Perenial Sweat Peas

I’m a big fan of perennial flowers in the garden as I like to divert most of my limited time to growing vegetables. Nothing says ‘English summer’ quite like a sweet pea in full bloom. Until a couple of years ago sweet peas were one of the few annual flowers I used to grow from seed each year. That all changed when I discovered this perennial variety.

Perenial Sweet Peas

These plants came form seeds that my father saved and gave to me. He in turn was given some seed form one of his best friends (acquiring successful plants in this way is so much more satisfying than going out and buying ready grown, established plants form the garden center).

I’m not 100% sure of the variety but I suspect it is Lathyrus latifolius.

Maintenance is very easy. As they grow in Spring and early Summer I simply tie them up against the pillars which they’re planted near. They grow vigorously and are fairly sturdy so it’s not a fiddly job.

As with most flowers once they start to flower, dead heading will help to encourage more blooms. They provide a constant stream of deep pink flowers right into autumn.

At the end of the summer the plants will dry out and die back. Before cutting them back I take the opportunity to save some seeds and pass on to friends and family.

The only downside to these perennial sweet peas is that they do not have much scent compared to some of the annual varieties I’ve previously grown. Apart from that these should be a must in any English garden.

Building a Pallet Wood Store

One of the best things about the house we moved in to about 5 years ago is the fact thjat it has a wood burner in the living room. We’ve been amazed how much please a fire in the living room can provide.

Of course owning a woodburner means that you need to have a constant supply of seasoned (dry) wood. For the last few years the only practical place to store our wood was down at the bottom of the garden which involved barrowing all delivered wood 50 yards and then carrying it back up to the house as and when it was needed – not ideal in the bowels of winter!

So, I finally decided to sacrifice a heavily shaded flower bed on the drive next to the garage and make a wood store from old pallets in a more sensible position!

The construction was pretty simple really after I’d managed to scavenge 3 pallets from a local garden center. The only thing I had to buy was the roofing felt used on the roof.

Pallet Log StorePallet Log Store-2Pallet Log Store-3Pallet Log Store-4Pallet Log Store-5

I’m pretty pleased with the result. I can fit roughly 1.25m3  of logs in the store which is enough to keep us going for a couple of months in winter. I’ve got a similar sized store at the other end of the house too so hopefully I’ve got enough storage next to the house for a winters worth of logs. Now I just need to find a good source of free logs…

Speeding up Leaf Mold

Leaf mold differs from compost in that it provides very little actual nutritional value to the soil…so why bother with it at all? Well it’s main benefit is that it is great at improving the structure of your soil. This in turn helps the soil retain water (and other nutrients) and provide a good environment for beneficial life such as worms, bacteria and other organisms.

Unlike compost, which can be a fickle process to get right, making leaf mold is pretty simple. Just sweep up your leaves and dump them in a pile in a shady corner of the garden and let nature do it’s work. The only down side is that it can take a while (up to 2-3 years) for a pile to break down fully from whole leaves to a fine mold texture.

One simple way to speed up the process dramatically is to reduce the size of the leaves before you add them to the pile. If you’ve got a garden shredder you can simply pass your freshly swept leaves through this.

My technique to speed up my leaf mold is to sweep the leaves into a long line on a patio or path and passing over them with a lawn mower. Doing so only takes a few minutes and the end product is a leaf pile that is already partially broken down.

Speeding Up Leaf Mould

Making Leaf Mould

Using this technique I find that the leaf mold is perfectly useable by the following summer. I use the resulting leaf mold both as a mulch as well as a general soil improver which i dig into the vegetable beds are sprinkle over established beds throughout the year.

Organic Fire Lighters

I’m increasingly keen on using what nature has to offer to replace man made and shop bought alternatives. This probably explains the ever increasing amount of fruit and veg plants in the garden.

Last summer while out walking we collected a load of fallen pine cones with some vague ideas about making Christmas decorations with them. Instead after drying out over the summer they ended up being used as fire lighters/kindling in our wood burner.

Pine cones make remarkably good kindling and I’ve found with just a sheet or two of newspaper and a few pine cones i can get the wood burner lit in just a minute or two.

