Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Bens update as requested!

The garden seems to be motoring along nicely now, the recent combination of heat and torrential downpours have caused a frenzy of veggie activity.

The children's' 'bens' are just poking up above the soil. The Borlotti beans are doing well too, sprouting up much quicker than the ones I planted in the front garden which makes me wonder if the front garden is sunny enough for them. The courgette is struggling a bit with the extreme hot weather so it's receiving a bit of intensive care, watering twice a day and I've hung towels on the washing line in strategic places to shield it from the worst of the sun. The good old reliable Jerusalem Artichokes are towering like giants over everything, providing much needed shade for the lollo rosso.

Cropping is beginning now, over the weekend we harvested petit pois and broad beans and my first crop of mixed cut and come again salad leaves has been exhausted, the pea shoots are doing well and should be really to go in the salad very soon.

Thinking ahead, I'm in the process of drying out some seeds from Rachel's pumpkin. If the allotment goes ahead we can plant them out there next year.

Now all I need is the radish sky scraper to be installed, Adam has made noises about putting it up tonight so watch this space!

Sunday, 28 June 2009

The Grand Radish Project of 2009!

Has been postponed! My husband took to his bed after the exertion of painting the chicken coop. So here's a photo of the coop instead. Feathers seems to approve, she shot into the nesting box and immediately laid an egg. We've sprayed the hens with anti-mite spray which means we're not allowed to eat their eggs for the next week so I'll be taking myself off to the farm up the road to buy some of theirs tomorrow.

I will be nagging (cough) er, gently encouraging Adam to put the guttering up in the next day or two so hopefully there'll be a radish update soon.

Hectic Sunday.

We have worked so hard today. First of all, Adam and I scrubbed the hen house with Jeyes fluid. I've never used the stuff before but I like the retro yet ruthlessly efficient vibe it has going on. The smell took me straight back to my Great Gran's kitchen so I guess she was a fan too. We're using it as insecticide in the coop but it can also do a myriad of other things like freshen the drains or, my favourite, keep the waterbutt smelling nice. I've sploshed 5ml into our waterbutt so we'll see if it works.

Adam is, as I write, finishing off painting the coop, another anti bug measure but the smart new look is a welcome added benefit.

I've been busy making strawberry jam and when the children are in bed later I'll do a batch of raspberry - boiling sugar and a curious 2 year old are not a good combination. Then tomorrow it'll be a batch of raspberry and gooseberry and some gooseberry chutney.

It's also been a scorching hot, humid day so we're all grubby, sweaty and exhausted. I think I'll sneak out shortly and buy a few cold beers as a surprise for Adam as I think he's earned them but then so have I, think I may have to help him to drink them!

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Today's bounty, neither foraged nor grown.

Debatable whether it warrants a mention on the blog really! This morning started with a visit to Rachel to collect her very kindly donated courgette plant. It's now sitting in the back garden, fully potted up and licking it's wounds in a sulky kind of way. Fingers crossed it makes it through the night. She also very kindly gave me a couple of courgettes and a pumpkin. I'm toying with the idea of pumpkin chutney if I can find a recipe.

The chickens have had a preliminary scrub, they were kicked out of the coop early this morning while it was pressure washed. Tomorrow we break out the Jeyes fluid, anti mite spray and diotoms, the lucky, lucky birds.

Then it was on to Paddock Farm Shop in Mulbarton which is a charming farm shop/butchers/PYO fruit farm. It's a lovely shop, idyllic spot, yummy cakes and cheese and chutney tastings, what more could a girl want? I've decided that when I grow up I want a fruit farm, definitely my fantasy job.

However, it's all too easy to forget we're not foraging and have to actually pay for this stuff. We picked and picked and picked (and ate and ate and ate) then got a shock at the till. Going on last year's experience it should hopefully be enough for around 20 1lb jars of jam so I have my work cut out for the next couple of days.

