Archive for April, 2009

Another bird update

After seeing 3 goldfinches at the same time, I fairly quickly saw 4 at once. I think its two pairs as there are occasional scuffles but most of the time they tolerate each other probably because there are 4 perches on the feeders they like – thistle seeds and sunflower hearts.

I have also started putting live mealworms out to see whether that would tempt anybody down to the patio. The flat feeder on the feeding station doesn’t seem to get any blackbirds or robins on it, I wonder if the feeders hanging nearby put them off. Its only the starlings that ever eat anything there. The feeder on the patio took a couple of days for the birds to find. The first day the mealworms were escaping all over the patio until a greedy starling ate them all up. I think the blackbird has taken a couple and this morning a very busy robin kept coming to take a mealworm back over the fence – hopefully that means theres a nest. Unfortunatly the starling has been back and eaten all the mealworms now so I might put some more out again in a bit.

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Thyme in the garden

Last week we visited the RHS Garden at Wisley which was a lovely day out despite the rain. We didn’t have time to see all of it and some areas weren’t very full at the moment, including the vegetable gardens that I was particularly interested in seeing, so we will have to go back again. It did give me hope that even tho I haven’t got my raised bed yet it isn’t going to be too late to grow a reasonable amount this year as there isn’t a huge amount going on in a veg garden at the moment.

We particularly liked the glasshouse, and not just because it was raining outside, and the trials field was very interesting. The small one thought the children’s lunch box was very good and he would be correct, actually all the food was good. It turned out to be a good place to take him as he had plenty of space to run around in and wear himself out – he even asked to go back in the pushchair at one point.

On the way out is the plant centre which has a huge number of plants. I will confess to not looking round the outside bits much at all except the herbs as it was heaving it down with rain, but I did buy 3 different thymes, a chamomile and a wild strawberry and I actually thought their prices were pretty good. Certainly the 3 small thymes were the nicest I’ve seen for sale as I have been looking for some for a little while and they were less than £2 each. I have seen plants for sale for a lot more than that that didn’t look half as nice.

We will definatly be going back to see the changes in the garden over the seasons as we all enjoyed it as a day out, the plant centre was great, it is fairly convienent to get too and the cake was good.

Today I planted the three thymes up into a small terracotta trough. One is common thyme, one is lemon thyme with a yellow foliage and the third is a silver foliage one. Yes I have their names on labels, but those are in the trough with the plants and that is outside. Sorry, that isn’t very helpful really. Anyway, it looks good.

This will be part of my herb garden in pots when I get some more plants big enough to use. So far I only have one other trough with tiny chive, oregano and sage plants I have grown from seed, a rosemary grown from a cutting and a lemon balm I bought earlier on. I have curly parsley, bush basil and sweet basil seedlings to plant up soon into a second trough, probably with the chamomile, and lovage and mint seedlings which will be in individual pots because they are thugs. I’d love a little standard bay tree clipped into a ball but will have to save up for that as I don’t have the patience to grow that from seed or even train one from a small plant. I’m hoping to plant some coriander seeds soon as well and that will probably be all I have space and tubs for at the moment. At least with pots I can expand it without running out of flower bed space, I just need to buy more pots. Hopefully I can keep the pots near the back door along the sheltered south facing wall during the cooler months and move the ones that don’t like it so hot in summer when I won’t mind going further to pick them for cooking. I can also bring in any tender plants and have fresh herbs all year. Thats the theory anyway.

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Garden planning

I have managed to spend some time in the garden over the last couple of days and I have had a pruning spree. I removed 2 bushes (One was in a very overcrowded corner of the garden and the other looked very dead and I was fed up of looking at it) and gave a floppy climber-bush-thing a hair cut. The floppy climber-bush-thing now looks much neater and less like a triffid that will grab your ankle as you walk past, it does bear a strong resemblance to the tombliboo bush from In The Night Garden tho…

When we moved in the garden looked great, it looked like it needed a little tidying up and weeding, but that was all. We first saw the house last November and moved in January so we are only just now beginning to see it with leaves out and it is becoming aparent that there are a few problems. The 18ft high cornus’ in the front garden were the first ones to be attacked, they still haven’t shooted again but I’m still hoping and if they don’t it means I have space for new plants so there would be a silver lining.

Yesterday I removed a bush from the corner bed that has, amongst other things, 2 large rowans and 2 rather nice acers in a very small space. The bush was too big and at risk of smothering the acers so I took it out. There are still about 3 too many big plants there, but hopefully with careful pruning they will be fine as I like the acers and the rowans are good screening for the road. The other problem in this bed now is the huge number of suckers from one of the trees just over the fence but its one I can’t fix I’ll just have to cut them off as I notice them.

The dead bush had the potential to be very pretty, it looked like heather or possibly some sort of fine evergreen but with little white star shaped flowers, however 95% was dead and brown. Leaves, needles, or whatever they were dropped off everytime you looked at it and it was right outside the patio door and I was fed up of looking at it.

There are still some bushes I want to get rid of, another dead one that I’m going slowly about removing because it is next to the honeysuckle that I think the blackbird is nesting in, and two the other side of the garden when I’m going to put the veg bed and compost heaps. One is a cotoneaster which has dead bits anyway and the other is a leggy hebe.

It is clear that someone spent a lot of money on plants for this garden when it was layed out and I’m sure it looked beautiful but not enough space was given for those plants to grow so now some parts are very overcrowded and others have grown too big through lack of pruning. Its still a good basis and there are some lovely things which would be very expensive to replace but I also have a chance to make it my own and put things in I like, a little at a time, and give them all space to grow and mature. It should be fun!

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I made a version of this for dinner tonight with the fennel from the veg box and it was very yummy. I don’t think I had cooked anything from Jamie’s Italy before, I think I’ll have to look at it again and try some more recipes. Definatly looking forward to more fennel tho, I’ll have to try something else next time.

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Goldfinch update

Just to prove my theory wrong, today I saw 3 goldfinches at the feeders at the same time.

I have also got a plastic greenhouse to house the overflow plants from the window ledges, mainly chilli and pepper plants, but the dwarf beans, cucumbers, courgettes, squash and possibly the tomatoes will go out there as well when they are big enough.

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Garden birds

I have seen a few more species of bird in the garden since I last mentioned them and I have been trying out different feeders and food to see what is popular. Because the trees the feeders were hanging it were beginning to leaf up, making it difficult to hang the feeders there and also a rather large pigeon had started trying to land on the feeder, knocking it down and bending the thin branch to the floor there is now a very smart feeding station with 4 arms for feeders, a fat ball hanger, a flat dish for food and a water bowl.

I bought a larger seed feeder as I was getting fed up of filling the smaller one every other day, but the sunflower seeds in the smaller feeder are now proving more popular and the mixed seed is being ignored.

The berry suet stuff is still popular and the starlings are quite acrobatic in trying to cling on. I think I might have to stop filling this one up soon tho as the warmer weather seems to melt the suet and makes a nasty mess in the feeder, not sure thats too good really. A good tip I picked up from The alternative kitchen garden podcast was to cut down a plastic bottle – the type with a handle like a milk bottle – to make a scoop (keep the lid on) and I have found a 2 pint milk bottle can be cut to just the right size for scooping the suet pellets out of the big tubs and filling the feeders. Listen to the episode for more tips on reusing plastic bottles around the garden.

