Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tomatoes in winter.

I think it was in Episode two of "The Edible Garden" (BBC) that Alys Fowler builds a greenhouse using repurposed 1930's lead light windows, in the hope that she would be able to grow a tomato plant that could be kept safe from blight.
 ~ Just on a side note - I would just love to find some windows like this and do the same ~

The idea stayed with me, and in autumn I got to thinking... what if I could use my greenhouse to grow a tomato plant in winter? What if I could eat home grown tomatoes all year round?

A crop of tomatoes that flourished beyond measure over the summer time meant that I now had lots of tiny tomato plants sprouting all over the place (seriously, where did all of these seeds come from?).

Ever so gentle I wiggled one of the plants free from its growing spot, checked that the main root was not damaged, and replanted it into a pot filled with good quality compost.

I sat the potted tomato seedling in the greenhouse, and it seemed to grow before my eyes. After what seemed like a few days it grew so large it needed a stick to bare its weight.

The tomato plant grew, and it grew and it grew.

Until finally, one day when I checked it, I discovered that those tiny yellow flowers had been replaced by these tiny green spheres...


I might be one of the few people in Newcastle who will be feasting on home grown tomatoes this winter!

Sometimes in my garden, I do have a "win".

Sam xox

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


My first attempt at using a greenhouse happened last summer.The vegetable garden was coming along nicely, so I figured the next logical step would be to expand and begin sowing my seeds in a greenhouse, the seedlings could then be progressively planted out when required. Silly me still had so much to learn. I am known for the phrase "how hard can it be?" when considering/attempting DIY projects far beyond my skill set. This attitude has often left me floundering, with dear husband coming to my rescue to fix said project.

"Growing seeds in a greenhouse, how hard can it be?". 

Well, plenty hard when you combine summer days that are boiling hot , a very small plastic apparatus, and a sewer sower who has no idea what she is doing. Needless to say, I sowed an awful lot of seeds with nil result. It took longer than it should have for me to understand that by keeping the greenhouse closed up during the day, I was basically frying my seedlings to death - those that even sprouted in the first place!

Come winter and I have evolved. I have done some reading on the topic and even watched a few YouTube videos! So when I saw this gigantic plastic greenhouse in Aldi on special recently, I knew I just had to try sowing my winter crop...

This greenhouse is 190cm tall in the centre, meaning that I can stand inside it and work! I erected it myself and was quite proud to be doing all my sowing utilising the potting table my dear husband built for me recently.

Still so many lessons were to be learnt though. We had a huge storm (as in the worst in 6 years) which blew the whole thing completely over (seed trays flying everywhere, sob), so I had to start from scratch again. Then I realised that any wind shakes the structure, causing the shelves to vibrate which eventually leads to the trays falling off (that's the second tray of poppy seeds gone - and they take 24 weeks to flower! Oh how my heart broke just a little). I still am yet to work out quite how to prevent the vibrations happening, though Jamie has suggested cable tying the trays down, which I am hopeful will work when I give it a try on Friday.

Now, as we move to the second half of winter, when I fear time is running out, my efforts are finally being rewarded...

~ A tray containing a collection of the second batch of fallen seeds... no idea what these are yet ~

~ Beautiful baby basil ~

~ Broccoli and cauliflower seedlings doing well ~

~ All that was salvaged from the first fall, a mix of broccoli, cauliflower, and a couple of rouge tomato plants I found growing in my pots ~

~ Snow peas perfectly grown and ready for planting out ~

My snow peas germinated and grew to the above size within one week of planting. For comparison, I planted some of the seeds directly into the garden, and they are still yet to sprout. So my verdict? Greenhouses are brilliant! 

Sam xox

Sunday, June 24, 2012


The owl and the pussy cat went to sea,
in a beautiful pea-green boat.

My first harvest of peas for winter. These were grown from a dwarf bush variety of seedling purchased at our local hardware store. This is almost all of what I will likely be able to harvest from the plants. To be honest I was a tad disappointed by the small amount of peas the crop yielded. I had hoped for more from the sixteen plants.

Such a small harvest.

Perhaps it was due to the location of the plot.
Perhaps they did not get enough sunlight.
Perhaps it was caused by all the wet weather we have had of late.

The modest pile of used pea pods were fed to some very grateful chickens, and thus the cycle of production in my garden continues.

Sam xox

Pallet potting table.

Here is my new potting table!

I know this is not a sewn, knitted or spun item, but it is handmade so that's ok, right? Jamie and I spent the weekend building a potting table for our garden. My parent in laws were visiting and gave us a lot of help also with this endeavour. To be fair, Jamie is the total brains and brawn behind this creation, my role was more as the 'artistic director'. 

