The cheat

Remember a week or so ago… I dusted off the heated propagator from the shed, excitedly whizzed it upstairs, and planted my first crops of the year: Kale and Tomatoes.

For it was February. Spring is on its way. And these crops can be started early.

Alas, I slightly cocked up on this one. Yes, it’s February, yes, Spring is on its way, and yes indeed, Kale and Tomatoes can be started early. Only not really… You see, there’s just not quite enough natural light yet. The seedlings all popped up, but as soon as they saw a sniff of the window, they scarpered off towards it.

Spindly seedlings

Spindly seedlings

So I’ve ended up with comically long and spindly seedlings that have little or no chance of forming a second set of leaves and growing into healthy, bushy plants.

An executive decision has therefore been made here at Chook Cottage.

I am going to CHEAT!

I know, I know… we all hate a cheater, but needs must. The vegetable plot here is more of a hobby – we’re not trying to live off the land – we just want a couple of fresh bits and bobs to harvest.

So this weekend will find me at the garden centre, snaffling up a couple of trays of veggie plants where someone else has already done the hard work. These will go in the beds, leaving me much more time to chillax in the garden and admire the fruits of my..’ahem’…labour 😉


All change at Chook Towers

With the winter behind us, and spring most definitely on its way, it seems a veeeery long time since I’ve been a Bloggy Blogster. The fingers are a bit rusty, the thoughts a bit fuddled… but bear with me… I’ll get the hang of it all again, you’ll see.

We’ve had a few major changes here at Chook Towers. For one, our oldest hen Maud croaked it a couple of months back. One day she was Queen of the Coop, strutting around with the best of them: the next she’d slipped away in the night. Every cloud has a silver lining though – she hadn’t laid for AGES, and since her demise, we’ve found out who the ‘Phantom Shitter in the Nest Box’ was. Our eggs are beautifully clean now!

The other big change is about to take place in… oooh… just over a week. I’m moving to a new house, with a new garden. So no more raised beds, greenhouse, and no more tales from Cluckingham Palace. The new garden comes complete with a lawn, a path, a shed… and, well, that’s about it really. Some would be daunted by the prospect, but I’m looking at it as an entire blank canvas that I can dig up and plant to my heart’s content. There. Another silver lining comes my way 🙂

All’s not gloomy though – I already have an Eglu (that’s a rather posh hen house to you), and a greenhouse earmarked to dismantle in a week or two.The Eglu travelled 140 miles in the back of my Mini (I kid you not), and the greenhouse actually belonged to one of the houses I looked at in my new house search.

The rest of the garden will take shape around them… pics to follow in later posts.

So off to pastures new – wish me luck!


Sweet dumpling squash

I thought it was a butternut squash I was growing, but the fruit was nothing like anything I’ve bought in the shops. After a trawl around Google, I discovered it was a sweet dumpling squash, and it should taste very similar to butternut.

Now I’ve found out what my mystery squash is, I suppose I’d better find out what on earth I do with it…

Sweet dumpling squash

Sweet dumpling squash

Fruits & Veggies More Matters : Top 10 Ways to Enjoy Sweet Dumpling Squash : Health Benefits of Fruits & Vegetables.

Jury’s out

Who knew that the ‘fun’ village show could be so stressful?

This morning began with me furtling around the garden in my pyjamas, harvesting my top veggies. All the runner beans of a decent size came off, the spuds and onions came out of hiding from the shed, and I also picked a couple of courgettes, a couple of tomatoes and a mahoosive cucumber that I’ve grown.

I thought it was going to be an easy task, but sorting through the beans was actually hard work. Laying them out in size order, I discovered that finding four the same was going to be pretty tricky. Some were too curly, some were odd shapes, and some were perfect, but had a kink in them. I straightened them out best I could, and these were the pick of the crop. Mine are on the orange card… hopefully they will jump out at judging time.

Runner beans at the show

Runner beans at the show

Next up was my 5 a day display. Basically, a collection of five different things you’ve grown. I went for a marrow, cucumber, courgettes, onions and tomatoes. Purely because they looked half decent and they were brightly coloured.

Mine’s the big basket at the front:

5 a day display at the village vegetable show

5 a day display at the village vegetable show

The potatoes were next – finding four identical ones was near on impossible. After I’d washed them, some were a bit scabby and not fit to enter. I weighed the rest: three came in at bang on 87 grams – and one was 95. I decided to sneak it in anyway, and hope they wouldn’t notice.

Finally, I displayed my longest runner bean and took my two cross stitch pictures across to the stage – where there were LOADS of entries.

I hadn’t realised the show would be so competitive. Everywhere I looked, people were nudging their veggies into prime positions, with serious faces all round. I naively thought I’d take my stuff down, slap it on a bit of card, and saunter back home with a fist full of prizes and a smug look on my face.

