Tuesday 23 July 2013

Every man needs a shed.

The single most annoying thing about living in the house we do is the fact that out garage isn't directly next to the house, instead it's in a block at the far end of the row of houses. Most irritating about this is the fact that all our gardening equipment and tools are therefore just that little bit too far away to be truly handy.

The solution? Build a shed!

We don't have a huge back garden so we'd always thought having a shed as well as the greenhouse may be a bit much but finally the constant trekking back and forth to the garage wore us down so we picked a spot at the end of the garden, behind the greenhouse, and decided to go for it. We had a look around at the local garden centres to see what kind of shape and size would suit us and settled on something square and about 6foot by 6 foot. Then, as we so often do, it was back home to search online and check prices. You may not naturally think of Argos for garden sheds but in the end we plumped for one of their BillyOh models (mainly because it had a stable door seemed cute, if a little pointless).

First job was to clear the ground, easier said than done with a large well established bush taking up much of the corner we wanted to use. Eventually though, after much digging, sweating and yanking, we got it out and then only had the far easier task of clearing some turf before there was a nicely shed shaped hole at the bottom of the garden.

The next trick was to try and level off the ground enough that we'd have a flat surface to build on. As with the greenhouse a few years ago this was something of a pain as our garden is on a natural slope and the heavy clay soil makes fine tuning something of a pest. Eventually with the aid of a lot of sharp sand it was close enough and we finished it off with some paving slabs and gravel and prayed that the weight of the shed would kind of 'fine tune' the leveling process for us.

All that remained then was to actually build the thing. With the base laid down it was a relatively simple process of simply moving around attaching the side panels to each other before squaring it off on the base. As is often the way the instructions didn't quite match the reality but thankfully it was pretty obvious how it all fitted together so when in doubt common sense tended to get us through.

The roof went on last which was the moment of truth with regards how flat and square the structure was and it soon became apparent that despite our best efforts we'd not achieved perfection, thankfully it was close enough that the roof fitted on ok and we realised that the roofing felt would hide the slight irregularity and gaps anyway so we didn't feel too bad.

Lastly it was a case of fitting the windows and door then, hey presto, we had a great wooden shed!

Finally it was time to make that trip to the garage a few final times to move things into their new home and then we were done. Amazingly our on concern, about it taking up too much of the garden, proved completely unfounded as sat where it is behind the greenhouse and the apple tree it’s almost hidden from sight and seems to almost not be there at all until you look for it.

All in all it wasn't too hard to build either, it was defiantly a job for two people though (thanks Dad!) and we spread it across a couple of days as it took longer than I expected but really it all went up pretty easily. It's not perfectly square or flat but the roofing felt hides most of the ills and it feels ridged and secure. Fingers crossed it'll serve us well anyway, it'll certainly mean less trips to the bloomin garage...

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Lemon Tree

One thing we've always wanted, but never got round to buying, is a lemon tree. So, when the lovely people at Tree2MyDoor offered us one we were only too happy to take them up on it. Specialising in trees delivered as gifts for special occasions they offer a large selection of well developed stock including a variety of citrus trees perfectly suited to growing in conservatories, greenhouses, sunny patios or well lit and ventilated rooms in the house.

There's something exciting about being able to grow something as exotic as lemons at home and it sounds like we can expect the tree to fruit up to four times a year which sounds impressively productive to me. So, there was an air of expectation yesterday when the delivery driver knocked on the door and deposited a large box into our eager hands.

Standing upright the box folded open easily to reveal the surprisingly mature tree inside. We weren't really expecting it to be quite as well developed as it was having been used to the young straggly fruit bushes you tend to get from mail order companies so it was exciting to find over ten fruits already at various stages of development with another bunch of flowers ready to bloom soon from the looks of it.

The growing instructions provided in the box say lemon tree's need to acclimatise slowly to their new home so it's spending a couple of days inside near the patio windows before making the short trip into the greenhouse on a coolish day then we'll keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't get too hot too soon.

I'm not sure how long it'll take the currently green lemons to mature but it'll be an exciting day when we can pick the first of them. We'll be sure to keep you updated...

Friday 15 July 2011

How things have grown...

After coming home to rather more weeds than we remembered being there when we left it's taken a couple of trips to the allotment over the last two days to get things shipshape but now we're pretty much back on target. It's amazing how quickly weeds grow but it's also surprisingly easy to get back on top of things with the aid of a faithful hoe and a bit of elbow grease. In previous years our annual holiday has kind of marked the point where the plot has got away from us so it's nice that this year we've been able to come home and regain control so quickly.

The best thing about the break was seeing how much things grew while we were away, perhaps the most impressive progress was the sweetcorn which is now looking really healthy and we should be seeing the cobs form soon we're hoping.

