Time to consider the vegetable plans

Last year there just wasn’t enough hours in the day to spend any real time on the vegetable growing side of things. With a day job as well as the livestock and other land management tasks taking up all of my time, it was a tough but ultimately the best decision.

In the end I simply had to accept that some areas had to be left untouched and that they would inevitably disappear under the weed growth. There was no way I could keep on top of all the available growing space so it was better to tackle just a sensible and manageable amount.

A little extra compost to top it up

This year I hope to build on that hard lesson by increasing the growing space used – but just a little. A combination of shorter but more frequent weeding sessions and also plenty of mulching should help to keep on top of any weeds.

The first batch of outside seed sowing has already been done with some carrots sown in the left hand bed shown below. This also has a plastic cover over the top just to help protect it from the cooler evenings we still seem to get at the moment. The other plastic cover has been put in place ready for planting out other vegetables later on.

Very happy with the progress at this stage

Nearly all of the raised beds are looking very respectable at the moment and just about ready for sowing or planting out. The raised bed containing the soft fruit (far right) still needs some care and attention but that has a weed fabric in place so any tidy up shouldn’t be too difficult.

Now that it finally seems the last of winter has passed, over I can get on with some proper seed sowing the course of the next week or two. This will be a more concentrated effort because in previous years I’ve tried spreading the work out and ended up getting confused with what was planted and when!

When is a dwarf bean no longer dwarf?

The very first early seeds were sown a few weeks ago using a donated heated propagator but they have been a little too successful I think. These are supposed to be dwarf beans and they have got a bit ahead of themselves.

These poor plants also suffered when I was potting them on last weekend. The chickens spotted them while my back was turned and in the space of a minute or two they had descended on them.

Luckily the damage wasn’t too bad in the end but some of the leaves must have been a very tasty treat!

Planning seems to be paying off

I’ll probably change my mind when summer gets here but at the moment this is definitely my favourite time of year. The first swallow arrived yesterday – only 5 days later than last year – which I’m definitely taking as a good sign even though it was only one bird so far.

There is so much happening right now with the seeds starting to put on some impressive growth and the effort put in through the winter with the planting plans starting to pay off.

I’ve even managed to resist the urge to plant too much too soon this year which is a first for me. Having said that I think I might still have planted a little too much but at least it wasn’t too soon!

Original raised bed plan
Original raised bed plan

The only minor change to the original plans I’d made during the winter was to also plant a selection of flower seeds as well as vegetable and herb seeds. I suspect that this helped to ease my excessive planting urge because I could plant other seeds instead.

Actually, I now remember that there was another “minor” change when I added the new 20ft long raised bed a few weeks ago. However in my mind that doesn’t really count as breaking the plans because I’m simply adding more growing space for the courgettes which went so well last year.

Next year will certainly be a little different though as there are grand plans in my head for a polytunnel (maybe 10ft x 20ft) and even a greenhouse but I may need to seek approval from my better half before going ahead with all of that!

Spring is here…

A week of fine, dry weather which coincided with taking time off from the day job – what are the chances of that happening?

This stroke of luck meant that I was able to get cracking with many jobs in the hope that preparations could be made so things don’t get out of hand like last year.

Most importantly to my mind, the seed trays are all labelled properly rather than using an old lolly stick which inevitably fades and gets covered in dirt so I can’t read what I wrote on it.


The first batches of vegetable seeds were sown over the third weekend in March, a little later than last year and a sign of what I consider to be my admirable restraint. In most cases, the various trays and pots were promptly stashed in the fairly warm loft to germinate.

Carrots on their way
Carrots on their way

However the leeks were left outside in the cold frame based on advice I read that they prefer colder conditions to germinate. This would seem to be true because they are looking okay so far.

Out of interest, I decided to test the leeks using 3 pots of “Gro Sure” seed compost alongside 3 pots with “John Innes”. There doesn’t seem too much difference in the results at the moment but it’s still early days.

Comparing compost with leeks
Comparing compost with leeks

There are now carrots, red cabbage, swede and leeks to name a few starting to show above the soil so I’m happy that I’m on course for planting out properly in a few weeks time.

The only minor concern is that there is no sign of life from the lettuce yet but perhaps that is down to using an old packet of seed that I found. I’ll give them a little longer to come up before worrying too much.

Flower seeds

I also decided to plant a range of flower seeds this year – partly for variety because I focus on vegetables too much but also because the garden could use some colour and scent at times!

