My first container herb & veg garden

Container Garden Smallest Smallholding

Spring is tempting me. When the sun is out, it’s glorious and the warmth is invigorating. The trouble is, we’ve been plagued by clouds and even sleet last Saturday. But I’ve been trying to plough on (not literally) and continue to make even the smallest steps of progress on my little urban garden patch I call The Smallest Smallholding.

The area between the kitchen door at the back of the house and the garden gate is fairly redundant at the moment, but in summer (and especially now we’ve been keeping the hedge height down), it can be a bit of a sun trap at certain times of the day. A bit of bare wall had become a dumping ground for old disused pots and bricks, so I decided to rip out the perennial weeds and try to smarten it up a bit.

Oregano in pot

 

With the short brick wall behind it the warms up in the sunshine, I thought it would be the perfect spot for putting a mini container garden. Something a bit closer to the kitchen, and something to bring a bit of life and cheer to the rambling mess outside the conservatory.

Lady Lavender variety

I started this mini side project a couple of weeks ago, using some old slates and bricks to create a shelf to keep the ants out of the pots. I began by collecting up all the sad and neglected old pots, and began planting in some lettuce plugs but this weekend I decided to add a few flowering herbs in (anything for the bees is fine by me), for both fragrance and colour. I might even get around to using the herbs in the kitchen this year! I also found a lovely compact lavender that I’ve not come across before called ‘Lady Lavender’, which has now been potted up in an old terracotta pot and added to my growing container garden collection.

Cambridge Favourite strawberries

Feeling a bit fancy free, I indulged myself with two 95p ‘Cambridge Favourite’ strawberry plants – breaking the bank, right? – which I need to pot on. I am considering pooling my pennies together and getting a few more and pulling out the old terracotta strawberry container, but I’ve not had a huge amount of success with it in the past since I’m fairly forgetful when it comes to watering. But this year, you never know. I’ll just have to see if I’m up to it since everything is becoming much more of an effort as I pass the 22 week mark in my pregnancy.

I’ll just have to keep ploughing on as I best I can (and remember to water).

Growing Chick Peas

Growing chickpea seeds

I would say that chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) are one of my staple food groups. Yes, it’s almost like a food in itself because I could eat chickpeas every which way quite happily. Whether it’s chana masala (one of my all-time favourite Indian dishes), falafel, that vegan God-send hummus, lemon chickpea cake or just chickpeas thrown into a shepherdess pie, chilli or one-pot meal, I just love them. And they’re so very good for me (and the baby). Win-win.

Although I can buy chickpeas fairly cheaply from the tinned basic range at my local supermarkets, or even cheaper dried (now they only take 40 mins or so from dried in my Instant Pot), I fancied doing something a little different this year and giving chickpeas a go in my mini kitchen garden.

They’re ideally suited to our sandy soil here in Bedfordshire, one of the driest regions of England, as they’re not hugely fussy about nutrient-rich soil and are relatively drought tolerant. And as they’re a legume, they also fix nitrogen into the soil, so another win-win for me. I’ve got some space left in the big plot, but I need to get my skates on and get the next no-dig plot (and polytunnel) ready for more crops!

A little space left for some chickpeas and interplanted 'catch crops'

A little space left for some chickpeas and interplanted ‘catch crops’

They like to be planted where they’re going to grow, so I’ll be sowing directly very soon now that the temperatures have risen and the soil is warmer. Once established, they’ll grow a canopy and help to suppress weeds underneath them… so less work for me, and a great addition to my no-dig methods.

But with our temperature climate, I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to harvest anything that I can dry and keep… we shall see. Chickpeas apparently like hot climates, so I may be left with immature, green but perfectly edible peas that need to be eaten like mange tout or petits pois instead. These can be blanched and frozen for later, but I’d prefer to be able to dry them and store them.

However, my biggest battle will be keeping our feathered and small furry friends at bay. Chickpeas, like any kind of bean or legume, will be an attractive prospect for little nibblers, so I’ll have to keep them under a small fortress to start with. Wish me luck!

2016 is Go… Finally.

Hello, there. It’s been a while. Sorry about that. You know how it is… Christmas, the strange in-limbo week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve (my birthday), and then all of a sudden it’s back to normality and you’re firmly in the mix of work and everything else.

lazy lounging

I admit I have barely stepped outside in the last three weeks. I am rapidly becoming a lazy lump and in danger of resembling a plump Christmas pudding unless I get myself motivated. It’s been so utterly miserable weather-wise – those few times when I have ventured into the garden the ground has audibly squelched beneath my feet (but thank goodness East Anglia has as yet evaded the awful flooding of recent weeks) – but today I woke up to large swathes of blue sky and birdsong, and I’m ready to get going with 2016. Finally.

bedfordshire morning - sunrise

I’ve decided that this year, we’re going with my plan to get rid of scrappy lawn and put in some more no-dig veg plots. I half-heartedly attempted this last year, but made the mistake of dumping horse manure directly on top of the lawn, leaving it for a while, and as a result the deep tap roots dandelions and clumps of grass just enjoyed the nourishment and flourished. That’s ok though, because we got a big wild patch filled with sour thistle, dandelion and thick grasses that we’ve been using to feed the bunny rabbit for free, who in turn provides us with lots of lovely poop for compost!

How to make no-dig plot

Laying out the no-dig plot

This time around, I’m going to smother the grass with cardboard and then dump the compost and manure on top. I have some organic compost that I bought last year on offer, but we have a big job of turning our three compost heaps ahead of us as buying in all your compost is just not an economically sound approach.

Chitting Potatoes on windowsill

Next up is getting the potatoes chitting. I’ll be on the lookout for Picasso again as they were a storming success last season (we finished the last one from our harvest over Christmas), and I might even try and find space for a row or two of Charlotte.