Trials and Tribulations in the Vegetable Patch

Mid-August, and time for reflection. This year was to be the year of the garden, and I was going to give it all a momentous amount of effort, and become something of a Grow Your Own Queen. Then the weather stepped in, and it all went wrong! Here are my midpoint thoughts on my successes, and not successes, in my vegetable growing endeavours. I will make an additional post about flowers, which was the big focus of this year.

Successes

I must have had about sixty tomato plants at one point. I grew three varieties – Gardener’s Delight, Moneymaker and Alicante. I sold as many surplus as I could, at the Society stall or at my drive end, and potted the rest up. I have a mix in tall pots at home, under the cover of the summer house, and the rest in grow bags in the greenhouse. Those in the greenhouse have a fair bit of fruit on and are ripening quite quickly now. The ones outside the summer house are a little behind, with being outside, but a couple of fruit are reddening, so that’s all exciting.

I was given a few small pumpkin plants from the stall and after giving a couple to my friend, the rest I planted out just in my borders. Most are throwing up plenty of male flowers, however one plant has got a big pumpkin growing on him, so I will have to take a lot of care of him.

Beetroots have done well in the raised beds, as they usually do, and Mum sowed some radishes as well. To be honest I think something on the scale of armageddon needs to happen for radishes to not grow! I’ve had a bumper crop of lettuces, too. I sowed All the Year Round for green and Edox for red. I have some small plants that want planting out asap at home somewhere, though I’m not sure how to keep them out of the way of trampling paws.

Things To Learn From

I was going to call this section ‘Failures’ but nothing is a failure if you can take something from it. I had loads and loads of brassicas all growing nicely in the other raised bed at my mum and dad’s. I netted them, put cabbage collars round them, and kept an eye out for little pests. Then the drought happened. The plants are in direct sunlight all day, in a crowded space. I got broccolis and cauliflowers, but they never got any bigger than a fifty pence piece, and then started flowering. Then the caterpillars moved in, and overnight everything was decimated. So I’ve given up on that crop entirely. I had several problems, the main one being space. I sowed lots and lots of seeds, thinking nothing would come up, and all of them did. Suddenly I had all these tiny little plants and nowhere to put them. I thinned them out, but I wasn’t hard enough. I should have reduced them to two plants of each variety and left it at that. Then I could have paid them more attention and I think we would have been on to a winner. So I have learned, and will try again.

I sowed a rake of seeds in the other raised bed: carrots, parsnips, onions, beetroot, and even some flowers, cornflower and cosmos. A few carrots came up, and then one morning I went for a look and they’d all been dug up! My parents live on a very sandy farm which prior to us moving in, had become rabbit nirvana. My mum has six cats and even with them catching a couple of rabbits between them a day, the place is overrun. But I don’t think that is the principle issue here. The main problem I have is poor soil. I sowed a variety of onion/shallot hybrid seeds, and got zilch. Nada. Not a peep. I got one parsnip, who granted is putting on a valiant display. The cornflowers and cosmos were a bit patchy, though they have started putting in a late show, so all is not lost. I’m also never sure about growing onions from seed, and so have ordered a mix of sets from Dobies to try again.

I sowed courgette and butternut squashes one day, and realised I had sown more seeds than I had labels for. I grouped them together, kept them at separate ends of the windowsill, and then one day the chaos fairy must have come and muddled them all back up again. It made very little difference, as all the courgettes bar two rotted in their pots. I saved one piddly plant at home, popped it in a grow bag expecting nothing but disappointment, and I have one, albeit curved, courgette growing. But I won’t use that variety again. And while I have five butternut squash plants taking over the entire garden, I thought I had yet to see any fruit – until today, when I spied a small but very definite squash coming!

 

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Change and Memory in the New/Old Garden

The house we live in now was my grandparents’ house. It’s where my father grew up and where I spent lots of the school holidays. The smell of wisteria always takes me back to being a little girl running around in the garden. The garden itself is split into zones: there are two lawned sections, one to the rear and one to the east side, both with borders, one with a raised section and a gravel garden. The driveway has a deep border on one side that runs almost the full length. Then there is a small walled part where two of the apple trees stand. The summer house, I have discovered, does not act like a greenhouse, and instead is very cool and encourages plants to retain water – almost to the point of rotting. There are some established plants and shrubs, some which are obvious all the year round – the three wiegela, for example – and others which only appear as the seasons change, or as the time-short gardener starts weeding. It is rewarding and probably one of the best experiences I can afford at the moment, as I’m learning all the time about the garden, about plants, and how to organise and structure it.

