Monday 31 August 2009

Good Work Garden Dad

Garden Dad has been working very hard all day tidying the garage. At the beginning of the year the garage was filled to the rafters with junk, toys, tools, cardboard, bits of old carpet, furniture and half finished painting projects. Before we started planting back in April Garden Dad had a massive clear out, followed by numerours trips to the tip. For a short while we could find the garden tools and the garage was tidy.

Over the course of spring and summer however, as our energies have been channelled outside, the garage had steadily started to resemble its former state of mess. So, striking up the radio, Garden Dad spent the day tackling the tip until once again there is room to stand in the garage. This time however Garden Dad has put nails in the wall to hang garden tools on and he has attached things to the ceiling to keep them off the floor. He also pledged to complete the unfinished paint jobs in the coming weeks and there was a look of determination in his eyes that suggested this might actually happen.

A Bank Holiday well spent Garden Dad. Thanks for your hard work.

Sunday 30 August 2009

Heartwood Forest

Yesterday we spent a fabulous day at Heartwood Forest. The forest doesn't actually exist yet but planting of the 350,000 hectares of land bought by the Woodland Trust begins this autumn and the forest, when completed, will be England's largest new native wood. The Woodland Trust are recruiting volunteers to help plant the 600,000 trees which I am very much looking forward to becoming involved in. Imagine in 50 years time being able to tell my grandchildren that I had a direct part in creating England's largest native woodland.

This weekend however, was about raising awareness for the project and inspiring people to become a part of it. The Woodland Trust had put together a brilliant range of activities aimed at children, from willow crafts, to tree plaques, butterfly masks to baskets. We were able to watch a wood turner at work and sculptures and artwork being created from willow, grass and wood. Garden Girl decorated a beautiful butterfly mask while Garden Boy created a colourful picture with marker pens and glitter.

Garden Mum and Friend showed Garden Girl how to plait willow, curling it up at the end to make a snail that will find a home in our garden and Garden Girl carefully placed berries, stones and leaves on a tree plaque to make an image of Garden Dad. Both our Little Garden Helpers contributed to the large picture of a flower field by colouring in and drawing butterflies, bees and flowers of their own. Garden Girl left her wishes to the forest, written on paper leaves, that 'the forest will become home to lots of elves' and  that ' the shiny stars will shine down bright on the forest'.

We did as much craft in one day as we usually complete in one week, enjoyed the fresh air and nibbled on blackberries which we picked on the walk back to the car. A wonderful day out and a wonderful project.

Friday 28 August 2009

Jerusalem Artichoke Update

Despite having left our Jerusalem Artichokes to become pot bound for many months I am very pleased to be able to report that a month or so after planting them out they are flourishing in their new home. Having been treated so badly early in the season, the excellent growth they have shown proves they really are easy to grow and will do well in the shadiest part of the garden. If you are looking for something that requires little work and will fill a space in a shady spot I would recommend that you give these plants a go. 

Thursday 27 August 2009

Shallots of Little Onions

At the weekend we pulled up all our onions and shallots. The leaves had all drooped and started to turn yellow. Garden Girl and I heaved them out of the ground, with squeals of excitement from Garden Girl whenever one of them turned out to be red. Garden Boy meanwhile went backwards and forwards carrying them from the raised bed to the tray I had left on the lawn. We were a well oiled machine and the task was completed in no time.

I then plaited together the onion leaves so we could hang the onions up to dry. Garden Girl watched this with considerable interest having had a young girl from a nearby tent plait her hair while we were camping. She announced that the onions looked very pretty, just like her, and then joined me in separating the shallot bulbs.

Garden Boy, having enjoyed carrying things backwards and forwards, continued his task with businesslike determination only this time he was depositing shallots in secret hiding places all around the garden.Garden Girl and I adopted to play chase there and then, rather treasure hunt later and eventually, but with more exercise than I had anticipated, the onions and shallots were ready for drying.

I was really pleased with the shallot crop and I will definitely be growing more next year. I am not quite as convinced by the onions. A few grew to be about the size of a medium onion but most were quite small and as they started out from sets rather then seeds, this was a little bit disappointing. We also lost a few onions early in the season when the hot weather caused them to bolt. Maybe we could try another variety or else just use the extra space for more shallots.  Can anyone recommend an easy to grow onion variety?

