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Blog posts tagged with 'jane dubinski'

Getting Some Salad on the Go!


May Flowers:  The spring colours are so vibrant - especially with a bit of sunshine

Drought? What drought you might be thinking - it doesn’t seem to have stopped raining here in East Anglia although one helpful news report said recently that it would have to rain continuously for about six months before the drought would be officially called off! I have been taking the opportunity to make sure that my raised beds are getting as much water as possible ahead of planting out salad crops at the beginning of May. I mentioned before that I am going to concentrate on the two raised beds near the greenhouse and not cultivate the ones in the main part of the vegetable garden, due to the problems with irrigation so I am drawing up a plan to plant crops close together from seed to see how this works - a new idea for me as I usually grow seeds in the greenhouse and then plant out the seedlings when they look nice and strong! Watch this space to see if this works!

Salad leaves are always a good starter as they germinate quite quickly (some within three weeks) and as long as it warms up a bit and the soil is at a decent temperature then we should have success! On a sadder note this month, I have to report the loss of four of my five ‘girls’ due to a visit from a very nasty Mr Fox. Up to this point the beauties lived in a barn with a locked stable style door and chicken wire fence but this doesn’t seem to have deterred the wily critter. Much to my upset my two black rocks had completely disappeared and the two mid-sussex were left behind - which makes it even worse as the violence seems to be somewhat gratuitous. The only one left is my bluebell who has a useful habit of getting into the rafters - a skill that obviously saved her this time round.

As horrible as it is, I can’t be without my lovely girls as they give me so much pleasure and lovely eggs, so a chicken coop has now been purchased and new girls introduced. The coop is much nearer the house and whilst small, is only used at night as the girls free roam during the day. When it stops raining I will take some pictures so I can show them off. Until then I leave you slightly damp around the edges! See you next month.

-- Jane Dubinski

Drought Forecast - Take Action Now!

It’s all doom and gloom in the news just now, with the imminent arrival of a hosepipe ban, especially in my area of the UK, East Anglia when a ban will be imposed on 5th April 2012. So I have been thinking about my vegetable plot this year and making plans to scale down production for the coming season.

In some ways I should be expanding my plot this year as there are stories in the media which indicate that the price of vegetables, particularly potatoes, are set to rise as crops in this area may fail or be greatly reduced, but to be honest, the thought of planting lots of seeds, growing them on and planting out, only to have them die because I can’t give them sufficient water is a bit soul destroying, so I have decided to manage just one of my raised beds and plant a little of several things.

Packing the plants in tightly will help a little, as water evaporates from bare soil quicker than in a bed where the plants cover the ground and the one I will be using is near the greenhouse and therefore has access to a water butt, so this should also be of help in the coming months.

I will also choose varieties carefully and not include some of my family favourites - runner beans for example (or in fact any bean), which are hugely popular in my house, need a lot of water to yield a good crop so may not be a good choice for this year.

However, vegetables from the beet family and kale family, such as swiss chard and several herbs such as rosemary, thyme and lavender are all good choices as they need less water than fleshy types. Tomatoes don’t need a huge amount of water, although they must be watered regularly - little and often - otherwise they will not thrive. Other tips to ensure a healthy crop include adding compost to the soil, a mulch to stop evaporation and to water your crops at night rather than in the morning and certainly not in full sun.

It’s going to be a challenging season this year, so keep following to find out how I get on! And however you decide to deal with the drought, happy gardening!

-- Jane Dubinski

Cold Weather Watch

As I have mentioned before on this blog, I keep five chickens, mainly so that we can have fresh eggs throughout the year, but also because I love to watch them on a daily basis - they make me laugh!

I have been a bit worried about them during this cold snap - they were very reluctant to come out of the barn at all and were slightly perplexed as to what snow was - but now they seem to come and see me on the patio most days, mainly in the hope of a treat. I have been cooking them pasta and rice to keep them stocked up against the cold, along with their normal pellets and corn with grit and they seem to love the extra carbs - I hope it keeps them warm as it’s been mighty cold at night recently!

Chickens are such good entertainment and mine can be quite naughty! They have a habit of eating the windfall apples from under the tree. Now, I let them do this as I thought it was a treat for them to have all those apples, but that was until I realised that they were in fact drunk. This became apparent one Sunday afternoon when they tottered across the patio and started walking into the window. It took me a while to realise the problem but then we had to catch them (not easy) and get them back in the barn. And there they stayed, confined to barracks, for a few days until they were back to normal!

