Monday, 31 January 2011

Re-potting the Chives

As I mentioned a short while ago, my Chives were in urgent need of some attention. The pots had become very mossy, and since the plants were beginning to grow again I thought that re-potting them sooner rather than later would be advisable.

One of the pots was showing some very strong new growth...

But one of them was almost covered in moss...

So this is what I did.

First (since the temperature here is still sub-zero), I immersed the pots in buckets of lukewarm water for a while. I did this for a variety of reasons: first, it thawed the plants out a little; second, it softened the moss and made it easier to remove; and third, it enabled all the accumulated bits of gunk (by this I mean extraneous debris, including seeds from the birch trees etc) to float off. Finally of course it helped me to keep my hands from freezing, since I was able to dunk them in the warm water every now and then!

When the pots had thawed, I removed the plants from them. They were well and truly "pot-bound", each with a huge mass of silvery roots.

I then picked out as much as possible of the moss (using the sharp point of my garden knife) and trimmed off about 50% of the root mass, both at the bottom and at the sides of the plants, which then looked like this:

I re-potted each plant, starting with a layer of broken terracotta pieces at the bottom of each one to provide drainage, and then adding around the plant as much fresh compost as I could fit in. So now they all look like this:

Following some advice from fellow garden-bloggers, I plan to get some small-diameter gravel and put this around the plants to discourage the re-growth of moss - but that's a task for another day.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Enemy

I have written many times about the damage that foxes create in my garden. I have in the past caught the occasional glimpse of my enemy, but today he was here in broad daylight...

In the middle of the afternoon we were preparing some meat for dinner. I put the meat trimmings outside, expecting the Magpies to come for them, as they usually do. About half an hour later, I see a fox strolling casually past the window, bold as brass, on his way to pick up a snack... I grab the camera, by which time the fox is disappearing round the side of the house. A quick exit from the front door reveals the stern end of a fox rapidly retreating down the road...

I give chase, camera in hand... The fox moves across to the other side of the road and blithely begins to devour his meal, about 5 metres from where I stand.

I move closer, and he reluctantly retreats.

As I get within a few paces of him, the fox ducks through a gap in the fence of a neighbour's garden, and is lost to view.

At this point I give up and go back indoors to upload my photos (most of which were hopelessly blurry of course).

Ten minutes later Mr.Fox returns for second helpings, and I snap off several more photos in the failing light.

So, what do I do now? The foxes are so brazen that they will quite happily come prowling around my garden in broad daylight. What chance do I have of persuading them to avoid my garden? I think perhaps my best plan is to keep putting out scraps, in the hope that the foxes will be so well fed that they won't want / need to dig up my garden in the search of worms.

By the way, what do you think of the Red-eye Reduction feature I have used in the last photo? It seems to simply put a black dot in place of the shiny eye. Hardly sophisticated! I am very conscious that none of my photos of the fox are of good quality. I was just too excited to concentrate on getting the settings right, and the last ones were taken when it was almost dark, so using a very slow shutter speed. Ho Hum, I must remind myself that I'm not a wildlife photographer. Photographing veg is easier - they don't move.


The culprit

A poor photo, but the identity is unmistakeable! More photos to follow in a later post...

The cutting edge of Gardening

While leafing through the Marshalls catalogue during the Christmas holiday, trying to decide what seeds to buy, my eye lit upon this Harvesting Knife

Described as "ideal for cutting Asparagus and also trims leeks and celery and slices through lettuce, broccoli and cabbage stalks with ease", I thought it sounded just what I need to cope with the bumper harvest I'm going to get this Summer! (My sprouting broccoli is already feeling distinctly uneasy...)

I like the design of this item. The curved serrated blade with the thin point should make it easy to get the knife into exactly the right place for cutting one's veg. The feel of the knife in your hand is good too - the rubberised handle is soft but "chunky" at the same time. It looks as if the old kitchen knife I have been using in the garden up to now is finally about to be replaced...

My only worry is this: should I keep the new knife in the place where the old one has been living - stuck into the soil in one of the raised beds - or should I keep it out of sight indoors or in the shed (where it will be less accessible)? In the past I have had one or two small thefts from the garden, and the thought of some dishonest local teenager with this knife in his possession is not a nice one.

By the way, Marshalls' delivery service was incredibly good too. My order arrived three days after being placed (via their website), and I received by email an order confirmation and a despatch confirmation as well. If only all businesses could be that efficient! I hope the product will be of the same high standard...