Wednesday 26 August 2009

We're Eating Vegetables for Dinner

While I was preparing the salmon for tonight's dinner I left Garden Girl on the phone with Grandma North. After the initial greetings, Garden Girl decided that the best form of communication was via the medium of song. Every reply was delivered in the form of her own words, sung to the tune of  'Daddy's taking us to the zoo tomorrow' and these are two of the verses that drifted my way;

We're eating vegetables for dinner, vegetables for dinner, vegetables for dinner
We're eating vegetables for dinner and I'm going to eat them all up.

We're going to pick some marrows, pick some marrows, pick some marrows
We're going to pick up some marrows and eat them all up.

Proof, in my ears, that growing our own has truly benefited Garden Girl's appreciation of vegetables. She doesn't always eat them all up but she certainly has much more interest in vegetables and enjoys a much wider variety of vegetables. Success.

Tuesday 25 August 2009

Beetroot Boredom

We have a surplus of beetroot in our garden. I am the only one in the house who will eat it. Garden Dad, Garden Girl and Garden Boy all refuse. I suppose I should be grateful that they have at least chosen a messy, staining vegetable to dislike. It will save me some washing. But it does leave me with the problem of what to do with the surplus beetroot.

I love beetroot which is why we went ahead and planted it regardless of Garden Dad's screwed up nose at the suggestion, but I must confess that I am tiring of having boiled beetroot on the side with every meal.

So far I have roasted it and boiled it but I lack further inspiration. Any ideas?

I am hoping that a delicious recipe incorporating beetroot will encourage the others to eat it as I would like to have a good argument for growing it again next year. The green leaves tinged with purple look lovely in the garden. So please join my campaign for growing beetroot and send your best beetroot recipes.

Monday 24 August 2009

Grow Organic

While I was enjoying the calm and relaxation of evenings at our Norfolk campsite I browsed 'Grow Organic', a book I was asked to review for the Dorling and Kindersley website, but which was good enough to warrant a mention here too.

The book, as its title suggests, is an informative and practical guide to growing organically. Often organic gardening is linked to vegetable growing and whilst there was an interesting section about vegetables, the book also looks in detail at organic growing methods for woody plants, herbaceous plants, herbs, fruit and growing to attract wildlife. But the real strength of this book are the practical chapters which detail how to dig, how to water and how to weed, as well as good tips on composting and wormery techniques. There is also a very useful useful section about how to control garden pests organically.

It is a focused book, easy to read, with really practical information and lovely photos. I would recommend it to new gardeners as well as more experienced gardeners looking to grow organically.

Details of the book can be found on the Dorling and Kindersley website. Do take a look.

Sunday 23 August 2009

We Are Back!

We are back from a lovely week in Norfolk. There will be more about that later in the week when I have dug myself out from underneath a huge pile of washing. With hot, sunny weather all week our Little Garden Helpers, along with Garden Mum and Dad, delighted in the outdoors life and the accompanying sand, water, mud and grass stains. Whilst Fairy non-bio is great for the stains it just hasn't got the technology yet to complete the numerous loads of washing in a quarter of the time or to hang it all out for me.

The pile is a little lower after todays mammoth washing session but there is more to go as I allowed myself a reprieve to enjoy some of the sunshine and take a look at the garden. Zooarchaeologist and Daddacool have done a great job keeping it watered and there was a surprise Green Hokkaido Squash waiting for us. I thought these had all failed to fruit, but there it was, bold as brass and looking quite healthy, having masqueraded as a marrow plant for the last few months.

One bed of peas is flourishing, with healthy looking pods, while the other bed seems to have shrivelled under the sun but the tomatoes are still going strong and there were carrots, beetroot and onions for dinner. After a week of sausages and smash it was pure pleasure to eat homegrown vegetables once more and I look forward to tomorrows harvest.

Friday 21 August 2009

What I Did With the Vegetables; Recipe for Stuffed Marrow

With Garden Mum and Dad away, we have been busy watering the garden. In the dark in hubby's case. However, being this helpful has come at huge personal cost to us. We have been forced to eat reasonably healthily this week. It's all Garden Mums fault, as I knew that she would tell me off if I let all that produce go to waste. Its been great actually, I've been more inventive with my cookery than I have been in a long while. Here I present an easy little dish which used up lots of random garden produce. Unfortunately, I cant present an image as the food was wolfed down the minute it touched the table!

