The soil may be too wet to get onto … but I urge you get out there and start clearing the weeds and sowing a few seeds.
It’s amazing how much better it makes you feel! 

Warm aroma of ripening tomatoes

Time to plant your tomato seeds and you can look forward to these little beauties!

 

I met a friend for coffee in town this week (most enjoyable thanks, Matt) and having first put the world of digital media to rights we got around to the subject of gardening.

You see,  Matt is a keen gardener and we both have much in common on the subject. We both knew we should be in the garden doing something… but what exactly? I’m not sure we gardeners are ever quite sure when is the right time to pull on the wellies and haul out the fork and spade but one thing’s for sure … I can’t wait much longer. I’m already having withdrawal symptoms!

As soon we get January out of the way and the weather starts to improve then my advice is to get out there and make a start. There’s nearly always something that needs doing in the garden.

I usually wait until the middle of February when I can feel a change in the days. The light improves as the days stretch out and there’s every chance you’ll find a bit of sunshine at some point. Last Sunday was one such day.

The veg beds were too wet due to all rain we’ve had this winter in Hampshire,  but I did manage to get on to some parts of the garden and start clearing the weeds ready for this year’s veggies.

It sounds crazy to be weeding in February but as you know the more you do today … the less you’ll have to do tomorrow. 🙂

weeding

It’s clear our climate is changing as the winters get warmer and wetter and the effect is it encourages the flipping weeds to grow at an alarming rate. Is it me or are they starting much earlier this year?

One good thing about the wet weather, (apologies to anyone living with drought) is, it does make pulling the weeds a tad easier. I just take a small fork and turn over the soil and clear the weeds by hand. The chickens of course help … when they’re not pinching the worms that is!

chickens

Seed sowing in February.

It’s about this time of the year I start to sow my small seeds. Celeriac seeds can take an age to germinate so best get them started now indoors and you’ll have decent sized plants by the time the frosts have past.

celeriac-3

I simply sprinkle a few seeds onto a small seed tray of compost and gently press them into the compost. The idea is to push them just below the surface. Then sit the tray in a washing up bowl with a little water in the bottom so the compost can take up the water gradually and the seeds won’t get washed away.

It’s also about this time of year I plant my sweet pea seeds. I soak them in water for 24hrs to soften the shells. I then plant 4 seeds in a small 3″ pot. Best to start them off indoors until they’re about 6″ plants and then transfer the pots to the cold frame.

Tomatoes can also be sown indoors about now. This year I’m growing my favourites ‘Gardeners Delight’ along with a few Alicante and an F1 Hybrid called ‘Mountain Magic’. Not sure how well they’ll do but I like to try something new most years.You’ll have to provide a little heat to keep the worst of the cold off.

tomato-plants

I find with most seed sowing at this time of the year its wise to provide to get them started. As soon as they’re big enough to fend for themselves they can go out into the cold frame or polytunnel if you’re fortunate enough to have one.

Also managed to prune the climbing roses out the front at the weekend. Looks and smells amazing in the summer, but as with all ramblers it does need to be kept in shape. I grab a pair of strong gardening gloves and give it a general prune until I’m happy with the shape.

pruning-roses2

No mystery to pruning climbing roses, simply grab a pair of stout gardening gloves and give it a general prune all over. If a branch is in the wrong place cut it out but leave about 8″ of stem and it will grow back stronger than ever and provide loads of wonderful blooms.

pruning-roses

Next weekend I’ll be preparing the polytunnel ready for all the exotic goodies! This year I’ve decided to bit the bullet and build some purpose made troughs for my strawberries. I usually just find a spare bit of ground and chuck them

This year I’ve decided to bite the bullet and build a few purpose-made troughs for my strawberry plants. I usually just find a spare bit of ground and chuck them in but this year we’re hosting a summer garden party and I’d love to serve my own home grown scrumptious delights.

I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂

Back soon.

Rural Gardener


Birds-in-garden

 

Not sure about you .. but I love to see our native wildlife in the garden and in particular, our beautiful native birds. It’s at this time of the year, they need our help more than ever. It’s cold and there isn’t much in the way of seeds around in February.

