January 28

If you build it, they will come part 3

Common plume moth

The Brownfield Site bed has now been emptied. It had about 8 Hylotelephium, probably Autumn Joy, in it which insects love. In late Summer it was covered in bees, hoverflies and wasps and if I could only have 5 plants for insects this is one that I would choose to keep. The other 4 would be Skimmia japonica, Cotoneaster horizontalis, Echium vulgare and Solidago. This meant that I didn’t want to get rid of them, just divide and move them so now we have them grouped all over the garden in the Thugs Bed and there is plenty to give away to the rest of the allotment site. You can read part 1 and part 2 of this series to find out what my ultimate aim is.

Whilst I was working on the hylotelephia (is that how you do the plural?), I disturbed a common plume moth. I have seen them before on the site and they are quite distinctive with those small wings. They look a bit like a miniature stick insect.

Log pile on the Brownfield Site bed

The first thing I wanted to build was a log pile on end. I only needed 4 or 5 fairly sturdy logs which I have after we had some tree cutting on the site last spring. I dug a round hole, stood them on end and then moved the soil back to bury them.

The log at the back had been lying down on the bed for a couple of years I would say, so I stood that up as well because it will have a lot of the sort of life that we want in it already and it will mean that the wildlife we want in this area is already here.

At the bottom of the picture you might just be able to see some stones and concrete rubble. I am making a river of these from the log pile to the edge of the bed, which is south facing, so that invertebrates now have 3 types of habitat in close proximity – wood pile to live in, stones to live under and to bask on in the sun and some bits of bare soil around them. This is all part of building the structural complexity and diversity that invertebrates need. Round, water-shaped stones are something we have a lot of in our soil so it shouldn’t take me too long to complete that part.

The plants in this bed are all going to be yellow and white so I have a Libertia grandiflora to plant behind the pile – in my garden they are in almost full-time shade and at the side a bushy honeysuckle I nipped a cutting off on my morning walk. The flowers are yellow and white and heavily scented so will be delicious. I am planting it in the shade of the logs and hope that it is not too sunny for it. If it is, I will move it.

It is a start. What projects are you working on?

January 27

If you build it, they will come part2

Canvey Wick in Essex

Brownfield sites have become a lot more important recently. They are sites where there has been human disturbance, can have old buildings, piles of rubble, uneven ground and many different habitats relatively close to each other. Canvey Wick in Essex is a prime example, situated along the Thames and built to process petroleum but shut down before it ever opened. It is now a Site of Special Interest because it has such an enormous biodiversity and is referred to as a ‘brownfield rainforest’ – rainforests being some of the most biodiverse areas in the world. Often, these places have drought-stressed, nutrient poor soils which can be contaminated but they are ideal for not letting any one species of plant become dominant. They often have bare ground which enables invertebrates to warm up quickly in the sunshine. They can often have slopes and different types of soil, some of which may be compacted. All of this offers a refuge to invertebrates who often need two different types of habitat to complete their life cycle.

And why is this so important?

‘If we and the rest of the back-boned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if the invertebrates were to disappear, the world’s ecosystems would collapse.’ 

Sir David Attenborough

I have an empty bed on the wildlife plot which I haven’t really known what to do with it. Last year I put a planted wheelbarrow on it but that won’t do this year. So, we are clearing it and going to make it into a more varied landscape for invertebrates. The soil is quite poor – no compost has been added for some years now so that is a good start and it has a slight slope on it. I am going to put a path through it that doesn’t have wood chippings on it just to vary the soil – it will just be compacted soil.

Mound of various materials covered in brick rubble from John Little’s, @grassroofco, garden.

To change the topography (to put it another way, to add some hills) I am going to build mounds like the one in the picture. This is a large circle edged in steel with soil dug out. In the bottom is logs and then grasses, twigs, water piping, corrugated iron all covered over with brick rubble. This is specifically built for any and all types of invertebrate. Another mound will be fine sand – probably at the front of the bed to soak up the sunshine as it is south-west facing, and the third one will have logs on their ends built into the soil at different heights with stones cascading down from it to the south. This will create what is called an open mosaic habitat. In between the mounds I will plant verbascums, cow parsley, fennel, poppies and other plants that I can find but with bare soil visible like brownfield sites have. The bed can then be called The Brownfield Site as each of the beds has a name!

