Way back in March when I was getting the spring planting underway, I spoke to you about the problems I can have getting carrots and beetroot to take. Mostly due to the length of time it takes for the ground to heat up here in Scotland and the fact that we can have gorgeous, warm spring weather one week and back to snow the next.
Well this year I took you guys on a bit of a different journey with me, I tried something which was a bit of a mad experiment. One random moment in the greenhouse I just thought, “what the heck”. I saw the root trainers sitting on the bench empty and decided to have a go at planting the carrots in them, that way I could keep them in the greenhouse, away from the pearls of the Scottish spring and hopefully, hopefully, give them a chance to establish before I put them out into the raised beds.
Well I am very happy to say that this worked an absolute treat and will now be my new go to way of getting carrots and beetroot going in spring.
The carrots not only ALL made it this year, but they came on so quickly and were ready to each much faster than normal. unfortunately the experiment of using the seed tape for beetroot wasn’t as successful, but next year the beetroot will be joining the carrots in their new adventure.
So one very happy houseful, eating lots of purple carrots as normal. Hooray!!
We put out a video on Friday so come have a wander around the garden with me, but watch out for those courgette plants. They sting like mad!
New raised beds – railway sleepers
I just looked over our old blog posts to see when we installed the raised beds and it gave me a bit of a warm glow. I love going back over the old posts to see how the garden has changed and grown over the years.
Turns out we installed the beds very early on in our gardening adventure.
Back then, we were VERY new to gardening, in fact, this is our first garden ( my balcony doesn’t count), so we were working things out and learning as we went. Still are to be honest.
When we moved into our lovely new home here at Ar Bruidair, we new nothing (you know nothing Jon Snow!). We had seen the raised bed thing on TV and thought it sounded like a convenient thing to do. Boy were we shocked by the amount of work it took to get them going.
However, nothing compared to the work that’s gone into replacing them. Sigh, and we’re not finished yet.
So why have we replaced them?
Well simply, the old ones were very cheap and have started to rot, split and fall apart since they were put in. It has been 7 years! We’ve been saying for the last couple of years that we needed to do this, and dreaming that lovely railway sleeper raised beds would be great. We just never got around to actually doing it. Then, with the new greenhouse meaning we no longer needed the sleepers under the greenhouse, an opportunity arose, so to speak.
So the plan….
Well we’ve so far only replaced two (we mentioned in a previous post that we’d made a start). The third is full of strawberries so that will wait until next year when those strawberries are at the end of their life cycle anyway.
We did bed one a couple of weeks ago before the carrots and beetroot were ready to be planted out. Bed two we did last weekend as the courgettes will go in there in a few weeks.
So what was the process?
Boy, was it backbreaking, really. I’ve spent most of this week struggling to move. Why? Well let me tell you.
First job: cut the sleepers to size
Kate took care of the hard work here, but through this we have learned one awesome piece of advice to give you guys so you don’t suffer as we did.
So we had sleepers already, most excellent, meant for the first bed we didn’t have to buy anything. However, they weren’t the right size so had to be cut. Railway sleepers are solid oak and 200mm by 150mm. We (actually Kate) cut the first bed by hand. It was a killer and her hands and shoulder were killing her for days. First piece of advice for you guys, if you are doing this, buy a cheap electrical saw!
Once the sleepers were cut, we put the first level together on the patio so we could make sure it was square and level. Then put the next level together and squared it all up. We didn’t attach the two layers though.
Next piece of advice: this job is so much easier to do on a nice flat accessible space rather than trying to do this in situ. Oh yes!
Job two: empty the beds of soil
You want to completely replace the beds, well it’s gonna be easier if they are empty, so all that soil had to be dug out and put somewhere. A big tarpaulin on the lawn did the trick.
YAY! Now we can get the new ones in right? Well no… if you go read the original story of us installing the beds, you’ll hear about how uneven the ground was and the half arsed job we did of levelling the original beds.
We decided this time we would try to make a better job, while we had the opportunity. That was a killer.
Job three: level the ground for the beds
We ended up having to dig the back end down about 6 inches on average, it was way more at one side and less at another, as this side of the garden slopes quite a lot. It took forever and our soil is clay so it’s hard going to dig. In the end, the first bed looked awesome, properly level from all angles.