The biggest success, in my opnion, has been the thistle (nyjer) seed feeder. You have to buy a special feeder for these very fine seeds, and it has a tiny hole so how the birds know to peck there for something tasty is quite amazing I think, but they do and the day after I put the feeder up a Goldcrest appeared. The next day however two appeared and I haven’t seenone without the other close by since. Often they can be seen feeding side by side on thistle seeds, sometimes one is on the sunflower seeds, which they also seem to like, and occasionally one will wait in a nearby tree or bush while the other eats. I think its really sweet to see them together and I’m not-so-secretly hoping I may see some baby Goldfinches later in the year. I love animals (and birds!) like the Goldfinch that reminds us we don’t have to go somewhere exotic to see amazingly beautiful and brightly coloured creatures, we have quite a few on our doorstep.

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A day of baking

This was actually last week, but I haven’t had time to write about it until now. Last wednesday I had a baking day and made 3 dozen fairy cakes (double the recipe of p39 of Nigella’s ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess‘) including icing most of them in tasteful shades of pink, yellow and white. Her recipe warns you it doesn’t look enough for 12 (one quantity) but I had no problems making a double quantity fill 36 cases, perhaps she uses the larger muffin sized cases whereas I used the small fairy cake sized ones. One day I will make tiny ones in petite four cases, they will be so cute. Can you tell I like fairy cakes?

I also made her Banana bread for the first time; this includes sultanas soaked in rum so it yery yummy but possibly not one for children. This might become my new favorite banana cake recipe, my previous one is a really quick one from one of Cas Clarke’s ‘Grub on a Grant‘ books, although that one uses less bowls and makes less washing up, the Nigella one is a lovely light, moist banana cake. I’m sure I could omit the rum next time and there will be a next time both because the recipe was yummy and because I often end up with slightly too ripe bananas that need using up. Actually, I have been know to let bananas go very ripe on purpose, I just like banana cake.

The final lot of baking was actually a recipe from my cookbook challange book: Flapjacks. I usually use my Mum’s recipe which, in my opinion, is the nicest flapjack ever, just the right amount of crunch, but I couldn’t find it. This recipe also includes coconut and sesame seeds and the only sugar comes from honey (actually the recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of malt extract and 1 of honey or 3 of honey which I used as I don’t have malt extract. The malt extract might make the honey taste less pronounced). They are yummy, and are probably better for you with the coconut and sesame seeds, so I’ll be cooking these again but I do hope I find Mum’s recipe soon. Flapjacks are great for lunch boxes as they don’t end up a mass of crumbs.

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Spring is springing

Or at least the seeds are springing up on my kitchen window sill. I have basil (2 varieties), sage, chives, mint, parsley and oregano. Only the lovage isn’t doing anything yet. My first tumbling tom has sprouted as well and I have poked in a clove of garlic that was trying to grow in the cupboard so I’ll have to see if that manages to come to anything.

The chillis and peppers are coming along well. I have aquired 3 more chillis from a friend, one each of 3 different varieties, so I could end up with a lot of chillis this year! We used one of last years chillis the other night and I’ve saved the seeds from that so I might sow some of those as well – It was quite hot but I don’t know the variety.

Other gardening activities include planting cougette, cucumber, plum tomato, squash, aubergine and dwarf runner bean seeds and lots of reading. I have finished The Edible Container Garden and only have a couple of chapters left of Square Foot Gardening. Both are good for gardening in the sort of spaces they cover. SFG is very prescriptive, but I do like the idea and will probably try and follow it at least to start with. It was the RHS 3 x 3m plots that made me consider veg gardening in the first place but I couldn’t find enough information on what plants, how many per square, when to plant and other details I wanted so this book suits me. It is very american – I’m going to be talking about zuccini before soon, and there is a lot of talk of last frost and first fall frost dates which I have found difficult to find out for the UK. Oh, and some of the ‘pests’ mentioned are unlikely to be found in a UK garden, but the principle should be fairly easy to convert. The one thing I don’t like is the excessive (in my opinion) use of peat, so I will be looking for an alterntive. The explanation on the website that the peat doesn’t need to be replaced still doesn’t sit well with me.

I just need to build my raised bed now – The wood is in the garage so hopefully I will have time to saw and hammer and paint and dig and things soon, yippee!

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