Stuffed Marrow with Roasted Beetroot
Please read through and decide how you want to tackle the cooking times!

  • Peel the marrow and remove all the seeds from the middle. Chop it into 4 quarters and drop it into boiling water until it softens.
  • Peel the beetroot, chop it up and put it into boiling water. Cook till it softens.
  • Chop up and cook your runner beans
  • Cook up some wholegrain rice
  • Chop up and roast some peppers with some olive oil and garlic. This usually takes about 10 minutes
  • Once the rice is cooked mix this with some Parmesan, the peppers, some herbs and the runner beans
  • Place the rice mixture into the hollowed out marrow and sprinkle some grated cheddar on the top
  • Put all the stuffed marrows and the beetroot into a large roasting tin, Sprinkle with olive oil
  • Cook in the oven for about 10 minutes at 200 centigrade or until the cheddar has gone nice and crispy.
  • Arrange nicely on plate with your tomatoes and a few slices of cucumber.

Thursday 20 August 2009

Water water everywhere...

...and all the boards did shrink! (Ryme of the Ancient Mariner, bit of culture for you all!).

Hello, this is Daddacool guest blogging using Beingamummys login credentials. If you can follow that, well done!

I'm not the worlds most organised person (ha!), so when the invitation came from my brother to pop round to his place in Welwyn Garden City and watch Arsenal thrash Celtic on Tuesday night, I decided to take the opportunity without really thinking through the consequences. That was a bit of a mistake because the window of leaving work and having to leave to get to my brothers was fairly small and had a fair amount of things to be done in it. For starters there was the 2 mile walk home, the cooling down from the walk home, a bit of child wrangling, the eating of (a lovely wifey prepared) dinner, bathing of a child who decided smearing dinner all over her chops was as much fun as eating it, moving some potential death trap bricks from the swing area and putting the nippers to bed.

Additionally, wifey had decided to chop down our holly bush which was menacing the patio window, so I had to don the gardening gloves and pop all of this in the green bin, as this involves daring the garage of doom which isn't practical with a toddler in tow. What it meant was I didn't have the chance to water the plants before I rushed off to watch the footy.

With two youngsters who are up half the night playing merry havoc (mostly it must be said, with wifey's sleep), I'm not out after dark much in the summer so it was a bit of surprise when I got home and it was dark. And of course the plants needed watering.

Don't ask me why I didn't turn any lights on, everybody was sound asleep and it seemed like a good idea at the time, but I decided to water the courgettes, tomatoes, fruit trees, rhubarb and the rest in the pitch dark. I guess I'll never be sure whether the plants or my sandalled feet got the better watering but all I know for sure is next time, I'll miss the first ten minutes of the football and do it properly.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday 15 August 2009

Strawberries, Dinosaurs and a New Word

Earlier in the week, despite the drizzle, my Little Garden Helpers and I headed outdoors to plant up the strawberry bed we had started to dig at the weekend. After recovering from his 'home brew virus' Garden Dad had dug the other half of the bed and broken up the soil as best he could. Then he handed over the project and left the planting in the capable hands of Garden Girl and Garden Boy.
They dug with trowels and hands, they tested the quality of the soil by throwing it over themselves, they filled holes with compost and water and mixed it up well with their hands. They carefully placed the plants in the muddy mixture, making sure to eat any strawberries on the plants before they went in. Then feeling satisfied with a job well done they embarked on a dinosaur hunt amongst the raised beds.
Finally, feeling tired and hungry after all their great adventures with swooping pterodactyls and roaring Tyrannosaurus Rex's they helped themselves to some juicy red tomatoes and a few not so juicy green ones. Garden Boy received a quick lesson from Garden Girl - 'No Garden Boy. Not the green ones. If you eat those you will be ill. Eat the red ones. Like this one. No. That one is mine. Pick your own. No Garden Boy. The red ones. Yes thats right. Mummy, Garden Boy picked a red one. Isn't he clever?.'

I gave Garden Boy a deserved 'well done' and in response he pointed to a red tomato and said 'yum yum' then pointed to a green one and said 'green', then he picked and ate the red one. I was so proud of his new word and understanding of colours I jumped around until I was accused of acting like a kangaroo. But it goes to show just how much a toddler can learn in the garden.

