A Wild Autumn

It’s been a wild, wild month in more ways than one!

Today, Alex who helps me in the veg garden, saw a newt in a plant saucer full of rain water.

We think it’s a common or smooth newt.

And last week on Wednesday, my singing and gardening friends, Steve and Joyce had just arrived to camp and work in the garden, when we spotted a little hedgehog coming up the drive.

Joyce was particularly excited as it was the first time she’d seen one.

It went under the hedge between us and next door, and our neighbours, Mark and Lesley said they saw it with a larger one later the same day, in the evening.

We’ve had buzzards and marsh harriers circling overhead during the harvest and our other neighbours say there’s been a breeding pair of the former which have produced three youngsters!

Joyce – who’s an amazing photographer – also took this shot of a dragonfly and a Comma butterfly on the damson tree.

I think the dragonfly is a male southern hawker – maybe one of you can let me know if I’m right.

Eagle eyed Joyce also spotted a Stag Beetle larvae while she was weeding – she put it back where she found it.

Stag beetles are quite rare and on the endangered list in most areas of the UK.

The weather’s also been very wet and wild over the past week.

Steve and Joyce camped in the garden for two nights and weathered the huge storm overnight last Thursday night/Friday morning.

But, by some small miracle, it was sunny and warm all day Thursday and they transformed a couple of areas of the garden – removing the winter squash and frame that supported them, hoeing the weeds and replanting the bed with winter veg.

They also edged the bed and weeded the rather overgrown raspberry canes.

Although we had to observe social distancing, wear masks sometimes and dodge the high winds and rain it was wonderful to see them – a much needed morale boost before the darker and more solitary days of winter.

Today, Alex and I achieved a lot, removing most of the remaining bamboo cane structures, staking the asparagus ferns, weeding, hoeing and replanting endive frisee, raking up leaves and chipping branches brought down during the storm.


We also picked apples and pears to share with friends, family and neighbours.

I’m very grateful to for all the invaluable help we’ve had this year, including Sarah, Mum’s gardener and her friend, Ros, who volunteered throughout the spring and summer.

We couldn’t have managed without you.

Thank you!


New Secateurs

I’ve received my new tools and ikebana equipment; a birthday present to myself!

They’re all from a Japanese company called Niwaki.

My friend Alison, who’s lived in Japan for thirty years, points out that the two Chinese characters that make up the name Niwaki mean garden and tree, so it’s appropriately named!

Here’s a link to the video of me opening the parcel.

That was a few weeks ago and the secateurs are wonderful to use – ergonomically just right for the size of my hands.

I’ve got used to the closing mechanism at the bottom of the handles.

I’ve just used the hori hori knife to make holes to plant out my choy sum and Belstar broccoli – both should be ready to harvest before Christmas.

The knife should also be good for targeted weeding.

I’ve still got a huge amount of seedlings (land cress, spinach, chinese cabbage, pak choi, dill, frizzy endive and frilly oriental mustards) to go out which will be fleeced if we get a cold snap.

I’m planting out very slowly bit by bit as I can’t bend down for very long and I’m hoping I’ll get a wee bit of help next week from a couple of friends.

I’ve tried the crean mate cleaning block and the sharpening stone (soaked in water first) on an old pair of secateurs with great success.

And to top it all off my lovely friend Jenny Holland delivered a late birthday present today – a Niwaki canvas wrap for my tools, old and new!






Make Your Own Seed Compost

I used to laboriously sieve my home made compost to make it really fine for sowing seeds in modules.

It took ages and I’ve discovered that it’s a complete waste of time!

Seedlings love a bit of rough to get their tiny roots into.

A “Golden Frills” mustard seedling being pricked out
The really rough stuff will be used again in a new compost heap to create much needed air pockets to speed up the process and avoid stagnation

So now I use a mushroom tray to sieve out the really large undecomposed lumps in my compost but let the other stuff through.It takes seconds rather than a few minutes.

It also improves drainage and my winter salad seedlings like the frilly mustards below, seem to love it, brandling worms and all.





Courgette Glut

When I was 14 I went to stay with a French family called the Plassards.

They had five children aged between 21 and 11.

They lived during the summer in a large country house on the edge of Paris with their parents and grandparents.

Their mother, Huguette, was a good cook in the French classical manner.

She made a warm courgette salad by steaming or boiling them whole.

She then halved them lengthwise and dressed them with a strong mustard vinaigrette while still warm.

The quantities are as follows:

1tsp Dijon mustard mixed well with 1tbsp red wine vinegar, a pinch of salt and two pinches of sugar.

Then add 3 tbsp of olive oil and emulsify well.

Make sure the courgettes are cooked but still firm.

Spear them with a fork to test.

Then dress with the sauce and eat while still warm.

This year I’ve planted two yellow Athena Polka courgette plants and two Green Defenders.

They’re not over-productive but we’ve had a steady supply for the past six weeks.

We’ve had courgette soup, courgette, lemon and basil linguine and I’ve even made a courgette and walnut cake.

Tonight I’m going make warm courgette salad.

It’ll transport me back to the summer of 1976 and the two weeks I spent with Monique and her rambunctious family, playing “ping pong” in the garden and listening to her eldest brother, Bernard, playing old time sheet music on a piano in the barn loft.

Courgettes are in front of the potatoes and a tepee of Czar runner beans



Soft fruit failure

Usually this bush would be dripping in jewel like redcurrants

This year we’ve had a series of “disasters” with our strawberries, gooseberries,
raspberries, and redcurrants.

I badly pruned the goosegobs and redcurrants – cutting back the wood which would have borne the fruit!

Luckily we still have six pounds of frozen redcurrants to use from last year’s prolific harvest.

The strawberry plants were grazed by deer early in the season and never recovered.

I must protect them next year.

And I fear the same has happened to our raspberries which have never been heavy croppers but have given a pitiful yield this year.

No fruit at all on the raspberry canes

But on the bright side the pears, apples, quince and damsons look promising.

There are lots of damsons that should be ready to pick in a month’s time

And I’ve planted a new jostaberry which still looks like a stick in the ground but hopefully will branch out next year.

And in other news – despite white onion rot – my cuisse de poulet shallots are looking good.

Shallots grown from seed

Fingers crossed they make it to harvest time.