The parsnips too are thriving. Having seen Jono over at Real Men Sow have a little look at the size of his roots I wanted to check ours out and see if all the green growth up top was reflected below the soil. As you can see things are looking good, last time we grew parsnips they were monsters and this years look well on their way to being similar.

The home-made brasica cage we cobbled together seems to be doing the job, there's been some leaf damage but mostly things seem to be thriving. There were loads of weeds in there which did reveal a design flaw in the cage but we soon worked out that unhooking some of the netting and poking the hoe through did the job so at least we can keep any new weed growth down from now on.

The french and runner beans that were looking a tad sickly before we went away still aren't looking 100% but they're improving and the runners have started to flower despite everything so perhaps it'll all turn out ok in the end.

The red onions are looking good too, cant wait till they are ready to harvest as they're lovely in salads and sarnies. 

The fennel seeds we planted a few weeks ago have all done so well they needed thinning out already. I've heard they can be a bit of a pain to grow because they bolt really easily so we'll be keeping an eye on them and making sure they remain watered.

The leeks are also looking really healthy, all signs of the holes we planted them in have gone which I assume is correct (?) we just need to keep an eye on them and earth them up a bit at some point to ensure long white stems.

Lastly the slightly random flower border we sowed with a sprinkling from one of those shake-n-sow boxes you can pick up for a couple of quid has started to bloom. We perhaps over crowded it a tad but it's starting to look nice and bright and surely attracts some nice insects to the plot. 

It's back to the old routine of work next week but at least the plot is back under control and we'll try to have some slightly more interesting posts next week rather than just big long lists of what's growing.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

We're back!

Well that's holidays over for another year. Scotland was amazing, the Highlands have to be one of the most spectacular places one earth! Happily we've also got this week off work so it's not quite nose to the grindstone time yet.

We popped up to the allotment on Sunday to see how it had survived the week of neglect and were amazed to see how much things had grown in a week, everything seem to have come on leaps and bounds while we were away and even though the weeds have grown too it's not as bad as it could have been. I'll take some pics later today when we go back up to do some weeding.

We managed to bring home the first proper harvest of the year while we were up there, as you can see we've got a load of early potatoes, a few courgettes and the first beetroots along with the last winter cabbage.

We also picked some of the flowers that had bloomed while we were away and about 200g of blueberries which found their way into some muffins yesterday.

Back at home the greenhouse was tended to by a friend so everything was alive and well with plenty of tomatoes and cucumbers ready for harvest.  The salad leaves have gone over though which is a pain as I'd not got another container sown yet so we'll be without leaves for a few weeks now which is annoying.

We were in town yesterday picking up a few things and I was stood outside Wilkinsons wondering who they thought would ever pay full whack for the half dead plants they had on display when a lady with a sticker gun came out and stared drastically reducing the prices. A couple of minutes later I was walking out with two hanging baskets fully potted up with a total of eight strawberry plants (Albion) for 50p each reduced from £8.49 and a fuchsia bush reduced from £5.89 to another 50p. A good day in the sun with plenty of water later and they're all looking nice and healthy, a bargain for £1.50 rather than a shade under £23.

Righty, I'm off to start the weeding, will do an update with some allotment pics tomorrow all being well. Tis good to be back!

Wednesday 6 July 2011


So far we're having a wonderful time in Scotland. We've had sun almost all the time since we got here until today when it's rained most of the morning. Can't realy complain with that ratio though so we're having a lazy one in preperation for more activity when the sun returns tomorrow (fingers crossed).

Just thought I'd share a few pictures taken on Monday when we went out on a sea cruise to see some whales and dolphins. We did see both, and a few seals and puffins too, but my camera didn't pick them out too well (I need a proper zoom lens me thinks) so I'm not going to bore you with those pics, instead here are a few more sea'y shots. As you can see the weather was stunning considering this is the far north of Scotland...

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Alotment Update

It's proving to be a busy week so far, this post was supposed to be online Monday morning but time simply got away from me, we're also off on holiday on Friday for a week so there's a million and one things that need doing in preparation for that.

Before all that however there was last weekend and what a scorching Sunday is was too. finally a chance to cut the grass after what seemed to have been a couple of weeks of daily showers. As well as that there was chance to spend a few hours up at the allotment getting caught up on all the weeding after all the rain.

It wasn't actually as bad as it could have been, half an hour with the hoe and it was looking pretty good again. All the crops seem to have come on leaps and bounds too with all the wet warmth we've had. It's got to that time of year when, as you can see from the above picture, everything looks full of life and its hard at first glance to see the order amongst the chaos of fresh green growth.

The parsnips are looking amazing, loads of healthy growth up top that, with any luck, means similar is going on below the surface.

