Back home

I had a great time on holidays, but it’s nice being home again too, especially now that spring is in the air!

I flew back from Thailand on January 24th. Coming into London at 6am, this was the view from my window – can you see Tower Bridge? Good to see my garden again (and I popped over to see Charles too) but after 24 hours at home came down with a lurgie so spent the next few days full of cold, probably something to do with that really long flight and landing in the freezing cold from the tropics!

Caitlin, Sam and I arrived home at almost the same time as my older son Ruairi, who had just passed his driving test!

Temperley Early rhubarb was already emerging in the back garden and my polytunnel full of luscious greenery – and some dead lemongrass that I’d not had time to bring into the house. In the front garden beds I found three perfect cauliflowers!

There was barely time to do the laundry and catch up (we had our first day course of the year too) before I was off again, with Charles this time, to Tenerife to celebrate Charles 60th birthday on the 30th January.

We booked a hotel in Garachico, Northern Tenerife and had a lovely time even though it wasn’t very sunny, warm but lots of grey skies. Our hotel had a roof terrace and every time the sun came out, we shot up there to soak it in! It was lovely to relax, spend some time together out of a garden, drink local wines and eat local dishes. Within 24 hours my cold was gone, too!

During our visit the police closed the road alongside the ocean due to wild conditions in the water: so impressive! The waves crashed against the shoreline, sending sprays over 30ft into the air.

Garachico is a very pretty town and the surrounding countryside beautiful, so although we didn’t get the weather we were hoping for it was a lovely holiday. We both took work with us – I worked on my new book and wrote two magazine articles; Charles is writing an online course so spent time on that – but still had plenty of time to enjoy ourselves.

It was a shame to miss the snow in England, but my son Ruairi and Charles’ neighbour Heather took some photos:

The volcano as we were flying home, taken from my window.

Back home again it was good to spend some time catching up with Ruairi, now driving his old banger on his own, and get back into the swing of things – several talks, more articles to write and our no dig gardening courses to host. This is some of the food I’ve been making, all from homegrown seasonal or stored ingredients (except olive oil and suchlike).

Growth in the polytunnel is responding to the increase in light and daytime temperatures – a bit of sunshine and inside the polytunnel it’s t shirt weather.

The snow killed off a few things, including all of the peas in my planter and flattened some of the cloches at the allotment. My poor broadbeans! They were eaten by birds and now flattened by the cloche that was erected to protect them!

Still haven’t had time to mulch the allotment, the pile of manure is sitting there looking hopeful…. Underneath double layers of fleece, the beetroot is lovely and garlic (not covered) is growing strongly too. It’s amazing how weeds will grow, even in winter when it has snowed! These are mostly ‘self inflicted’ weeds from the wild flowers and companions I grow, but they are sadly in the wrong place and will need removing. The frame is a bean teepee that I haven’t put away yet.

There’s rather a lot of “I haven’t done it yet” going on in my garden and allotment! Fortunately there’s still plenty of time.

Indoors, I’ve sowed my first seeds – aubergines, sweet peppers and chillies. This is a very exciting time, first sowings of the year! I grow a lot of aubergines well over 20 different varieties this year. It was so mild and sunny I could do all of the sowing on the potting bench under the old apple tree – it’s an old table next to the greenhouse. At this time of year the seed trays come inside to germinate on heated propagators in my office/study, on the windowsills. This is more economical than turning on the heat mats in the greenhouse, for now.

The aubergines went in the small green trays: chillies and sweet peppers in the larger seed tray, with old labels as dividers.

I am still using the plastic labels I bought  8 or 9 years ago, back in the days when we did such things. So of course I am going to use them rather than chuck in the landfill unused. I am not buying any more new single use plastic, although labels are not single use as they are all reused many times, (as much as is humanly possible) but will be using everything that I already have until they can not be used any more. The plastic tray for sowing on was from a charity shop – the pattern looks straight from the 70s (!) and the seed trays/propagating lids are all several years old.

