Holding onto these precious autumn days

ash tree in autumn
It’s been a while since I last posted. Life is just one hectic day after another at the moment. The Smallest Smallholding is gearing down for winter, albeit going out with a bang in all its autumnal glory. The ash tree is slowly shedding golden leaves everywhere, and the cherry tree is at its pinnacle of burnt ochres and ruby red before it gently releases the last of its leaves to lay at rest on the lawn.

In the veg plots, only a few autumn raspberries remain, with the carrots still in situ and some hastily planted leeks thrown in for good measure. The first frosts arrived last month week, taking out the dahlias, cosmos, pumpkins, nasturtiums and zinnia. I felt a little sense of sadness as I pulled them all out, the last vestiges of a long summer discarded on the compost heap.

I didn’t have the time or inclination to put any brassicas in this year, so it’s a case of tidying, prepping and putting the garden to bed until spring. We also have a lot of interim work to do – namely clearing some ground to plant trees – and have already cut back the hedges ready for new growth next year. We’ve got birch trees ready to go in, and I have my eye on a rowan and possibly another apple tree!

Unfortunately as much as I want to be busy in the garden and tending to my Smallest Smallholding during these ever-decreasing daylight hours, my life at the moment is focused on increasing my part-time income. That means I’m either looking after my daughter, in work, or at home tapping away at a screen when my daughter is asleep. I have precious little time for anything else.

I’ve taken on extra project work and am working flexibly (so, early mornings before my two-year-old wakes, nap times, and then evenings up until around midnight), as well as freelance work – on top of my normal part-time hours. It’s really tough. There’s no downtime, no me-time, no hobby time. I’m not complaining – the extra income is a saving grace. And I’m determined to get rid of my personal debt and live the life I’ve always wanted to… and that can’t happen whilst I’m held back financially. It’s just a case of going all guns blazing until I break through the wall of debt. Then I feel I can start moving forward.

The dream is still alive. But it’s taking so much more work than I ever anticipated to even take a step on the path to where I want to be. I’m tired… no, absolutely shattered at the moment, but I’m still determined. 

There has been a little downtime recently, though. We had a lovely Sunday with the in-laws, which offered a rare few hours of relaxation. We stopped and ate by the riverside, and afterwards my daughter stomped, skipped and jumped her way along the leaf-strewn riverbank. She was captivated by peacocks, chickens, ducks, swans and geese – making me hanker for more avian friends here at home – and spent hours showing off her new conversational skills, chatting scribble happily with her grandparents. The perfect Sunday.

I’m holding on to these special days. They make the grind worth it. It’s going to be a tough winter, with the extra work (I’m just thinking about the extra income!), the amount we’ve still got to do on the house, and trying to keep up with everything else in between. But it will be worth it. It will. 

New no-dig beds, James Grieve and other plans

The rain has finally arrived, and brought with it a cool, freshness that signals the end of summer here in Bedfordshire. Autumn is definitely on the horizon; the earth no longer smells warm and baked, and the sun is sitting lower in the sky. The long nights are finally beginning to draw in and I sense that the birds are beginning to fatten up, foraging and gorging on berries, nuts and seeds that we leave out for them.

The garden marches on, despite the relentless heat followed by relentless downpours in late August. My raspberries are ripening slowly, though the berries are a dainty and the yield noticeably smaller than last year. I’m still collecting blackberries from our scrambling brambles, and the apples from our two little trees have ripened early too. In the flower borders, helenium, cosmos and the Californian poppies continue to bloom. The veg patch looks bare, save for a few strips of chives, carrots, burgeoning nasturtiums, and a blaze of bold colour from the marigolds and zinnia that have thrived despite a prolonged heatwave and drought-like conditions. 

I’ve been longing to get back to my little potager, but I’ve been so busy with work and motherhood. To be honest I’m surprised I’ve achieved as much as I have this year, harvesting fruit and just about keeping things looking relatively neat and in order. Winter, spring and summer of 2018 have been seasons of extremes, and I have a feeling 2018 isn’t done with us yet. I’d love to think a gentle autumn is on the cards – fresh, sunny days interspersed with enough rain to keep things ticking over. I’d love to think I have enough time to put my autumn plans into action:

– Create two new no-dig beds; one for soft fruit, and one for cut flowers (if I can persuade Rich to give up some more lawn!)

– Plant in leeks

– Paint the tool shed

– Tidy the greenhouse

– Mulch, mulch, and mulch some more

– Tidy our little woodland patch

– Plant the paper birch trees

– Plant a James Grieve apple tree to create a trio of Blenheim Orange, Charles Ross, and James Grieve.

With the nights drawing in fast as we hit the midway point in September, I can feel my time is becoming really limited again. I’m working hard to rebuild my freelance portfolio, but with little E now over the two-year mark and catapulting around toddler-style, and Rich busy with getting DIY patch up jobs around the house before winter comes, my hands are really full at the moment.

cosmos flower

 

Easy seed saving plants to save money and fill your garden

pink poppy
Long-time readers (hello, thank you for sticking with me) may know that I’ve been on a drive to live frugally and reduce my living costs and increase my output. There’s a long backstory there, but for the last year it’s all been about living frugally, even when it comes to growing my own veg and flowers. 