There were gin painkillers that night, let me tell you. So what’s next?
Job four: put it all back
Now things are level you can put the new beds in place and fill them back up. Hurrah!
A handy, dandy tip for you guys on this. We build the two sections separately, it made it manageable (I won’t say easy) to carry them and put them in place. Once the first layer was in and level, we added the next layer and fixed them in place with huge, big, carriage bolts. They are all nice and securely fastened together now and nothing is going to move these suckers!
So two beds done, third will get done next year. Oh we’re looking forward to doing all of this again! NOT!
Our beds have done us so well over the years, we’ve had bounteous harvests of carrots, beetroot, courgettes, salad, broccoli, sprouts, chard, kale, strawberries etc. Here is our homage to our raised beds…
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!
We have lots of tomato seedlings, lots of carrot seedlings but still no peppers – boo!
Spring has sprung, means there’s jobs need doing.
With the excitement of spring, of seedlings and garden time, we sometimes forget also comes hard work. Yesterday was a day of hard work. It did however start with the excitement of spring.
I’ve been watching the weather religiously over the last few weeks as I really wanted to get started on looking after the grass. Over winter it looks awful as it yellows and dies back a bit ( I mentioned in previous posts of how shallow the soil is for our front lawn and the problems it causes) and spring is when I get to revive it and bring it back to it’s green glory. The first job was to get it cut and Kate was out on Friday with the mower and gave the lawns their first cut of the year, not anything too harsh, it’s more about getting things tidy (for us) and encouraging the grass to wake up. So yesterday morning I was out with the rake to scarify, which basically means lifting any dead grass, moss etc that has accumulated over winter and letting air and light in around the individual little plants.
It is looking a sorry sight, but today I will get the fertiliser down and hopefully in a couple of weeks we should really start to see the lawn health improve.
Although not a huge or particularly heavy job (we only have small lawns), scarifying the lawn is always the first blisters of the year, and this year did not disappoint. BOO!
This does mean the hotcompost bin is happy thought, it loves grass clippings.
However as I mentioned, woo hoo seedlings! Our first to come up this year are carrots, in the little root planters which are double propagatored ( is that even a word?) and we also have one lonely little jalapeno. Just as exciting, there is a whole loads of colour happening in the garden at the minute too.
The back breaker
The big job yesterday though was the raised beds. When we moved into Ar Bruidair and started our first garden we weren’t sure it would be something we’d take too, so we started out with a lot of “temporary” ideas and bits and pieces. Seven years on we are started to replace these as we’re pretty sure we like gardening now and can risk it. Of course there is also the fact that those temporary things weren’t designed to last and really need replacing.
The first to be replaced was the greenhouse a few months back.
Yesterday’s job was the raised beds. Well one of them to start with.
The beds were very cheap, very thin and we knew they wouldn’t last. We’d always dreamed of big heavy raised beds made with railway sleepers but at the time, with little gardening know how and risk aversion we were with cheap and cheerful. However after replacing the greenhouse we have some railway sleepers which will make a fantastic raised bed or two. So we got to work.
We started by cutting the sleepers down to size, which was hard going but Kate managed admirably. Her arms and shoulders hated her last night though. This let us lay the new bed out on the patio to get an idea of depth etc and to test out our net covers would fit.
So that done, we needed to empty the current bed, dismantle it and get it out of the way. That was the easy part. What came next was definitely the hard part. We now regret the lack of effort we put into the raised beds way back when we started. We knew then that the ground was not level, not even close, but we thought well this is a test so it doesn’t really matter.
As you can imaging, after sawing all those sleepers, we were knackered, and we then spent the next 4 hours digging, digging in clay soil to level the ground so that this time our raised beds, which are most definitely not temporary would be level. We had to dig down as the beds are currently on a part of the garden which slopes quite dramatically.
I think in the end we had to dig out about 8 inches of soil from one corner down to maybe 3 in another to get things level. Once we have replaced all the beds things should look great but it does look weird just now as one bed is sunken compared to the others, but it’s level. No more water run off!