The strawberry/raspberry jam is the pinnacle of my jam making year, very much a treat that we're happy to pay for. Later in the year we'll pick wild fruit which is the rather more workaday backbone of the jam store. No less tasty but certainly cheaper and rather more plentiful.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Am I allowed to swear on this blog?

Because those sparrows are driving me to it! OK, so I've netted the chard, what do they do? Perch on the edge of the barrel, push the netting til it touches the plants then stick their beaks through the net and carry on eating! I put up jingly, sparkly strings of bottle tops, what do they do? Sit between the strings admiring my handiwork. They've reduced my borlotti beans to shreds, dug up seeds, poo on the pea shoots and - the final insult - built nests in our guttering which we've now got to get rid of.

I've swathed the bean support with netting to try and keep them off the beans and prevent them digging up the 3 surviving bean seedlings. That's an entire 10m roll of garden netting I've got through and I may even need some more! It's a tad depressing as I bought a nice willow bean support for the front so that it would look nicer than the average veg patch but it's not exactly a thing of beauty anymore, buried under miles of green plastic.

Still, gritted teeth, learning curve etc etc, next season I'll net everything from the start. What's my mantra? "I'm not a keen gardener, I'm a keen eater" repeat, repeat, repeat .....

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Strawberries, strawberries everywhere.

After the gloom of the courgette debacle I thought I'd take the opportunity to dwell on my successes for a change.

The strawberries are doing well this year. Last year was disastrous, they were in a pot on the ground, imprisoned behind the ubiquitous netting to protect them from the chickens. They still managed to break in a couple of times though and decimated the crop. This year the strawberries high up on the fence and safe. I've also fed them with some berry fertilizer and that seems to have given them a boost.

We have a total of 9 plants which sounds like a lot but is really only enough to give us a regular snacking supply rather than a jam sized glut. They are a delicious snack too, the four of us regularly squabble over who's getting the next ripe berry. I have to confess Adam and I sneaked out into the garden after the children had gone to bed last night to snaffle a few.

My plan is to transfer the plants to the allotment (when/if we get it) next year and then start planting up runners to eventually create a large strawberry bed as, at the moment, strawberries and raspberries are the only jam fruit I buy so I'd like to grow my own supply instead. In the meantime, we're off to the pick your own fruit farm this weekend and I'll commence the 2009 jam making season.

Also doing well are the tumbling toms in hanging baskets. They are already covered in loads of green fruit but, as ever, the plants themselves look really ropey. This is my second season of growing them and last year I was worried, thinking they were on their last legs. A quick trawl of the Internet told me their appearance was fairly typical and, sure enough, they cropped and cropped and cropped. We had enough for several lbs of green tomato mincemeat as well as meeting all our salad needs for a sizeable chunk of the summer. Let's hope this year goes the same way.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

And there they were - gone

I've now accepted the inevitable and binned the courgettes. I'm pretty sure it's mosaic virus they've got. The symptoms are yellow, withered leaves and stunted growth. Although my courgettes weren't withered they were very yellow and growing very slowly. According to Google fruit from infected plants doesn't make good eating so I've cut my losses.

Apparently I now can't plant the infected spot with courgettes for a year which is a shame. If our allotment plan comes together we should be ok though as we can plant courgettes there next spring. I've also washed my tools in hot, soapy water to kill any virus hanging around on them.

Rachel has very kindly stepped into the breach and offered me one of her courgette plants, I'm going to plant it in a bag of compost and sit it on top of the infected soil so the plant isn't growing directly in it. I've replaced my potted courgette with more strawberry plants and hopefully there will also be borlotti and french bean seedlings to throw into the mix.

