Yesterday, during one of my regular trips to the compost heap to empty the teapot, I noticed a couple of tiny strawberry flowers:
Earlier in the autumn I cut the strawberry plants down, ready to plant more in the spring, but a few weeks later some of them had started to regrow. The warm autumn might have confused the plants but I didn't expect flowers to start appearing during the winter.
A couple of years ago I tried to grow Butternut Squash and one of the plants did quite well and we got 2 squash off it. This year I haven't had a single squash but the plant has grown huge and taken over half of the garden. It has covered the leeks, carrots and shallots so our crop of those has been very poor too.
The recent warm weather seems to have confused some of the other plants in the garden. I recently cut down one of the pepper plants and the wild strawberry plants but some small green shoots have appeared. I expect the strawberries to do ok over the winter but I will probably have to put the pepper somewhere sheltered to see if it survives the winter to give it a good head start in the spring.
I am still getting tomatoes and chilli peppers from the garden although things are ripening quite slowly now. At least those two crops have been successful this year and I have made roast tomato soup several times, often adding some other veg, such as peppers and courgettes, to the roasting pan.
Last month I mentioned the feral sunflowers which appeared in the garden. One of them is now at least 7 feet tall and towers above me so I needed to point the camera upwards to take the photo below.
Last year I sowed some poppy seeds in the far corner of the garden to add a splash of colour. I bought a packet of seeds from the supermarket and scattered them liberally all over the patch. When the flowers had finished blooming and the seed heads had dried out I collected the seeds, along with some seeds from purple poppies which were growing on the pavement halfway down our road.
In the spring I got the pot of seeds and scattered a lot of them in the corner plot again as well as in a couple of small trays of compost. A lot of the poppies have grown but so far the only flowers to appear have been a light purple colour. They seem to be very delicate because most of the time whenever I see a poppy, there are only a couple of petals remaining.
I photographed the poppy below in our garden this morning. I didn't touch the flower when I took the picture but about 10 minutes later the petals had started to fall off.
Last year I planted two types of sunflower - traditional yellow sunflower seeds which I picked out of the hamster food and red sunflower seeds which I bought from a seed supplier on ebay. I planted some more of the same this year but I noticed that there were more sunflowers growing in the garden than the ones I planted. The ones which had self-seeded seem to have grown faster than the ones I started off in the propagator.
There were sunflowers sprouting in the courgette tubs and in several of the plant pots where I put tomatoes and peppers. Most of these had to be uprooted but I left some of those in the larger tubs. One of these is pictured above.
While I was in the garden to photograph the sunflower I noticed that the tomato plants were wilting slightly and the compost in the pots was dry. Now I thought this was slightly odd because there was a lot of rain during the day. I even commented to someone in the office that the rain would be good for the tomatoes. I don't think I am growing a special type of waterproof tomato. I expect it might be the tall fence blocking the rain. Something similar happens with the strawberries, which are on a set of metal shelves which means the lower trough gets less rain than the one on top. This means I sometimes have to go out and water them even if it has been raining.
Most of the plants in our garden are there for one reason: to provide food. There are a few flowers there to provide a splash of colour, the biggest at the moment is the Clematis:
We originally bought the clematis because we had bought a trellis and needed something to grow up it. A couple of years ago it died off but when it grew back it was more vigorous than before.
We bought some viola plants about the same time and they lasted a couple of years before being eaten by slugs.
They managed to spread seeds around the garden and this plant established itself at the edge of the herb bed, next to the veg patch.
I don't know whether violas have a good or bad effect on other plants - I'm not really up to speed with companion planting but my brief reading on the subject suggests that they go well with herbs so I'll leave the plants there for now.
Last year I grew some red sunflowers and collected the seeds at the end of the season. This year I planted some of these saved seeds and so far I have a few short sunflowers starting to appear in the flower bed. A lot of seeds must have been scattered around the garden because there are a few sunflowers in the vegetable pots too. Most of the courgettes and tomatoes have sunflowers as neighbours where seeds must have landed in the compost. Ironically these 'accidental' sunflowers are all taller than the ones I deliberately planted. I may have to move a few of them since they are likely to get a bit big and compete with the vegetables.
I have been attempting to grow sweet peppers for a couple of years but have never had much success. The yield has always been poor with a lot of the peppers failing to ripen. Last year I decided to keep some sweet pepper and chilli pepper plants over the winter because I had read that it gives the plants a good head start. The chilli plant was looking a bit sad - the leaves had gone dry and turned brown. I expected the worst but some green shoots have started to appear. Last week I noticed some flower buds appearing on the sweet pepper and now a tiny pepper has started to form.
I only planted this years pepper seeds last week (sweet, cayenne and jalapeno) but it will be interesting to see what results we get compared to last year's plants.
I have started getting the garden ready for the spring. While it is still too early to start planting seeds (apart from broad beans), I've been buying seed packets so I'll be ready. Last year the courgettes and chillies were the most successful so I'll be planting those again. I have bought some extra varieties: jalapeno peppers to join the cayenne and Summer Ball pumpkins from Thompson & Morgan. The latter produces courgettes which turn into pumpkins if left on the plant. I look forward to seeing how they turn out.