What started as a worryingly tall sleeper bed is now the same height as the other, although technically it is deeper.
This one will definitely last. The sleepers are big and heavy and it’s all held together with carriage bolts. Today we’ll finish painting it and admire it. I think physically that’s about all we are capable off. Lots of ow! Last night and my back is not happy with me this morning.
One bed done, two more to go.
Compost, how to use it and when to sieve it
If you haven’t been following our adventure with composting over the past few years you won’t know that we started off with the big, standard type compost pile at the back of the garden (build from odds and ends of wood) and are now using a swanky hotbin composter.
But fear not, you can catch up on the adventure with the post below and come back for the latest chapter if you like:
We are very lucky that we have the fancy hotbin composter that produces compost very quickly, unlucky however that I sometimes find I have compost ready for use but I don’t actually need it. This happened over the winter when I had to empty the compost bin as it was full and I obviously still needed a way to manage our waste. So I emptied the bin and stored everything in black rubble sacks ready for when I would need it.
Now here is a useful thing to know for any new composter types out there. Fresh garden compost can be quite rough and bulky, don’t panic though, just cause it doesn’t look like the super fine stuff you are used to buying from the store. The reason the stuff you buy is super fine is because it has been sieved.
Here’s the skinny… you know when Jim on Beechgrove Garden or Monty on Gardener’s World tells us to add organic matter to the soil to make it better? Well this is what they mean, the rough and ready compost. It adds bulk and texture and air etc to the soil. Stops the soil being too fine and getting compacted and if you have sandy or clay soil helps to change the composition. The bigger bits keep on breaking down providing nutrition too. All in all this is awesome. You will also have heard Jim and Monty talk about mulch? Yeah well this compost is exactly that, mulch, so you can even spread it over the soil around plants to feed the soil and suppress weeds. Money saver!
Now what if you are potting up plants or little seedlings? Well then this compost is a bit rough for this, so you would sieve or filter it to get rid of any larger bits and pieces and leave you with the finer stuff. This will be much more recognisable as the stuff you would buy (which you’ll probably see as labelled multi purpose).
So, how does this all work?
To do this though, you need the compost to be relatively dry otherwise it’s a bit on the sticky side and it clogs up the sieve.
Here was our problem, the compost I had been storing was still quite damp. I had hoped for a few sunny days where I could spread it out on a tarp in the garden and let it dry in the sun, but alas, we’ve had rain for months. So it never happened. This weekend though we finally got a chance, so hurrah.
This also provided Kate with a chance to put her DIY skills to the test yet again to make my life easier. You see, I have a standard, bucket sized, garden sieve, which works great, but…. would take forever to sieve a few rubble bags worth of compost. Also it’s very fine, suitable for making potting compost but it takes a very long time to sieve out from brand new chunky stuff.
I need something which a much bigger mesh size, an in betweener if you like. Also bigger would be great given the amount of compost I have to get through.
Kate did a fantastic job and built me my very own extra large garden sieve just for my compost. Just some leftover bits of wood and some fine chicken wire.
We didn’t record the making of this as it’s dead easy but if you want some instructions fear not, someone else has done an excellent job of this.
So speaking about fresh compost being a bit lumpy, you can see from the pic here what I mean. You sometimes get bits of twig or whatever left over that haven’t quite finished breaking down. It’s no biggie, you just throw those back in and they finish their job. Having a big filtering system does make this easier though. The action of the compost lumpy bits running across the sieve help break down lumps which are just stuck together and separate this from actual large pieces which are not ready.
So how does the whole sieve thing work? Well, to be honest, it’s all very scientific and complicated, I’m not sure you’d understand. You need to add your fresh compost to the sieve and ………
I usually do this over a great big tarp, then shovel it from there to wherever it needs to be but I can also put the sieve straight onto the frame of my raised beds if I want some finer soil for in there.
And there you have it, lots of lovely mulch, compost for the raised beds, potting on etc. The world is your compost of choice.
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 stuckhead 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.
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.
From mental health to physical health, new greenhouse gadgets and making the greenhouse taller.
Learning to love the birds who visit the garden, jazzing up the raised beds and a warming bowl of barley risotto.