I know we live in the countryside .. but we have all manner of beautiful birds in the garden which I believe is because we put food and water out on a regular basis.

By putting out a little food and water, the birds are more likely to use what limited energy they have at this time of the year to stop off at your place for a feed. So make it easy for them and your garden will be alive with the sounds and movement of wild birds.

We have a male pheasant stop by most mornings to pick up any corn that we’ve dropped on the way to feeding the chickens. He visits most days and I feel privileged he’s chosen our garden to stop off. Mind you he is a little nervous .. and as soon we try to approach him he takes off … straight up and over the hedge into the farmers fields!

Another charming bird is the Robin red breast. If you want him in the garden simply turn over your compost heap from time to time, and I promise you within 15 minutes he’ll be in there with you!

Of course the most important thing you can do is build a simple bird table and put out some regular old wild bird mix. You can pick it pretty much anywhere, but watch out as it can be expensive.

JAN7TH
The cheapest way is to buy a large bag and decant a cup full every other day … never let it go stale.  If you don’t have  a Bird Table they’re simple to make.
A couple of years ago I posted what has become the most popular post on the site which explains how to make a simple bird table.
Using feeders is another good idea as it keeps the food away from the squirrels and stops it from spilling onto the floor which attracts rats.
goldfinch

Our native Goldfinch – A welcome visitor to the garden.

If you’re feeling adventurous you could make your own fat balls. Really easy to make … and cheap! (I’ve included a recipe at the foot of this post)

I know for a fact the birds will be grateful for anything you can put out  and who doesn’t like to see our beautiful native birds in the garden?

Back soon.

Best wishes
John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

 

A simple Fat Cake recipe

You’re going to need:

  1. 1-2 Packets of Lard.
  2. A Bag of Wild bird Seed.
  3. An Apple or English Grapes when they are in season.
  4. Stout String (candle string is ideal)
  5. So used yogurt pots.
  • Melt the lard in a deep pan, then let it cool slightly before adding the seeds and fruit. A word of caution here, melting lard gets verrrrrrry hot, so keep the heat low and just wait a bit longer for it to melt. Above all stay safe!
  • Before the fatty mix starts to set pour it into a mould,   not too big (old yogurt pots will do just fine or Yorkshire pudding trays work just as well).
  • Before the lard starts to set take a 3-4″ piece of string and drop it into the mix keeping about 2″ outside the mould.
  • Leave the moulds to set  for a couple of hours and then place in the fridge overnight to set nice and hard.
  • The next day remove the fat cake from the mould and tie the string to the hooks around the outside of your new bird table.

 


Brrrrr … Woke up to a hard frost this morning. Beautiful to look at …. but flipping cold! -4 degrees in the car and I had to scrape the inside of the windscreen.

Thank goodness I took the time to put the Acers in the polytunnel last Autumn.

I grow most of my Acers in pots for that very reason. I’ll take them out of the poly around mid-May by which time they’ll have grown a new set of leaves. I started my collection about 3 years ago with a dozen 8-inch plugs I bought on EBay.

I thought it was a bit of a gamble at the time, but just 3 years later they’ve grown into great little plants and are worth 5-6 times the original price.

acers.jpg

If you’ve grown Acers you’ll know what I mean when I say they are at their best in late Spring when the new leaf is at its most vibrant. In the winter, they look like dead twigs! … But in 3-4 months they’ll be back to their magnificent best.

While the weather is cold it’s too wet and miserable to get onto the soil my thoughts turn to garden maintenance. It’s just as important to keep on top of the jobs that don’t necessarily provide any immediate benefit. Stuff like painting the sheds mending any broken fences and anything that may have blown over or snapped.

I like to get these jobs done before the growing season starts to limit any damage to any plants that may be growing in the vicinity of where I’m working. They stand a better chance of recovery if you do it now.

