Backyard Gardening and Natural Eco Friendly Products

Update February 2019Biotin foods for hair loss – grow your own!

Now Picking: First Spuds of the Year

It’s always a bit of a gamble, with bag-grown spuds: when exactly is the best time to attempt a harvest? Main-crops are a bit easier, you can usually wait until the foliage has died back – usually at the end of Summer, going into Autumn – and then get them out of the ground before the weather turns too wet or the slugs get too adventurous.

But if, like me, you’ve been growing spuds in old compost bags, and you ideally want to harvest them at the salad-sized new potato stage, then knowing when to trim the stems and empty out the bag is a fair bit trickier. Because once you’ve taken that step, there’s no turning back. And if the spuds ain’t formed yet, then you’ve wasted a whole bag’s worth of effort.

Last weekend I braced myself and took a gamble on the first of three bags of Charlotte potatoes. I’m very happy to say I struck gold:

New Potatoes, July 2013

Not a huge haul, but enough for four portions. Steamed and served with butter and a sprinkling of sea salt, they were delicious. Nutty, spuddy and very, very creamy indeed. You really can’t get anywhere near as good in the supermarkets and it drives home the point of the whole GYO, back yard kitchen garden endeavour: enjoying some of the freshest best-tasting food you can possibly get your hands on.

Reclining Garden Chairs for Better Garden Entertaining

Browse our recent article about how to upgrade your garden furniture for a better garden party here: Reclining garden furniture – more comfortable chairs.

Now Picking: Courgette Striata di Napoli

This year I grew about a dozen courgette seedlings and planted the strongest four in two large, round plastic tubs. Two each of Striata di Napoli and Zucchini. The all began flowering about six weeks ago and the first Striata di Napoli fruits were ready for picking about ten days back:

Jo and I ate those first two sautéed in butter with mushrooms and garlic. Absolutely delicious. A lovely fresh, almost nutty flavour. Very good raw as well (I couldn’t resist having a nibble).

There are a couple more Striata di Napoli fruits on the plants now, which really ought to be picked soon as they’re heading for mini-marrow size. The Zucchini are only just beginning to catch up: slower croppers, those.

Damn. Disastrous Garlic Harvest This Year…

I had high hopes for this year’s garlic crop. Based on results over the past couple of years, where four seed-stock bulbs resulted in forty plants and a harvest of around 36 good-sized bulbs, I was confident of a repeat performance. Last Autumn I used the same seed stock supplier and same planting method again – maybe positioning the cloves a little deeper – and rotated the planting location out of raised bed #2 and into first section of the long veg bed.

All seemed to be going well – strong growth, plenty of leaf and stem, no bolting – until last weekend, when I grabbed my garden fork and lifted the first few bulbs…

A horrible sight greeted me: rot, and lots of it. Some stems just broke away from the mush that maybe used to be a garlic bulb. Some bulbs had barely formed and were mostly mush anyhow. Others could have been halfway-decent, if not for the white mould, black skin and odour of rot. From the 40 cloves I planted last Autumn, I think I can salvage maybe eight or nine bulbs, of which two might be the sort of thing you can pick up in Sainsburys for 30p each.

I think the culprit has to be the piss-poor Spring. The plants seemed to have over-wintered nicely, despite the particularly harsh conditions, but then when Spring was delayed they just weren’t able to get up to speed. Too much cold, too much moisture. Bad luck all round.

So it goes, I suppose. But garlic is such a favourite, and usually such a reliable cropper, that this is a particularly disappointing result. Fingers crossed for better luck next year.

It’s DIY Fruit Cage Time

It’s been a busy few weeks in my back yard kitchen garden – mostly involving filling and emptying watering cans on a seemingly endless loop – and one of the jobs that Jo and I tackled recently was the construction of a cane-and-netting fruit cage to help keep the birds off the raspberries and strawberries in raised bed #1.

First the bamboo cane construction. Eight-footers for height, driven as deep into the raised bed as they’ll go. Then an assortment of eight-, six- and four-footers to form the skeleton of the frame, with plenty of diagonals for stability. I used green plastic plant ties to fix them together rather than string because they’re much quicker to fasten and they make the frame easier to dismantle at the end of the season. Finally, the netting, which of course is the fiddliest part of the whole process as you have to lift it over the canes and of course it keeps catching on cane-ends, plastic ties, splinters, the frames of your glasses… you name it.

In that final shot you might just be able to make out the ingenious methods we use for keeping the netting taut on the frame: bricks on the corners where the netting tends to bunch and gather, and a series of weatherproof screws around the outside-top of the timber frame, which the netting can be looped over, hook-style. One of Jo’s brilliant ideas, of course.

The finished construction is well worth the effort though. Net result: bees and other pollinating insects in and out at will, thieving birds looking on with envy, Jo and I enjoying bowlfuls of luscious soft fruit in the fullness of time, all being well.

Garden Inspiration: Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk

When Jo and I were down in Norfolk a couple of weeks ago we made a point of visiting a couple of the local National Trust properties. The first was Oxburgh Hall, home of the Bedingfeld family for centuries.

The moated house is interesting enough, but it was the gardens we were looking forward to. They didn’t turn out to be quite as impressive as we were hoping – mostly lawns surrounding the moated house itself, and a formal knot garden (a bit too formal for us), plus a woodland walk which we didn’t have time to indulge in. But there was a very colourful and bee-friendly border, packed with flower and scent, and a very promising-looking proto-orchard of local varieties, complete with bee-hives. And I spotted a hop plant, which I’m always happy to see.

It was a bit of a dull day and we had to dodge the occasional rain shower, but here are a few pics of our favourite bits of the Oxburgh Hall gardens:

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