Monday, 25 March 2013

Five reasons for staying indoors!

Gardening is not an option in these conditions
With Easter approaching you may be itching to get out in the garden with all sorts of tasks already on your ‘to do’ list. As I write, the forecast doesn’t look too bad nationally, grey skies and low temperatures. The ground has taken a punishing of late and your plot may be too wet, too cold, or still covered in snow, so plan some associated tasks indoors. Here are some topics you could consider:

Dobies’ Mid-Spring Catalogue should have arrived in your letterbox by now, so time spent indoors will not be wasted if you read it from cover to cover. It's very clearly set out and is specifically geared to what can be sown, grown and planted from now onwards – vegetables, fruit and flowers. Full of special offers, too, so there is no excuse for you not maintaining a beautiful and productive garden in 2013 (weather permitting of course!) And for those who need more information, the annual 2013 catalogue is still available from the Dobies website listed below.

Read a good gardening book, or organise your bookshelf – a job that is always productive, as tidying your books or cataloguing them acts as a good reminder of what you have and why you bought them in the first place! Renew your acquaintance with your library.

Or add to it:  a fascinating new book hot off the press is ‘Veg Street’ by energetic gardener and author, Naomi Schillinger. Just Published by Short Books and subtitled ‘Grow Your Own Community’, Naomi outlines how she got together with her urban neighbours to start a community gardening scheme. Today, the scheme has more than 100 residents who have turned their front gardens over to growing fruit and veg,and edible flowers. There’s lots of help on how and what to grow; so many ideas that this remarkable book is likely to become a street bible. Cities and Suburbia will never be the same!

Fieldfares in the lilac, shrouded in mist; we feed the on blemished apples
Don’t forget to feed the birds! Its easy enough to refill feeders and top up water when Spring has truly sprung, but many birds will not survive the winter if they have come to rely on what we put out, and then don’t do so when it doesn’t suit us. Proprietary feeds can be expensive, so I make my own table-top delights by scrunching up the cheapest digestive biscuits almost to crumb stage, then adding shredded suet and dried mixed fruit (again, the economy brands). Some mixed seed completes the tasty treat. It’s essential to provide water – a very large circular plant-pot tray, weighted down with a heavy stone, is easy to clean and equally easy to top up, or thaw when frozen (use hot water).

Go Creative: I follow many artist websites and Facebook pages; the quality of work is amazing, and not all these people work at art for a living, but fit their creativity into days out or bad-weather days. If you long to start and can’t think where to begin, here are some inexpensive tips: fold paper-bags into four, stitch up the middle and slit open the folds; voilĂ  – you have your very own little sketch / note book and can scribble or sketch whenever the fancy strikes. With me it strikes often, my garden and my travels are a constant source of inspiration. My fabric and paperbag journals take many forms and are often featured in magazines, or on my various blogs, besides this one. (I often post techniques on my journaling blog; do take a look.) Essentially, keep materials that your would normally discard – packaging, paper, old seed packets, twine, twigs, plant labels; and, of course, sketches or images.

How about some cooking?
Other ideas: a) get to grips with the free trial online Dobies Vegetable Garden Planner: click on the Dobies wesbite and move along under the heading to the ‘Garden Advice’ section; click on that and at the bottom of the list is the planner; b) in the same section you will find Recipe Ideas – why not set about some creative cooking – with potatoes particularly, but also those specially prepared for Dobies by Dobies of Devon Food Ambassasor, Simon Hulstone; c) read back through this blog - all the posts - and make a note of any ideas that might assist your gardening endeavours this year. Still top of the list for favourite posts is anything connected with ‘planning’, and books for enthusiastic gardeners. And with over 2,000 pageviews last month and nearly 51,000 since I began blogging for Dobies of Devon; I'm glad it is useful; and thankyou for your support.

Remember to check for all your gardening requirements (all seeds, plants and other topics) on the Dobies website by clicking on the generic links. You may particularly like: vegetable seedsvegetable plants, flower seeds, flower plants, herbs, fruit and equipment. And don't forget their regular mailings and special offers online. Just keep visiting so you don't miss anything special.

