The veg plot in November – jobs, sowing and harvests.

Early in November, where I live in the UK, you can still expect to see average temperatures up to 11°C. However from mid November the tables start to turn and you will see the temperatures on the lower side more consistently. For many, the fruit and vegetable garden are slowly going to sleep for the Winter. We may have seen our first frost of the year, Old Man Winter is nipping at our heels if he isn’t already here.

Did you know that in the UK grass will stop growing when the air and soil temperature are consistently below 5°C? Cold weather along can stall grass growth, so you can put the lawnmower away.

November used to be a month where we would see more rain fall, though I do feel that we are seeing changes in the weather patterns. The day light is less due to the clocks going back an hour on the last Sunday in October. Cosy, dark nights by the fire with a bowl of warming stew becomes the order of the day.

We don’t like our garden to go to bed in its entirety. During November, we continue to sow and grow in the vegetable garden. If you don’t try you will never know, so if you are curious, I would give it a go anyway.

Leeks, kale, swede, swiss chard, sprouts, cabbages (red and white), spinach, parsnips (which are actually at their best after a first frost if you have a variety that harvests well at that time), winter salads, radish and some cauliflowers are all plants that you can plan on harvesting through November with a little care and attention.

As well as vegetables, we still get some Autumn fruiting raspberries before it’s time to cut them back.

There are still so many seeds you can sow in Autumn. The weather can obviously fluctuate a fair bit here in the UK, so all my seeds are started undercover in some form. Be it the polytunnel, greenhouse or indoors on a windowsill.

It also stops mice stealing your seeds, leaving you scratching your head as to why they haven’t germinated.

This year I have just sown the following in the first few days of November. Don’t be limited to what I have sown, there are many options which I have not yet tried.

  • Black radish
  • Winter lettuce mix
  • Lettuce cos Vaila
  • Giant winter spinach
  • Spinach rubino
  • Radix mix
  • Broccoli Stromboli F1
  • Sweet peas (Mammoth)
  • Broad Beans Aquadulce Claudia
  • Meteor Peas

Everything germinated on or before 10 days. The sweet peas went in a little earlier and took a while longer but that’s ok too.

As well as sowing seeds you can plant a few things too, before the ground becomes less workable.

  • Garlic
  • Onion sets
  • Bare rooted fruit trees
  • Consider splitting rhubarb now it is dormant

As well as continued sowing, planting and harvesting, there are always jobs to do here, some of which are best done whilst you still have some warmth in the sun.

Clear your beds that are empty, mulch with rotted manure or leaf mould etc and cover. If nothing else, the cover will help the ground to warm up earlier next year, however it also supresses weed growth if you have that problem (we do!) and to stop the rain from leaching the nutrients from your soil.

Crops that will succumb to frost that you may still have outside can be covered with protection, Chinese cabbage, oriental leaves etc.

Weed any remaining areas that need it, clearing around the bottom of your fruit trees too. You can now prune dormant fruit trees except cherry and plum.

Did you know stoned fruit trees such as cherry and plum should not be pruned in winter as it makes them susceptible to disease? They should be lightly pruned in Spring or regularly pruned in early summer.

The debris from your plot can go in to your compost bin unless too big an bulky. We have bins for horse muck which we use when rotted as mulch plus a kitchen waste bin that we add leaves, cardboard, garden waste and other compostable materials too.

You can make leaf mould by collecting leaves, which my lovely friend Louise does.

Catch up with any other outstanding jobs, fixing leaky taps, covering the hole in the shed to stop the mice getting in, fixing broken gates, putting out solar pathway lights so you can see in the dark, prepare your bird feed areas for when the ground freezes. There’s plenty 😉

Check over any plants you have out, removing yellowing leaves and look for signs of disease and net if bird’s start to munch on them as their food source becomes harder to find. Make sure you offer them am alternative though!

Most importantly, plan next year’s vegetable plot. What will you need, what one thing would you like to be self sufficient in? What have you never grown before that you are going to try? Please let me know in the comments below, I love to hear other people’s ideas.

The fear of frost

If you have done any gardening, I don’t need to explain this one do I? You know exactly where I am coming from….or is it just me that has to dash outside in her nightwear to cover up plants as it suddenly “feels cold”?

Well, I got caught out. The fear of frost is real. I have lovingly tended to my first early potatoes which were planted in the greenhouse mid February and have happily romped away, growing strongly and steadily showing fresh, green foliage.

First earlies planted Feb 18th. Bags hold 2 seed potatoes, tubs 3 and the bin 4. Left to right, swift * 2, arran pilot * 4 and swift in the bin.