Anyway, the jury’s out and judging was at 12 noon: public viewing  from 2 til 4. I’ll nip down at 3 to see how they got on… I can hardly contain myself!

Chelsea Flower Show 2013

A couple of weeks back I was lucky enough to be swanning around Chelsea Flower Show. Although I’ve been to gardening shows in the past, this was my virgin flight to Chelsea, and I have to say, it was fantastic: made even more special because it was its 100 year centenary.

Here’s a sneaky pick of the legend that is Alan Titchmarsh. This was taken just the moment before he waved and shouted, “Cooeee Lynnette!” I was so embarrassed…

Alan Titchmarsh at Chelsea Flower Show

Alan Titchmarsh at Chelsea Flower Show

*actually that bit was a slight lie – more like wishful thinking*

First impressions of the show? It’s massive. It’s a complete assault on your senses, and there’s a surprise or a ‘Wow!’ around every corner. With so many sights and scents to savour and ideas to process, it’s certainly one to do, if at all possible: if only once in your life.

One display had an entire ceiling made up of hanging amaryllis flowers.

Chelsea Flower Show - amaryllis ceiling

Chelsea Flower Show – amaryllis ceiling

Another had oriental structures covered in orchid flowers; 15,000 orchid plants had been used to create their display.

Oriental orchids at Chelsea Flower Show

Oriental orchids at Chelsea Flower Show

Some of the show gardens included elements that, although stunning, may be nigh on impossible to recreate in your own garden… but elements of the designs can be used, and there is inspiration wherever you look.

As most of us haven’t the budget for a field full of orchids, I’ve brought back a few clever ideas that won’t break the bank and looked fabulous in the gardens.

There were lots of examples of re-using household objects as planters, with a definite theme in some veg plots of ‘Digging for Victory’ and ‘Make do and mend’.

Vegetable plots Chelsea Flower Show

Vegetable plots Chelsea Flower Show

RHS 2013 147 (Medium) RHS 2013 148 (Medium) RHS 2013 149 (Medium)
Whatever objects you recycle into planters will first need to have a couple of holes drilled in the bottom to let the water out, and some gravel or broken pot bits in the base to provide good drainage. You might also want to line the containers with polythene to preserve them from the inside.

One of my personal favourites was strawberries planted in a pair of old work boots – slightly gutting as I’d had a clear out in the shed only a few weeks ago and thrown an old pair of boots away.

Strawberries in boots and guttering

Strawberries in boots and guttering

On the same stand were strawberries growing in guttering. I plan to adapt that idea slightly… we have some old guttering lurking at the bottom of the garden. I’ll get the other half to fix it to the shed, just under the window, and plant it up with some colourful trailing rockery plants – an instant window box makeover.

Other reused objects at the show were catering-size aluminium cans, oil drums, old watering cans, steel water butts and old dolly tubs and colanders. There were even some geraniums planted up in half a disco ball, and elsewhere, hessian sacks were attached to a fence with plants popping out of the tops.

Hessian sack planters Chelsea Flower Show

Hessian sack planters Chelsea Flower Show

In one garden, an old case had been planted up with herbs, though I suspect – not being a durable container – it would need to be brought in and kept dry during the winter.

My first raised bed was the old water butt from the house, but I’ll now be on the hunt for other containers to use – after seeing some of the ideas at Chelsea, the possibilities are truly endless.

More Chelsea pics…

Gardens at Chelsea RHS 2013 127 (Medium) RHS 2013 128 (Medium) RHS 2013 130 (Medium) RHS 2013 131 (Medium) RHS 2013 157 (Medium) RHS 2013 167 (Medium) RHS 2013 176 (Medium) RHS 2013 177 (Medium) RHS 2013 178 (Medium) RHS 2013 184 (Medium)

Chooks and Roots on Facebook

Chooks and Roots.

Brand new Facebook page – will be posting pics, links and blogtastic other stuff…

If you’re interested in gardening, growing your own and/or keeping chickens, come along and join us 🙂

Insect hotel

A good friend came to stay at the weekend, which of course was great fun. But what’s better than a visit from a good friend? A visit from a friend who’s bearing gifts – that’s what!

A rummage in her overnight bag produced a strange structure made of wood, which she proudly thrust into my arms. I looked at it dubiously and eventually asked, “Err… what is it?”

“Oh, Lynno!” she scoffed. “It’s an insect hotel. It will be GREAT in your garden!”

A closer look at the instructions revealed that in theory, it should indeed be fabulous for the garden. Apparently, it contains all sorts of hidey holes that are a magnet for things like solitary bees, ladybirds, lacewings and other creepy crawlies. Once they’ve moved in, they should happily whiz around your garden, pollinating stuff left right and centre.

Although we’ve been lucky enough to have had tree bees in our bird box for the last couple of years, I’m all for enticing a few more varieties into the patch. Bees are apparently on the decline, so if we can help any out with a place to stay for the summer, it’s got to be worth a go.