The big job for the Spring has to be the fences. They’re in a poor state of repair which is reflected in the fact that the chickens are always escaping into next doors plot. It’s not fair on my neighbours so I need to do something about it.

mending-fences

As you can see from the pics the fence is your bog standard post and sheep wire construction, which is actually the responsibility of my neighbour as he put up the original fence. The posts were inferior grade and have rotted out of the holes, so I need to replace with better quality posts so it will last.

I’ll replace the posts with chestnut posts and then staple some chicken wire on top of the sheep wire to keep the escapees on the right side of the fence!

On the left side of the plot, my neighbour has recently taken up stock car racing and his plot is rapidly filling up with second-hand cars. Rather disappointingly what was a beautiful view across to the barley fields is now starting to resemble a scrap yard!

mending-fences2

I suppose I could get in touch with the local council but I’d rather not fall out with my neighbour and, to be honest, the fence is pretty grim anyway. I plan to replace it with a new 5ft. post and feather board fence.

The only snag is it the sun will be in The West essentially behind the fence which will create shade. It’s a shame but I can only see the car situation getting worse, and anyway, I’ll grow some shade loving creepers like a climbing hydrangea and stuff it with Hostas and anything else I can think of.

So that’s my Spring project sorted … Just need to work out the materials list and choose a sunny weekend in March.

I’ll ket you know how it comes together for anyone that might be thinking about building their own fence. I’ve done it before and it’s fairly straightforward but there are a few things to be aware of. Details to follow sometime in March.

Anyway is almost the end of Jan and although it’s freezing cold the sun has just come up and it’s looking gorgeous!

A few more weeks and we’re into March and the clocks go forward. Just the best time in the garden!

Back soon

Best wishes,

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners


New Years Resolution

I wonder if like me you’re thinking about making a new years resolution or three?

I always find it a tricky one as you almost feel compelled to come up with something and each year I struggle.

This year I’m trying a slightly different approach.

They say you should never look back, always forward but I’m going to start by looking back at my life (of some nearly 57 years) and ask myself… what do I wish I’d done differently or wish I’d achieved in my life?

Yes, life is about making the right decisions … but what if you didn’t get everything completely right the first time? Is it too late to change things or make amends? I don’t think so.

Personally,  I’m going to make as much happen in 2016 as I can and what I don’t get around can always roll over to next year.

Here’s how it works.

Grab a piece of paper and make a list of all those things you’d wished you’d either done or said to someone in your life. Then take your three top ideas from the list (Your choice) and you have your New Years resolutions!

Here’s my short list. (I should add my original list was huge so these are my top three for 2016)

  1. Join the Open Gardens scheme. (Ambitious yes … but it means more time in my garden)
  2. Find an alternative income so I don’t need to commute into central London 5 days a week. (Get to spend more time in my garden)
  3. Save more for my retirement so I can retire earlier. (… spend more time with my family … and of course, more time in the garden!)

My friends … most of all be happy right now!  Enjoy your friends and your family but perhaps most of all,  follow your dreams!

Btw … Its not too late to take your hardwood cuttings!

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners


Firstly Happy New Year to one and all from all of us at Rural Gardener!

You may have noticed we recently updated the site with a new header image. We’re hoping to make further changes as we go forward as the site has been pretty much the same since 2007 … so it’s really about time we gave it a facelift.

We’re also hoping to evolve the blog further this year and will likely post shorter updates but more frequently so we can keep everyone up to speed on all the good stuff we’re planning for this year.

John’s been in the workshop again making a few items for the house so thought I’d share a few pics.

wooden-lamp

wooden-bowl

Not sure where you are in the world but here in the South West of England we’re having significant rainfall which is playing havoc with the garden. It’s a mud bath! While it’s like this there is little can be done to be honest so best to keep busy with other jobs.  Spring is just around the corner so not long before we can get back out there!

While it’s like this there is little can be done to be honest so best to keep busy with other jobs.  Spring is just around the corner so not long before we can get back out there!

Until then we raise a glass to one and all for a healthy and prosperous 2016!

champagne-toast.jpg

Best wishes,

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

 

 


Hand Made Christmas Trees

It’s just four weeks to Christmas and I’ve been busy making a few Christmas trees in the workshop!