In other parts of the garden, I’ve discovered many things, including two varieties of digitalis, one pink and one cream, campanula in white and periwinkle blue popping up all over, and several hot pink fuchsias have made themselves known. My day lilies are starting to open up, in a gorgeous orange colour, and while the deep magenta peonies have finished, the white ones were just opening up, until the drought finished them off. My hollyhocks are just starting to flower. The raised part below the apple trees is full of them, and they are all pale pastel colours, however I caught sight of something big and red down the side of the summer house, beyond the brambles, overgrown weigela and buddleia – a great big red hollyhock!

I spy with my little eye, something beginning with Big Red Hollyhock!

At the beginning, I felt almost disrespectful to be too keen at digging up the borders. After all, this was my grandparents’ garden, and I didn’t want to disturb the things that I felt were a testimony to them. Yet as time goes by and the weeds set in, a hard streak came through, and I’ve become a lot stricter. This is our house now, and I want to make the garden somewhere for us to enjoy. Although we are at odds with what we like in gardens – I like my perennials and shrubs, and if he had his way the borders would be bare soil over winter and full of bedding plants in summer. Over the year I have been able to see what we have an overabundance of. Clearly Nana liked her muscari, and while I don’t mind it, it goes rather scruffy after it’s flowered. Buddleias as well are not really my thing – they definitely have a 90s feel about them. I’ve dug lots of bulbs up, and who knows what they might be, but I will probably pot a lot of them up for mobile colour next spring. There was an abundance of daffodils so a big chunk will be them.

Other welcome surprises I would like to keep. This hosta, for example, will be dug up, divided and moved when the time is right. And the lupin and delphiniums, of course, which are great triffids and give a lovely burst of colour. I am going to try to keep the seeds from them. The Harry Wheatcroft rose has survived through neglect and is throwing out some gorgeous blooms.

Harry Wheatcroft rose

Digging up the borders is a big task, so I might not get it all done. Part of me wonders if I should just put black plastic down and let it kill everything off, but then I discover something else that makes me hesitate. And while I’m cutting down brambles and pulling up weeds, a bee will come buzzing along and alight on a flower, and that makes me stop dead in my tracks. I can’t get to my red hollyhock because of the brambles that the insects love. So maybe sometimes, stopping and delaying isn’t such a bad thing at all.

Plant Stall & May Update

It’s been a busy May and I’m pleased with how most things are progressing.

One thing I am especially proud of happened towards the end of the month. On the second bank holiday weekend, the Horticultural Society hold a plant stall in Pickering Market Place, where members are welcome to sell their surplus plants. I took with me my abundance of tomatoes, plus courgettes, cucumbers and butternut squashes, all which had only that week begun to sprout so were very young. The society took half of the proceeds and we got to keep half, so I sold £25 worth of product, which meant I came home with a grand total of £12.50. It might not sound much, but I was very proud.

I brought home a lot of stock, so since our hens are on holiday at the moment, I made a new sign for the bathroom counter at the end of the drive and have started selling my extra tomato plants. On the first day I was so pleased to find a crisp £5 note waiting for me. Now I need to see what else I don’t need that somebody else might be able to make use of.

Elsewhere, things seem to be growing. In the brassica bed, in an attempt to thwart the continuous threat of cabbage root fly, we covered it with a tight mesh weighted down with bricks and tent pegs. I have some nasturtiums which I have heard the caterpillars love munching on so they might end up being sacrificed for the sake of my vegetables. But the mesh – more of a fleece than the enviromesh stuff – has in fact created a little micro-climate and everything has suddenly shot up unexpectedly, broccolis to salad and lettuce leaves. I had to thin out my seedlings, and have pricked out a few stronger ones into trays. If they do alright they might go at the end of the drive.

The other bed was looking a bit sorry, so in an attempt to replicate my (so far) successes with the brassica bed, I put more mesh on that side. We will see if it helps. In here I have carrots, parsnips, onions, beetroot, spring onions, radishes and a row of flowers. Some things are germinating quickly and others not so much. After a bright start to the month, with persistent sunshine, the last week or so have been a bit muggy and there hasn’t been much consistent sun. I’m hoping the mesh will act as a little mini greenhouse.