To my surprise and satisfaction these came up even quicker than many of the vegetable seeds I had sown…

Flower seeds making good progress
Flower seeds making good progress

All in all, a highly productive week and a feeling that good progress has been made in preparation for the rest of the growing season!

I even managed to squeeze in another raised bed using some left over materials I had lying around. I did have to buy in a few bags of compost but I was able to mix that with some home-produced compost that needed to be shifted.

You can never have too many
You can never have too many

Final preparations before planting begins

I’m constantly reminding myself of the good fortune in having a selection of fairly good outbuildings at my disposal. They’re generally weatherproof most of the time with power and light available so they’re perfectly usable for my needs.

The problem I’ve had is that the original potting shed had collected more and more junk since we moved in – presumably following that well-known law of physics where junk expands to fit the available space.

Later this year there will be other outbuildings to sort out which will mean a wider rethink on the usage for all of them. However the first step was to relocate the potting shed into a smaller space to exclude the junk and make it more convenient for the various raised beds scattered around the garden.

Starting with a blank canvas certainly makes the job easier and once the first items are in place everything soon looks good. If I’m honest, I’ve never been particularly noted for my interior design skills but I was quite proud of how the space was working out.

Getting the layout right
Getting the layout right

All started well enough and I felt that the standard lamp added a certain touch of class to the overall ambience. However once all the other “useful” items that I’m keeping were brought in, the space soon looked a little more crowded.

Obviously you can never have enough plant pots and seed trays so they have to stay. Handy tray covers, bags of compost, netting and mesh covers are also pretty much crucial I think.

I may need to rethink things in the near future because, although the picture below looks quite nicely arranged, there has been quite a lot more added since it was taken.

Getting there slowly...
Getting there slowly…

It’s clear I wasn’t as efficient as I thought I had been at getting rid of the clutter.

While I was wondering what to do with the large pile of left over, dried up old compost from past years, the one-eyed pet hen (“Adele”) volunteered to check it over and remove any unwanted edible (and inedible) items. Given her example, it didn’t take the 3 rescue hens long to figure out what an opportunity this was.

Chickens enjoying some dried out compost
Chickens enjoying some dried out compost

Preparing for spring

Last weekend saw some long-overdue clearing up of the raised beds and perhaps not a moment too soon as the current long-term weather forecast seems to show there will be no late spring cold snap this year.

Clearing a raised bed with some little helpers
Clearing a raised bed with some little helpers

After some minor setbacks last spring with plants being slow to get started due to the usual over-eagerness to get things planted and growing, this year I have come up with a new master plan.

My theory is that around the 3rd Saturday in March (the 21st this year) I will plant seeds in pots for a few selected vegetables and leave them in indoors to germinate. The likely contenders for this phase will be those that take a while to germinate or anything that needs a longer growing season.

This will be followed on the 3rd Saturday in April (the 18th this year) with the first seeds planted direct outside when the weather has warmed up a little. This will include everything else I am planning to grow this year and will hopefully be the start of some properly planned succession planting.

As part of preparations for the busy days of spring, I managed to clear a few other jobs which had been hanging around waiting for the right weather (and motivation). The most important of these was to properly plant the new fruit trees which had been heeled in for the last few weeks.

Fruit trees finally in place
Fruit trees finally in place

Learning some important lessons from the last attempt at planting fruit trees, this location is a little more exposed but still protected by other trees and it’s definitely better drained soil so the it should work out fine. I have also installed extra posts when planting to support chicken wire wrapped around in addition to the rabbit guards at the base of each one.

We had some damage last year from wild deer when they took a liking to nibbling the leaves but the chicken wire should do the trick for now at least. I like to see the deer roaming around the local area but I might change my mind if they have another go at my young fruit trees!

General summer update

After some poor early results the new raised beds are looking a little more respectable these days. There has been a surprisingly low success rate with some of the seeds I’ve planted which has meant some extra later planting to fill in the gaps.

This is a little annoying but I enjoy sowing seeds so it’s been good to get some seeds in while there is still time left this year.

Varied results with leeks and beetroot
Varied results with leeks and beetroot

There were some small instances of problems with chickens, birds and other wildlife helping themselves but that wasn’t the biggest issue for me.

I still haven’t decided whether the seed company I used this year are to blame for dodgy seeds or if the problem is with the “dumpy” bags of compost I had delivered to fill these new raised beds.