Sadly, my troubles don't end there. My healthy borlotti bean in the front garden has suffered an injury of some sort and it's growing shoot has broken off so it won't grow any taller. The seeds I planted aren't showing any signs of coming up. Personally, I suspect the portly sparrow perched on the chard tubs has got something to do with that, my evidence being the holes in the ground where the seeds used to be. When I finally plant out the bean seedlings from the back garden, I'm going to have to construct yet more netting swathed structures around the place. Sigh.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Really proud of my little gardeners

Please excuse the self indulgent Mummy post but here goes. Xanthe brought home 3 packs of seeds from nursery yesterday, they're part of the Morrisons's Let's Grow 'Big Bean Challenge' (whatever that is when it's at home). Being the big sister, Willow had to get in on the act too and both girls were really excited at the prospect of their own French Beans.

I got compost and little pots out of the garage and left them to it. Half an hour later, without any help from me, they'd filled the pots with compost, planted the seeds, watered them and written 'bens' (sic) on the plant marker in the pack.

They're now lined up with the borlotti beans from yesterday and the girls are anxiously waiting to fill in their bean growth chart.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Courgette Anxiety

Over the last week or so I've spent more energy than is healthy fretting over the fate of my courgettes. The yellowing hasn't gone but it has stopped spreading which is good but they're also growing reeeeeeeally sloooooowly whereas last year the speed with which they threatened to take over the garden was quite terrifying so I'm a bit concerned.

If they do fail I will be gutted. I love courgettes. They're fabulous value for space in a small garden, giving a pretty heavy yield for the square footage they take up. Courgettes seem to be a bit of a joke in the gardening community, derided as easy to grow and the annual glut they produce seen as a burden rather than a blessing. I seem to remember a joke involving the Amish, their enemies and courgettes but in typical girly fashion I can't remember the punchline - if anyone knows the joke I mean please remind me and put me out of my misery.

However, I adore courgettes, there can never be too many in my kitchen. Roasted courgettes are a hugely versatile side dish and can easily use up 3 or 4 in one meal for a family of 4, they're also a reliable stand by to use up in kebabs on a bbq. I love Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's recipe for courgette pasta sauce (scroll down to courgettes on toast), it's not diet friendly being heavy on oil and cheese but it's heavenly. I'd love to try courgette chutney too but so far, haven't had enough courgettes left over to make any!

At least my stand by courgette plant in the front garden is looking healthy and has a few baby fruit on it. I'm worrying about what to do with my courgette bed in the back if I do give up on the plants. I'm reluctant to buy more courgette plants in case there's a virus been passed into the soil but the courgette bed is the sunniest spot in my shady garden so I want to make the most of it and get a crop of some description from it.

So this morning I've planted the remainder of my borlotti bean seeds in a tray. I'll give the courgettes another couple of weeks or so and if they recover fine, if not hopefully the beans will have grown enough to be planted out and take their place.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Proms in the Park

I recently remembered that this blog is called Norfolk Kitchen. So far I've not written anything about the activity which takes place in my kitchen but I'm about to put that right.

On Saturday we went to Proms in the Park in Diss. It's one of those slightly bonkers yet quintessentially English events which involves waiting for the rain to start then sitting out in it for a few hours while eating a damp picnic, sipping warm white wine in plastic cups and shouting "BANG!" at the appropriate place in the 1812 overture. This year we rang the changes by sneakily trying out the groovy new play equipment on the park whilst somewhat (cough) inebriated.

We started the picnic with a selection of rare breed pork pies from Fredrick's Fine Foods accompanied by my plum chutney (plums foraged nearby), rhubarb chutney (rhubarb from my Father in Law's garden) and banana chutney (bananas foraged from Morrisons 'reduced but still fresh!' section). The plum has matured nicely since last Autumn and the flavour has improved considerably, rhubarb is as nice as when it was made, I was somewhat disappointed with the banana though, it was delicious when I made it but the banana chunks have gone sort of hard and strange over time. Might have to ditch my store of banana chutney I think.

Next were home made scones (pictured) with last year's Bramble jelly, Quince jelly and clotted cream. Bramble is my favourite, it always astonishes me that such a humble little hedgerow fruit can transform into into such a sophisticated preserve. We're also lucky enough to have a Quince tree growing wild nearby which supplies us with Quince jelly and Membrillo.

