Monday 29 November 2010

Things Done, More To Do

I can't believe how long it is since I last posted here. It isn't because work in the garden has slowed with the colder weather. On the contrary, Garden Dad and Garden Boy have been outside every spare moment, digging out pathways and creating large holes ready for wooden posts.

All the wood we need to build the retaining 'wall' for our lawn and a little fence to stop our Little Garden Helpers falling off the edge, has been delivered, along with the gravel and weed fabric which will soon be laid over the pathways. Garden Girl and Garden Boy stood in the cold and watched, transfixed, while the crane manoeuvred the huge bags of gravel from the truck onto the path between our driveway and house. It was a tight fit and a precision task, but the crane succeeded after many attempts, and to the applause of our Little Garden Helpers.

In the meantime, Garden Girl, Garden Lass and myself have focused our attention on getting the house ready for Christmas. I became, for a little while at least, an almost perfect housewife, as I cleaned, hoovered, dusted and sorted 'stuff' in anticipation of the festive season. And then we were ready for Christmas to begin and we kicked it off at the weekend by putting up the Christmas tree. Early, I know, but ordinarily we would have done this the first weekend in December. This year however, we are having Garden Lass Christened that weekend so we opted to go a week early.

We now have a month of fun festive activities planned as we make Christmas cards, presents, decorations and wrapping paper. We will be baking snowman biscuits, mince pies, cake and candy canes. And then there will be letters to Santa, a Christmas play, pantomimes, carol services, a Christmas fair, a wedding and of course Garden Lass's Christening. Our Little Garden Helpers are so excited and so am I. I just hope, really hope, that the snow will ease off enough to allow our friends and family to make the journey for Garden Lass' Christening.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Shopping and Digging

I dragged Garden Dad to our local retail park on Saturday morning to buy outfits for Garden Lass's Christening. He would have preferred to have been in the garden and honestly, so would I. I am not a big fan of shopping and I dislike it even more when I really have to find something. We eventually managed to find a very smart suit for Garden Boy and a pretty dress for Garden Girl in M&S, but I came away with nothing and Garden Dad with only half a suit.

By the time we returned, with a job half done, it was time to visit our friends for pizza and fireworks, so our hopes of having at least a couple of hours in the garden were dashed. The fireworks however were brilliant and a glass of wine and good company was definitely the right tonic for a day trawling through shops.

But then of course Sunday arrived and it was raining. This did not however deter Garden Boy and Garden Dad, both of whom stoically put on their boots and coats. Garden Boy never needs much persuasion to go outdoors in the the wet but Garden Dad is usually a bit more reticent. I can only think he was worried I would insist we try more shops if he didn't look busy! But, whatever the reason, they armed themselves with spades and continued the task of digging out the pathways around the raised beds. When they came back inside they had mud stuck to their boots, trousers and coats, but had rosy cheeks and smiles so they must have enjoyed their hard work.

There is still more mud to move but they managed to do enough to think about ordering all the bits we need to turn the muddy paths into proper gravel paths, so we spent last night doing the maths and putting together a plan. The materials are now on order and will be delivered in time for the coming weekend. It is very exciting.

And I bobbed into the town centre today with Garden Lass and managed to find a lovely dress in The White Stuff (which is fast becoming my favourite shop), for me to wear at the Christening, so all in all things are looking brighter than they did around lunch time on Saturday. Garden Dad still only has half a suit but hopefully a bit of online shopping will quickly solve that problem.

Thursday 11 November 2010

A Conversation with Garden Boy

Garden Boy: 'Mummy, Me want pick tomatoes today.'

Me: 'There are no tomato plants left now, sweetheart.'

Garden Boy: 'Me want to get more tomato plants. Can we go to the shop Mummy?'

Me: 'Tomatoes won't grow at this time of year. It's too cold.'

Garden Boy: 'Then me want to pull up carrots.'

Me: 'We pulled them all up a few weeks ago'

Garden Boy: 'Me want to pull up more.'

Me: There are no more, honey.'

Garden Boy: 'Then me want to dig up potatoes. With my spade.'

Me: 'Oh honey. The potatoes have all been dug up now as well and the things still growing in the garden need to stay there a bit longer. There are some weeds we can dig up?'

Garden Boy exclaims loudly and happily: 'Yeah. Me go get my welly boots.'

There is a pause in the conversation while Garden Boy goes to find his boots and I sit in shock that someone could be so excited at the thought of pulling up weeds.

Then Garden Boy returns: 'Weeds, Mummy?'

Me: 'Yes. There are a lot of those for us to pull up.'

Garden Boy puts his wellies down: 'Me want to play trains.'

Monday 8 November 2010

A Strawberry Surprise

Another weekend has passed us by and as usual on a Monday evening I regret that a multitude of things take over mid week and less time is spent outdoors. Not that we stayed indoors all day today. It rained. A lot. So of course we went out. There were puddles to splash in! But we didn't get out our garden trowels and pull up more weeds or get stuck into digging out the pathways. That would have made for very muddy toddlers which is not the most appropriate look for Garden Girl's ballet class!

The weekend however, was lovely and on Saturday we managed to clear away more of our spent crops, preparing the ground for the winter, as well as starting to tidy up the strawberry bed. This is something I had strangely forgotten about when we were planning our garden tasks for the next few weeks but runners are starting to take root and the bed is full to bursting so a bit of crowd management is necessary. And its a good job we did this because we discovered we have some autumn fruiting strawberries we knew nothing about. A delicious surprise, although unfortunately not one I have yet experienced for myself, for two simple reasons; Garden Girl and Garden boy!