So when the weekend rolled round and temperatures were rising, I was too side tracked by my tomato and pepper plants surviving the cooler weather, that I distractedly followed my plan and placed the potato tubs outside, neatly along my onion bed (the one that survived the chickens getting in to the plot), gave them a water, topped them up (mounding) with rotted horse manure and went about my day.

When I woke up during the night, cold because Steven had stolen the covers, I thought about the tomato and pepper plants and happily turned over to go back to sleep, safe in the knowledge that they had an oil fired radiator and heated underpot heaters keeping them warm.

Meanwhile the poor potatoes were nithered and by the next day when I realised my mistake, they seemed want to give up the ghost. They were drooping, soft to touch, so soft, not nice soft. They actually looked like they’d dried out if you’ve ever seen a dehydrated plant that’s dropped over?

Anyway, by day 2 they were turning black on the tips which is a common symptom of being nipped by the frost.

Black on the end indicates nipped by Jack Frost

The good news is that they should recover, as long as I keep them covered if any more frosts are due that is! I’ve actually bought some heavy duty garden fleece to replace the cheaper stuff I bought. This is it if you are looking for some – I highly recommend it. Although it’s a little more expensive, it’s worth it and it can easily be made shorter with scissors but is thick enough that it won’t tear easily, which the fleece I’ve bought previously has done. I am trying to invest in longer lasting items now we are “going big” in the garden.

Every year, things will go right and things will go wrong. Some you will have been able to avoid but didn’t and some you will have tried to avoid but can’t. Don’t less it dishearten you, there will be plenty of other things that will go right 🙂

Take care, Tracy x

The Kitchen Garden is born

The Kitchen Garden vegetable bed, as I have lovingly named it, has had some overdue attention this weekend.

Our Kitchen Garden

The idea of this 6 by 4 metre bed is to grow as much veg as I can in the limited space. The idea is, if this was the entirety of my growing space, ie my house’s Kitchen Garden, would I be able to produce enough food to sustain my family for a season? Longer? Partially? I want to find out.

The idea fascinates me and along with a couple of other challenges I’ve set myself this year, I’ll be seeing how well I get on with this one.

Right now, we have broad beans inter sown with Charlotte potatoes. A further 16 supermarket potatoes that I purchased from our local greengrocer and a few stragglers in there too.

Broad beans are starting to flower

This past weekend I have planted out a few different varieties of spinach and beetroot that I had sown in modules which will hopefully survive the (yet more!) frosts that are coming.

I’ve also re sown carrots and parsnips, which I was a little too early with back in late February and early March, and they didn’t germinate. On another year, they might have germinated, so it won’t put me off trying again. It’s been a very cold Spring here in North East England this year and it feels as though a few things are behind.

There’s a few brassicas in this bed too. I took a gamble and popped them out early and they’ve shrugged the -4°c off like it was nothing. Cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage if I recall well.

I picked up some shallots in Wilko and every one of them is coming up which I am thrilled about. Alongside those babies I’ll be trying my onions that I grew from seed and also some yummy leeks.

As part of the Kitchen Garden bed, I’d like to build in a bit of a plan b, something we can rely on to provide us with our nutrients, if other things fail and so far that comes in the form of perennial kale (Taunton Dean variety) and walking tree cabbage. Both of these guys, in theory, should help me out most of the year round with greens. When I have too many greens to know what to do with, they’ll feed the chickens and ducks and when they’re sick of them, they can add green matter to the compost bin. Of course I missed out giving to family, friends and selling from the gate or to the greengrocer but you get the idea.

One other new to me plant, is the Welsh onion. This is another perennial, so another fall back plan, that should keep coming back year after year. I don’t know much about this as it’s new to me as I say, so I’ll report back.

Finally, I’ll be adding lots of herbs along the borders and including many more annual veg plants, but it’s not time just yet. We’re still due yet more frosts so I’m taking it easy, to a degree 😉

Take care, Tracy x

A no spend January?

Welcome to February folks! The last month that I identify as full on Winter. The days are lengthening in light and if you look closely, you might just see a spring in people’s step. Just a hint of a skip every now and then, we don’t want to commit too much yet, but it’s on its way. A month where gardener’s can start to sow those early seeds, snowdrops are happily dancing their merry tune and yet there is plenty of time for more hearty stews and soups. There’s plenty of mileage in the comfort food yet.

For me, January is a month to plan, reflect, recharge and be kind to yourself. I don’t know why, but I seem to have felt the cold in in my bones a lot more this Winter.