Ann's Journaling Blog can be found here.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Helping Hands - advice and information

Vegetables, herbs and growing spaces were just a part of TEGS 2013
I have just returned from The Edible Garden Show (TEGS) at Stoneleigh Park, right in the heart of the Midlands, but with visitors travelling from near and far. The first gardening show of the year and held under cover in a spacious hall, which made for easy – and dry – access to all the exhibits. There were of course numerous stalls selling seeds and plants equipment and sundries, but I decided to take a look at organisations offering help and advice to gardeners. So often, those new to gardening – and even the experienced – are unsure to whom to turn, and are unaware of new initiatives. Which is what this blog is all about. INFORMATION.

The BBKA bee-friendly garden
I write regularly of the importance of an eco-friendly garden, and probably write more about bees than anything else. So straight to the BBKA (The British Beekeepers Association) to find out what they were encouraging the gardener to think about, “for all over the world, honey bees and other insect pollinators are facing problems of survival.” That’s the keyword: pollination – for without it, our crops will be diminished. Bees need a banquet of nectar and pollen all year round and gardeners can provide this feast by suitable planting of trees, hedges, shrubs, climbers, perennials, annuals and bulbs. Entice bees with a feast, and your veg will benefit, too. An excellent booklet on Pollinator Food Sources is available free of charge from the BBKA (ref IL02).

Discussing the co-op's 'Habitat Heroes' and other matters
I asked The co-operative why they were exhibiting at a gardening show. Known since their founding in 1844 as being ethically responsible, I was nevertheless surprised to learn of their new plans for communities in this, the International Year of Co-operatives. The Co-op aims to encourage more schools to become involved in the ‘Green Schools Revolution’, to continue their ‘Plan Bee’ campaign, and are seeking more Habitat Heroes. Schools can register, but even at home, everyone can become a Hero – protect declining species by doing a few simple things in the garden. (More on this in the next Dobies e-news at the beginning of April.)

Looking at available literature on the NVS stand
The National Vegetable Society are keen to encourage more members. In existence since 1960, the NVS offers contact with like-minded people who can help you to grow better vegetables. Members receive a quarterly bulletin which contains useful information and articles on vegetable culture, as well as branch newsletters outlining local news of seminars, shows and events. Additionally, the NVS website provides a members’ forum that can provide instant answers to growing questions. Gardening clubs, horticultural societies and schools can also become members.

Visiting Garden Organisc's Ryton Gardens is now on my list for 2013
Garden Organic offers many benefits to members – an excellent magazine, the opportunity to make a difference in your community by becoming a Master Gardener- a scheme begun in April 2010 after sustained demand for personalised growing advice. Project Manager, Philip Turvil reports: “After 12,000 hours from 449 trained Master Gardeners, the pilot areas demonstrate positive behavioural change for the volunteers and householders they mentor to grow food." Case studies can be studied here. Then there’s Ryton Gardens, southeast of Coventry – 10 acres of individual gardens which are open every day except Dec 25th & 26th, a conservatory cafĂ©, play area for children, and special events throughout the year.

Exchanging information so that I can include NFU updates in future posts
I had always understood that the NFU (National Farmers’ Union) championed the countryside and British farming, until their eye-catching display caught my eye at TEGS, and particularly this statement: “We celebrate all that is great about rural Britain and growing your own food, whether it’s on a veg patch, an allotment or even a smallholding.  How do we do it? Through our website, e-newsletter and award-winning glossy magazine (Countryside) which is full of articles providing expert help and advices. This includes inspiring recipes and practical tips.” Aiming membership at gardeners is a new initiative, so take a look at the website to see if it would suit you; summing up, Countryside is a membership organisation for those passionate about food, farming, gardening and rural life.

Remember to check for all your gardening requirements (all seeds, plants and other topics) on the Dobies website by clicking on the generic links. You may particularly like: vegetable seedsvegetable plants, flower seeds, flower plants, herbs, fruit and equipment. And don't forget their regular mailings and special offers online. Just keep visiting so you don't miss anything special.

Next week’s blog post will focus on a number of topics running up to the Easter break. Coinciding with the first days of Spring, exactly what I will write about will very much depend on the weather which so far here in the north Cotswolds is distinctly un-Spring-like! And a very big THANKYOU to all my blog readers and followers: when I switched on my computer this morning, I noticed that the 'pageview' statistics have reached 50,150 - extremely gratifying; I hope all my posts bring you joy and delight.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Vegetable delights

A productive vegetable plot
Sometimes, I think that gardeners, if they are not also cooks, forget that vegetables are grown to be eaten! Yet for what other purpose do we take such loving care and attention of our vegetable plot or allotment, our pride and joy? Newcomers may be overwhelmed. On large plots particularly, you often see long rows of one variety, as if you were feeding the biblical 5,000; and no way would the produce still be tender by the time the end of the row is reached. Maybe, the intention is to preserve or freeze the surplus. Shorter rows and more variety might be more useful; or sown and grown in small patches. But with the ‘grow your own’ phenomenon still on the increase, there is always the possibility that the cook in the kitchen is unsure of how to prepare some of the more unusual varieties. The urge to grow outweighs other considerations.