Finally, we managed to cram in a slice or two of Delia's ultimate carrot cake (pictured), ably made by Adam and decorated with the remains of last year's foraged walnuts.

I'm now carefully avoiding the scales, I dread to think how much weight I've put on over the weekend, must dig out my running shoes tomorrow.

Only in Norfolk ......

.... do you go to the pub and come home with a courgette in your pocket! Many thanks to Rachel who took pity on me after reading about my blighted courgettes and donated one of her, rather more successful, crop!

Saturday, 20 June 2009

The sparrows have joined in now .....

I've already written about the blackbird who's tormenting me, it now turns out that those cute little sparrows I'd been watching play in the hedge have joined in. They've found a hole in the netting around the chard and have been casually hopping in and out with beaks loaded with young chard leaves.

Aren't sparrows supposed to be rare these days? I guess I should be flattered they've taken up residence in our hedge but that won't stop me putting up new netting later on today.

Edit: Caught him! At last, a photo of one of the hedge sparrow family perched on top of the wig wam in the front garden. I'm hoping to catch the blackbird on camera too.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Front Garden Project

The Front Garden Project is coming together nicely. It's funny I largely dismissed it last year but having put a bit more effort in this year I've accessed a fair old chunk of extra growing space. I'm especially impressed with the square metre of earth which has the bean frame on it. It's currently planted with 3 Borlotti bean plants, one petit pois, one courgette and one butternut squash. I've also planted some broad bean seeds parallel to the house which are poking their heads above the soil.

I'm mindful of the dangers of overcrowding though. Squashing (no pun intended) too much in merely results in stunted plants and no crop at all so I'll be keeping a close eye and will transplant the courgette if necessary, especially as the back yard courgettes are looking ropey. I'm also already pondering how to rejuvenate the soil over winter. That's something of a challenge as we don't have room for a compost bin so don't have any compost of our own. I did try a wormery but I killed the inhabitants fairly rapidly (unintentionally I might add).

On a separate note, I had a mad idea for growing radishes. The mantra of the small garden owner is "Make use of the vertical space" so I thought I could fasten a length of guttering to the back fence by the gate (pictured a few weeks ago when the garlic was still 'growing'), fill it with compost and, hey presto, a trough for radishes. Went to the diy shop to discover the cost of guttering plus brackets would be about £15 so it doesn't seem financially viable, even at the farmers market I could buy more radishes than I'll ever need for that! Still, it's an idea, if I see any guttering offered of Freecycle I'll snap it up.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Photo special

Just thought I'd let you see how the Borlotti bean is doing. As hoped it has romped away up the bean frame and doesn't appear to be mourning it's brethren too much. Also pictured is my yellow courgette (why don't they come in red so I can make up a pun about a little red courgette?) I'm going to put down some nitrogen fertilizer later on so fingers crossed that stops the leaves going yellow.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

O, Irony, where is thy sting?

(Cough) no-one look at 11th June, I said DON'T LOOK! After my protestations not only have I bought a new plant but it's Butternut Squash. What's the first thing a quick Google tells me about Butternut squash? They need space - a LOT of space (head in hands)

OK, deep breath, let me explain. I went to garden centre looking for a green man plaque for our fairy garden (didn't find one, will have to pay squillions in postage on ebay instead). I casually checked out the veg plants, looking for courgettes as an insurance policy in case my feeble looking specimens give up the ghost. I was also looking for something to augment the bean project in the front garden. A couple of borlotti beans are looking quite healthy but the others have bitten the dust. The pack says they can be sewn until July so I've planted a few more seeds in the hope they may yet come up with the goods.

I found a courgette then spied the butternut squash plant, I vaguely remember reading something about them climbing and being easy to grow so I added it to the basket. I must point out though that the veg plants were on special offer, £1 each if you bought 4, I restrained myself and only bought 2 so deserve some credit for that at least.