In the actual greenhouse I have growbags with tomatoes and cucumbers in, plus plants in pots for growing on a bit. My avocado that I grew from a Pinterest tutorial has new shoots this year, which is very exciting, however I do think the bad winter finished my pomegranate off, which is very sad.

We realised we are missing runner and green beans, so I think I will just buy plants from a garden centre and plant them in bags with sticks to climb up. I also realised, whilst thinning out my brassicas, that what I thought were green cabbages are in fact green calabrese, and I have no cabbages. So I will see if I can grow some for later on in the year.

How is your growing going?

Wisteria Hysteria

The smell of wisteria always reminds me of childhood summers spent at my grandparents’ house, where a huge climber all but covered one side of the house. Now that we live in the house, every time I walk past the plant in full bloom, I always think of my Nana and Grandad, sadly no longer with us.

It is a tremendous plant and possibly in need of a little pruning, though unless something drastic happens to it, I will never have it cut down. It is a dominant feature of the house, providing beautiful fragrance and dramatic colour, and is something so intrinsically entwined with the nature of this house.

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I am going to try to take cuttings from her, as she’s such a glory. There is a trellis attached to the other side of the window, where I believe there was once a clematis, though the bad weather has probably done for that. I do like clematis so I’d like to get a new one to replace it.

May madness

It’s nearly the end of May already – time has just flown by. After the terrible weather in March and April, we’ve had a long spate of warmth and dryness – to the point where the ground is rock solid and all our silage grasses are crying out for a good rain shower. It’s been good for more controlled growing – namely my seedlings in pots and trays. I’ve had some problems and some poor doers, but I’ve had some real success stories (so far, anyway).

Tomatoes have done very well this year. I’ve always found tomatoes are very easy to germinate, as I’m sure most people do. This year I’ve grown three varieties: Gardener’s Delight, Moneymaker and Alicante. I started them all in the heated propagator, some in January and some in March, and have potted them all on. The plants from January’s sowings are monsters now. I cleaned out the greenhouse and have popped a couple of plants in there to grow. The rest I’m going to take to the Plant Stall on Saturday.

Cucumbers have been sown in two batches. I sowed six lots and four germinated. As they always sell well at the Stall, I have sown a successive lot though so far no germination, but it’s only been a couple of days. I used La Diva from Sarah Raven.

Squashes and Courgettes have seen me with a slight problem, in that they have germinated at the same time and there are no labels and somehow they’ve all gotten muddled up. Twitter might have to help me here!

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Squash or courgette? Who knows?

I also seem to have a bit of a floppy stem syndrome going on with some of them. I know they are meant to spread length-ways but I don’t remember ever having such floppy plants. Maybe they’re a little shy?! My squashes are from Sarah Raven and Courgette from Dobies (check).

In the raised beds, I sowed five lots of brassicas – cauliflower (All the Year Round), broccoli (Calabrese), romanescobrussel sprouts (Brigitte) and sprouting broccoli. Some of these were new seeds – sprouts and the cauliflower – but others were old seeds, particularly the romanesco which I found unopened in my seed box. They have all germinated, some better than others. I planted them in the bed into a compost mulch mixed with a generous helping of growmore, and as last year Mum had an issue with cabbage root fly, we are going to mesh them and hopefully monitor very closely.

I have put a lot of salad leaves in, as this time of year we eat a lot of salads, and I’m usually left a bit wanting by the selection in the supermarket. I’ve sown rocket, mixed leaves and red mustard, which have all germinated, and further sowings of All the Year Round and Edox lettucesmizuna and watercress. I sowed lambs lettuce and Cos lettuce from old seed packets and nothing came. I do like lambs lettuce so I might have to get a packet. I’m excited about the Edox variety which I got from the Dobies catalogue.

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Hello seedlings!

We’ve also sown two lots of spring onions as well as the classic super-fast growing radish.

In the next bed, I’ve tried to be crafty to fend off the evil carrot root fly, and have sown carrot (Autumn King) interspersed with onion (an onion-shallot mix from Dobies called zebrune), plus some parsnip (Hollow Crown – I couldn’t resist the name, though it is an old packet so we shall see if anything happens) and beetroot. I would quite like to pickle my own beetroot, and have a go at pickling carrot as well. When we’re in Germany they give us the nicest pickled carrot mix with our salad and it’s so yummy, but I can never find it in the Rewe supermarket so it must be a homemade mix.

