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

Jobs for June – Summer in Swing

I’m crossing my fingers for a run of dry, sunny days in June, as I have a number of jobs that really need completing by the end of the month. The aim is to have some major tasks finished in time for E’s second birthday in August (how the hell did that happen, two years old!), when we’re hoping to invite friends and family over for a relaxed day of food, fun and sun.

We’ve really gained some momentum this year with our little Smallest Smallholding. Of course, there are tonnes of improvements and ideas we have floating about, and time isn’t on our side right now, but it’s great to feel as if we’re going somewhere with making our ideas a reality. So here are a few things that are on my To Do List, for June, to keep that momentum rolling.:

Paint the Tool Shed
There will be more on this in a later blog post, but we now have a compact and very useful little tool shed, which has freed up space in the “big” (medium-small) shed. It’s currently a bit naked, and I’m hoping to put a few pennies and pounds aside to give it a lick of paint. Maybe country cream or with some willow green It’s just been far too damp recently to even consider it, but I’m keeping an eye on the forecasts…

Sow All Seeds
I still have quite a few packets of flower seeds that need sowing directly, but firstly I need to get the beds prepared with compost. There’s plenty of the homemade stuff in our old leaf bin. It’s just a case of emptying it, carting it over to the vegetable garden and getting it in situ. Simple!

Plant Up Hanging Baskets
There’s nothing like the splash of colour and vibrancy that a brimming summer hanging basket can bring. We’ve left our baskets and containers around the back of the house empty for far too long. It’s time to get them planted up, and bring back some summer cheer. 

Update Gardening Bag
I’m currently using an old tent peg bag as my garden bag, but it’s just not doing the job, other than being water resistant. I’d like to have compartments for garden labels, pens, a stake and string for straight edges, and maybe even space for my kneeling mat. Maybe a gardening bag like this. Budgets are always tight, but if I’m going to be spending more time on our mini flower farm field, I need to be better equipped and more organised.

Stop Raiding My Wardrobe for Workwear
Recently, I lost a load of baby weight that had been hanging on, and have managed to fit back into lots of my old clothes. Unfortunately, they’re also the only clothes I have to garden in, and I’ve got a knack of wrecking things that I shouldn’t be wearing when tackling the likes of monster brambles. I can’t tell you how many clothes I’ve ripped, jumpers I’ve wrecked and trousers I’ve rendered useless for daily wear. I’ve been thinking of investing in some practical trousers and came across these outdoor ladies workwear jeans from Engelbert Strauss. They actually have long pockets in a useful place, on the thigh, rather than at the hip where I’m always bending and compressing when in the garden. I’m thinking I could keep my secateurs to hand in those long pockets, and as they’re stretchy fabric, they’ll be comfortable too.

Plant Squash
This one is very specific; I find any kind of squash immensely useful in the kind of cooking I like to do – soups, stews, curries and chillies (let’s just call them one pot wonders). I’m aiming to grow a few butternut squash, and, if time and space allows, some kind of acorn squash or something a little ornamental. I’ve had great success in the past, but if I’d learned anything, it’s that I can’t be late planting in squash, and I need to regularly feed them to keep the plants healthy and flush with fruit.

There’s always more to do, but I’m trying to keep my to do list achievable this month! What’s on yours?

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Knucklehead pumpkin growing in September

Knucklehead pumpkin

Catching up with May – why I never garden on a schedule

May lilac

This spring has been pretty polarised so far this year – bitterly cold days and a couple of mini heatwaves have created tumultuous conditions, and at times it felt like we didn’t know whether spring was coming or going. Finally, May seems to have settled into itself, and the beautiful blue skies of late spring have shifted the growing season into a new gear. 

I don’t tend to sow my seeds on time; I’m usually late due to too much distraction from life, from work, and from all the things in between. But it’s OK I think… I used to be so fixated on Doing The Right Thing at the Right Time and when I didn’t, I was a failure. My hobby and passion turned into a string of failures and I would often document on this blog how I was doing everything wrong, always behind, never achieving what I needed to achieve. I have a different mindset now. 

If you look at the natural world, it’s pretty fluid. I feel that my sowing and growing schedules can be fluid too. Had I got going early in the season and sown everything in sight, I think I would have faced a few problems with the unseasonally cold temperatures and late frosts. I don’t think I would be much more further ahead right now. But now I have a sense of everything around me really jumping into life and growing steadily. I’m not much of a “measurer” or someone who is really into following details, so I tend to be quite intuitive and go by feeling rather than thinking. That’s why I’m happy to sow, plant and harvest as and when I *feel* it’s the right time. 

May has got to be one of my favourite months; there is a real energy, an abundance of fresh, tender, green growth everywhere – a natural, zesty hue that is so hard to replicate – that contrasts perfectly against an early summer porcelain blue sky. Flowers and blossom are putting on a showstopper, and there’s just so much good to come. There is still enough freshness in the air that is so often absent in the heady, more humid months of July and August, yet enough warmth in the sun (when it’s out) that it feels almost medicinal. 

Cambrige Favourite Strawberry Flowers

I think, on reflection, that over the years I’ve started to trust my own instincts, when it comes to garden and growing. I’ve learned to listen to nature and not necessarily rigid instructions. This has been borne out of my inability to do anything “on time”, and more recently, my inability to find any time. But you know what? There is always some time, it may not be a perfect time, but it’s a moment, an opportunity and… let’s just take these moments as they come. 

To start the season off I’ve sown some flower seeds, including cosmos and gaura, for the next season on our mini flower farm. The salad leaves are in, the carrots sown directly, peas are scrambling away and the strawberries… well, I think this year is going to be a bumper year for strawberries! I’m enjoying just taking my growing at my own pace, and seeing how it all unfolds…