We have enjoyed hot food from the Aga and cosy nights by the log burner fire. We also have an oil heated electric radiator that we move around the house as needed, so we have our ways of keeping warm.

January went by in a flash. If January goes by that quickly, then imagine how the rest of the year will go. So for me, I am sitting back, planning ahead and reflecting on what we have.

We haven’t been to the supermarket once through January. Our supplies have had their preliminary test and I am not to panic when I see things being used. It’s a natural reaction after spending so long building them up. Some things we have a very good supply of, dried goods, tinned tomatoes and baked beans are examples whereas others were to see us through the month of January and into February alone. Our milk, butter and cheese was frozen at the back end of December and we’re just using our last bottle of semi skimmed fresh milk. We do have UHT which we like, so that’s being pulled off the shelves for this week.

We will have managed 8 weeks without shopping, when I go this coming weekend, which I am very pleased with. We have ran out of some things and I have developed some interesting substitutions. Think rhubarb syrup in your chinese instead of honey with soy sauce. No one noticed which I’m not sure is a compliment or not!

So we move in to February. Enjoy the quieter days whilst you have them as soon enough, Spring will be wakening and the days will be buzzing with life and I don’t know about you, but I will be left wondering how I can squeeze a few more hours in to my day as they just aren’t long enough, in a good way 😉

2021!! We’re off.

We have so many plans for this year that I don’t know where to start! Lots of things are going on here on the smallholding at the moment, the year is off to a flying start.

It was my 40th just before Christmas and I was so fortunate to receive a Presto pressure canner from Steven. For those that don’t know, pressure canning is an established way of preserving food, making it shelf stable for many years to come (by the book it’s only 18 months but like jams and water bathing, we will be using as long as it looks and smells ok!). I’ve already done a trial run to get it set up and then followed up with a chicken stock. You can see how the unboxing and trail run went on YouTube if you’re thinking of going down this route yourself.

Now, you may have guess, we are really trying to make a go of creating our own YouTube channel which will be a video version of the blog! I suppose that is where the word vlog comes from! So if you are interested and able, please would you subscribe to our channel – it’s totally free and helps us in the long run. We would like to get to 1000 subscribers for YouTube to take us seriously and we are slowly building up!

I’ve also posted about the grocery challenge we are working on. We have filled our freezers and cupboards and have £950 in the pot for groceries this year. How long can we make it last! When the money is gone, it’s gone!

It won’t be replacing the blog, just working in conjunction with it!

Right now, I’m sat with the garden plan on my knee and figuring out how we will grow enough to feed ourselves this year and also put a years worth of veg in the freezer and shelves. There’s no stopping us!

Goodbye November, hello Jack Frost!

Can you believe November has been and gone? I can’t. December is a busy ole’ month here, I’m sure it is for you too. It’s actually my 40th birthday coming up and I’ve been so lucky to have been gifted a Mulberry bush. It’s in my greenhouse where I hope it stays safe over the winter. Any tips welcome? I know Tricia from Tarragon and Thyme said she lost hers, I hope the same doesn’t happen to this one. I love the idea of it growing with me, something to look back on and say I received it for my 40th, I’m soft like that!

This one is from Victoriana nurseries – I’ll keep you posted on how it fairs.

This weekend saw our first proper frost of the Autumn. It was beautiful, the air was so still and calming. It was a great start to the day until I went to check on the quail and found we’d lost yet another to predators. The perils of smallholding life, a constant battle to protect your young from predators, be it quail or cabbages! We won’t be beaten!

As is customary, we went to check on the animal’s water and the field water had frozen over. As is also customary, Jack enjoyed breaking it up to ensure the sheep could get a drink.

We had a little check on the mint that we moved to the garden in a big pot and it seems to be doing very well. I’m wanting to start making my own mint tea and dehydrating some. I’m not sure it’s the best time of year to do it, or if it even matters for mint. I’ll do a bit of research and give it a go.

Steven is working alternate Saturday’s now, so we are settling in to that new routine. He’s home mid afternoon so it’s not too bad although it obviously means he has less time for jobs around the smallholding. Not an issue at this time of the year and who knows what next year will bring, so we will watch this space! It does mean the kids and I are doing more together on the Saturday which I love. This weekend we made some paperchains and homemade Christmas decorations. Never too early in our house.

Annie was a little underwhelmed by it all and slept through 😉

So, goodbye November, it was a short one! Here’s to mince pies and bailey’s coffee December. Take care everyone!