The soil in our garden is quite shallow and poor quality so we have some deep potato planters which are ideal for growing courgettes in. Last year I had one courgette plant in one of these pots which was a prolific producer of veg. Another plant in a smaller pot started off well but tailed off quite early in the season. I intend to use the planters again but I have 2 more which need filling so I have started turning the compost heap every week in an attempt to hurry it along so I have enough ready in the spring.
I have had great success with parsley and moderate success with the land cress and with rocket, but for some reason the chard, spinach beet and other salad leaves have never grown as well. I'll be trying them again this year in case they go better this time.
There have been some green shoots appearing in the far corner of the garden, where the bulbs were planted. Some will be the dwarf crocus but some mystery shoots which appeared in a pot of compost might be garlic. I'll have to wait and see what comes up.
Last year I bought a mint plant from the supermarket, as a 'growing herb'. It seemed to be thriving but the extreme cold before Christmas seems to have killed it off. There is one tiny green shoot coming up at the edge of the pot and the leaves look like they could be the right shape to be mint. With any luck the plant will regrow because I never got around to using any of it in cooking.
I was using my computer at home this morning when the Internet stopped working. I noticed the wifi icon on the computer was flashing so I thought the router had briefly dropped the connection. Emma pointed out that the electric clock had gone off, so for some reason our power was out. I then noticed that all the neighbouring wifi networks had disappeared from the wifi menu, and I could also hear some nearby alarms going off, so it then became clear that the power had gone down for the nearby area and not just our house.
It's an automatic response to switch on the room lights when we get up, which I immediately did, then suddenly realised how stupid that was.
Our oven has mains-powered electric ignition so I had to light it by hand to bake the baguette for my sandwich. We don't have any long matches or special long lighters for lighting cookers, so I had to reach to the back of the oven with an ordinary cigarette lighter, while carefully turning the gas on. The gas makes a fairly loud 'whooshing' noise, which made lighting it a little scary but I managed without losing too many arm hairs (unlike Emma last week when she lit the grill, and the automatic lighter didn't seem to want to work at the time).
In the second series of the BBC TV series 'Grow your own drugs', James Wong gave a recipe for a herbal moth repelling mixture. We haven't had a problem with moth-eaten clothes but we do sometimes get a lot of tiny moths in the house.
The recipe calls for sage, rosemary and wormwood. We already had sage and rosemary in the garden so I bought some wormwood seeds. It took a few months for the plants to be big enough to pick the leaves but a few weeks ago I picked some of each herb and spread them out to dry.
I put some of the dried herbs in a small bowl in the living room and after a few days it seemed to be working - there are definitely fewer moths in the room. I have since read that moths don't like cloves so I added a few cloves to the bowl first.
This morning I made up some of the moth repelling sachets, adding a couple of cloves to each. I didn't have any muslin so I cut an old tea towel into squares and used that instead. The material was a bit too thick so they were a bit fiddly to make. I put the sachets in the wardrobes and on the bedroom shelf so I will see if they make a difference.
Earlier in the year I bought some Red Sunflower seeds from a shop called Premier Seeds Direct, off Ebay.
I planted some, along with some sunflower seeds picked from the hamster food. Both types of sunflower sprouted, but the red sunflowers grew the fastest and so far are the only ones to flower.
Both the above flowers were grown from the 'red' seeds. Some of the plants have multiple flowers, such as the one on the left where several smaller flowerheads are visible.
It looks like I picked the wrong day to turn down the central heating. The colder-than-normal winter meant we had the heating on for longer but after the recent warm weather, I decided to turn the heating down.
Almost as soon as I did, the weather turned colder and wetter. I'm sure the same thing happened the last time I tried to turn the heating down.
A couple of weeks ago I started planting some seeds in pots. I sterilised some of the home-made compost first. I filled some foil trays (the sort used for oven-ready meals) with compost, covered the trays with foil and 'cooked' them in the oven for ½-1 hour at gas mark 1. I left the compost to cool before putting it into pots. I don't want the same problem I had last year when the compost must have been contaminated with 'weed' seeds.
The pepper plants started to germinate after a week or so. Some of the salad veg which I planted on sunday have started to germinate already. Looking back at last year, by mid-march I had planted chilli, herbs and tomatoes. I must remember to sterilise more compost at the weekend and get the tomatoes started.
We have had a few days of freezing cold weather, but luckily very little snow. I went into the garden this morning to check on the quail, to make sure they have plenty of food and to make sure their water hasn't frozen.
Moving on to the veg - all of the remaining plants are looking a bit droopy and possibly dead. The parsley is very limp - we will be lucky if it recovers. The leeks have frozen solid. I was examining one pot and a leek snapped off. I have no idea what the garlic is like - all of the pots are frozen solid. I think I will have to harvest everything when the soil starts to thaw.
I planted some broad beans last month but nothing has happened. I expect it is the same story as last year when the beans rotted in the soil. I will try again in the spring.
I checked the compost heap and was surprised to observe that it hadn't frozen. In fact it was slightly warm to the touch. That is obviously a good sign, showing that everything is breaking down well. I gave it a good mix, to let extra oxygen get in and help it along.