The maincrop potato's are looking great too. It's the first time we've managed to grow 'proper' rows of healthy looking plants (other years have always looks a bit bedraggled and higldy-pigldy) so fingers crossed for a bumper harvest. We've also started eating our first earlies over the last week or so. They taste really good but I was a tad disappointed with the yield, perhaps the second earlies will be better when we get to them.

We also finally got some beans in the ground thanks to a friend at work who supplied us with her left overs. Taking up the space left by the garlic the dwarf french beans in the front of this pic went in on Sunday and seem to have survived despite being really pot bound while the runner beans at the back of the pic are perhaps looking a little weak and wobbly at the moment after their re-homing, fingers crossed they pick up soon.

The corn has put on a growth spurt over the last week or so and seems to be back to its best  after sulking a little when it was first transplanted. The courgettes too are just starting to produce (just in time for us to go on holiday, d'oh!).

The Oca seem to have survived the transplanting process, they got a bit damaged by the wind when they first went out and looked a bit sickly but now they seem to have settled in and are thriving.

We've also got our winter brasicas all planted out and netted over so fingers crossed for some lovely veg ready for Christmas. The netting is a bit cobbled together but it seems to be serving the purpose at the moment. The real test will be when the ground inside needs weeding...

In the fruit cage the blueberries are finally starting to ripen as well, fingers crossed they don't all do it in the next week or so and end up spoiled on the bush when we get home.

All in all things seem to be going really well this year, it's by far the most in control we've been since we started the allotment. It'd be good to get another few hours tidying under our belts before we go away but generally we're very happy with things for once.

Thursday 23 June 2011

Surprise Jostaberry Jam

You many remember those large gooseberry bushes on our allotment that we covered rather haphazardly in green netting a couple of weeks ago. Well it turns out they aren't gooseberry bushes after all, they're Jostaberry's instead!

I'd assumed that because the fruit looked gooseberry'esq (well, red gooseberries anyway) as did the leaves on the bushes that they were indeed gooseberries. It was only when browsing through a seed catalogue that dropped through the door that I saw a Jostaberry plant for sale. Advertised as a cross between a blackcurrant and a gooseberry its fruit looked just like ours but it was the fact that the catalogue said the bush was thorn-less, just like ours, that really made me wonder. A quick bit of internet research later and it seemed we'd been wrong all this time, they were Jostaberry bushes.

Anyway, now we knew what they actually were it was time to do something with some of them so we popped up to the plant and picked a bowl full to make some jam with. I love making jam, its so easy and the result is always so tasty it's the perfect way to preserve any soft fruit glut.

We had about 600g of fruit which we topped and tailed before softening them in a large pan for a few minutes. We then added 600g of sugar (I assumed since both blackcurrants and gooseberrys have high pectin levels that Jostaberry would too so just used regular granulated sugar rather than jam making sugar) and let it melt while stirring over a medium heat. 

Once the sugar had all melted (I tent to sample a bit from a teaspoon and see if you can still feel any grainy'ness from the sugar in your mouth) we whacked the heat up to the max, put a lid on, and let it come to a rolling boil for about 15 minutes. 

We then tested to see if it had reached setting point by putting a small sample on a saucer that had been kept nice and cold in the freezer and pushing a finger into it to see if the surface wrinkled. It did, so off the heat came the pan and we gave it a stir to get rid of the surface bubbles. We then left it to stand for another ten minutes or so before pouring it into freshly sterilised jam jars and sealing.

Having cooled overnight now the jam has all set beautifully and, as we found out at breakfast, tastes lovely. Different to both blackcurrant and gooseberry but with hints of both, defiantly something we'll be making again.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Salad crops ahoy

Since the weather has decided that rain is very much the order of the week so far our attentions turn to the contents of the greenhouse once again. We've not really blogged about it for a while but it's been keeping us in salad greens for the last few weeks now as the mixed leaves and rocket have sprung on amazingly.

The container carrots we were experimenting with have also done well. They're not very wide but they're a decent length and taste lovely and sweet, perfect for salads in fact.

The cucumbers too have been doing really well, we've already eaten about five of them and there are loads more almost ready for picking. They're about half the length of your normal shop bought ones which is the perfect size for the two of us, we'll be growing these again next year for sure.

The first tomatoes are also ripening. We had our first proper meal from the Golden Nugget plant last night and there are a load more that look less than a week away from being ready to eat.

The Red Cherry isn't far behind either as you can see.

The African Horned Cucumbers are growing well but have no signs of fruit yet, the single Oca plant I held back from the allotment seems to be growing well in its pot and there's a teeny tiny fruit or two on the Cherry Bomb chili plant too.

All being well we'll get back up the allotment one night after work to check on things, then its fingers crossed the weather improves so we can have the barbecue we're planning for Saturday.