Wild birds should not be forgotten during the cold either and I have been putting out bird seed every day so that they can get a bit extra to eat. Remember to put out fresh water as well and change it when it freezes over - this is often forgotten during the winter but birds don’t eat snow very well so they need fresh water on hand at all times.

The garden lies dormant under the snow at this time of year so it’s a good opportunity to continue with your plans for the growing season and wait for the frosts to clear. But there is always something going on - we have bulbs coming up aplenty - I can’t wait for Spring and the promise of beautiful flowers, bluebells and the onset of warmer weather.

Happy bird watching. Until next time.

-- Jane Dubinski

Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

I really should take notice of this piece of advice myself, rather than making plans to grow enough food to feed a small country. But every January/February brings the sound of seed catalogues dropping on the mat and me grabbing them with excitement, drooling over all the pictures of beautiful healthy vegetables that I obviously need to grow!

So I plan all my raised beds (I have six of them, so am very lucky), making sure that I follow the principle of rotating them so that I don’t grow the same thing in the same one each year. I then place my seed order and look forward to the moment they arrive, hoping the weather improves and I can get into the greenhouse and plant them all!

And that’s where it all goes a bit wrong. It is all down to time, you see, or rather lack of it. I am sure that my plans would all come to fruition if I were able to spend every waking moment in my garden, tending the seedlings, planting out and nurturing them but unfortunately I don’t have every waking moment to spend in the garden due to work commitments, children, dog, chickens, etc....

So I come back to my piece of advice and the title of this blog - don’t bite off more than you can chew. This year I am planning to utilise only a couple of the raised beds and nurture these rather than failing miserably by doing too much. Let’s face it, you don’t need 10 courgette plants or 15 tomato plants and if you feel the need to plant lots of seeds so that you can pick the best ones to plant out, then sell the extra ones outside your house or give them away to friends and relatives.

This way you can make sure everything grows healthily and you will not have to try and keep up with the harvesting - usually of one type of vegetable at a time. So choose wisely and enjoy each crop as it comes along without getting stressed!

-- Jane Dubinski

The glorious colours of Autumn

I must admit that this time of year is my favourite time - I know that most of the flowers have died back and much of the vegetables and fruit have been harvested- and hopefully eaten- but there is something special about the cold frosty mornings, amazing colours from the changing leaves and that indescribable smell you get in the dark evenings of woodsmoke, earth and cold air!

This was epitomised for our family over the half term week as we went to a cottage in the Lake District - a place I had never been to before and can’t wait to return to. We had a fantastic week walking in Grizedale Forest, Tarn Hows, Coniston and Windermere and even my two boys (aged 11 and 14) were enthusiastic each day as we set out to discover new landscapes and gorgeous pub food. Our Golden Labrador thought he had died and gone to doggy heaven with all those long walks!

Being away, however meant that the tidy up in the garden was put off for (another) week so I had to organise myself when I got home by raking leaves and putting them at the bottom of the garden next to the compost heap. I didn’t put them on the compost heap as keeping them separate means that the most amazing leaf mould will be created next year and can then go back on the soil. Weeding seems easier at this time of year as it is clearer to see the weeds among the plants and I have made a point this week of picking many herbs from the herb garden - namely parsley, oregano, thyme and sage and freezing them as they will be killed off after the first frosts and this way I get to use them during the winter!

The darker evenings mean less time in the garden these days but more opportunities to light the wood burner, sit back and make plans for my garden next year by looking through all the gardening catalogues that seem to have dropped on to my doorstop this week.

I leave you this month with some photographs of our trip to the Lakes which I hope you will like.

-- Jane Dubinski

The Nature of Free Food
We all spend hours cultivating our flowers and vegetables, from the sowing of seed in early Spring in the greenhouse, if we are lucky enough to have one, or straight into the warm earth later on in the season. Then we nurture the seedlings giving them water and food to encourage good healthy growth and plant them out, watching over them as if they were our offspring. And then, depending on their type we enjoy the fruits of the harvest be it flower or food.

This is a hugely time consuming hobby and we do it because we love it but it got me thinking that nature does this all on her own, without human intervention and the fruits of her labour are now apparent in the hedgerows, fields, grass verges and in fact any piece of uncultivated land up and down the country. And do you know the good thing about all of this? Free food!

Now I like a bargain as much as the next person, so the thought of all this free food going spare was too much for me this month, so, bowl in hand I ventured out into the country lanes near my house to see what I could find. You don’t have to live in the countryside to find plenty of places where free food is in abundance but you do need to know what you are looking for.