My suspicions are that the bulk compost prices are a false economy and this is supported by the fact that a fair percentage of the seeds do germinate.

Courgettes and peas

After a promisingly organised start to the year I’ve realised that lolly sticks are just not up to the job of labelling where seeds have been sown. The writing gets dirty or fades too quickly so for a while I was left with small squash and courgette plants but no way for a beginner like me to tell them apart.

Luckily as the plants get bigger the difference becomes more obvious but I’ve learnt that lesson now. I recently bought some proper black plant labels which come with a white pen – just like the professionals! I’ve been very impressed with the prompt delivery from Harrod Horticulture but I’m not sure they are always the cheapest for everything.

First courgettes
First courgettes

It seems that peas do well here but the results would have been even more impressive if I had spaced the plants out a little more and provided some better support while they were growing. This variety has purple pods which I really like as it helps with finding and picking them when the time is right.

Purple podded peas
Purple podded peas

The pod may be purple but don’t worry inside the peas are green just like normal…

A pod full of peas
A pod full of peas


And last but not least, the sweetcorn is looking quite good at the moment. If I’m honest though this is the only plant which is this advanced!

More signs of growth

Looking back now it seems quite some time since the return of the lapwings and curlews followed around mid-April by the swallows that nest in our barn.

Seed Sowing

Now that we’ve reached the first week of May I look at the results of my early seed sowing with a slight air of disappointment. A hard lesson has been learned yet again about planting too soon.

This time around I waited a little longer before planting but didn’t make any allowance for our new location after moving much further inland and 1000ft above sea level.

I can take the blame for the timing perhaps but it’s too soon to apportion blame for the poor germination rate for seeds sown indoors. Depending on the results of the more recent sowings I’ll know soon enough whether it’s the seeds or the sower.

Fruit Trees

On the up side the 5 fruit trees (plum, pear and 3 apple) all seem to be coming to life so my first attempts at tree planting were successful. Hopefully they haven’t suffered any ill effects after spending some time in standing water due to the heavy rain over the winter.

Although the weather has been fairly mild since the start of the year we still got a frost at the start of May so it was lucky that I had a roll of horticultural fleece stashed away.

Ghosts in the garden?
Ghosts in the garden?

I have been pleasantly surprised to see the Victoria plum is already flowering very nicely – I hadn’t quite expected to see flowers so early in the year. Obviously I need to read up a bit more on all the fruit trees so I can make sure they get a good start in life in their first full year here.

Victoria plum
Victoria plum

The pear and 3 apple trees are much slower to get started but within the last few weeks all are making a start on leaf growth.

James Grieve apple
James Grieve apple

Progress report

I realise that it’s been some time since the last blog update. This is despite a temporary and unplanned change in my employment status which, as it happens, came at a very good time with so much to do.

Luckily right now it’s a blustery, showery Sunday afternoon so I can happily come inside for a change without feeling like I am neglecting the outside jobs!

Raised beds

After finally taking delivery of the wood for the path edges there has been some further progress with the remaining work to finish off the new beds.The edging is now in place all around the outside so the paths can be properly completed as soon as the weather allows.

Around half of the slate chippings have been wheelbarrowed in and it’s starting to take shape but there is just the small matter of shovelling the other 2 tonnes. Weather permitting that will be tackled this week so all the work is completed before any more planting takes place in the raised beds.

Seed sowing

I have sown a range of seeds at irregular intervals since mid-March with the earliest seeds kept in the loft room which should be a fairly warm place to encourage germination. Today it was the turn of a few dwarf French Beans to get sown into pots and more will follow at a suitable interval to prolong the crop I hope.

So far the cabbages, carrots and leeks are all doing well having survived the move outside to the cold frame. The sweetcorn is just getting going although the germination rate is a little disappointing. Those will have to stay indoors for a while longer I think – this is the North Pennines after all!

Another recent addition to the seed and cutting area was a simple strawberry pallet as a trial. A simple use for a pallet but if it works then I intend to have a go at the better pallet planter on the Lovely Greens blog at some point in the future.

Wood clearance

With the eager assistance of some weekend visitors another section of the woods has been cleared and the larger trunks or branches stored away under cover for next years firewood. The job would have taken a lot longer without the help and if I’m honest might not have been started until much later in the year!

The chainsaw and log splitter are being deployed at regular intervals to work through the pile whenever time allows.

