Let’s have a look back at 2019 so far

It’s not the end of the year, so it may seem a little silly to be looking back over 2019, however, when you are a gardener you are always reflecting and the end of one season and the start of the next is the perfect opportunity.

March

It’s hard to imagine the garden cold and bare, looking out now into the sunshine, but until March this year, there really wasn’t much happening. It was still far too cold to plant any seeds, even with a greenhouse, so March is when it all started. March is our “get seedlings going month” and also the month when we usually have a wee dabble in something new.

This year we tried something a bit different for beetroot in the raised beds. We used seed tape. I’ve always liked the idea of seed tape for the carrots, mainly because with the smaller seeds like carrots, you always sow too many and have to “thin them out” later on. This basically means pulling the “runts” and binning them. Which I hate doing, it’s just such a waste (more on carrots in a second).

So we saw seed tape and gave it a try.

If you’ve never used this before, it’s basically a big row of seeds encased in some paper. So you bury the whole strip and you get the precise amount of seeds, at the precise spacing you need for your bed. Sound awesome.

Not to mince my words… it was crap! We have had precisely NO BEETROOT this year. None, zip, squat, zero, nadda! Won’t be using that stuff again!

Obviously there could be lots of reason for this, but given that beetroot is probably our most successful crop ever and we are usually giving them away, this year has been a blow. We have had leaves, almost every seed germinated, but they just either bolted or didn’t give us anything other than leaves. Sigh! So this post has started with fail…. onto a win then 🙂

CARROTS!!!!!!!!

Yup, we tried something a tad different with the carrots this year too… not seed tape but root trainers. Which I will admit was a bit on the mad side, but hey that’s how we roll!

If you aren’t sure what root trainers are, they are little seed trays that are really tall, letting the seedling roots develop without being impeded by a shallow pot or tray. They split apart so that you can take each little plant out and plant it without disturbing the roots.

So I planted the carrot seeds directly into these and it meant I could bring the carrots on in the greenhouse, which is a bit warmer than the raised beds. It worked a treat. The carrots ALL germinated, and all came on really quickly. And best of all, no need to thin any carrots out, I used all the seedlings – smug!!!!!!

This seems to have made a huge difference with the carrots this year, all of them have been huge and most of them have been pretty straight. Normally we have some right weird ones.

The new greenhouse has been great in letting me try out these ideas. Having the staging makes it so much easier for me to deal with seedlings in there, without the constant back pain of having things on the floor. It was even great to get hanging baskets started off in there, now that I have hanging rails.

Only downside though, I kept smacking my head on them.

April

April was a busy month, busy, busy, busy. We had banana bread, hot-cross buns and little name tags for the plants.

The name tags were so much fun to make (who doesn’t like hitting things with a hammer?) and have been a whopping success. The greenhouse and beds all still have their little tags and they are all completely readable.

There was one bit of sad news in April though, Jim McColl, the longstanding presenter of Beechgrove garden retired. He has been an inspiration of mine and indeed can probably be blamed for my start off in gardening. So… it was only fitting that I paid tribute.

May

So April came and went, the seedlings got bigger and got planted on but just before then… some of them got brand new homes to go to. We have started the huge job of replacing our old, falling apart, raised beds.

To be fair, those beds were never meant to last this long, they were a tester to see if we liked the idea of gardening, I’m guessing we do then?

So out with the old and in with the new, solid railway sleeper raised beds.

new raised beds made from railways sleepers

I think you’ll agree that they do look absolutely amazing… but there was an awful lot of digging and moving heavy things involved and …. I put my back out.

Eli levelling the ground for the raised beds

I wish I could say that this was my only downside of May to tell you about, but alas it’s not to be. Some muppet also burned the hell out of the front lawn. It looked awful…. I wonder who that was????

But it did give us something to focus on and you guys really enjoyed joining in with us on social media and following the hashtag we created. It was fun hearing from you all on the stories of your lawn problems and knowing you were rooting for us (pun intended).

https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/isthelawngreenyet/?hl=en

June

June saw the lawn go from bald to lush as the sun finally started to wake up and give us some sunny bright days and the greenhouse came alive.