With the wet weather set to stay around all week I fear that we won't be out in the garden too much before the weekend but at least the rain will be good for those strawberries. Lets just hope the cold doesn't get too extreme!

Saturday 6 November 2010

Rapeseed Oil

I was recently recommended rapeseed oil which I have never tried before. To be honest I am a creature of habit when I do my supermarket shopping and I always buy a sunflower oil and an olive oil. However, despite my habitual shopping, I do like to try new things, so I thought I would give it a go.

Rapeseed oil comes from those lovely yellow plants that carpet fields with eye catching brightness and which apparently belong to the Brassica family of plants. Also, according to the HGCA website, linseed oil and rapeseed oil are the only oils produced in the UK, a fact which I was totally unaware of and one which makes rapeseed oil a very appealing option to me. It is also apparently a very healthy option so I added a bottle to my supermarket order this week and I have been trying out some of the recipes on the HGCA website.

We have all enjoyed the Chicken and Tomato crumble and the Leek and Bread pudding and I even made a salad dressing with it for lunch today. I would usually only use olive oil for a salad dressing put I was pleased with the taste of the salad dressing so I will be happy to use rapeseed oil in the future. I like to support UK farmers and this seems to be a great way of doing this at no extra cost to myself so if you also like to buy local, then consider rapeseed oil as an option.

Friday 5 November 2010

Hedgerow Safari's with OMSCo

Earlier this week Garden Girl went on her very first school trip. It was just to the local park to look at the changing season, but that is far enough for a nursery class. I wasn't allowed to help out as they didn't want younger siblings to go along, so I have to admit that it took a lot of self restraint not to go for a walk in the park myself that morning and take up camp behind a large bush with my binoculars. But in the event she was in a small group of 3, with her best friends Mum, so I had nothing to worry about.

Back when I was a little girl, school trips consisted of an annual trip to a local museum, usually just before Christmas as a treat. Nowadays schools seem to be a lot more inventive and make good use of local resources. They even take the children on a trip to the local supermarket. I'll be sending Garden Girl into school with my shopping list that day! And for all the worry that a trip out causes I think school trips are a brilliant idea. Garden Girl came home from school that day absolutely full of her walk to the park. She held hands with her best friend and they collected leaves and sticks and conkers, which they have since used to make leaf people. They watched the squirrels and the ducks and peered into rabbit holes. They talked about the falling leaves and the different colours of autumn.
'We didn't even have time to play' Garden Girl said happily at the end of her excited tale.

So knowing just how much a nature day can motivate and enthuse a four year old I was really interested to hear about OMSCo's Hedgerow Safari's for school children. OMSCo is Britain's largest supplier of organic milk and to help educate children about organic farming and the environment they have been running Hedgerow Safari's on their farms throughout 2010 completely free of charge for school groups.

During the trip, school children are able to see close up some of the small mammals that inhabit the hedgerow such as a woodmouse, bank vole or common shrew. Then, using some Hedgerow Guides (produced jointly by OMSCo and the Field Studies Council) they can identify plant species, before using sweep nets, pooters and magnifying glasses to examine any insects they find. And of course fresh organic milk is provided for the children to drink with their pack lunches. I would find this hugely interesting myself, let alone the children!

But, knowing how much our Little Garden Helpers enjoy outdoor activities OMSCo very kindly sent us all the bits and pieces the children use on the hedgerow safaris to try our ourselves, along with a pair of wellies and raincoat each and we will be taking the pooters, magnifying glasses, clip boards and hedgerow guides out with us this weekend on our own mini hedgerow safari. I will let you know what we find, but if your children are in Key Stage 2 do mention these trips to your school. The trips are entirely free of charge so the only thing your school will ask you to pay for is transport costs and your children will have what sounds like a brilliant day outdoors. Win win all round.

Further information about the Hedgerow Safari's can be found on the OMSCo website.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Taking Cuttings: Rosemary, Lavender and Mint

You will have to forgive me for disappearing for a little while. I have been scouring the internet every evening in an attempt to get my Christmas Shopping wrapped up early. And now with much of it sitting in the hands of internet stores waiting to be dispatched I am free to return my focus to my garden and my blog. And I promised you a post about herb cuttings so here it is.

We took cuttings this year of Lavender, Rosemary and Mint. Here's how we did it.

Lavender and Rosemary

Find some healthy looking shoots, without flowers and cut just below a bud, a few inches down the stem. Try to make it a clean cut using sharp scissors or secateurs.

Remove all the lower leaves. If you leave the lower leaves on the cutting they will rot and prevent new roots from forming.  

Place the cuttings around the edge of a pot filled with moist compost and leave them to take root. I put 8 or 9 cuttings in 8in pots.

You will know when they have taken root because new growth will start to form. At this point you can re-pot them into individual pots.


Mint is propagated by taking root cuttings. I have never done this before so I have no idea if what I did will work but this is what I did.

Rummage around the edge of the pot for some new roots and cut a few inches away from the end.

Bury each cutting horizontally in a compost filled pot, a couple of inches deep.

In theory new growth will appear after a few weeks but it is currently too early for us to know if this has worked.

We had successful rosemary cuttings last year so I am hoping that this year the lavender and rosemary will be just as successful. Watch this space!