Recent Photo Gallery

Given such a delay in updates I think a gallery of photos is needed to give a better overview of the general progress on all fronts.





Forcing rhubarb and first seeds sown

Rhubarb Forcing

Both rhubarb varieties seem to be doing well – the Stockbridge Arrow is lagging slightly behind the Champagne but that may help to spread out the (limited) harvest. I don’t want to force these excessively in case the plants suffer as a result so I won’t be picking too much from each plant.

I’ve never forced rhubarb before so I used a couple of spare plant pots as covers on the new growth but in future I may go for something taller. Luckily the pots have worked very well so far this year but as the new growth develops there is not enough space so I will soon be faced with a choice – harvest them as shorter stems or find something taller so they can develop a little more height.

As I’m impatient to see whether this rhubarb tastes any better, my current preference is to pick them sooner rather than later!

Champagne Rhubarb
Champagne Rhubarb


Stockbridge Arrow Rhubarb
Stockbridge Arrow Rhubarb

First seeds sown

Last weekend I decided that I had waited long enough and it was time to sow some of the vegetable seeds indoors. Nothing too delicate yet because there will be a few weeks yet before I can be certain of the weather improving.

This year I’m using bags of a dedicated seed compost for seed sowing and for this first batch I carefully sieved it when filling the trays or tubes. I doubt that the sieving is really necessary but when I sow more in 2-3 weeks time perhaps I’ll skip the sieving just to see what difference that makes (if any).

I had planned to put all the covered seed trays on to window sills in the living room and kitchen but apparently this approach does not meet with full approval from my better half. Luckily I eventually realised that the loft room would be perfectly suitable for the early stages as it gets most of the heat from the house plus the sky lights should provide a decent amount of light.

Just a few standard vegetable varieties have been sown so far (leeks, carrots and red/green cabbage) but if I can get these underway successfully now then I should have some space and time for the more interesting varieties.

Once the weather warms up a bit more, it will be interesting to see how much success I can get with things like sweetcorn and courgettes (which I haven’t tried before)  and  also whether I have any luck with my second attempt at squash and parsnips when I can plant them at the right time of the year.

Raised Beds

This bout of seed sowing also finally prompted some action on building the last raised bed (for this year at least). The original plan was for something slightly more contrived but as the work progressed the plans changed and the completed set of 5 raised beds should be more than enough for now

The path edging needs to be put down and I’m still not sure what to use for the paths but perhaps the easy option would be to use wood chip for now as we have lots of leftover small branches from the trees that came down. If that doesn’t work it can always be used for mulch elsewhere and the paths covered with slate chips or similar instead.

Raised bed construction
Raised bed construction

Veg seeds ordered and 30% off too!

I couldn’t help myself this morning, I spotted on Twitter that there was a one day 30% off promo code (TWITTER30) with SeedParade.co.uk (@SeedParade) so I figured I might as well give them a try this year. I’ve not used them before but they seem to have a fairly good selection (although no seed potatoes).

The deal was only valid for today (Fri 24 Jan 2014) but I had been contemplating the list of seeds to get for a few weeks so I was ready to place an order with someone.

Although the list looks fairly extensive when I read the email confirmation, the idea was to try a good variety of things that we would eat to get a better idea of what works here. I also don’t have to plant all the seeds from every packet I’ve bought so I could keep some for next year – I doubt that will happen though!

This years efforts should give a better guide for future years than my limited efforts during the last half of 2013 so that I don’t waste time on crops that simply don’t suit the site, environment or soil conditions.

The vegetable seeds ordered, in no particular order:

  • Dwarf French Bean Tendergreen
  • Beetroot Boltardy
  • Leek Giant Winter
  • Pea Purple Podded
  • Swede Marian
  • Sweetcorn Sweet Nugget F1
  • Carrot Nantes
  • Lettuce Cos Little Gem
  • Courgette Early Gem F1
  • Winter Squash – Waltham Butternut
  • Cabbage January King
  • Parsnip Countess F1
  • Cabbage Red Drumhead

Plus there were also a few herbs as well for variety:

  • Chamomile
  • Chives
  • French Lavender
  • Rosemary
  • Greek Oregano

Hopefully with a bit of careful planning and a little succession sowing I can try out some of everything I’ve ordered this year. There might be a slight space problem (as usual) but with 4 new raised beds already and one more that could still be built I think everything might work out okay.

My next job is working out what will be planted where and when…