Elderflower extravaganza!

The hedgerows are filled with creamy elderflowers. It’s time to forage!  Choose elderflower heads that are in full blossom and at their most fragrant to make delicious drinks, skin care and preserves.

I’ve been busy in the kitchen making elderflower champagne, liqueur, vinegar, sugar, oil and dried elderflowers too.  Here are the recipes.

May – I need more hours in the day!

The temperature has fallen (again!) and the wind can be so cold, but things are hotting up in my no dig greenhouse and polytunnel. Germination is so rapid it feels as though seeds are popping almost as soon as I plant them, thanks to the heat mats and heated propagating bench.

melons and cucumbers

Less temperature vulnerable larger plants, including the tomatoes, peppers, sweetcorn and aubergines,  have been moved to unheated areas in the greenhouse and polytunnel – they are still being protected from the cool wind and cold, and I am ready to cover them with fleece if there is a risk of frost – tonight has been flagged up as a potential problem, so I’m going to check all of my outdoor potatoes and protect with earthing up, cardboard and fleece.

On the heat now are young  courgettes, cucumbers, melons, basil, squash, blue butterfly pea and beans, in various stages of growth – some ready to pot on, others just emerging from the compost.   The wind last week was so cold I appreciated being able to sow, prick out and pot on in the shelter of my polytunnel.

This year I’ve sown 13 different varieties of basil, including Thai, Indian, Cinnamon, Lemon, Lime and Holy, as well as three different kinds of sweet basil. I use basil widely in cooking, from salads to Thai dishes (for which I also grow lemon grass, special Thai aubergines and Thai chillies). The vibrant spicy flavours available are far more exciting than anything you can buy in a regular grocers, making basil a really worthwhile herb to grow.

There’s still plenty of time to sow basil!

Basil needs warmth and daylight to germinate and thrive. A windowsill propagator is ideal for smaller spaces. Sow the basil in rows in a seed tray to maximise space – you can easily fit 7 or 8 full rows of basil, more if you sow half rows. Remember to label them all! Once they have germinated, prick out into modules for single sturdy plants, to grow on somewhere light and frost free. Alternatively, sow a pinch into modules, or more into pots, for clumps of fragrant leaves for the kitchen windowsill. Most of my basil goes into the polytunnel as individual plants.

 

After pricking out, I leave the rest of the basil in the seedtray to grow on as microleaves. This provides two or three harvests of extra-early basil for salads, pesto and sauces.

There are seed trays, modules and plants everywhere! On tables in the garden, temporary staging made from upturned crates, anywhere I can find until they are ready to plant out. Growing in modules makes it very easy to put plants in crates and then into the car, to go to work or up to my allotment – they can be stacked in the boot too, an important space and time saving consideration as my car is very small. I bought more herbs and four step over apple trees from Pennard Plants last week and somehow managed to fit them all in my boot!

A spider used one of the crates to make her nest – here are her beautiful babies. I always try to keep spiders safe, they are such great predators in the garden.

 

I am very much enjoying this wildish area next to the perennial bed (there are potatoes on the other side of the dalek composters). The florence fennel has overwintered somehow and is producing small fennel bulbs from the base where I cut the bulb last autumn – I expect it will bolt quite soon. As well as the annual flowers, here are two euphorbia varieties, a red rose and a wild white rose. This polyculture adds to the biodiversity of my garden, providing a wide range of forage for insects and birds throughout the year. It is a bit of a pain to keep weed free though – both roses are very thorny!

This is one of the two Florence fennel that I sowed in September and overwintered in the polytunnel (on display at Hauser and Wirth with some of my stored squash and garlic; the potatoes were harvested by Charles in July and stored in a sack in his shed all winter). Most of the young fennel plants were killed by the cold temperatures.

Every day there are more flowers! These are all in my back garden, except for the bean flowers which are at work.

It looks as though the greengage blossom was undamaged by frost as the small tree is full of potential baby fruit. At work, I am enjoying the amazing vibrant pink of this chard.

On Bank Holiday Monday, Charles and I had a stall selling our new book, and many of Charles’ other titles. It was a fun day, so many people came, great music, fantastic food and the Morris Men.

And on Sunday 8th, Charles and I celebrated the book with Maddy and Tim Harland and the rest of the team at Permaculture Magazine, at the South Downs Fair, Sustainability Centre, Hampshire.

It is doing so well, we’re having great feedback and it is still a best seller on Amazon! (If you’d like a copy, please buy from us or the publishers, if you can).

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Amazon ranking 09/05/17

 

Polytunnel polyculture & spring flowers

A quick photo blog – I just wanted to share some spring pictures from my back garden!

Most of the plants in the no dig polytunnel were planted last October into beds which were mulched in May, just as the tomatoes and other summer plants were going in here: no other fertilisers were added, one annual spring mulch feeds the crops year round. The polytunnel has 1/3 mesh and 2/3 polythene doors, which ensures good ventilation and gaps above the doors are large enough for small birds and insects to enter. During the winter I recorded temperatures lower than -4°C in here so everything freezes, however the cover keeps the weather – wind, hail, driving rain – off the plants which makes a huge difference for extending the growing season and feeding my family.

Bruton where I live is in south west England, zone 8/9.

A week ago I planted Swift potatoes into one of the beds and sowed some catch-crop radish in gaps where we have harvested vegetables. I mostly grow annual plants here but there are some perennials; recently I planted an apricot tree, on pixie root stock so that it won’t get very big. Other trees – a peach, nectarine and a mystery fruit – are on unknown rootstocks, so they are growing in large tree pots. A 3 year old grapevine is established at the back of the polytunnel. The lemongrass planted in the ground may have survived the winter, it looks hopeful and other overwintered perennials are snug in their pots in side beds.

This is the flowering mystery tree. Unlike my other potted fruit trees, last year this one didn’t produce any fruit so I do not know what it is. An apricot, peach, almond?

mystery tree

The polytunnel is 12ft x 40ft. During the summer the beds are completely full but at this time of year I make the most of the dry covered space and set up a potting bench. There’s also my saw horse, a stack of card for mulching, bags of compost and lots of young plants waiting to go outside.

The lettuce on the left has just been picked. The larger lettuce is the chosen Grenoble Red plant for saving seed. I chose this one because, unlike the other lettuces, this one self seeded from the lettuce I was growing for seed last year – it chose where to grow (ok, that is a bit of a romantic notion, but I like it…) Grenoble Red is the best lettuce for overwintering here, very prolific and tasty.

Signs of spring – some of the first flowers in my garden, all outside except the apricot.

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Signs of spring, West Dean

A photo blog post

We spent the weekend at West Dean college near Chichester on 4th and 5th February, where Charles was giving two day courses. The estate was owned by the remarkable Edward James, who donated the land, house and an extensive collection of art to create a college.

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Stained glass window commemorating Edward James

Although it is not the best time of year to visit the gardens they are still wonderful – so many flowers emerging outside in early February.

Violas in one of the glasshouses.

Some of the new sowings for the glasshouses and vegetable gardens.

I have serious glasshouse envy!

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The impressive walled kitchen garden was remarkably empty, just leeks this year. Usually there are brassicas too.

Edible flowers and a rose vinegar recipe

On Friday I harvested the first of my roses to dry the petals. The edible flowers here are beginning to bloom in abundance, adding beauty and colour to the garden and food, with the added bonus of smelling amazing and feeding the bees. My article on growing and using edible flowers, including many recipes, is in the current issue of Permaculture Magazine (International) and the new publication, Permaculture  Magazine, North America.