliflowers if I can find a way to keep the caterpillars off!

Then there is the greenhouse.  This is used to start my veg and Mrs M's flower seeds nice and early (miles, miles cheaper than buying plants), over wintering some pots, growing some really early potatoes in, growing new potatoes for Christmas (yes you can do that) and of course in the summer growing our hot crops - Cucumbers, peppers, chillies, aubergine and of course Tomatoes.  I LOVE tomatoes.  Not the crappy tasteless, chilled to death supermarket ones.  Wait until you have grown your own italians or cherry tomatoes or lovely old UK varieties.  Honestly, there is nothing finer!!

Ready for the big sowing, nice spring day.

I'll be blogging over the next few weeks and months with some tips to get you started, the story of how we are getting on, our successes and failures with some hopefully nice photographs and fun tales from our garden.

As I get going if you have any questions please just fire in and ask on here or on twitter (@daviemartin).  Now I've started I'm excited about writing this.

To those of you who suggested I do this thanks for the tip.  It has already really fired me up.

Thanks for reading.  Watch this space!!!

Best to just drink coffee on days like this