The tomatoes began appearing and we even named a tomato plant in honor of Jim (see the previous mention of Jim McColl).

June was such a successful month that I don’t have any failures to tell you about, only successes, so instead let me remind you how amazing homemade Bakewell tart is….. mmmmmmm

We blogged our recipe especially for Luke, the young gentlemen who lives next door. We gave him some last Christmas and he has apparently been raving about it, so we gave him the recipe. He’s yet to pop in with a slice for me to try…. disappointed. This year he is getting coal!!!

July

Boy, this was only meant to be a quick update blog post but it’s been such a busy year, we’ve so much to tell you.

So July, I think the best thing I can do for July is not to tell you how awesome it was, instead let me show you. Fancy coming for a walk around the garden with me?

So that finally brings us to August

In August I shared two of my top gardening tips with you, pollinating your greenhouse by hand to increase your harvest and deadheading your flower to increase the colour and beauty in your garden.

We did have one sad face for August, I told you guys about our first experience of blossom end rot. Was a sad one as this was also the first time we’d grown San Marzano tomatoes so it was really frustrating to see something stealing them from us, but the good news is…. we think we’ve defeated it – yippeeeeeeee.

Watch out for a youtube video on Friday to find out more…..

So that’s us, a mahoosive update for you on the year so far… I can only guess what’s still to come. Keep popping back to find out.




Spring in the garden: growing salad in the chilligrow

There are always jobs that need doing, even small ones so we were up early (as normal) planting stuff. I still hadn’t quite got everything planted up that I had wanted to, so was getting that sorted today which gives me the chance to share some wee tricks you may find useful.

Trick 1: using your chilligrow to grow salad

The quadgrows and chilligrows are great and I use them for all sorts of stuff, I don’t always follow the rules though 🙂

We have two chilligrows and over the years we’ve realised we really don’t need 6 chilli plants. Usually what happens is we dry loads

or freeze bags of them and Kate usually takes 2 or 3 kgs into work for Andrew who is a chilli head. Either way, we grow way more than we need. So this year we are only going to grow a couple of plants and use the other chilligrow for… SALAD!

Now I can hear you all shouting, but Eli, surely you can just grow one plant in each pot! How will this work. Well let me show you our trick.

Trick 1: growing salad in the chilligrow

First thing I do, is I cut the wick that draws the water into the pot. I usually cut it into two maybe three.

This then lets me spread the wick around the pot a bit more, maximising the water dispersal. A bit like my bit quadgrow plus does with my herbs. I add soil as normal, making sure to remember and spread the wick about and give it a really good soak.

Then sow my salad seeds on top of the soil like normal.

Lastly, spread another layer of compost over the top to keep them safe and happy.

I’ll keep watering from the top until I think my little salad lovelies are strong and then switch to filling the chilligrow reservoir as we would normally. I did this last year and it worked great so it’s become part of my normal routine now.

Trick 2: drainage for your pots

You may recall the conversation we had a few months back about making sure to add little feet under your pots to allow water to get out and stop things from drowning? If not it’s below, but I also have another spring tip for you (well anytime of year to be honest) about using these little feet for drainage inside the pots.

I have to plant up some of our impatiens this morning. They are some of Kate’s favourite plants and we always have pots of them on the steps.

The little plants in the greenhouse were ready to move on now but oh no… I’d used the pots they normally live in so I had to find some new pots and the ones we have didn’t have any drainage holes. Uh oh!

Not to fear though, a few little feet inside the pot (I went two little feet high) which lets a plastic plant pot sit snug inside, off the bottom allowing space for water to drain. Hurrah!

They’ll stay in the greenhouse a little while longer until he weather heats up a bit more and the plants are a bit bigger, but looking lovely.

In the raised beds

I was also adding my beetroot to the raised beds this morning as I still hadn’t planted it, this year, I’m testing out something new, seed tape. We’ve never used this before and wondered if it would be useful. It means your seeds are all perfectly spaced apart when you plant them and given our beetroot somehow always ends up all over the place, we thought we’d give it a go.