I have wooden and metal plant labels too. Last year I found the cheap “lolly pop stick” plant labels a bit risky in seed trays, as they rotted rather quickly so for now will be using my stash of plastic labels.

Last weekend we went to West Dean, Charles was giving a day course and then to The Guardian Masterclass in London, where he was teaching with Alys Fowler and Victoria Wade. I walked in the sunshine all morning, it was bliss, along Regents Canal and then met Charles in the afternoon to listen to Alys’ talk.

I love how so many of the canal boats have set up little gardens alongside the towpath. Many had sheds, tables and chairs, beds full of veggies.

A diverse mixture of modern buildings and old cottages makes for a fascinating city walk, including unusual graffiti. Sadly, there were also many homeless people sleeping under the bridges. One young person was fast asleep, wrapped up in a sleeping bag with a duvet wrapped around his head. It was late morning, but I expect it is safer for him to sleep by day with lots of people passing, than at night. Seeing his slumbering face I could have been looking at one of my own sons, he was about the same age. He was a few hundred metres from a fancy new shopping and leisure development (which included a gym for faces, I didn’t even know that was a thing), so much wealth and yet this young man was sleeping on a tow path nearby.

The mornings are mostly icy-cold with hard frosts but as the sun rises (when it isn’t cloudy or raining) it’s amazing how warm it feels. I’ve been gardening for a few hours some days in a t shirt. Just as exciting, the days are increasingly becoming longer, I was able to harvest sprouts at almost 6pm today.

My back has been a bit dodgy this week so I’ve concentrated on standing up tasks including sowing spinach, lettuce, lemongrass, herbs and early brassicas, and tidying the greenhouse which was in a right old state. I’d shoved a load of things in one day in the winter when the weather was bad and they’ve been there ever since. Now, it’s all ready for the main sowing to come: trays neatly stacked, plant pots underneath the potting benched, all of my tools somewhere sensible where I can actually find them, labels all sorted, propagating lids ready. I’ve checked the sand bench and heat mats – all are still working, but turned off for now as they are not required yet.

The aubergines sown on 11th February are starting to germinate. As they grow, I’ll prick them out into module trays to grow on before potting on – this saves space, very valuable at this time of year when heated space is at a premium.

In the garden, rhubarb is getting bigger every day – I’m going to cover some with an old bin for force it – and the polytunnel apricot has blossom buds.

Bees are out! I’m opening the polytunnel doors every day when I can, so they can visit the brassica flowers as well as the garden flowers. I’m picking pea shoots, salad and fresh brassica shoots. The broadbeans are producing flower buds too in the polytunnel.

This month, I have articles in Permaculture Magazine, The Landsman and also my book is featured in Kitchen Garden magazine …. and I made the cover!

For the next few weeks, The Creative Kitchen is on special offer in my shop and there’s also a double pack offer with No Dig Organic Home and Garden – buy from here.

Tomorrow, Charles and I are making the hotbed for his greenhouse. It’s being filmed for You Tube – it’ll be an interesting morning!













4 thoughts on “Back home”

  1. Hi Stephanie – a lovely post and I must get Kath to surprise me with a trip to Tenerife for my next significant birthday! I have just planted an apricot in my polytunnel and would welcome any advice on pruning it to shape, perhaps as a fan?

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Thank you John. I’m afraid I’m not the person to advise on fan pruning, my pruning is very ordinary!

  2. Wow !! Steph you two are simply amazing ! thanks for sharing I love to read of all your adventures, also how you have a very down to earth money saving ideas.I note your very economical use of space and soil in your seed trays ! cramming in a lots of different seeds in such a small space , I must try that .Your Ruebarb is much more advanced than mine here in Somerset only a few miles from you.
    Timperley Early is a very good early variety always out way ahead of any others ,I grew it in a previous garden. Here on my allotment it’s all inherited and I am unsure which Variety I have , it’s certainly not Timperley ……Keep up the great work .

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Thank you Linda. That rhubarb is particularly good, always so early, I think it must like where it lives. Looking forward to eating some soon-ish.

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