Spring is early – and the growing season is on

crocus in bloom

Tonight I stayed out until around 5:30pm, spoiled by gorgeous blue skies and warm sunshine on a February afternoon. I spent the late afternoon clearing and edging, getting my fruit border in order, with some progress around the greenhouse. We’re now almost ready for a proper spring clean in there, and maybe even in a position to get some replacement glass panes finally!

It’s all go here at the Smallest Smallholding, and it feels good to be back in the mix, working with the soil and seeing everything steadily springing to life after winter. The tiny narcissi are out, and purple crocuses are basking in the unseasonably warm weather. Thank goodness they’re here because the bees are out already, and nectar is in pretty short supply around here!

Strawberry/raspberry bed ready for mulching

Strawberry/raspberry bed ready for mulching

The strawberry/raspberry beds have been dutifully cleared and edged (thanks Mum), the no-dig long plot and big plot are almost ready for mega mulching and early sowing, and I’ve scoped out where my new veg patches will go too.

I currently only have four beds (and a space for the polytunnel… that’s another story for another day… ), one of which is non-rotatable as it’s home to my Cambridge Strawberry plants and my summer Valentina raspberries. So that makes crop rotation a bit of an issue, hence the need for more veg plots!

Kitchen Garden Field

Kitchen Garden Field

After visiting my mum’s friend’s kitchen garden last year, I was pretty awe-struck and came away with lots of ideas and a wish list. I’m starting to get Rich on side about “giving up” some lawn space to more plots, as we have plenty of space on the ornamental side with the long border for my daughter to rocket up and down when she feels the need. Anyhow – as much as she loves running about, she’s a total explorer too and I feel she will really enjoy “assisting” me out with sowing, watering and harvesting this year. She loves to help! So I’m sure more veg plots will be a winner all round. 

Freshly laid turf – 2012

At lunchtime today, Rich and I headed down to the back border, a square patch that was turfed years ago, and has since done nothing of merit or interest. We’ve decided to create a curved grass path, cutting great swathes of the turf out to make way for a “hot” herb border… in my mind, the south-facing fenced side will play host to the likes of lavender, rosemary, nepeta, perovskia, and maybe some cardoons and artichokes too. Lots of height, lots of colour, lots of food for pollinators. The soil is poor and well-draining, so any Mediterranean sun-loving plants should do well there.

Cosmos and Lavender

Cosmos and Lavender – winning combo!

I have so much in my head that I want to achieve this year. Getting the hot border planted up is a pretty monumental task outside of life as Mummy and holding down a job AND everything else in between, but I feel re-ignited. We have already pushed further ahead this year than I imagined, and with my daughter happy to potter and play as I squirrel away at various horticultural tasks… well, it feels like this year is on the right path.

In my unheated greenhouse (you know, the one with panes missing and a door permanently wedged open), I’ve only got nasturtiums on the go as yet, not quite trusting that Mother Nature is done with sending arctic blasts and beasts from the east to our shores. A bit late to the party, I’ve optimistically shoved some garlic cloves into pots (whether they divide is another question), and the shallots are nestled in too, ready to shoot and root before planting outside.

Inside, my Picasso potatoes are chitting away happily on a kitchen windowsill, and this weekend I have a few packets of veg and flower seeds ready to sow. I also lost my mind a bit and went on a rampant spending spree in Wilko, picking up packets of dahlia tubers and ranunculus corms amongst a selection of other bold beauties. So those will go in soon, and then I will patiently wait for nature to do her thing. 

cardoons and artichokes

Cardoons and artichokes from the weekly market

And lastly, testament to my growing obsession with buying seeds and plants (seriously, I couldn’t sleep thinking about it the other night), I raided the plant stall at our local market today, coming home with 2 types of globe artichoke, one cardoon, and a substantially sized Mrs Jessop’s Upright rosemary plant – all for a tenner. No doubt I’ll be back for more bargains, but if I’ve learned anything from the past few years, it’s that I must get my plant purchases in the ground before I part with any more hard-earned cash. And maybe pay some bills first.

So busy, busy, busy in the kitchen garden. And I feel all the better for it!

Win tickets to the Woburn Abbey Garden Show!

roses in a basket

We’ve got a brilliant giveaway for you! If you’d like a chance to grab one of three pairs of tickets to the Woburn Abbey Garden Show in Bedfordshire on 23-24 June – headlined by the BBC’s Adam Frost and Pippa Greenwood – simply tell me in the comments what you’d most look forward to seeing at the show. Winners picked this Saturday!

Alternatively you can head to my smallest smallholding instagram account, twitter or smallest smallholding facebook page to enter.

Garden Show highlights include:

  • Informative talks and Q&A sessions with BBC Gardeners’ World presenter Adam Frost, BBC Radio 4 Gardeners’ Question Time panellist Pippa Greenwood and Woburn Estates Gardens Manger and show organiser Martin Towsey
  • Tips and advice from Woburn gardeners and rare access to see the Private Gardens of the Duke and Duchess of Bedford (not normally open to the public)
  • Free garden tours with RHS qualified gardeners to learn more about the management and creation of Woburn’s Humphry Repton landscaped gardens
  • A fabulous line up of RHS Medal winning nurseries, offering a diverse array of plants in our Plant Village. Nurseries are tasked with creating a plant display for which awards are given over the weekend – Adam Frost is part of the assessment panel
  • New for 2018 – A field kitchen, set up in the kitchen garden with live cooking demonstration by Celebrity Chef, Rachel Green.
  • Plenty of retail therapy including a luxury gifts hall and quality stands offering a plethora of garden furniture, sculpture, tools and horticultural hardware
  • Independent and unique food and drink providers in Woburn’s Artisan Food Hall
  • Live entertainment and musical performances from the Bedford Town Band to the backdrop of stunning views over the Woburn Abbey Gardens.

To find out more about the Woburn Abbey Garden Show, visit http://www.woburnabbey.co.uk/events/gardening/wwwwoburnabbeycoukgardenshow/

Good luck!

Please provide your contact email in the relevant field in the comments. By providing your email address, you are giving us permission to contact you via this email address. We will only use winners’ email address for contact and will pass them on to the event organisers so that your tickets can be held and you can be instructed by the even organisers on how to access the garden show. Your email addresses will not be used for any other purposes. 

 

Strawberries for Summer

About three years ago I planted in four little Cambridge Favourite strawberry plants in a freshly-prepared no-dig bed (as above). 

Cambridge Favourite strawberries

The strawberry plants were tiny, and priced at something like £1.49 each. I just hoped that I’d be able enjoy tending to a mini strawberry patch and maybe a bowl or two of strawberries to enjoy at home. 

Cambridge Favourite strawberry plants

Fast forward to 2018, and my strawberry patch has gone wild! Those four little plants sent out runners, which meant the following year I had a few more plants to tend to. Within 24 months the patch has thrived, so much so that we’re mowing strawberries runners in the lawn to keep them under control. 

With no late frosts this year to kill the strawberry flowers, there are probably a couple of hundred (at the very least) strawberries growing. Some are starting to ripen, and if temperatures pick up a little more, then we could be looking at our first strawberry harvest in time for Wimbledon, the pinnacle of strawberry season here in the UK.

I’m proud of my little strawberry patch (even though they’re threatening to take over the Valentina raspberries that they share a growing space with), and I’m hoping to be able to share my strawberries between eating fresh, freezing, making jam, sharing with friends and family, and maybe even selling a few punnets from the garden gate for a little extra spare change. 

Cambridge Favourite strawberry crop