Saturday, 29 January 2011

The fleece saga (continued...)

Regular readers of my blog will be all too familiar with my battles to protect my over-wintering crops.

Last weekend I decided that the fleece coverings had become too scrappy to be tolerable, and had to be replaced. Actually, I had bought some new fleece just after Christmas, but hadn't got round to using it.

Removing the existing fleece gave me a few moments of (perhaps over-optimistic) excited anticipation. You can vaguely make out the outline of the plants through the fleece, but you can't see anything in detail. So off come the covers, and what do I find? Well, a few bits of rather tired salad (lettuce and endive); a couple of plants of quite respectable-looking Land Cress; and seven very bedraggled cabbages!

The Land Cress is fine - but there's not much of it

This chicory looks great in close-up, but is actually quite small

The red chicories are still growing slowly, but look healthy enough

The "Tundra" cabbages tried hard, but the foxes tried harder

Well, you can't expect prize-winners every time, can you? The only thing to do was to harvest anything harvestable, and get on with the job of protecting anything worth keeping.

My assessment of the cabbages was that they were never going to make it to maturity, so I dug them all up and salvaged a few leaves, which got used a couple of days ago in a mixed vegetable soup.

I also picked all the useable lettuce and Land Cress. It was not much, because there are only two plants of cress. You probably remember that they are left over from a salad medley that I grew in that bed during the Summer. Anyway, the cress made a nice garnish for some pepperoni pizzas.

All the plants that were "past it", like the few remaining "Fristina" lettuces, were removed, leaving the beds looking pretty bare. You won't really be able to see them in the next couple of photos, but there are a lot of tiny red chicory plants in both the raised beds. These are ones that were spare after the planting of my main crop. I planted them out round about Christmas time. Having spent a very long time in a seed-tray they are probably not going to do particularly well, but I thought it better to stick them in the ground as space became available, rather than consign them to the compost bin. With a bit of protection from my new fleece they may perhaps go on to produce something worth having.

So here we go again - both beds covered with pristine white fleece once more. 


I thought it would probably survive little more than 12 hours if the foxes got to hear about it! However, posting this article nearly a week later, I'm pleased to report that the fleece is still intact.

Friday, 28 January 2011

An Englishman's lunch...

I went to our local butcher's shop today to buy some meat. They had just cooked a batch of beef-and-potato pasties, which were out on the counter, hot and steaming and smelling just heavenly. How could I resist buying one? (I did remember to buy some meat as well, though)

So that was lunch sorted out then... Served with tomato, pickled onions and  Branston pickle.

This is a fairly typical English snack meal. The sort of thing you might get in a pub (Public House - i.e. bar - for those of you who are not familiar with this term), and therefore likely to be consumed with a pint of our delicious Bitter (beer).

Another favourite lunchtime meal is what we call a Ploughman's Lunch, which is basically bread and cheese (normally Cheddar and/or Stilton), usually served with pickled onions or red cabbage, and sweet pickle, as in my picture, although these days you often see a "Ploughman's" being served with things other than cheese, such as ham or sausage.

Ploughman's Lunch, featuring Stilton cheese and pickled red cabbage

In the Winter-time though, nothing is as warming and as satisfying as a bowl of soup. Do you remember that tomato soup I showed you just before Christmas? Well, I'm proud of this picture, so I'm going to show it to you again!

Call it luck if you like, but I'm SO happy to have captured the swirl of steam rising from the soup in this picture. Couldn't it just be an advert for Campbell's?

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Surface tension

I love photographing Cavolo Nero so much I can't stop! This time the plants were covered in shiny raindrops, almost frozen in the barely-above-zero temperature.

The surface tension of  the water was holding the droplets together on the leaves like little blobs of mercury.

Looking at these photos, you can perhaps see why many people treat Cavolo Nero as primarily an ornamental plant. It works very well in the "Potager" style garden, with edible plants growing in amongst the purely decorative ones. Incidentally, have you ever left an endive (Chicorée frisée) to run to seed? They grow about 4 or 5 feet tall, and produce masses of lovely powder-blue flowers. Just the sort of thing for the potager.

Cavolo Nero is very hardy and will withstand several degrees of frost

On a practical gardening level, my remaining Cavolo Nero is reaching that point where a decision needs to be made. I could cut it and use it right now, but if I leave it a bit longer, all the big leaves will drop off, and lots of tiny (succulent) shoots will appear at all the points where there used to be leaves. In other words, it will perform a bit like sprouting broccoli. The tiny shoots will go on to produce little yellow flowers, if you let them. I won't! Mine will probably be eaten in a creamy white sauce, along with some pasta...