I have dreamt of having my own potting table ever since we moved to Newcastle and rented a house with a yard. Potting tables can be as unique as your garden is. Most often they are crafted from re-purposed materials that the gardener has managed to salvage from a local source. Random bits are nailed, glued and screwed together to create something for the garden that is functional, and in my case, pleasing to the eye.

This potting table is completely made from pallet timber I was able to obtain forfree from a retired gentleman who lives near the town where I work. He builds chicken coops and bird breeding boxes in his spare time and was only too happy for me to take what timber I needed. I did offer to pay him for the timber, but he replied with a smile "I would be offended if you paid me, please take as much as you need". He spent almost 45 minutes with me discussing my design plans and selecting the perfect pieces for the project from his substantial timber pile.

Pallet timber is ideal for this kind of project. It is cheap, or possibly free, and is a standard size. Pallets are made from outdoor wood so this table will survive being exposed to the weather. What I also prefer is the timbers 'rustic' look. Every piece is weathers differently. Knots. Stains. Splinters. All slats are unique.

I am considering adding some nails or hooks to the upper part of the timber frame, to use as a place to hang my gardening hand tools whilst I am working.Rhonda also uses a potting box to prevent wasting some of her soil while she is potting. I am hoping I can whip one of these up with all the off cuts I have left.

Below is the photo I found on pinterest months ago that I used for the inspiration for this potting table. The table was made by Bruce at The image has been sitting in my Gardens folder for some time, waiting for me to get my hands on some pallets.

Jamie was really pleased with how similar his creation was to the inspiration photo...

We finished the potting table as the sun was setting, so I am yet to actually use it to pot any seeds. Winter is a difficult time to garden as night falls before I am home from work, leaving me unable to garden most evenings. Sometimes I do a spot of weeding before work, but that depends on the chill in the air and me not hitting the 'snooze' button. I am sure this table will get much use though next weekend!

Sam xox

The girls.

Let me introduce to you our girls...

I arrived home Friday afternoon to find that my chicken coop had been delivered and Jamie had spent three hours putting it together (thanks honey!). It is fantastic. The perfect size for the space I had picked out for it in the yard. There is plenty of room inside the coop to provide shelter and comfort for the girls during the night, and with the addition of the chicken run I added to the end, there is plenty of roaming room for all.

I piled up my car with large cardboard boxes and drove over an hour yesterday to a very small country town where a man named Garry was selling chicken. I had found Garry on the internet, and after a few text messages back and forth (while I googled the breads of chickens he had, just so I knew they looked nice) we had struck up a deal.

~ The Ancona breed is close to the Leghorn breed, identified by the floppy red comb on its head. Sometimes the comb flops over and covers half her face. It's a wonder she can see where she's walking. So cute! ~

I brought them home and introduced them to their new quarters as the rain poured down. They didn't seem to be bothered by the miserable weather, and quickly made themselves at home; scratching at the mulch and feeding on seed and lettuce leaves.

~ This here is Lady Sussex. She is a 'show quality' hen, but according to the seller "She won't win you a show"... mysterious ~
(Breed: Light Sussex. 2 years old)

~ This here is Betty. She is our smallest girl and loves strawberries ~
(Breed: Rhode Island Red. 16 weeks old)

~ On the left we have Maggie, on the right Audrey ~
(Breed: Ancona. 1 year old. Breed: Australorp. 16 weeks old)

I was warned by my father-in-law that the hens may not lay for a few days after arriving as they will likely be stressed. But in less than 24 hours at our home, look what I found in the nesting box...

Success! It must have been the strawberries that made them feel relaxed.

Sam xox

Skye Gingell's herb garden.

After reading Skye Gingell's cook book A Year in my Kitchen I was inspired to create a herb garden based on her notion of base-note and top-note herbs. I utilised my raised brick garden beds that were already divided into two. I cultivated the beds with organic compost and manure from my chickens. I let the beds sit for two weeks, then planted my herbs and mulched using newspaper and sugar cane to help keep weeds to a minimum.

Skye writes "Base-note herbs are the ones that help lay the foundation of any dish. They endure the burden of long, slow cooking, continuing to add their flavour as long as they are cooking".   

~ My base-note bed: sage, thyme, oregano and rosemary.

Skye writes "Top-note herbs are like the icing on the cake - they complete the dish. These herbs don't tend to hold their flavour through vigorous cooking but must be added very close to the end of the recipe, even if only as a garnish, to maintain their clarity and vibrancy".

~ My top-note bed: parsley, dill, basil and chives ~ 

You can do something like this even if you don't have a backyard. Simply plant herbs in pots on your balcony, or in pots on your kitchen windowsill. Nothing beats the taste of fresh herbs in your cooking.

Sam xox