The ideal place for the insect hotel was about a metre off the ground, in a sunny spot where it can catch some of the early morning rays. Without further ado, the other half shot out to install it, and duly shoved a bit of straw in the bottom part, as per the leaflet. We’ve gone for a sheltered spot outside the greenhouse, which should remain undisturbed – but equally is near enough to the veg patch for the insects to work their magic. I’ll be keeping my beady eye out for anything taking up residence.

Insect hotel

Insect hotel

Meanwhile, back in the greenhouse, I’ve been busily pricking out seedlings to give them more room to grow. The best way I’ve found of doing this is to loosen the soil around the roots, hold the seedling carefully by its leaves and transplant to a larger pot, trying not to cause any damage or disturbance to the plant or the roots. Then put some soil around the roots, and gently firm around the base. Keep it well watered, and it should soon grow into its new space, throwing up new leaves and growth.

Pricked out seedlings

Pricked out seedlings

I’ve also popped a few more broad bean seeds in between the established plants in the garden. The plan is that the crop will be staggered, and hopefully I’ll get beans over a longer period of time. The peas and carrots I sowed a week or so back aren’t yet popping up but I’m happy to report that I have healthy-looking rows of radish, turnips and beetroot. I’m sure everything will catch up in good time.

So my final word this week is to our local insect population. There’s a lovely hotel that’s just opened for the summer. Reasonable rates, and available for rent. Come on in… you know you want to…

This one appeared in The Hinckley Times on 2 May 2013

The Hinckley Times 2 May 2013

The Hinckley Times 2 May 2013

We’re off to the Edible Garden Show!

I happened across the Edible Garden Show today, and am chuffed to be able to say that my friend and I are off there for a little trip out this weekend.

No strangers to garden shows, we’ve been to quite a few over the years. We prided ourselves at one time of being Geoff Hamilton’s own personal groupies, and it wasn’t unknown for us to visit the Gardener’s World Show at the NEC just to catch a glimpse of the legend himself. At some points I think we even convinced ourselves that we actually knew him, as we would chat gardening chat with wise words such as, “well, you know, Geoff said the best way to grow carrots was to….” blah blah blah.

On one occasion, we were avidly watching Gay Search doing a piece for telly, and I’m almost ashamed to say that throughout the entire performance, my friend and I were watching through the back of the garden display, with our heads poking through the trellis. We searched the recording of the next Gardener’s World show frame by frame, and, result! There we were, grinning stupidly in the background – how we laughed.

So this weekend should be fun. My friend doesn’t actually grow much veg, but she’s mad keen on all the other stuff, and knows the right way to prune shrubs etc, rather than my haphazard approach of ‘grab the shears and give it a good haircut!’ Oh, yes, I can see it now. She’ll have to bow to my wisdom when I start going on about borlotti beans vs runner beans, and early and late peas, and wondering sagely if indeed those parsnips are ‘Hollow Crowns’.

I’ll have to slightly overlook the point when her eyes glaze over and she impails herself on a garden fork….

January… not the best month for growing

According to form, the most depressing day of the year falls at the end of January. I can vouch for that. As far as gardening news goes, not an awful lot happened.

As I had a new greenhouse to play with, I was determined to get on out there and start growing things as early as I possibly could. Everything was going to get off to the best possible start, and by the summer, I’d be powering a small shop with my veggie delights. I catalogued all my seeds at the end of last year, so I know what I have, what bed it goes in, who to plant it with, and most importantly, when. January arrived, and I have to say, I was itching to get going. So, I looked at the trusty list, and discovered I could plant aubergines, tomatoes, peas and early carrots in the greenhouse. In they all went, and I did a rare thing indeed – I even labelled the trays. I put the small plastic greenhouse inside the big greenhouse, figuring it would provide a nice frost free area for them to thrive.

Then we had a cold snap, and it became blatantly obvious that it wouldn’t be warm enough in there. So, off I went to town and happened upon a half price paraffin heater in our local hardware store. Too good to miss, and the last in the shop, I whipped it off the shelf and scurried to the checkout, before they changed their mind. Feeling rather smug with my bargain, I was almost praying for a frost that night, so I could go and play with my new toy. My wish was granted, and the heater worked a treat. However, from that moment on, the rest of the month was spent running up and down the garden, tending to the seed trays.

At night when it was cold: heater on. First thing in the morning: heater off. Bit of sunshine: seed trays out on the bench. First sign of cold: seed trays back in the small greenhouse. Last thing at night: heater back on, and door zipped up. At some points I’ve seriously wondered if I took as much care over my children when they were young… And that’s not all. Cold weather equals frozen chicken water, so I’ve also had to run up and down replacing that. With all this extra activity during what’s supposed to be the ‘quietest gardening month of the year’, I fully expect to have lost the muffin top I picked up over Christmas. And after all this running around and extra effort, what am I rewarded with? A tray of pea shoots, and not much else.