Around this time of year, August and September, is a perfect time to start collecting seeds from annuals to store and sow for next year. There are some really easy wins – plants that produce an abundance of seeds that are easy to collect, store well, and germinate freely the when sown – that will produce fantastic results when next year’s growing season is upon us. Based on my experience and my own thrifty garden, here are a few of my recommendations for the easiest plants to save seed from:

5 Flowers for Easy Seed Saving

poppy seed head

1. Poppies

Whether you like the ornamental opulence of opium poppies or prefer the bold simplicity of the field poppy, you can easily collect seed from the trinket-like rotund poppy heads. Simply take an envelope or empty seed packet, shake the contents of a dried poppy head, then label the packet and store. Alternatively, just shake the poppy heads and empty the seeds onto well-draining soil where you’d like new plants to grow. Chances are, they’ll germinate and reward you the following year with plenty of blooms.

Hollyhock flowers and seeds

2. Hollyhocks

The trumpet-like flowers put on a stellar display in late summer, and once faded, wilt and drop from the plant spire. Neatly packaged fuzzy circular seed pods remain, encasing the flat seed discs within. Once the seed pods dry and the seeds mature, the pods gently open. The seeds can be easily collected and stored, or scattered in situ in late summer and autumn.

Nigella seed pods and flowers

3. Nigella

The jewel-like delicate blooms of Nigella transform into fat pods in later summer and autumn, which are chock-full of seeds. The pods can be left in borders to add structural interest and texture, and will happily self seed. But if you want to spread the seed further afield, simply pick a fat pod and gently break it open. Inside you’ll find little chambers filled with tiny black nigella seeds which can be easily distributed amongst your borders, or collected into envelopes or seed packets for sowing when you’re ready.

allium flower head for seed saving

4. Alliums

The name ‘allium’ covers a plethora of flowers and plants from this family, but specifically I want to draw your attention to the likes of Allium hollandicum (Purple Sensation), and their edible siblings of sorts… chives (Allium schoenoprasum)! This year I’ve collected seeds from both types of allium, after they set seed once they’d finished blooming around early-mid summer. Wait for the flower heads to completely dry out… and then wait a little longer. The seeds can be collected by very gently pulling the flower heads from the stalks and tapping the seeds out into an envelope or seed packet.

Orange nasturtium flower

5. Nasturtiums

In recent years I’ve come to love nasturtiums, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I love how they ramble and scramble. I love how bold the flowers are, and how robust the plants are as a sacrificial companion plant. They might be chewed, munched and crunched by a multitude of insects, but they always bounce back with vim and vigour. They bloom for weeks on end, attract pollinators, and will thrive even in the poorest of soils. The seeds are produced once the flowers finish blooming, and will stay attached to the vine before they detach themselves and fall onto the soil under the plant. It’s at this point that you should collect the seeds – they’ll be chickpea-sized and at various points of drying out – and store them in a cool, dry place until the following spring. Plant the whole seed and its outer shell at least an inch into soil and wait for the magic to happen.

 

Pumpkin seed for saving

5 Fruit & Veg for Easy Seed Saving

1. Peas and Beans

Saving peas and beans for sowing is easy and very satisfactory too! Allow some of your bean or pea pods to start to dry out on the plant, before harvesting. Remove the beans/peas from the pods and leave out to completely dry out, before labelling and storing. YOu can store in envelopes or seed packets in a cool, dry space, or opt for air tight containers. Just make sure you’ve got a variety that will germinate from its seed, ie NOT an F1 variety. 

2. Tomatoes

Make sure you’re not saving the seed from a sterile F1/hybrid variety of tomato. Simply remove the seeds from the ripe fruit pulp, dry off on a piece of kitchen roll, and store/label until you’re ready to sow. Easy!

3. Squash/Pumpkins, Peppers & Melons

As with tomatoes, extract the seeds from a ripe fruit, dry them out and store. Remember to choose fruit from the most prolific, thriving plants. Seed drying should take roughly a week, and make sure the seeds are spaced out so that they don’t clump and stick together. Store, label and sow the following spring.

4. Lettuce and Greens

These vegetables, if not hybrid varieties (F1), will produce viable seed on the plants if a few plants are left unharvested and allowed to go to seed (bolt). Once the seed heads have begun to dry out, to collect seed from these veggies, stick a small paper bag over the seed heads, and then cut the heads off. Shake the plant heads to release the seed, and then label and store. 

5.Carrots

Leave a few of your carrots to flower (the pollinators love them) before the flower heads dry out and go to seed. Cut off the flower head, tap the seed into an envelope, and keep dry. 

A little note on storage

Most seeds can be initially air dried and kept in a paper envelope. However, to ensure that excess moisture doesn’t spoil the seeds, you can keep them in a container with good ventilation (think: old tights secured and tied up) on dessicated medium like rice to help absorb any excess moisture. This will help keep the seeds dry and prevent them from burning through their energy stores, which are needed for healthy germination.