I’ll post pictures as we create the bed. You can see part 1 and part 3 of this series here.

January 22

If you build it, they will come: part 1

There is a fantastic video from Grassroofco, ostensibly about different substrates for growing particularly on brownfield sites and in urban areas, but I loved his images. I found his message loud and clear: structural complexity and diversity is one of the most important elements for biodiversity. We have quite a lot of different habitats on the wildlife plot but we can always fit in more so here are some of the ideas that I have taken from the video.

My first idea is to build a dry rubble wall that snakes through the Thugs Bed. I did start to build it at the front of the bed but then had a nightmare about children falling on it and cutting themselves open – easily done as it has sharp edges. So, after much thought I have moved it into the bed where it will probably be much more suited to the bugs. The bed faces south so the wall should warm up in the sun and critters can sun themselves on it. It’s not really warm enough at the moment but it will be.

This picture shows the first part and because it is made of different materials, it should provide a greater diversity of materials in the garden and therefore niches.

This is only about a quarter of the finished length but we are working hard to remove some of the Vinca major to allow other plants a chance. If we find that it is not high enough in summer once the plants have grown, I can make changes to it to increase the height.

Read part 2 and part 3 here.

January 10

Trialling seed containers

Rocket seedlings in Containerwise seed tray.

Judging by the posts I see on allotment and vegetable growing Facebook posts, we are all trying to reduce our use of plastic, me included. However, there are some things that are just best made in plastic, what you don’t want is for it to be one-off plastic.

I have tried many types of seed sowing trays, containers and pots over the years. I have root trainers which I find very useful for cuttings, sweet peas and broad beans but they are very flimsy and most have broken. Two years ago, I found Containerwise through Charles Dowding and bought some of their seed sowing modules. I don’t use the size CD uses but one size bigger. They are fantastic, made out of rigid plastic and said to last 10 years although I think they will probably last longer.

When I was looking for a replacement for the root trainers, I found these deep propagation trays  and these. I am going to get 1 of each to try them out this year and see what works best for my needs. I am also going to try these rubber root trainers that are supposed to last a life time.

I am also going to try these silicone seed modules that look and feel just like my silicone baking trays. They are reputed to last a life time and it is supposed to be easy to get the seedling out of the tray.

The downside might be that they are a bit floppy to carry on their own so will need a tray underneath them and they are more a transplanting rather than seed sowing size.

What do you use?

January 8

7 top tips for organising vegetable growing this year

Christmas decoration in the pond.

A Happy New Year to everyone.

I can always tell when I have too much time thanks to the rain because I try and organise myself and the coming vegetable year. I am doing this even though I have not yet got my broad bean seeds in yet. Oh dear! Anyway, there is a reason for that – my greenhouse is full of loft insulation and I can’t get in to it to do anything. So, here are my top tips which I am going to do this year:

  1. Plan how many plants I need of each sort, roughly. This year I have almost been self-sufficient in sprouts. I haven’t bought any yet and probably won’t need to until the end of February. On the other hand, I didn’t grow anywhere near enough celariac. So, I’m creating a spreadsheet where I put down when I want to eat the veg – I don’t want to eat leeks all year round – and therefore how many plants I need. You can see it here.
  2. I am not that fussed about rotating plants around the plots. I try not to grow the same plant in the same place two years running but I have done it with no loss of productivity. However, I do forget which sort of compost I have put on each bed and I would like to know because I vary my compost probably more than I do my vegetables. I put 7-10 cm of compost at the start of each year and occasionally a bit more later on in the year. I don’t dig but I do grow on sand and so it needs a lot of oomph. I’ve drawn up a rough plan of the plots and recorded on each one the year and the type of compost and pin it up in the shed in a plastic wallet so that I can always access it. I have 5 different composts that I make and 1 that I buy but I will talk about how I use them in a different post.
  3. I have been dabbling with sowing seeds according to the moon phases – biodynamic gardening – but usually lose the plot in April when there is so much to do. This year I have bought the Maria Thun diary so that I can know exactly when to sow the seeds. Does it work? I don’t know but in soil like mine you need every little bit of help you can get. I have looked at my spreadsheet of plants that I want to grow and written into the diary when I should sow them.
  4. With two plots I have quite a lot of growing space but there are times in the year when I could do with a bit more. So this year I need to try intersowing which is where you plant young plants amongst others so that when they are finished the next crop is in and ready to take off with the increased space and light. I am thinking particularly of brassicas here because we eat a lot in winter and they take up a lot of space. The lettuces seem the most obvious crop to interplant because we pick leaves off them regularly so they have spaces in between the plants.
  5. I make nettle tea and comfrey tea and have worm juice from the vermicomposting but there are a whole lot of other teas and feeds that can be made for the garden including ferments. I have bought some chamomile and yarrow seeds because biodynamic gardening uses the flowers to create specific teas for the garden and to add to the compost heaps. Chamomile supports the recycling of materials and yarrow helps connect the plant to its environment and make it adaptable to the changes. Both are going in my compost heaps as an addition.
  6. I am the sort of grower that hates spending time in the kitchen preserving, freezing and any other -ing the food that I have grown. Who wants to make tomato sauce in the hottest time of the year? Not me. If I can chuck it in the freezer with no prep I am happy. I do this with tomatoes (I cut them up if they are enormous), berries, chillies, broad beans, peas and sweetcorn (sliced off the cob) but the rest of the time I prefer to pick and eat. Steve of Steve’s seaside allotment is working on this and is writing about it in his free ebook  so I am going to read and implement his ideas.
  7. And finally, reading, reading, reading. You get the best new ideas from reading books, blogs, youtube channels and anything else you can get your hands on as well as talking to fellow allotment holders.

What do you do to keep yourself on track?

January 23

Six flowers on Saturday 23/05/21

I started to wonder if we had any flowers at all in the garden having seen all the wonderful ones shared by the Six on Saturdayers hosted by The Propagator It turns out we do but I have to get out in the garden to see them! So, here are my six flowering away despite the rain we have had this week.

First are the Winter Aconites before the birds get to them and peck the flowers off and strew them around the plant.

Hiding in the side bed is a Pulmonaria ‘Sissinghurst White’. It is a bit small and I don’t think it is really a fan of the dry soil but it soldiers on gamely.

All around the garden as a result of self-seeding is Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii. It is a strong, hard to miss plant particularly at this time of year. I love the zingy, yellowy-green flowers and the pop of the seed pods in the summer when the seeds are ready to go.

Tucked down by a low wall in the front garden is Geranium Rozanne looking a little the worse for the weather but gamely flowering.

Does it count to have something that is nearly there? These daffodils were in the garden when we moved here and they are almost ready to flower with a slight yellowy bloom on the buds.

And finally, not a flower but a borrowing from Paddy Tobin, An Irish Gardener who created a path through a bed. It was just what I needed for what we grandly call the Round Bed. It is too deep to weed from the front and I end up walking all over parts of it to get to everything so a path through it is just what it needed. I have used stones from around the garden that I dig up every time I try to plant something. All it needs now is a layer of shreddings on the path and more plants.  I cleared out those I didn’t like as I created the path so now I can buy some more!



January 9

Six on Saturday – Green shoots 09/01/21

I start to get twitchy fingers at this time of year and am desperate to sow seeds but apart from a few peas and beans it just isn’t worth it.  The seedlings get leggy and then cold, or the other way around, and do not produce great plants so I must wait until the middle of February. However, it doesn’t mean that things are not growing all around me.

And don’t think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter. It’s quiet, but the roots are down there riotous.

Rumi, The Soul of Rumi: A Collection of Ecstatic Poems

This post is part of the wonderful Six on Saturday hosted by The Propagator. Thank you all for the very warm welcome.

My first plant is the hellebore that my Mum collected seeds from in her local Sainsbury’s carpark. When we had to sell her house, I took a few of the plants from her garden and planted them in mine despite the fact that we had completely different soils. They took a little while to acclimatise but once they got going, they were off.  I doubt that they are a fancy variety but they are important to me and they are almost here.