Not sure if it will be a keeper as I usually plant a couple of seeds for each plant and take out the weaker one. That means I don’t have the risk of plants not germinating but we’ll give this a try and report back as always. I suppose I can always backfill seeds if needed.

So anyways, it’s spring time, shut down the computer and get out in the garden. There are lots of jobs to be doing this weekend :). I’m off to prune the hydrangeas.

Have fun folks!

Update!

We have lots of tomato seedlings, lots of carrot seedlings but still no peppers – boo!




2018 – reflection on the year past

It has been such a busy year at Ar Bruidair this year, it almost seems to have passed in a flash so I though it might be a good thing to pause and reflect on things before getting stuck head on into 2019.

Every year has ups and downs, and it’s important to remember this, rather than fixate on the things which didn’t go to plan or went wrong. That’s not a healthy way to live your live. I spoke at work recently about how blogging is a good tool for mindfulness and reflection so let’s reflect. Yes there was snow but there was so much more.

2019 was a year of extremes, the so-called ‘beast from the east’ brought with it ridiculous wind and snow meaning most of the UK suffered in spring. Then summer was a roaster with heat waves and droughts. Too cold for plants one minute and too hot the next.

January

The fear and emotional turmoil after an accident, some time to sit and reflect and the positivity that cycling can bring as a new charity venture was born near us.

February

From mental health to physical health, new greenhouse gadgets and making the greenhouse taller.

March

Learning to love the birds who visit the garden, jazzing up the raised beds and a warming bowl of barley risotto.

April

April saw us dealing with a deluge of compost, a deluge of youtube viewers and the final retreat of the deluge of snow.

May

We accepted our limitation and the power of the UK weather and learned about buying plug plants when growing from seed doesn’t work. New skills, new knowledge and new opportunities.

June

The new greenhouse gadget is working a treat meaning we had more basil than we knew what to do with, so we learned to make pesto, oh and we perfected our honey, roasted seeds. It was a tasty month.

July

July gave us sunshine, peanut butter and focaccia. What a wonderful month. Lots of time outdoors.

August

Sunshine and warmth brought abundance to the greenhouse. indigo Rose tomatoes were a new addition we wouldn’t have tried had it not been for the awful spring weather. Plugs plants gave us new things to try.

September

I get insanely excited by new cookware. Enough said.

October

The garden winds down and the kitchen winds up. Spiced muffin treats, a hug from some spicy butternut squash soup and using up the last of the tomatoes to make passata. We are feeling the autumn richness.

November

When the cold sets in, you enjoy being indoors. Hygge or còsagach? Cast iron or non stick? And a shiny new greenhouse.

December

December is always such a busy month, so much food, so many crafts and so much fun. Mince pies, advent calendars and eggnog.

2018 was a wonderful year full of new things, new adventures and lessons learned. We can’t wait for 2019, bring it on.




So what’s been happening at Ar Bruidair? 2018 in the garden.

It’s been a while since I took you for a walk around the garden, so let’s do that. What’s looking good and what are the lessons learned for this year?




Highs and lows in the garden 2016


We’ll it’s now officially autumn. Scary isn’t it? As I type it’s absolutely pelting down outside but it’s still warm enough that jackets are uncomfortable.

As you know from previous posts, we haven’t yet got around to growing any veg over the proper winter months but imag0319we do still have some veg going. We have a bed full of salad leaves and radishes and they’ll happily keep growing for a while yet.

There has been  a salad bed interloper though. Little cat footprints have appeared.

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The beetroot is still going, although some are the size of children’s footballs, we really need to do something with them and of course we have loads of tomatoes and chillies still.

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Speaking of tomatoes and chillies, that’s definitely been one of the highlights this year. The quadgrow watering system has definitely made a huge difference. I wasn’t sure about the claim to double your crop at first but realised the other day that we are still getting loads of tomatoes even though the weather has turned and we just haven’t been able to eat all the chillies were getting. The quadgrow has definitely been a good buy.

Flower wise this year has been a bit bland. The rotten weather early on in the year really had an effect on the growth and we just didn’t get the same amount of flowers, either budding or those that had appeared were destroyed by wind and rain.