It was only when I got home and did my first tentative Google that I realised the enormity of the task I've taken on. With some help from Xanthe I've planted both the courgette and butternut squash in the front garden by the bean support. I have no idea whatsoever if this little project will work out or not but hopefully we'll have fun finding out.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Zeitgeist much?

Of all the things I've been called over the years "on trend" has not been one of them. So it comes as something of a shock to the system to discover that I seem to be ahead of the pack when it comes to pea shoots. The Mail on Sunday You Magazine ran a feature on pea shoots today which has coincided with my cut and come again crop of pea shoots poking their heads up in the new front garden circular bed.

Although, I'm not entirely sure that finding oneself in alignment with the Daily Mail is a comfortable place to be .....

Edit: Whole host of pea shoot recipes here

Friday, 12 June 2009

Chuffin' Chooks

Caught in the act. Look at that face, she knows she's in trouble. In between a lovingly constructed dust bath full of fresh earth and a milk crate designed to stop her scratching up the grass, Digby is casually digging herself a new dust bath in the lawn. No-one tell Adam or it'll be chicken pie for tea.

On the bright side, the new food has made a difference to the egg shells, they're now thicker and we've not had any problems with cracking or breaking so at least Feathers and Digby are earning their keep again.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

No room at the Inn

I think it's safe to say I've finished potting up for the season now. I've sorted out the old garlic/carrot box, the Lollo Rosso and basil are safely installed in their new home. I've planted last year's terracotta strawberry pot with thyme plants, basil seedlings and coriander seed, it's now in the front garden where I hope it will get enough sun.

So that's it, both gardens are now full. No room at the Inn.

I went for a run this morning (smug alert!) which, incidentally, was like running through a sauna. This morning we had torrential rain which turned to sweltering sun as soon as I set off, evaporating the standing water on the ground in great clouds of steam. Anyhoo, I jogged past a house which had a stall outside selling a variety of flower, herb and veg plants so I stopped for a look (not a sneaky rest, oh no ....) and spied a sorrel plant. I then spent the rest of the run mentally re-arranging pots to figure out where I can put it. But in truth, there really isn't anywhere sensible for it to go.

Owners of other small gardens will feel my pain, why is it that as soon as I put up the 'closed' sign, I see another 'must have' plant? I just keep telling myself that Sorrel is only good during it's first year anyway, by the second year it tends to taste rather metallic. Also, when cooked the taste might be nice but the appearance is more akin to cow pat. Maybe I should go and forage some wood sorrel to cheer myself up, it might be tiny and time consuming to pick a bowl full but I think the lighter taste is superior to cultivated sorrel.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

A Cautionary Tale of Exhausted Soil ....

Boo - my poor garlic! Last year I grew Parmex carrots in a tub (small, round carrots, designed for pots and grow bags, this year we've progressed to HoneySnack in the ground) After the carrots had gone the tub languished empty over winter. Around December/January I cleared out the veg bed and discovered a couple of heads of garlic I'd forgotton about whose cloves were putting down roots. They couldn't stay in the beds as I planned to dig it over and plant green manure but it seemed a shame to waste them if I could get another garlic crop. More in hope than expection I stuck them into the empty carrot box over winter.

I've never grown veg over the winter, though if the allotment goes through in Autumn that'll change this year, so I wasn't sure how long they'd need in the ground. A week or two ago I also threw some homeless lollo rosso seedlings into the box and I've noticed that although they're alive and looking healthy they haven't increased in size, the garlic leaves were also beginning to look a bit yellowed and beginning to die back. This can be a sign that the garlic's ready to harvest so I poked experimentally around one of the garlic bulbs and was dismayed to discover it was still tiny, not much bigger than an individual clove, though it had an enormous root system.

The obvious conclusion is that this is down to poor soil in the tub. The carrot crop probably absorbed all the nutrients leaving none to nourish the garlic or lettuce. I think the over developed root system is probably a sign of the plant searching for nutrients deeper in the soil.