I’ve always had a fascination for homemade decorations ever since my mother used to take me to the Christmas market in Nuremberg.  So many happy memories … especially the wonderful aroma of smoked sausages on what I remember as a massive grill along with stalls full of wonderfully crafted Christmas delights.

So I got to thinking … I wonder if any of my readers would like to own their very own handmade Christmas tree?

The largest trees are approximately 125 millimeters high and 60 millimeters wide.  (5 inches by 2.5 inches) and handmade in my workshop in Hampshire England.

To order your very own Christmas tree simply hit the link below and enter ‘Christmas tree’ in the email subject line and we’ll drop you a note back with details of the prices and any associated postage costs.

TAKE ME TO THE CHRISTMAS TREES

Hope to hear from you soon!

Best wishes.

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

 

 


Ideas for a hobby - Woodturning

I was thinking earlier today just how lucky we are to have our hobby’s. They really are the perfect antidote to the stress of the daily grind i.e. work.

I have the garden which is fab of course, but it’s about this time of the year my attention shifts from the garden to indoors … or inside the workshop on my lathe to be more precise.

It was about 7 years ago when I met my woodturning friend Stuart through a friend. Stuart is an extremely accomplished wood turner and what he doesn’t know about woodturning you could get on the back of a stamp!  He’s also a thoroughly nice bloke.

When I met him he was in the middle of making a few items for a special event. After a long chat and several cups of tea I knew I needed to give this woodturning thing a go.

If only I could reach a reasonable standard perhaps I could make a few things for the house? It certainly sounded like a lot of fun but potentially dangerous fun so I’d definitely need some guidance on the health and safety side of woodturning.

I seem to remember doing a bit of wood turning when I was at school when I was studying for my CSE’s as they were then (barely studied at all to be honest).

My class were 5C and for those of you that may remember the 70’s we had a TV comedy show in the UK at the time called Please Sir which was about a gentle teacher (Smiffy) and his somewhat boisterous class of adolescent teenagers who were also called 5C.  I seem to remember there were striking similarities with my class, but one thing I do remember is I really enjoyed woodworking with Mr Woodward (yes that really was his name). I still have fond memories of making the obligatory fruit bowl on the old school lathe.

Great times … life was so much simpler in those days.

Anyway … Back to the present and after much thought, I jumped in the car and headed off to Axminster Tools and bought me a small hobby lathe and at the same booked me a couple of lessons with Stuart.

It took me about a year to become proficient to the point where I was confident and safe and it was about another year before I finally got around to making something I thought worthy of bringing into the house.

Table Lamp

This is the first finished piece I made for the house. It’s a bedside lamp I made for Tania from a piece of English Yew which still has pride of place. It has a slightly unusual twist pattern which I think gives it a kind of unique look and presented a few challenges when I was making it.

It’s functional which is pretty much what I try to achieve with everything I make on the lathe. Take this table I made a few years back.

Home made Mahogany table

It’s made from a couple of mahogany table tops that the local school were throwing away to make way for a new classroom.  Absolutely nothing wrong with the wood. All it needed was a little care and attention.

The top of the table and the stem are turned on the lathe and the legs are made using a band saw to cut the sections and regular hand tools to achieve the finished shape.

How to make a round top occasional table

For the top I took 2 boards, planed them flat and glued them together to get the extra width I needed for the top. I cut a rough circle shape on the band saw and then mounted it on the lathe to get the perfect circle and to add the edge detail.

It turned out ok in the end … and to think the wood nearly ended up in a skip!

I’m planning to make a few Christmas presents on the lathe this year. I’m thinking Christmas tree decorations. I can make them on the lathe using the branch thinnings from the beech tree which we removed in the summer and use some wood dyes to add a little colour. I just need to remove the wood from the inside or I can’t see them hanging on the Christmas tree too well!

Make your own Christmas decorations

I might attempt to paint a nativity scene on the side or persuade my mother in law as she’s learning to paint at the moment.

I’ll keep you posted as they progress and probably post a few pics if they turn out ok.

Back soon.

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners