Archive for April, 2012


Making Compost Tea

I’ve never made compost tea but I saw a demo recently of how simple it is to make. So I thought I’d share it here and have a go myself (if it ever stops raining that is).

All you need is a bucket, some rain water, some honey and an old pond pump (try eBay).

  • 1. Fill your bucket about a third full of mature compost
  • 2. Pour rainwater in to fill the bucket
  • 3. Add one or two spoonfuls of honey
  • 4. Put in your pond pump and switch on
  • 5. Wait 2-3 days, strain and use immediately

Compost tea can be used on fruit and vegetables wherever you think they might need an extra boost of nutrients. It’s ideal for plants in pots, or on poor soil, or plants in the greenhouse.


The Organic Garden at Holt Farm

Yesterday I was invited over to see Holt Farm, the organic garden that was created by Sarah Mead near the idyllic Chew Valley lake. It was a perfect day. Rain then bright sunshine which made the colours and the view just come alive.

The garden may be in an idyllic setting but the family business (Yeo Valley dairy) sits right next door. I expected an amount of noise to come from a dairy of this size shipping products to every supermarket in the country but its 600 employees were seemingly silent and double-deck lorries crept slowly up the hills and out of sight.

I hardly knew the cows were there while sitting on the deck of the tearoom, eating home-made chocolate brownies and watching the hoverflies flitting from one flowering Broccoli to the next.

The view from the tearoom is largely the ornamental kitchen garden. Set out in raised beds (some with box hedging running diagonally through them) this part of the garden is neat and structured with brick pathways. Next door trained Apple trees line the borders, a cutting garden produces Narcissus at this time of year and fruit cages are home to ornamentally trained Raspberries. There are decorative forcing pots dotted around the garden too.

Broccoli has been allowed to flower and adds a bright yellow interest to what is an otherwise green kitchen garden at this time of year. The bees love it!

And brightly coloured colanders are lined with horticultural fleece and are busy growing herbs to furnish the tearoom tables on the deck.

The colours are a great contrast to the green backdrop.

But even the Lettuces and Cabbage at Holt Farm are victim to slug attack. Being a certified organic garden they need to find environmentally kind ways to eject our slimy friends. At the moment they are using pelleted sheep’s wool to protect Kale…

…and oyster shells around their Broadbeans. Both with, ‘some success’, according to Sarah.

The garden is so much more than a kitchen garden. There is a beautiful tulip garden, wild flower meadow, shade garden, and reflecting pool. All pieced together with wiggling walkways and a view of the lake. But by this time the brightly painted sea-sidey chairs were calling me again and it was time for more coffee and biscuits.

If you’d like to visit the garden it’s open Thursdays 10.00 – 5.00pm from the 12th April to the end of September, and the first Sunday of the month 2.00-5.00pm May-September. There are also courses running throughout the summer. The garden is also open as part of the National Garden Scheme for charity.


I spent the day at Yeo Valley farm organic garden today (more on that later). This afternoon the head gardener, James, showed us how he makes his own seed sowing mix, which let’s face it, could save us all a penny or two.
He roughly sieves his homemade leaf mould mix to get the lumps out and adds the same amount again of horticultural sand. That’s it! The resulting mixture is fine, light and packed full of nutrients. I’m not sure I’ll ever buy seed compost again.


Spanish Vegetable Plot

I’m always intrigued by how other people grow vegetables. Especially when they live in a different country to me and have different issues to deal with. On my recent trip to Spain I explored this vegetable patch tended by the owners of the hotel we were staying in. They had planted everything in nice long, neat rows in their really red earth.

I was excited to see a Pomegranate tree. I’ve never seen one before and even though this one was only just bursting into leaf it was still beautiful. Apparently it fruits in Autumn.

This delicate Apple blossom was perfect against blue, clear skies.

A fledgling Herb patch was well served by the watering system…

…which, by the way was taken very seriously. As you can imagine once the season gets going there is little rain on offer for these plants so hugging the watering system is their only hope.

While we were chatting about the garden, Yvonne, the lady who ran the hotel, told me a little story about a Walnut tree she had back in her own garden. Years before her father had planted a Walnut tree in his garden, in the UK. He had sadly died in the year before the tree produced any nuts but when it did Yvonne carried a nut back to Spain and planted it there. Where it’s growing well. Gardens are so much more than plants, aren’t they?


Lemons the Size of Your Head

We spent the Easter holidays at a lovely little rural hotel in Mallorca, Spain. It was idyllic. Not least because there were Lemons the size of your head (if you’re only four years old that is) and you could spend a happy afternoon picking them…

…counting them, moving them around and counting them again. I stand amazed at the things that will amuse children.


Potatoes in at Last

I planted my Potatoes. Finally!. After the mice ate my seed Potatoes I bought some more and hung them in their netting in the potting shed. They sprouted nicely and I managed to get them in the ground just before Easter. I had a few left and so I left them on the potting bench overnight. Sure enough, the next morning they were gone. Not so much as a crumb left. Fat, happy mice!

I didn’t grow any Potatoes last year. I decided that they took up too much room and weren’t worth the effort. But I missed them. There is something so satisfying about digging up those cold, hard pebbles. And something so earthy about the way they taste. Yes, I missed them. This time I’m going for an unusual variety – Highland Burgundy Red, which I’ve heard doesn’t taste as amazing as others but will keep the kids happy with its colour!

While going through the notes I made for my garden workshop last year I found this list of tips for making the most of small gardens. I’ve limited it to ten because that fit with the format but I’m sure you could add some of your own tips in the comments.

    Small Garden Tips:

  1. Grow Potatoes in pots
  2. Grow Squash not Pumpkins
  3. Grow vertically using wigwams, Cucumbers and even Green Beans
  4. Buy plug plants if you don’t have a greenhouse
  5. Build and use a coldframe
  6. Use every scrap of soil you have by planting closer than the book suggest (but remember to use a general purpose fertiliser)
  7. Plant in rows north to south to minimise over-shadowing
  8. Train fruit onto walls or along wires
  9. Only grow what you like to eat
  10. Use hanging baskets for things like cherry tomatoes