My plan is to take out the old soil and give it to the chickens to use as a dustbath, replace with new soil and add in a bit of manure too. I'll re-plant the Lollo Rosso and use up the rest of the space with the Basil seedlings who are crowding out of their pots in the mini greenhouse. I may be out of garlic but hopefully a bumper basil crop this year will compensate - now I just need the weather to co-operate.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Pods go Pop.

We had our first pea harvest from the dwarf peas in the playroom today. Not surprisingly the yield was as tiny as the plants, we're not going to sustain ourselves for long on dwarf peas but they're great fun for the children.

The girls grappled 7 or 8 fat pods from the plants and we guzzled them immediately. I have to say, they were the most amazing peas I've ever tasted but then they were also the freshest, a matter of seconds from plant to mouth. This means the natural sugars were in optimum condition and the sweet taste was incredible. We tried eating the pods too (as recommended by Hugh FW in River Cottage Summer) they tasted great but were a bit fibrous and tough. As you can see, it didn't put Xanthe off trying!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Micro Harvest

In a small garden, you have to make the most of every opportunity and squeeze the highest possible value out of every crop. This weekend I've thinned the Rainbow chard (which, incidentally, is all yellow which is rather odd as it's usually a mixture of red, orange and yellow) and the basil seedlings (pictured). Instead of throwing the thinnings away I've kept them.

Young chard is nice either raw in salad or cooked where it collapses in a similar fashion to spinach. The diminutive basil leaves can be used in exactly the same way as the fully grown variety although their size makes them particularly suitable for salads. If the weather improves tomorrow I may go out and see if I can find any wild greens to augment my salad.

Heroes in a Hairnet.

This weekend my strawberries have been mostly channeling the spirit of Ena Sharples. Saturday morning I was doing my usual patrol of the garden, feeding chickens, checking for eggs, quick survey of the veggies to see what's going on etc I was most indignant to find a half eaten green strawberry on the path. We had one lone strawberry beginning to turn red whose progress the girls were eagerly monitoring, turns out they weren't the only ones.

An unknown feathered offender had evidently nicked it, eaten the red bit and abandoned the rest. I suspect it was the parent and child combo I spotted this morning. I'm not a bird expert and have no idea what brand they were. They were a rather pedestrian drab brown though the youngster still had a fluffy comedy hair do and an air of gawky teen about him. The parent was hopping around the garden from the lawn to the trellis at the top of the fence and over to the strawberry basket with the child obediently following each and every move.

I'm now in the process of covering my strawberry baskets with netting that looks remarkably like a hairnet. I'm still concerned that they can poke their pesky beaks through the netting so I've added a mini windmill as a bird scaring measure and am surveying the house for shiny stuff I can festoon the baskets with. I'm kind of sad that my garden is looking increasingly demented with each additional pest control measure but, hey, as I read in the Half Hour Allotment book "I'm not a keen gardener, I'm a keen eater."

Friday, 5 June 2009

There's nothing like a plan coming together .....

.... and this is nothing like a plan coming together! This time of year is lovely in many respects with the veggies busting out all over, mini pea and bean pods have formed, under ripe strawberries are swelling, the swiss chard is going great guns and will be thinned today (with the thinnings going into tonight's pork stir fry) jerusalem artichokes are busily crowding out the chives and the carrot tops are big enough to withstand the cat sleeping amongst them.

But ....

There's also anxiety around whether the crops are germinating successfully or not. Some of my plants are looking decidedly wobbly. There are no out and out disasters but a couple could go either way. The courgettes are looking suspiciously stunted although they have rather encouragingly thrown up some new leaves in the last couple of days.