The dahlias in particular which were a wealth of colour last year just got munched by slugs this year and the poor things gave up early on.  The two hydrangea are still going strong though.

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So all in all not a horrendous year I suppose.

Some exciting plans for next year but you’ll have to wait to hear about that.

 




Beetroot soup – what to do with a glut of beetroot

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We mentioned earlier in the blog that we were having to come up with ideas for using up courgettes. Well the problem now is beetroot. We have tons of the stuff.

So Kate and I have challenged ourselves to come up with 5 things to do with beetroot. Today it’s beetroot soup.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 medium (apple-sized) beetroot – grated
  • 500g ripe tomatoes, halved
  • 1 clove garlic – chopped roughly
  • 1 medium onion – peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 500ml of stock, we used chicken
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 125g feta cheese

What to do

  1. Firstly put the halved tomatoes in an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over the garlic and drizzle over half the olive oil.
  2. Roast them for 25-30 minutes in a fairly hot oven (190C or 170C fan) until soft and squishy. Then rub them through a sieve to remove the skin and pips.
  3. Then heat the remaining oil in a pan and sweat the onion for a few minutes until soft. Add the beetroot and the stock and bring to the boil. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  4. Simmer gently for 10 minutes until the beetroot is tender.
  5. Stir in the tomato puree you’ve just made and then scoop out two ladle fulls and put aside.
  6. Using a stick blender, blitz until smooth and then add the two ladle fulls back to the pot.
  7. To serve, crumble over a little feta into each bowl and serve with crusty bread.Easy peezy.

 




Winter draws in, the year comes to a close and we are already thinking about spring

carrots and beetrootIt’s getting dark about 4:30pm in the evenings now and it’s definitely chilly.

Our veggies gradually slowed down their growth and have now come to a stop.

It’s time.

As much fun as it is in spring when all the new plants first pop their heads literally “above ground”, we need to accept that to make this happen, we need to clear away the old stuff and get things ready for over wintering and eventually that spring surge. This means a bit of work to empty the beds and greenhouse and a bit of a scrub and polish to scoot away the muck and yuck of the year past.

We’ve planted up strawberries this year which means they have a permanent home in one of the beds so instead of emptying that one, we need to cover it over with a fleece to protect the plants once the frosts really start to bite. Hopefully our new frames over the beds will make this an easier job.

For the other beds, we’ve pulled all the beetroots and carrots that were there as our last harvest before topping the beds up with more soil and manure(for next years nutrients) and digging them over. We wondered if the soil was getting a bit tired this year after the two fantastic previous years so we are going to really focus on boosting it with nutrients before spring.

The greenhouse doesn’t escape either.  I’ve emptied out all the old tomato plants, cleaned the pots and gave the greenhouse a really good clear out and scrub down. I use a sanitising product called star san for this which is a contact sanitiser, meaning that once the greenhouse is cleaned I can spray this all over the frame and glass to kill any nasties leave the greenhouse sparkling ready to house the tomato plants for next year.

 

So was there anything we grew last year which we wont again?

  • Green beans – last year was our second try at growing green beans. We did have marginal success this year in that we got lots of beans, but they were small and weedy and not very tasty so we are not trying again.\
    It’s just not worth the amount of space and effort for the results.
  • Yellow courgettes – they just can’t be relied upon.
  • Orange carrots – they are the slowest growing and give the smallest yield.
  • Globe carrots – not impressed. Very small and took ages to mature.

 

Anything new for next year?

  • Not new but we are going to move the peas to their own spot. They were so successful that we feel they have earned it.
  • We are going to try the dwarf/patio versions of some of the tomato plants to try to help with space in the greenhouse.

Apart from that everything will be pretty much as usual. Purple carrots, stripy beetroot and all sorts of tomatoes.

Oh apart from one thing… this year will be the first year that we are going to attempt to grow our own flowers for the garden too, instead of buying them  as plugs from the garden centre… watch out for lots of updates about that.

 

Oh and before I go, we have to wave hello to one of our readers – Hey Katy!!!!! Hope you guys have a great thanksgiving!!!!!

 

 




July already – quick get the potatoes pulled

IMAG2547This year seems to be whizzing by and to be honest, almost without me noticing.