To this end I got myself a book - a shout out for a brilliant book called Hedgerow by John Wright - it’s one of the River Cottage Handbooks - No.7 to be precise and this gives a huge amount of information on all of the edible things you can find just a stones throw from your doorstop (other books are available!)
A word of caution here - please make sure that you don’t trample all over someone else’s land whilst in hot pursuit of the juiciest, plumpest blackberry or damson as there are rules about trespass and theft (hence the reason for buying the book), but you will be totally safe harvesting said blackberries and damsons from the hedgerows in country lanes. Make sure however that you try to visit a less well travelled lane due to pollution of the fruit from car fumes and try to pick the fruit that is higher up rather than at exhaust level. That said there is literally pounds and pounds of blackberries, damsons, plums, edible berries and the like just waiting to be harvested.

So, what to do with all this bountiful treasure when you get home? The obvious candidates for fruit are jams, crumbles, pies, the latter with a large helping of double cream or custard and the great thing about this type of fruit is that you can freeze it really easily and use it throughout the winter months.

One of my favourite ways to use it though is to make fruit liqueur and this is what we have done with the blackberries and damsons we harvested only last weekend. It’s really easy and there are loads of recipes available online but the basics are to prick the fruit (damsons, plus, sloes etc - not necessary for blackberries) and place them in a sterilised container. Add sugar and the alcohol of your choice - I did rum and gin - and then basically stir and leave for three months or longer to turn into the most amazing Christmas tipple. Cheers!

-- Jane Dubinski

Meet the Chooks!


Although not strictly gardening - I thought it would be nice to talk a bit about my lovely chickens this month and encourage any of you out there, thinking of having a “chook” or two to definitely consider it - they are easy to keep, great fun to watch and there is the added bonus of beautiful tasty eggs!

This is my second lots of ‘girls’ as the first batch, which arrived three years ago, have sadly all died - they were rescued by a friend of mine from a battery farm, so were not in particularly good spirits when I got them! So this time I thought I would make sure of what I was buying.

I found a local breeder via the internet and got six lovely girls on POL - now this is short for Point of Lay and means that the chickens are just old enough to start laying eggs - this ensures that you get the most amount of time for eggs during their lives - as they don’t lay forever!

I keep them in a shed, with sawdust and hay inside, which I can lock at night so they can’t get out and Mr Fox can’t get it, but you can keep hens in a much smaller space - in fact there are special houses available to buy, or you could make your own - I am just lucky to have the space for a bigger house! They also have a run - a space fenced off with chicken wire but I also let them free range in the garden as they are brilliant at eating the grubs and pests that get into your plants.

As long as you provide food, water and shelter, they will be happy. I feed them a mixture of layers pellets (special food for hens) and corn with added grit which is needed for them to make strong and healthy shells. They also get lots of vegetable scraps and love lettuce, cabbage, courgettes and tomatoes - don’t give them any cooked food though, as this attracts the rats!

My girls are all named after characters from the BBC series Larkrise to Candleford, and I often sit with a cup of tea in the afternoon watching their antics and talking to them - passers by must think I am mad, but I love it. And as I mentioned before there is an added bonus of tasty eggs - and I mean tasty - with beautiful dark yellow yolks which are superb simply boiled or put into a huge range of other meals - particularly cakes! It kind of makes sense - the chickens eat the grubs so the veggies grow and we get to eat the veggies, sharing them with the chickens. Circle of life stuff, if you know what I mean. Happy gardening.

-- Jane Dubinksi

So much to do in July!

Now I have been so busy with work over the past few weeks that I have slightly neglected the garden - thankfully we now have some rain in East Anglia so all my veggies have been growing away happily on their own! I have remembered to water the tomatoes and cucumbers in the greenhouse though and am now being rewarded with lots of flowers and the beginnings of fruit.

The Tenderstem Broccoli is also coming along well, although I have had to cover it with mesh netting to stop the slugs and cabbage butterflies and I have already started to harvest small carrots and my fabulous new potatoes, grown in bags this year. One of the reasons for “growing you own” is because the vegetables taste so much better and this is particularly true of these two crops - there is nothing better than digging up your spuds, cooking them straight away and then covering them in butter and a spring of mint before serving! The carrots are so tasty they don’t even make it as far as the pot.

Salads are also a great idea at this time of year and if you choose the cut and come again varieties you can have salad leaves on tap whenever you require them. Once other crops have been harvested, salads can easily be sown in the space as they germinate quickly in these sunny/showery conditions and grow quickly - some take as little as three weeks before you can start to eat them.