Wednesday, 26 January 2011


We do not have a cat. But one that lives nearby sometimes comes to visit us. He's called Oscar. He is a bit "highly strung" I think - full of nervous energy - and he seldom sits still for very long.

Here he is laying claim to my camera tripod; rubbing up against it to cover it with is scent.

Photographing cats is seldom easy. I tried to get Oscar to pose, but this is what I got!

The headless cat...?

Finally he settled down on the doormat for a few minutes

But like any cat, when he's had enough of your company, he's soon on his way...

In the past we always used to have cats - normally two, to provide company for each other. For us they always seemed like part of the family, and when one of them died it was always a big loss for us, so we have currently not got any pets, and we have to "borrow" them from our neighbours. I expect one day a cat will adopt us. They have minds of their own, don't they? We think sometimes that a cat "belongs" to us, but actually it is normally the other way round...

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Burns Night special - the Quaich

I'm sure the Scots amongst you will know this immediately, but people from other parts of the world may perhaps be wondering what a quaich is...

A quaich is a twin-handled drinking-vessel. The little leaflet that came with this lovely example produced by The Quaich Company (Scotland) Ltd, of Glasgow, tells me that the name is derived from the Gaelic word "cuach", meaning "cup".

The leaflet goes on to say that centuries ago, these things were made of wooden staves, but by the 17th century were often mounted in silver or made entirely from that metal. The one in my picture is not made of silver, unfortunately, but of pewter.

The quaich has evolved into a ceremonial item, often handed round amongst friends at a gathering or offered in welcome to a visitor (filled with whisky of course!). It is also often used for drinking a formal toast. Years ago, when I was in the Army we had a tradition that at the end of a formal Dinner in the officers' mess, during which the Regimental pipers would play to entertain the guests, the Pipe Major would be offered a tot of whisky in a quaich as a Thank You gesture.

The quaich in my picture is one that Jane won in a competition sponsored by The Scotsman newspaper. It's a beautiful object, though we have yet to use it for its intended purpose. Perhaps since it's Burns Night tonight we should use it as we eat our haggis, 'neeps and tatties? (No, just kidding, we don't like haggis and being English we don't celebrate Burns Night).

P.S. Have you ever tried to photograph anything as awkward as this? Reflections all over the place! (Note image of photographer in both these pics).

Here's a link to Wikipedia for those of you who need more info on what Burns Night is all about.

Monday, 24 January 2011

A herbal makeover

The other day when I did my "Scarborough Fair" blogpost, I was embarassed to see how disreputable my parsley plants were looking, and I decided I had to tidy them up. Isn't it funny how blogging about your garden makes you take more care about its appearance? It's as if you don't want it to be seen in public without its make-up!

I have quite a few pots of parsley on the go. My intention had been to try to keep most of them under cover, protected from the worst of the weather, but unfortunately some of them have been out in the open.

Most of the parsley plants were looking pretty scruffy, with as many yellow leaves as green ones

The tidying-up session was basically just a question of snipping off with a pair of secateurs all the yellow leaves and removing the extraneous bits of debris like dead leaves and pine needles. Actually I think the yellow leaves are quite picturesque in their own right...

But the nice green leaves are better, because they hold out the prospect of culinary delight as well...

So here is the end result. Much better.

This time I shuffled things around a bit and all the pots of parsely are now in either the coldframe or one of the plastic greenhouses. Hopefully as the weather warms up they will put on some new growth. Before long I must think about sowing some parsley seeds. They usually take a fair while to germinate, and the seedlings grow pretty slowly early in the year. We use a lot of parsley, so I try to keep up with our demand for it. This is a lost cause really, because if we had more parsley available, we would just use more! Have you tried it in Tabbouleh? This is a North African salad dish made with LOTS of herbs - mostly parsley. Great with a spicy lamb casserole. Strongly recommended!

Sunday, 23 January 2011


This week we bought the first Daffodils of the year.

To us it's a sign that we have "turned the corner" and that Spring is not too far away now. We love them because they brighten the house so much.

These ones came from our local greengrocer's shop. I suspect that they were grown in Cornwall, in the extreme South-West of England.

My own home-grown ones are not flowering yet. Maybe in another month??