Friday 14 August 2009

I wonder...

A little while ago I was reading 'The Summer Book' by Tove Jansson which tells of the relationship between 6 year old Sophia and her Grandmother. They spend their summer on a tiny island off the coast of Finland where the native plant life made up the garden vegetation. But one summer Sophia's father orders some seeds from Holland. He boats in some soil to replace the turf that covers the island and sets about planting a beautiful array of plants around the house.

Without the new soil the plants would have died, but more than that, the plants needed lots of water. Sophia's father developed an irrigation system with which to keep these non-native plants alive and in doing so he pulled vital resources away from the indigeonous plants. 'The island's own turf dried out and turned up its edges like slices of old sausage, several spruces died...'

Eventually, the rain came and the island turf was able to establish new growth but it had been a close call. The whole passage just got me thinking about our own gardening history. It has long been an accepted practice to import plants from other regions of the country and, of course, other countries. We 'artificially' assist the growth of plants by changing soil type, giving extra water, providing extra heat in greenhouses and feeding plants. No doubt many plants have been saved from extinction through these methods, but I wonder how many local plant species have been lost over the course of history due to the introduction of new species. And I wonder what I would be growing in my own garden if 'foreign' plants had never been introduced.

This sounds like a research project for later in the year when the vegetables in my garden require less care. I wonder what discoveries I will make.

Thursday 13 August 2009

Goblin Mischief

A few weeks ago the naughty goblins stole a rainbow and all the colour was drained from Noddy's Toy Town. I fear that those naughty goblins have been causing similar mischief in our garden. Here is a picture of the carrots I pulled up a couple days ago.

If the goblins are not to blame, does anyone know what can have happened to the carrot on the top?

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Digging, Catching Bees and Playing on the Slide

Garden Dad is now recovered and everyone else stayed illness free so we are assuming it must have been something he ate. The only thing I can think Garden Dad had that we didn't was some of his home brew. The suggestion that Garden Dad's home brew might have made him ill didn't go down too well but he made it a long time ago and I can only presume it doesn't keep as long as shop bought beer. I think it is time he made a new batch.

So on Saturday, while Garden Dad read books and slept, our Little Garden Helpers and myself harvested some vegetables and pulled up some huge weeds outside the greenhouse. Then we set to work clearing away the turf and weeds between the greenhouse and runner beans to make our strawberry bed. The potted strawberries have been sending off runners which have been rooting onto the grass but we do want to save them as we intend to have lots of strawberry plants. Before we risk losing them we need to get their bed ready for them.

It was slow going because Garden Boy was using the soil to make mud showers. Then, when he was 'clean' enough he decided to play a new game - Grab the bee. Standing in front of the lavender he would try to catch the many bees as they flew past him. I tried to distract him with the slide which eventually worked, at least until Garden Girl decided to join in. Garden Boy wasn't fast enough for Garden Girl and Garden Girl barged in front of Garden Boy a few too many times. So then I spent half an hour supervising slide turn taking.

By the end of the day half the bed was dug and the rhubarb which hadn't been doing too well on the sunny side of the garden was relocated to the shady side. The rest is still to dig because we were visiting friends on Sunday and I took our Little Helpers to the zoo yesterday. All the animals we saw were feasting on cabbages and carrots. I wonder what size vegetable plot would be needed to keep the zoo animals fed all year? Imagine the work!

Friday 7 August 2009

Tweaking the Plan

Last weekend when we arrived back from Uncle M and Auntie H's wedding we had just half a day to get working in the garden but we achieved a lot. Garden Girl helped me pull up big weeds. She dug very carefully to pull up, not just the leaves, but the roots as well. She stalwartly carried on with her task till she had pulled up all the weeds she could see, checking with me that she wasn't removing anything edible. Garden Boy, meanwhile 'helped' Garden Dad build a frame for the netting Grandad South gave us for the peas. He delighted in helping untangle the net and stretching it flat, trying his utmost to get caught in it. Cue, Garden Mum and Garden Boy making a cup of tea.

Then it was time for a stroll around the garden to harvest the large quantities of tomatoes, runner beans, courgettes and marrows that had appeared over the weekend. We just can't eat it all fast enough so the plan for tomorrow had been for Garden Dad and our Little Helpers to get outdoors and keep things ticking over in the garden while I became the perfect housewife just for a day, cooking up a feast in the kitchen. And then the sickness came.