We have lots of potatoes in bags. I use loads of potatoes and my idea is to try and grow ourselves what I buy the most of in the shops. I’ve had such bad experiences with potatoes from both the Lidl and Morrisons. I have thought about buying a great big bag from outside farms, but I might as well just grow my own.

Flowers-wise, there’s so much going on, I haven’t a clue where to begin, or even if things are going right. My lobelia, pansies and petunia all did really well then have come to a stop. Similarly I potted up my gaura and they’ve grown well then have flopped. I have one dahlia coming which is super exciting, and I potted up the other two only recently so fingers crossed they will come. I have verbascum coming, which I have just potted on, plus impatiens, nasturtium and of course loads of sweet peas. I’m wondering whether my little plants need a week in the greenhouse where it’s a little hotter to try and spur them on a bit.

I’ve sown, a bit late of course, some dichondra and begonia and they’re sat on a sunny windowsill in a propagator. My alstroemeria did nothing, very disappointing but I know they are very tricky to start from seed. In the garden of my old house I found a new plant that had obviously grown itself from a rhizome so that’s made up for the seed-related problems, plus when I was digging up my border I discovered a variegated one growing merrily away in amongst all the weeds. I had a poor do with the fuchsia – one very sickly-looking seedling out of two attempts, but I found a plant in the old house with lots of new shoots on it, so that’s been potted up and seems to be happy.

Soon it will be hanging basket time! I have four brackets to put up around the house, which means I need to get another two baskets. Hanging basket time is one of my favourite times in the garden, and I would like to make a few to sell, as I do think I make pretty good baskets.

How is your garden coming along in the May madness? Let me know in the comments!

February seedlings

In January you will remember I was exceedingly over-excited because I bought a heated propagator and sowed seven lots of seeds inside.

All in a row

I should have popped it on a south-facing windowsill for maximum light however while the little bedroom window is south-facing the room is in constant use and I have a pair of cats that just love jumping in windows and knocking things off. I had visions of soil being splattered all over washing drying on the airer, so instead I used the back bedroom. This room is a bit of a building site however it is a warm room and relatively light.

I’ve only turned the propagator on for the coldest of nights. We’ve had a couple of nights below freezing. Otherwise the ambient temperature in the room is decent enough that I’ve saved my electricity bill.

Tomato – Moneymaker
Little seedlings

I’ve been rewarded so far! The only thing that isn’t coming yet are the fuchsia. I’ve never grown fuchsia from seed before so not sure what to expect. The antirrhinum are taking their time too; there’s one seedling thus far.

I’m quite impressed with the tomatoes, considering they were a packet of seeds I just found, lying around, barely in date. They are going to get a bit leggy if I’m not careful.

I found a fab blog here which has some wonderful hints and tips for solving problems with seedlings. I’ve subscribed to Family Food Garden email updates and have learnt a lot!

This is my first year growing flowers from seed – I’ve done it lots of times with vegetables but not with flowers. If it doesn’t work out, I know I can buy plug plants relatively cheaply, but I just need to keep an eye on things. I would feel a lot of pride knowing I made a hanging basket that was 100% filled with plants I grew from seed. Even better if I sold them to people!

Yesterday Scott said the cats had got into the back bedroom and had a right time of it. They’re obsessed with a shut door and because I pop in and out of there to check on my seedlings they’re then very interested. Luckily they haven’t wrecked my seedlings or I think I’d be screaming.

I’ve done another order with Sarah Raven and have finally started getting my vegetable seeds ordered. I need to complete my Dobies order as well and then hopefully that will be it for seeds for this year. Then the fun growing part can start!

January seemed to drag and it’s still cold and frosty in February. My sweet peas haven’t done anything in the summer house yet and I’m wondering if they’re too cold. I have a few more seeds to sow and pop on a warm windowsill too, including successional sowings of all that’s in my propagator currently, so I’ll have to go to my mum and dad’s to fetch some of the propagators from there. I’m far too impatient at this time of year! I just want things to get started! I’m sure I’m not alone with gardener’s impatience?

Happy growing chaps! How are your seeds coming along?

January Sowings

I’m so excited! Garden season is finally getting underway. The mornings are getting a little bit lighter, the days that bit longer, and hopefully we’ve seen the last of the snow.