So on Sunday while out walking we found a plentiful in a local wood and managed to re-stock our supply to get us through the winter!

natural firelighters-2

natural firelighters

 

Oh and while we talking about recycling there’s no need to buy nasty chemicals to clean the glass on your wood burner. Instead here’s how i clean it with the ash inside the burner.

Improving Vegetable Bed Soil

The soil in our  vegetable beds has been consistently poor over the last couple of years. Always very crumbly it seems very loose and doesn’t hold the moisture (and as a result nutrients) very well at all.

While the soil in the rest of the garden is generally good theses particular beds seem to be the exception. Even the odd top dressing of compost doesn’t seem to have made much difference to the structure of the soil so I thought it about time to add some manure.

The beds are slightly raised and adjacent to a wall. On the other side of the wall are several very large trees that I suspect of draining much of the moisture away.

When we moved in to the house the beds contained various grasses which, with hindsight, indicate that the area isn’t the wettest.

Repairing Dry Loose Soil

So its time to try and improve the structure of the soil and in particular improve its moisture retention. Luckily we leave near to several stables so there is no shortage of horse manure locally.

When adding manure to the garden its always best to add manure that has rotted for a few months if possible. If not it will likely burn your plants as it’ll be far too rich in nitrogen.

If like me you only have a supply of fresh manure then the best time to add it to your soil is in the Autumn. This means it has time to mature before you plant into it next spring.

Improving Soil

To dig or not to dig?

When adding manure there is always the question of whether to dig it in or not. Personally I prefer to simply add a layer (a few inches thick) to the surface of the bed and leave it over winter. To me this has a few benefits over digging it in:

– the rain and worms will gradually draw the nutrients and bulk down into the soil over the winter, saving you the hard work.

– by sitting on top of the bed and acting as a mulch over the winter, weed growth will be kept to a minimum

– the mulching will also retain moisture in the soil over the winter period

– this no dig approach will require less work and the beds will only require a light forking over in the spring as opposed to a severe digging in now

Sloe Gin Recipe

While out for a walk on Sunday, spotting several Blackthorn bushes laden with sloes reminded me of last years failed attempt to make some sloe gin. We left the picking far too late and by the time we finally headed out to pick some sloes those that the birds hadn’t eaten were all well past their best. Despite it only just being September many of the bushes near us (SE England) have lots of ripe sloes on so determined to avoid another missed opportunity we started picking straight away.

What is Sloe Gin?

If you’re keen to start dabbling in a bit of foraging or like the idea of making some home brew then sloe gin is a great introduction to both. Sloes are one of the most common hedgerow berries in the UK and are a distant relative of the plum. They are small blue/grey fruits that grow on the blackthorn bush which is common amongst hedgerows throughout much of England.

To make sloe gin you simply infuse regular gin with sloes, adding some sugar which helps extract the juice from the berries as well as sweeten the final drink. After allowing the juice to infuse with the gin and sugar for a few months you simply strain and end up with a ruby red gin with a great flavour.

sloe gin recipe

How to Make Sloe Gin

Depending on the weather the best time for picking is September and October. The fruits are naturally hard and bitter so don’t expect to be feasting when picking sloes. When they’re ripe sloes should not be rock hard but have a little give.

In late summer/early autumn keep an eye out in the hedge rows and you should spot the purple/blue berries appearing. If you can try not to pick them too early as unripe sloes won’t produce too much flavour for your gin.

Once you’ve picked your sloes, the only other ingredients you need is some granulated sugar and some medium quality gin.

Sloe Gin Ingredients

  • 800 grams of sloes
  • 70cl of gin
  • 200 grams of sugar

Method

1. First of all wash your sloes and ensure you’ve removed all of the leaves, twigs and bugs.  You don’t have to be too fussy as you’ll be filtering all of the impurities out after 12 weeks anyway.

2. Next you need to pierce the skin of the sloes to help them leach their juices into the gin. The slow method is to prick each one a couple of times with a fork or pin. The quick method is to freeze the sloes over night then take them out of the freezer for a couple of hours and as they defrost the skin bursts, saving you the hard work.

This freezing method has the added benefit that some people believe that you shouldn’t pick the sloes until just after the first frost – it is thought that this freezing activates the sugars in the sloes which in turn enhances the flavour of the final liqueur.