Garden Dad has spent the day in bed, so is unlikely to be a sprightly gardener in the morning and nor is he likely to tuck into a feast when all he could manage today was a bite of toast and a tiny portion of tomato soup. Though perhaps a vegetable soup will be just what he needs and that can be prepared quite quickly so our Garden Helpers and I can get outside bright and early. Fingers crossed we don't catch Garden Dad's lurgy.

Thursday 6 August 2009

Beautiful Butterflies

A few days ago I counted 17 Cabbage White butterflies in our garden at the same time. It was very pretty as they were all fluttering in much the same spot; Just above the cabbages. We also have a couple of Red Admiral's which like to come up to the windows and rest while we look closely at their beautiful wings. But yesterday a new breed of butterfly we have never seen before landed on our courgette plant and gaily posed for a photograph.

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Sunflower Competition

You may remember that back in April our Little Garden Helpers and their Friend planted some sunflower seeds. There was to be a competition to see who could grow the biggest sunflower and it is time to report back on the progress.

While Garden Friend's sunflower grew tall and flowered earlier in the month, I (and I hang my head in shame) allowed the Black Fly to decimate our Little Garden Helpers sunflowers to the point of what I thought was total destruction. Before we went on holiday it seemed that our Little Garden Helpers sunflowers would grow no taller than Garden Boy and would never flower.

I almost threw the wretched stems in the green bin but somehow never quite got around to it, so it was a great surprise when we returned from Uncle M's wedding this weekend to find a beautiful sunflower welcoming us home. Only one of them has flowered but Garden Girl was proud of her efforts. Garden Boy, presumably reminiscing about the day the seeds were planted, tried to dig it up, but I like to think that he too was impressed.

So who do we declare the winner?

Through gritted teeth but in the spirit of fairness I suppose we should give the sunflower growing award to Garden Friend whose sunflower never became a feast for the black fly and who in actual fact was the one caring for our own sunflower in the weeks prior to flowering and indeed when it flowered. I can't help but admit that he might well have contributed to the last minute appearance of our beauty.

So congratulations Garden Friend, but beware... we will not lose twice. Next year the win will be ours.

Sunday 2 August 2009

Whose Garden?

Garden Girl has really taken ownership of our vegetable plot. This weekend we stayed with Garden Dad's parents for Uncle M and Auntie H's wedding. We took a box full of homegrown veggies with us; carrots, spring onions, courgettes and marrows, beetroot, runner beans, cucumbers and tomatoes. Grandma South congratulated me on my growing success, much to the indignation of Garden Girl. 'And me. And me. I helped. I grew them too.' She was clearly very proud of her acheivements and rightly so as she has worked hard all year.

But she wasn't quite willing to accept that Garden Boy deserved praise for his efforts, claiming that he just played with the soil. But we reminded her that he has learned to sow seeds by watching her hard work. 'Yes' she nodded thoughtfully, definitely proud of her teaching acheivements and possibly proud of her little brothers ability to learn.

The garden obviously occupies Garden Girl's mind even when we are away. One evening while we were camping in North Yorkshire a conversation before bed revealed her concern for the vegetables she had left behind.

Garden Girl; Why do we have to go to bed?'
Me; Because the sun goes to bed to let the moon come out.
Garden Girl; And will it cloud over so the rain can come?
Me; It might do.
Garden Girl; And then our vegetables can have a drink and grow?
Me; Yes, Our vegetables will be growing while we are here. Garden Friend's Daddy will be looking after them for us, giving them water if it doesn't rain enough.
Garden Girl; He won't sit on them will he?
Me; No. I am sure he won't.
Garden Girl; Will Garden Friend stop him?
Me; Yes. Garden Friend will make sure his Daddy doesn't sit on them.
Garden Girl; Good. Can I go to sleep now?

Of all the disasters I might have imagined happening to our vegetables while we were away, Garden Friend's Daddy sitting on them wasn't one, but it had clearly been worrying Garden Girl. In the interests of a good nights sleep I refrained from telling her that her faith in two year old Garden Friend was a little misplaced. He was far more likely to sit on, eat or dig up her vegetables. Though perhaps she feels her garden is in better hands when managed by a toddler. She certainly thinks she is the head gardener.