I always grow sweetcorn - again because it is far superior to that which you can buy in the supermarket and this year is no exception -my plants are coming along and will hopefully be ready next month. The same goes for my runner beans - a ‘dead cert’ with my two boys who will eat their own body weight in beans! Have to wait for next month before harvesting though, but it’s nice to know that things are growing and nearly ready to eat.


Now is a great time to enjoy the garden as well as work in it, so make sure that you put down your hoe and take some time to relax and enjoy all the hard work you put in months ago by sitting out (when the sunshine prevails) with a cuppa or glass of wine!

-- Jane Dubinski

Full Steam Ahead Planting out the Veggie Plot!

I know that in parts of the country there has been quite a bit of rain but here in East Anglia it has been very dry - in fact according to a recent item I read on the BBC website, only 28mm of rain has fallen in this part of the world for the whole of March, April and May, making it one of the driest Springs for over 100 years! Thankfully my water butts are full from the winter rains so I will be using these to water the veg as much as possible in the coming weeks and if I have to use the hose I will do so sparingly, aiming it at the roots of each plant, rather than over the whole of the beds.
Most of my vegetable plants had been growing on in the greenhouse but now that the soil has warmed up I have planted them out into the vegetable beds so they can really get established. First up was my sweetcorn, which needs to be planted in blocks rather than rows to aid pollination, so I have put this in a bed on its own.

My beans and courgettes have also been planted out and, to help establish these water hungry plants, I dug a trench and put newspaper soaked in water in the bottom before planting as this will encourage the roots to go deeper and provide a good start for the plants.

It’s not too late to plant out beans if you haven’t been able to start them in the greenhouse, as these can go straight into the soil at this time of year, so I have also put a bean seed in the ground next to each plant to ensure a bumper crop of runners and french beans - these are favourites in our house and you can’t beat home grown.

Of course planting all of these juicy young vegetable plants means that the juicy fat slugs will think dinner has certainly arrived and they can be very difficult to control, particularly at this time of year. There are different ways to deal with these revolting creatures including beer traps, copper tape and eggshells but I have to confess that I use slug pellets (the only non-organic bit of my gardening ethos) as I find these to be the most effective - there is nothing worse that taking all the trouble to grow tender young plants only to find them eaten overnight so I don’t take the chance!
Other crops need to be covered, particularly any members of the brassica family, so my Tenderstem broccoli now has a fine mesh net over it to stop cabbage white butterflies laying their eggs and hundreds of caterpillars eating my plants before my very eyes - let’s hope that’s not the case this year!

It’s full steam ahead in the greenhouse as well, with tomatoes and cucumbers planted into grow bags and canes put in to train them up when they really start to grow. I love this time of the year as it feels like the calm before the storm - everything is starting to get established and there will be lots of lovely veg to look forward to in the coming months - that is assuming that there is enough water to go round but clever use of water butts, washing up water and even bath water should be enough to ensure the veggies flourish!

-- Jane Dubinski

Not an expert, but passionate about vegetables!

Hi there everyone. My name is Jane Dubinski and I have been asked by the very nice people at Town and Country to take part in writing their blog.

As you can see from the title, I am no expert, just a normal person who started growing vegetables to encourage my (then) smaller boys to eat their greens and it seems to have become a bit of an obsession from there! I live in beautiful North Norfolk, having moved from London nearly six years ago and this gives me the space and the opportunity to get growing, but what a season it has been so far!

I am lucky enough to have a greenhouse and raised vegetable beds, which I use for a variety of produce, so I can start things off under glass. I also have an ancient propagator that belonged to my father, but it does the job for veggies such as chillies, cucumbers and courgettes or anything that needs to be started off in a warm environment.

Whilst it has not always been warm in the last few weeks, it has certainly been dry here in East Anglia and this is having a huge impact on tender new plants as they struggle to establish themselves. I have planted carrots, several times now as they haven’t germinated and pots need to be watered twice a day to keep them thriving - the prospect of a hose pipe ban will not be welcome in my household but I wouldn’t be surprised if this happens should the dry weather continue.

Here are some pictures of the garden which should give you an idea of the vegetable plot and I look forward to going into more details next month as the growing season really takes hold. June always heralds the beginning of planting out big style so there will be plenty to do and plenty to talk about.

Until then, however, happy gardening,

Jane x

-- Jane Dubinski