Second are my cuttings from Buddleia colvilei. I bought a plant and put it somewhere where it is completely covered by another large shrub. By the time I realised, it was a bit too big to move so I took some cuttings in the hope that I could create more plants. 3 out of the 4 cuttings have taken and roots are now poking out of the bottom of the pot.  The leaves are felty and grey, like many plants that are relatively drought tolerant, although they lose some of their feltiness as they mature. The flowers are tubular bells, similar to those on a penstemon.

I have a large perennial Cottager’s Kale on the allotment that at this time of year gives many, many leaves. The plant is rather large and a bit of a slug magnet but invaluable. I took these cuttings in September and they are in a sheltered space in front of my greenhouse at home and look to be doing well. I am going to put  couple on the wildlife plot as I need to grow more food on it and then give the rest away to the allotmenteers.  They are a much sort after plant on our site.

I love the flowers on Miscanthus sinensis Morning Light. The plant is at the front, north facing, of the house in the only little bit of heavier soil that I have in the garden and it seems to do fine. The shape of the whole plant is great – like a fountain – and it is prolific enough to split every two years. This means that I have it all over the garden.

Some plants are really tough. Who would have thought that a lettuce would have survived being frozen every night for the last four nights and still look perky and pickable the next morning.  This lettuce is a self-seeded plant growing in the wood chip path of the vegetable beds at home.  It is Rouge Grenobloise but I also have a black-seeded Simpson lettuce in another path.

My Mahonia Charity is just coming into flower. It is full of them and the blackbirds seem to be having a great time picking the flowers off and throwing them around the plant. I sat and watched them this morning but I am not sure why they are doing it. Vandals! The label on the plant says that it is Charity but the flowers do not stick up in the air like the photos on google but droop down. It is one of the few shrubs that I still have that was in the garden before we moved in over 20 years ago. The shrub can be hacked right back and still it sprouts forth. (I’ve just noticed a bramble in the picture growing away quietly through the Mahonia!)

Do you have green shoots in your garden?


January 2

Six on Saturday – 02/01/21

This is my second Six on Saturday hosted by The Propagator, the first one for 2021 and there are certainly things I will not miss  from last year. However, what this time has meant is that I have had much more time in the garden and on the allotments and this has been to their and our benefit. So, here are my six for this week all based on new year resolutions linked to the garden and allotments.

My first resolution is to be more organised. I realised the other day that my blog is littered with phrases such as I don’t know which variety they are, I didn’t label them or I have forgotten what they are.’  I have used Access and so now I can type in a  month and up will pop all the seeds I need to sow that month.  I have then created, on paper for the moment!, a bed plan that is month by month so that I don’t have any spare beds hanging around empty at any point during the year. Last year I thought I didn’t have enough space but with 2 plots and a large garden that is ridiculous. These two things need integrating but that was beyond me at the end of December.

In order to support resolution number 1, I have bought some very fancy labels – metal hooks which you stick in the ground and slate labels that you hang from them.  This was a present to myself and they will be used specifically for veg or flowers that I want to collect seed from.  Even if the writing wears off, I will at least know which plants to collect seed from. All I need now is a marker to write on the slate – note to self! The whole system could come crashing down for want of such marker.

I will make hot compost this year, before July.  At present I am not building the heap big enough and do not have enough greenery and manure in it.  This will be remedied in January’s pile. (You can see November and December’s attempts but they are not pretty!) I have agreed to create a pile each month to see what happens. I am learning a LOT. What I am finding is that it is far more work in comparison with the way I normally make compost. The videos I have watched about it all have volunteers on training and they build and turn the pile. We hold a sort of allotment school on the plots to help new members and I am one of the people that helps to run it so that has given me an idea 😉

We so rarely have heavy frosts on the south coast but have done so for the last 2 days with more to come. These are my new strawberries – Malwina – a late type, but they have an absolutely delicious taste. I bought my first lot a year ago because the catalogue said that the taste was exceptional but they were too dark red for supermarkets and had a white line just underneath the leaves which doesn’t turn red. Why wouldn’t you try them? Anyway they are so good I have ordered more along with some hanging baskets. I will pot them up into the baskets and then at the end of January/start of February hang them in the polytunnel to force them and try and get some a little earlier.