Last week both of my seed orders arrived and I bought myself a little treat – an electric propagator! The temperature in the summer house isn’t enough for my little seedlings and I worried about putting my seedlings on the south-facing windowsill in the little bedroom because I have a cat that just has to jump in windows.

This is my propogator.

I had seen it in the DT Browns/Mr Fothergills catalogues at £37.95 + P&P. Mum had mentioned she’d seen them in our local mecca, Steam and Moorland near Pickering. I called in at Yates’s instead for a rekkie, and would you believe it, I found it – for only £29.95! Still £29.95 more than I really had since it’s three days before pay day and I’m still suffering from Christmas, but if I’m really going to make a go of this, it’s a necessary buy.

It has seven mini-propogators. You could buy some with four, or with just one great big one, but this way I can sow seven different seeds and keep them separate. Most of my seeds need to be in the 15 – 20C or 20 – 23C range, barring two, my dichondra (which was the most expensive set of seeds) and my impatiens which need to be kept at 21 – 23C. The propogator doesn’t have a temperature control, however it will increase the ambient temperature. My idea is that during the day, on warmer days, I won’t have it on, but during the night when it can be a bit colder, I’ll turn it on. This way it hopefully won’t hit my electricity bill as much either.

On Sunday afternoon, I spent a couple of hours in the summerhouse and have started sowing things. I filled all seven mini propogators and have placed it upstairs in its new home.

I’ve started:

  • Lobelia Fountains Mixed
  • Petunia DTB Special Mix Grandiflora
  • Pansy Cool Summer Breeze
  • Antirrhinum Magic Lanterns
  • Fuchsia Foxtrot
  • Gaura The Bride
  • And Moneymaker tomato, as I found a packet still in date (just).

My gaura is for the cut flowers, the rest are for baskets and planters. I really like gaura and bought a potted plant from the market last year and it bloomed all summer. The seeds were free on the Mr Fothergill’s buy 5 get the cheapest free option. My idea is to grow what I can, mainly for my baskets, but if I have an abundance to then sell them on as bedding plants, keeping some back to make up premade baskets and planters to sell.

In the summerhouse I have sweet peas as well.

I will keep you updated with how they get on – if they germinate!

Have you started sowing anything yet? Let me know in the comments!

 

Summerhouse Project

This is our summerhouse.

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I remember as a little girl coming to stay with Nana and Grandad, and Nana would make me up spelling tests for me to do, and we would sit in the summerhouse and drink lemonade. One year, I was catching butterflies with a crystal sherry glass and obviously it smashed into a million pieces and I cut myself. There was a lot of drama that day I can tell you!

As you can see, it needs a lot of work – since Nana died, I don’t think Grandad much bothered with it. It mainly housed outdoor furniture and a big pile of kindling. When I started going through the house I found the keys and used it temporarily as a dumping ground. So now it’s full of approximately seventeen boxes of mismatched/broken crockery, the Ercol table from the dining room, Scott’s dining chairs, and various other random things.

My goal for this month, or one of them, should I say, is to sort the summerhouse out. I have intentions to turn it into a potting shed/greenhouse. It is covered on three sides, and one of those does have windows at the top, and the fourth side is entirely glass. It needs a good clean. My idea is to put a work bench towards the back, maybe even with a recess for compost – what a dream! Then have shelving at the front for sun. I imagine I will do most of the bedding plants here, and maybe do the vegetables still at my mum and dad’s, to save having to move them too much.

I was disappointed in myself that in the old house, I had so much wonderful garden space – a proper potting shed with then a brick shed behind, plus a pergola, outside toilet and another little shed – and all I did was fill it with stuff. Here we do have, in addition to the summer house, another shed at the other side of the house, plus a garage and a car port, and much more grass than we really need. It’s my intention to make the most of it all, especially if I seriously want to give this bedding plant/hanging basket/market garden idea a real go.

I’m so excited to make it into what I want. I want to have hooks hanging from the ceiling beam for the baskets and hang my whiteboard up on one side with an overall plan written on it. I will keep you all posted with my progress!