April saw us dealing with a deluge of compost, a deluge of youtube viewers and the final retreat of the deluge of snow.
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.
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 gave us sunshine, peanut butter and focaccia. What a wonderful month. Lots of time outdoors.
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.
I get insanely excited by new cookware. Enough said.
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.
When the cold sets in, you enjoy being indoors. Hygge or còsagach? Cast iron or non stick? And a shiny new greenhouse.
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.
Season Finale 2018
Well our growing season here at Ar Bruidair is coming to an end, so today was about clearing up, cutting back and harvesting. It’s been a fantastic harvest this year, especially with tomatoes.
We currently have 2 massive bowls of tomatoes, a box of courgettes and a box of carrots on the kitchen counter, not to mention the pile of peppers.
I guess today is going to be about cooking.
See my season finale update on youtube
Getting rid of the shoogly net frames on the raised beds
Over the last 4 or 5 years, we’ve tried a succession of nets over the raised beds to stop local cats and foxes from digging in them. Our original attempt was using some pipes we bought from a local DIY store and we tied it together with string. To be fair, they pretty much worked, mostly. They were just a bit short, so things like kale ended up sticking out of the nets and other plants grew “through” them.
They were also fixed by sticking the poles into the beds themselves, so not exactly easy to move, meaning to plant, harvest, weed etc we had to completely remove the nets from the frames. That was a complete pain in the bahookie!
The next version we came up with didn’t solve the needing to remove the nets problem, but it did help with the height problem, we used tall bamboo canes with a tennis ball on top to stop the nets falling off. This was NOT pretty. Oh, so not pretty. Also not very stable, so very quickly this became annoying.
With the white pipe based frames we came up with the first time around, we had something to secure the nets too. With the bamboo canes we struggled with this, so more often than not, the nets would come undone and trip one of us up. Or worse, get tangled in a bike as we rolled them past the beds. So this version really didn’t last long. I don’t think they lasted a month before I was complaining.
So, when I recently came across something online that looked the right height, looked stable and wasn’t too ugly, I thought oh interesting. Maybe it’s worth a try. It’s basically the same idea as our frames, piping creating an arch over the beds, but this time they are fixed into a wooden frame that keeps it really rigid. So rigid in fact, that we have even managed to put hinges on to them so that I can lift the whole net up to allow me access to the beds. How fab is that?
As usual, we recorded it all for posterity on our Youtube channel in case this helps someone else out there who is having the same issues.
Building up a flower bed
We have a gorgeous flower bed along the fence in our back garden, but as it’s not got an edge or border to it, the soil gets kicked out by birds, the wind and the rain.
It’s also been staring to look a little bit tired recently, but to be fair, the primula and primroses from that bed have been in the garden since before we moved in. They’ve had a good shift.
So we’ve taken the chance to liven the bed up a bit and to give it a decent edge to keep it all together.
That’s no mean feat mind you, the bed is six meters long.
We put together the frame to go around the bed in two halves, just to make it a bit more manageable. The hope being that this not so little wooden frame will help to keep the soil in the bed and maybe even provide a bit of shelter for the ground level plants.
You can see just how big the framing has to be.
Once we had that ready, we lifted out any of the existing plants we could and sorted them into the plants that were going back into the bed and the ones that were for the compost. Then we gave the soil a good turn over and a hoe.
Not an easy job, as you can see we have a rowan tree there and the roots make working in that bed quite difficult. But apparently the Rowan keeps witches away so maybe it’s earning its keep. Find out more
With the bed dug over, we added some compost and dug that through just to give the plants a wee boost and then we put the plants back in and replaced the poorer looking ones with some new plants.
This bed had previously been mostly primula and primrose, but this time round we’ve mixed that up with some mims. We’ve become big fans of mims as a summer plant.
So now it’s all looking gorgeous.
Just a coat of paint so it ties in with the other beds and we have a nice new flower bed with some new plants.
Now, next… The flower bed at the back is seriously over grown. That really needs hacked back. I mean pruned delicately to bring out it’s shape and beauty. :0)
Winter draws in, the year comes to a close and we are already thinking about spring
It’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.
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!!!!!