The Bergenia are flowering on the wildlife plot and look fantastic. I am not sure what variety they are (I didn’t plant these before you say anything!) but they are a welcome sight especially for the queen bumble bees which fly around when the sun is out.  I took over the wildlife plot in September 20 and decided to list everything that flowers, fruits and seeds on the plot each month and then aim to increase the numbers of each in the years thereafter as we have lots of beekeepers on site.  We have three things flowering this month, the Bergenia, Jasminum nudiflorum and a Viburnum. We can surely do more than that next year; I am thinking of Winter Honeysuckle, Christmas Box and pansies which can also be eaten in salads.



And finally, with no resolution attached to it is the orchid in my bathroom which has a very long stem of flowers this winter. I have learnt: feed it all spring and summer and it will flower all winter for you. Beautiful.

Happy New Year everyone and do you have any garden resolutions?






January 20

Gardening mistakes – and there have been many!

I particularly enjoyed the post over at The Anxious Gardener all about the mistakes made. I don’t think we could call ourselves gardeners if these sort of things didn’t happen to us.  In fact, I think we are one of the groups of people that like to learn by doing and that means mistakes!

I curse the day I planted Vinca Major in a difficult part of the garden. It didn’t stay there and now occupies a large part of the back border, including working its way up a 5ft bank and competing with nettles and brambles.

Or there is the year I used plastic string in the polytunnel to hold my tomatoes up. I had about 50 and the string gave way on all of them on the same day. It looked like a giant had stepped on them.

What about the time I stood on top of my compost heap, got my foot caught in a bramble and fell headfirst down to the bottom of the section that I had dug out.

How about the time I dug some weeds up from inside the fruit cage and speared a mouse on my fork.  I did scream a little bit! My allotment backs on to houses and so I have a lot of cats about and they seem to catch the mice and leave them lying around for me nowadays.

There was also the year I mulched the whole plot in fresh manure and everything was eaten by slugs that were hidden in and under the clumps of manure.

And finally, my most expensive error was to not go down and clear the snow off the top of my polytunnel. It buckled and caved in and I spent the next three years bent double inside it until I could afford a new one.

Have you ever made a mistake? Do tell!

January 14

It will only take half an hour! And a harvest

You know what it is like. You take your eye off a plant – a helianthemum – for 5 years (!) and it outgrows its allotted space. You have half an hour so you think you will just pop out and give it a quick trim. Ha!

The first thing you find is that the local cats have been using the top of your much loved Helianthemum as a toilet. It is after all quite cold at the moment and who would want to put their little botty near the cold floor when there is a nice, cushion-shaped plant near by.  So, you clear that up which is not easy and then continue.

You then decide to put the clippings into the dalek compost bin only to find that rats have taken up residence. It is cold after all.  So you tip it over, spread it out and make a lot of shrieking noises just to scare them off and put the clippings on the big, open compost bins. You do however, see some suspicious holes in the big bin.

You then have a good idea! You prune a holly bush and stick the twigs of holly in the helianthemum to keep the delicate little bottys off ! And it has only taken an hour.

One thing I am very pleased with though is my bowl of salad in an unheated greenhouse. I planted the pot up in early November. I don’t keep records (but I might make it my New Year’s Resolution to do just that) so I am not quite sure when, but we have had a picking each week from it throughout December and now into January. I just pick the outer leaves, leaving the growing inner leaves and they seem to have replenished a week later. I will definitely be growing more of these pots next year.  I found some old polystyrene boxes in a recent clear out of the garage and they would be fantastic being slightly insulated. In the pot there is Little Gem lettuce, Mustard – which seems to be taking over and needs more frequent picking – Catalogne lettuce (I think!), fennel and coriander.  There have been several mornings when I have looked at them and they have been very droopy. It is quite cold after all, but they have all recovered as the greenhouse has warmed up. So, salad with tea tonight.









What have you harvested recently?