2018 – The Year of the Garden

For the past week or so I’ve been trying to write a post about my goals and resolutions for 2018. I’ve either lost interest halfway through or else got to the end and thought nobody will want to read this. That’s fair enough, because I do believe resolutions are very personal things, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. I also think they’re not really relevant to anybody except those that they directly affect. So instead I’m going to write my Gardening Goals for this year, and try to bring my blog back to a more horticulture orientation, like it was in the beginning.

Garden planners

I’ve just made my first seed order of 2018. Last year I didn’t do much at all, other than nursing a dream. So this year I’m going to bypass the dream part and make it a reality! I’ve ordered a selection of January-sowing bedding plants and cut flowers. For a while we’ve talked about selling bedding plants and bunches of cut flowers; I’ve also thought about making and selling hanging baskets and containers. Out of all the things I do, I’ve found making up hanging baskets is the most peaceful, enjoyable way to spend half an hour.

For the past two years I’ve made hanging baskets for home and they’ve done so well with very minimal outlay and input. Now that we’re in a bigger house, there’s more wall space for more baskets! My mum has six baskets up in summer and I’d like that many too. I must say, my mother is the queen of hanging baskets, and she taught me how to do mine.

In the new house we have a decent-sized summer house. Other than housing a lot of riff-raff, it is a waste of space. I wanted to grow plumbago like in the Conservatory at Scampston Walled Garden, but I also want to turn it into a potting shed/greenhouse. It is fairly sheltered, having three mostly covered walls. I made these containers for my Nana for Christmas, and still have some bits left over.

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Last year I thought it might be nice to make hanging baskets and sell them, but something always got in the way. So this year, I’m just going to skip the excuses, and get down to it! I’m going to give growing my own bedding plants and hanging basket plants myself a go, and see if I can make up planters and pots as well as hanging baskets. I would also like to grow cutting flowers, mainly for home and to give as gifts, but possibly to sell bunches of if I have a big stock of them. I will get back into vegetable growing, but even if I just grow enough for home, I’ll be happy with that.

Things to do

Order January-sowing seeds – I did have a little heart attack when DT Browns said they were having a delay on posting seeds out, so hopefully they will come soon! I’ve drawn up an extensive list to order from Mr Fothergill’s as well. Dobies haven’t delivered my catalogue yet, and they are my seed merchant of choice. I’ve set a limit on spending (for this month anyway!) as I can see I’ll get carried away.

Tidy up summer house – this might be a bigger task than first envisaged, as it is full of a lot of junk from the house, but even if I can just make a nice corner to work in. Structurally it’s sound – my Grandad knew what he was doing when he built things. I have my Gardener’s World calendar to hang up, plus I think this will be the home for my whiteboard.

Look at shelves and greenhouse heating – my idea is to have shelving by the glass and also at the back in the shade. With it being still a bit cold in winter, I’m contemplating whether a heater will be a sensible investment. Pay day is still a while off and I’m probably spending what pennies I might have left for that on seeds. Mum did say she has a little paraffin heater so I might play with that.

Equipment – I need to get module trays and pots all washed and cleaned, and also some compost and vermiculite procured from somewhere. I could also do with some decent gloves; my last pair got wrecked up at the farm and the ones I’m using at the moment are definitely more your “decorative” sort.

Vegetable patches – at my mum and dad’s I have a greenhouse and two forlorn vegetable patches. The greenhouse needs cleaning and ideally disinfecting, and the raised beds need digging over with some manure. Handily I know there are great big piles of manure led over the summer so I might need to ask dad if he doesn’t mind me filling the quad trailer with shit. It’s a long way to go with a wheelbarrow.

Order vegetable seeds – in all my excitement about flower seeds, I haven’t actually done any vegetable seed ordering! I’ve made a list of what I want to grow, mainly up at my mum and dad’s. At least now we all live in the same village so I can just walk there. I might even get a bicycle!

Business stuff – it might be a bit early, but I suppose it can’t hurt to be thinking about a name and a logo, if I want to really make a go of it. I’ve already had ideas about logos. I might go down the route of Facebook groups and word-of-mouth stuff first, and see how we get on with stock and the market kitchen idea before going to any larger scale.

Think ahead! – this is always a biggie. I think problems in the past have stemmed from either over-excitement in the beginning leading to burn out, or else not planning correctly. Even though I’m working full time, helping Scott on the farm, doing a house up and trying to finish my book, I still have this deranged idea of devoting time to growing stuff. The best thing I can do is plan my time accordingly, and think ahead. So while I’m sorting out January sowing and setting everything up, I need to think about what to sow in February and March, what can go where, what my space will be like.