What Is Sloe Gin?

3. Next you need to sterilize your bottles/jars. The easiest way to do this is the pop them into an oven for 10 minutes at about 170 degrees. For the lids, which often have plastic/rubber seals or the rubber seals from kilner jars simply pop them into a pan of water and bring it to the boil.

4. Place the gin into your bottle/kilner jar then simple add the sloes to almost fill up the bottle. Next add in the sugar and seal tightly before giving it a good shake.There’s no need to worry about dissolving all of the sugar as this will happen over the next few days. Try to fill the bottle/jar as much as possible, the more air that is in there the greater the chance of bad bacteria spoiling the flavour of your final liqueur.

5. Store the bottle/jar in a cool dark place and for the first couple of weeks give it a little shake/turn every day to help dissolve the sugar and get the flavors mixing. After this first week or two turning the bottle once a week should suffice.

6. After three months it’s time to decant the gin, removing the solids so it can mature further and be stored for a long time (if required). I use a small kitchen funnel and tea strainer to help separate out the sloes from the gin. Once you’ve strained it you should end up with a clear dark red liquid.

7. Now i simply re-bottle the gin into freshly sterilized bottle and store. You can start drinking it straight away but it will keep for many years and it definitely improves with age.

Homemade Sloe Gin

While I’ve described the basic recipe above some people recommend putting a small amount of almond or vanilla essence. I’ve also heard cinnamon complements the flavour of the sloes well but i haven’t tried it yet, maybe i’ll try that next year.

 

Time to Take Basil Cuttings

After finally discovering the secrets of growing basil last year it is long overdue i started off some more basil plants. The only way to grow basil is on mass so you don’t feel guilty cutting back a whole plant to make a nice fresh pesto. After experimenting with growing from seeds I dind by far the quickest and easiest way is to start off with a supermarket bought basil plant.

I simply take about 15-20 cuttings from the original plant as soon as i get it home and pop them into small glasses of water. They’re left on a bright windowsill that doesn’t get too much direct sun. After 2-3 days this is what you get….

Basil Cuttings

It always amazes me how quickly the roots grow  from these basil cuttings. The above plant is only 5 days old! I’ve just potted up the cuttings into regular compost to grow on. I usually pinch out the tops after 2-3 weeks of further growth to help the plants bush out.

I’ve found the real secret to growing basil is to no let it have too much direct sunlight. In our kitchen we have a small dormer window that get plenty of light but not too much direct – only an hour or so in the morning. It seems to be the perfect place to grow basil. Hopefully it won’t be long before pesto is on the menu…

Mollusc Madness

The wet weather we’ve been having recently  has unfortunately meant that conditions have been ideal for slugs and snails to thrive. We’ve quite lucky to have quite a good population of birds that feast on these molluscs. Quite a few time recently I’ve seen a song thrush pull out snails from an ivy bush and proceed to smash their shells open before dispatching them.

If you believe the BBC then an invasion of so called Spanish super slugs is to blame, the wet weather certainly hasn’t helped. On Sunday I was pretty disappointed to see that the local molluscs had demolished our window box salads, completely.

Desimated Salad CropSalad Growing Apple Crate

Luckily they didn’t get inside the apple crates at our Romaine lettuces which have been loving the wet weather and are thriving. So, it’s time to get some more seed in, hopefully in time for some drier weather to arrive!

Chop the Chives

There are not many flowers as stunning as chive flowers. As you can see below our chives have been growing really well this year and have been producing stunning flowers for about the last five weeks. As well as looking great the flowers are really edible and add a wonderful allium fragrance to a salad or on top of a pizza.

Chive Flowers

Unfortunately the photo above was taken a week or so ago and the display is now over and the plant is getting a bit ‘woody’. As a result it’s now time to take the shears to it and prune it back hard to the ground to encourage some new growth.

Actually this plant has been in the ground for 2 years now and has grown rigorously. In order to stop it taking over the herb garden and et some new younger growth i may well split it. Though I’ve not actually done so before I believe its a simple case of digging up the clump, splitting the bulbs into a couple of clumps and replanting at the same depth.