In teaming up with a Food Ambassador (renowned chef, Simon Hulstone, pictured right), Dobies are inspiring gardeners and cooks with new ways of preparing produce. And alongside him, Dobies' Vegetable Product Manager, Peter Morton, offers tips on actual growing. Together, they’ve begun their ‘Tasty Treats from Garden to Plate’ mission with some of the most popular of vegetables: beetroot, purple sprouting, peas, squash and kale. 

Beetroot suggestions appeared in this week’s Dobies e-news, but in case you missed it, here it is again: Beetroot ‘Boltardy’ can be sown now (in cells, or under cover out of doors), or ordered as plants for delivery in April or May. It has smooth skinned roots of fine colour, ideal for exhibition as well as eating. Resistant to bolting and highly recommended, it’s also an RHS Award of Garden Merit winner. Growing tip from Peter: “Beetroot will grow in part shade or full sun. If in full sun make sure the soil doesn't dry out.” As for preparation, Simon suggests you place whole beet on sea salt and bake like a potato.

'Hurst Greencrop' Peas  a tall variety which reliably produces heavy crops of pods borne in pairs, and is highly disease-resistant.. Trialed, tested and recommended by the National Institute of Agricultural Botany and an RHS Award of Garden Merit winner.  Peter's Growing Tip: “Give peas a sunny spot protected from high winds.  Later crops appreciate partial shade” and Simon’s cooking suggestion: “simply boil and mix with salted butter and mint”. Picked and shelled when really young, a few peas be eaten raw when added to salads. Whether cooked or eaten raw, this variety has a really sweet flavour.

Growing Squash seems to epitomize Summer with their flamboyant foliage and flowers, though cropping in Autumn. Just in time for Halloween too! This most versatile of vegetables is offered as a 'Mixed Collection', comprising a range of varieties to provide a good range of shapes, colours and tastes. Peter's Growing Tip: "Well-drained soil that receives full sun will suffice, work in plenty of organic matter", whilst Simon’s serving suggestion sounds brilliant, though slightly mystifying: “cut into wedges and roast with garlic and thyme damsons, perfect for jam and cheese.”

And so to 'greens', probably the vegetable that suffers most from poor cooking. Useful in the winter will be Dobies'  delicious Kale Collection – three different kales ('Red Russian', 'Nero di Toscana' and 'Green Curled Afro'), put together to provide you with highly nutritious 'leafy' pickings from late autumn through to early winter.  The plants are extremely reliable and withstand most adverse weather conditions, though it’s as well to protect them with fleece and / or netting to prevent attack by pigeons. They're colourful, too, with leaves of green, purple-red and near black. Peter's Growing Tip: "Use rich soil, high in organic matter and slightly acidic.  Nitrogen content also recommended." Simon says: “blanch and mix with bacon and shallots”. To blanch, simply plunge washed and tender leaves into boiling water; drain and pat dry with a towel.

Even more delicate in flavour is Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Dobies’ collection of first-class varieties will provide you with tasty pickings from November 2013 right through to March 2014. Ready for delivery this June: 18 plants - 6 of each variety: 'Rudolph', 'Red Spear' and 'Cardinal'. The spears are actually the flowering shoots, so ensure you cut them away from the main stem whilst they are in tight bud. Peter's Growing Tip: "Plant in late June/early July in full sun in good fertile soil and keep well watered."  Simon suggests you brush the shoots  with olive oil and sea salt, grill on grill pan.

And a note from Dobies: You don't have to have a large vegetable garden to grow your own. Even the smallest patio or balcony can accommodate a few containers that will give you a crop of delicious fresh produce!

(This is a courgette, growing in the author's garden. Being in a pot, it needs well-feeding, watering once the fruit is set, of an evening as this plot is in full sun all day.)

For all Dobies Vegetable seeds and plants, please click HERE.