I’m finding this year that the garden and its moods are not quite as obvious as it’s been in previous years possibly because of the very mild winter we had where next to nothing died off and flowers continued to flower right through. This meant we didn’t have the usual spring and instead have been hit with a summer where a lot of the flowers in the garden have already past and although everything is very green, there is not much in the way of colour about.

We’ve found also that this year has been a lot harder going for veggies too, with not nearly the success we’ve had in previous years. Our beetroots are no where need harvesting size yet, our carrots are all leaves and very little, well carrot! The tomatoes as well are green but nowhere near ripe yet. I suspect the lack of definitive winter, spring and summer has affected things. We’ve had a lot of warmth, not as much sunshine as previous years and more rain than previous years.Could this be it?

Our usual champion of the garden – courgettes – have just been rotting on the plants as babies and we haven’t managed yet to eat any.

However it’s not all doom and gloom. This year’s trophy for fabulousness goes to the peas. We have had so many peas that the plants are now almost past and starting to die of, and I never thought I’d say it, but I’m kinda getting sick of peas from the pod. I know that is a sacrilegious thing for a gardener to say but I’ve been eating them in huge handfuls daily (along with help from colleagues at work).

The strawberries too have been incredibly tasty although we found a very amusing trait which may be of interest to those of you thinking about giving strawberries a try next year. DON’T plant them in the bed you used for garlic the previous year. Garlicky strawberries are a bit weird and trust me, a couple of our plants REALLY picked up on the garlic.

Dad helping with the tatties july 19th 2014Potatoes have also been a success, my dad helped me pull a couple of batches yesterday which have really enjoyed all the rain, our salad potatoes ARE HUGE. Like baked potato size. Next weeks potato salad is going to be a stonker (next week is my annual birthday bbq).

So how do things stand, well check back in a few weeks, the weather is meant to be sunny for a bit, so hoping the tomatoes will ripen and the carrots and beetroot will catch up. I promise to keep you posted.




It’s time for an update

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A few weeks back I introduced you to a garden newcomer called cucamelons. At that point they were just little seedlings and you couldn’t really tell much about their “character”. I’m glad to say that they have come on in leaps and bounds since then.

They should keep going in this long and spindley fashion and be putting out little runner shoots before eventually producing tiny little water melon looking fruits. I’m hoping they will be a good little greenhouse treat to stop me munching on the tomatoes. Its not good that more often than not, the tomatoes don’t get as far as the kitchen.

And here’s a full frontal.

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So how is the rest of the garden doing?

Well it’s a bit early in the year for anything much to be edible other than salad and radishes but we are on the way.

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The tatties are doing well too, the flowers have already formed and look like opening their buds any day now.

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We’ve also got our first teeny tiny courgettes, green and yellow. I’m just hoping that this time we wont suffer from rot like last year.
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So all in all quite happy about the garden so far. Everything is beginning to to do its stuff and hopefully we’ll start getting some good weather soon to help it along.

The tomatoes are flowering too, although I’ve been a bit worried that the plants aren’t as tall or bushy as other years, I guess we’ll just have to see how they do.

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So there you are. A quick update of the garden at the end of May.




Beetroot and carrot seedlings

It’s official, our very first outdoor seedlings are starting to sprout. The bed where I planted our carrots and beetroot is showing signs of life.

I apologise as the picture is not the most amazing but we thought it would be good to share the small signs of spring life we are starting to see.

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On a plus move though, it’s not just in that bed we are watching spring take hold. I can’t help but get a little excited by the lovely, fresh greens in the herb planter. There something about the spring colours.

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That’s this years parsley which is looking amazing and bright. We’ve also got our first decent growth of chives since we started the garden. I just couldn’t get them to take the last two years but apparently giving up and ignoring them was the secret as they are coming on a treat.

As always the courgettes are the biggest plants going. Again this year we’ve tried the yellow ones as well as green but again I’m not certain. The yellow courgette plants don’t seem as strong, they seen to struggle a bit and are smaller.  Last year we also noticed that the yellow courgettes really struggled with rot. This year… We will see.

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