So keep checking back, or sign up for updates, to see how my progress is going!

Things I don’t like about Christmas

In part 2 of my festive special, I look at the madness this time of year seems to inspire in one and all, and some of the things I don’t like.

They say as you get older, Christmas – much like birthdays – don’t mean the same as before. It’s just another way to mark the passing of time – another year gone, and what have you done with your life? I love Christmas, but I must admit, in the past couple of years, I have felt a slight panic with it. Part of that is why I try to make the most of this time of year.

Burnt Christmas cake – a symbol of times to come?

I try not to be a negative person, but I try to be relatively realistic about things. And that includes not turning a blind eye to the problems I have with Christmas:

The Dreaded Christmas Shop

I always remember coming back from uni and going to the big Morrisons in Malton (since the Co-op in Pickering, where we lived, in the days of pre-Lidl, was insufficient for the task at hand) and being horrified. We, like the rest of the county it seemed, would decide to do the big shop on the 23rd or even Christmas Eve in a whirlwind of panic. The shops are shut on Christmas Day! What if we run out of milk, bread, cranberries, Brussels sprouts, alcohol, lemonade, toilet roll, foil, etc., etc. The supermarket bosses must be sitting up in their offices rubbing their hands together. I swear to you now, every single person – and their woe-betide partner in crime – had one of the big trolleys (you know which I mean, the really deep ones that you have to climb into to get stuff out of at the checkout, legs flailing in the air, in danger of kicking little old ladies) and it was packed to overflowing with every piece of inconsequential unnecessary mass-produced rubbish, all because the shop would be shut for one day and Auntie Sandra would do her nut if you don’t have her gin and slimline tonic.

I used to have borderline panic attacks when stood in the middle of the pigs in blankets. Something very wild comes over people at this time of year and more fool you if you stand in their way.

Since I am now chief shopper in our household and have been for two years now, I have a lot of first hand experience in the world of the supermarket. Since the first day on the advent calendar was opened, the furious panic of Christmas has set in. There are twice as many shoppers on the Morrisons floor, the shelves are running out of bread, and cream, and they long since sold out of mixed fruit. Everywhere is a riot of colour and bargains and must-have items. It makes you sick.

As we are doing Christmas this year, I might go down one of two routes: buy as much as I can from proper independent shops, the butcher’s and the greengrocer’s (my chicken is already on order with our local butcher), or else, if I run out of time (likely), go to the Lidl and buy in bulk/freeze in advance.

Forgetting something?

I am a sufferer of chronic guilt. It courses through my veins in place of blood. I’m guilty of so many things – not keeping my house clean, not cutting my grass enough, not pursuing my dreams, not succeeding at work. This time of year is the worst. It must be down to the lack of sunlight, the hours kept inside in the dark, with only my own thoughts for company. The social battle of present-giving is a main player here. Did I spend enough on person x? Oh no! So-and-so posted me a Christmas card, who I’ve only spoken to once in July, and now I have to find a spare one for them. Should I attend this village lights switch on? Nope, too late. What about choir singing? Nope, can’t get back in time from work.

One Christmas, when we had moved to the farm and I still lived at home, Mum was begrudgingly prepping for the big dinner when she realised a critical error – we’d run out of plain flour for the Yorkshires. This is a catastrophe. So Dad, Bilbo and I got wrapped up and we marched down to Grandad’s house to raid his cupboards for a pack of flour two years past its sell-by date.

There was nothing wrong with those puddings!

Moral of the story is – check your cupboards, and get a grip. It’s only one day, as I’m repeatedly told.

Seasonal Inertia

The days are short and dark, the nights are long and darker still, it’s cold out and it keeps trying to snow. Already we’ve had two gos at snow in the past two weeks, which is more than we’ve had in a long while. I’m driving to and from work in darkness and it’s really no fun. Then when I get home all I want to do is curl up and go to bed – the last thing I want to do is mess about with chores, cooking tea, and I even don’t have energy to do any writing (probably why I’m doing this in the morning).

The lack of sunlight has a lot to do with low mood. I feel so unproductive in winter. Christmas cards have yet to be written, presents – the few that I’ve bought – aren’t anywhere near to being wrapped. It’s tiring, and I totally get why people jet off in search of summer sun.