As you can see from the photo some of the Borlotti beans are really struggling although one is looking quite healthy. You may also notice the blue slug pellets everywhere, my soul may be organic but, unfortunately, the local gastropods are not. Every morning I'm peering out of the front window like an expectant parent to check on their progress. It's still early in the bean season so I'm hoping there's time for them to settle into their new home and start romping up the bean frame sometime soon.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Red Lollo Green Lollo

Here are a couple of pics of my Lollo Rosso seedlings, spot the difference? I commented to Adam yesterday that the indoor Lollo is green whereas the outdoor Lollo is red. At lunchtime he sent me this link to a New Scientist article, apparently it's UVB sunlight that turns the leaves red and in the process creates extra antioxidants. Window glass blocks this UVB light, leaving indoor Lollo pale and wan. I did notice last year that my Lollo Rosso didn't look quite like the stuff in the shops so it seems the answer is down to the commercially grown stuff being produced indoors. It's also heartening to know my home grown Lollo Rosso is more nutritious than the supermarket packets.

Edit at Adam's request: He would like to point out that he deduced the colour difference would be due to UV light before his theory was confirmed by New Scientist. Your scientific reasoning is beyond reproach my love.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night .....

Well, to be truthful it's not actually singing in the dead of night, thank the Lord. If it were I think I'd have to hunt it down and throttle it. Given what it's doing to my front garden, that would be the final straw.

This year, in a bid to increase my available growing space I'm expanding operations in the front garden. Last year I had 2 half barrels full of rainbow chard, this year I've added in a frame for the borlotti beans to grow up and I've also dug out a small bed in the centre of the lawn and planted it with bee friendly flowers (seeds courtesy of Blue Peter) and those pea seeds I mentioned in the previous post as a cut and come again crop.

There are 2 rather large spanners in the works though. The literally large tree next door which casts a huge shadow over almost all of the garden and the more diminutive female blackbird who nests in it.

According to conventional wisdom leafy crops tend to be attacked by slugs and caterpillars while birds stick to scoffing all the fruit. So when holes began to appear in the swiss chard I checked for caterpillars and sprinkled organic slug pellets. When that didn't work I switched to normal slug pellets. Half a barrel of chard had gone before I caught a glimpse of the culprit from the living room window, a very relaxed, chubby looking Mrs Blackbird strolling through my carefully tended crop, munching on the leaves at will.

As a result of these twin pests, the garden looks eccentric to say the least. The bean frame and half barrels are squashed up into a small space near the house which gets the most sun throughout the day and everything is festooned in netting, heaven knows what the neighbours make of it (especially now they've seen me sneaking around photographing my watering can at 8am.). Anyway, must go and Google 'life span of blackbird', this is the second season we've laid on a blackbird buffet, it can't go on much longer can it??

Monday, 1 June 2009

Peas above Sticks

This year I'm trying my hand at growing peas for the first time, however, it turns out peas aren't as simple as I thought. After reading a few allotment keeper type books this weekend I've discovered they've got a reputation as a difficult crop. They're prone to things like pea moth and pea weevil. These beasties lay eggs in the pea pods and the beleaguered gardener is none the wiser til she harvests the peas, pops the pod and is greeted by a host of wiggling maggots instead of fresh green peas. The answer, apparently, is to sow peas either early in spring or late in winter as the pea moth/weevil is only active in mid summer. By happy accident I planted my outdoor crop of petit pois fairly early so fingers crossed.

According to my guru Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall pea shoots are all the rage amongst the glitterati in London. (They're the fine, curly bits you can just about see in the photo) When staking my peas a few days ago I accidentally broke one of the tops off so I took the opportunity to have a munch. I'm a dyed in the wool pea hater (the children love them though) but even I thought it was delicious. I have lots of pea seeds left over so may copy his idea of growing them as a cut and come again salad crop.

On the playroom window sill I also have a dwarf variety of peas growing in a trough, they were photographed only a week ago for The Very First Post!. This morning I was excited to discover they're already festooned with tiny pea pods (see photo) The biggest predator of these little plants have is probably my youngest daughter. Xanthe has been told not to pick them til they're bigger but whether she'll be able to resist temptation remains to be seen.