Three Things Thursday: 28 July 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Nerd in the Brain (and others) for Three Things Thursday’. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

First, last week’s unexpected sunflower has been providing even more joy by attracting bees to the limery. I am very careful to ensure that they find their way outdoors again after they have taken their fill.


bumbling around

Second, we finally have a melon developing on one of the vines in the limery… there have been lots of false starts, but this one looks like it’s actually going to turn into an edible fruit. The variety is Green Nutmeg and it came from the Heritage Seed Library.


it’s looking promising

Third, an heirloom. My mum has passed on the family’s ancient brass jam kettle to me. My dear friend Alfred mended my stainless steel pan a couple of months ago, but now I can do twice as much preserving.


just needs a bit of a clean

So that’s it for this week. What are you feeling grateful for?

Three Things Thursday: 21 July 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Nerd in the Brain (and others) for Three Things Thursday’. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

First, unplanned plants. I do love an unexpected visitor in the garden and, in this particular case, in the limery. Some of the seed that we put out for the birds must have got into the potting compost, because one of my pepper plants has a companion. I nearly weeded it out when I first noticed it, but then I thought how lovely it would be if it flowered… and how right I was:

Second, the ‘big 50’. Not quite my birthday yet (although that will be happening in a few months time) but swimming. Since I started in mid-January, I have been swimming 50 times. I swim a minimum of a kilometre every time I go, so I’ve swum quite a long way this year. My annual pass has been a great investment and, in fact I’m close to having covered the cost already.

Third, swapsies! I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was swapping my knitting skills for some yarn. The deal is that I knit Kathryn some socks and she sends me some of the yarn that she is no longer able to use. So far I am up on the deal as the yarn to knit up, plus my ‘payment’ arrived yesterday. As well as the commercially produced yarn, Kathryn also sent me a little of the yarn she spins herself, which is lovely. I have a trip away at the end of next week, so Kathryn’s socks will be on my needles for that.

So that’s it for this week. What are you feeling grateful for?

A new page

Just a quick note to say that the ‘masterpiece’ squares will all appear on the special page I have set up for just this purpose. You can follow this link, or click on Masterpiece in the bar at the top of any of my blog pages.

Design: High Bank

Sunflower granny square (pattern here)

Three out of four ain’t bad

Now, if I had stuck to a ‘three sisters‘ planting, as is normal, I would have been able to quote Meatloaf and tell you that ‘two out of three ain’t bad‘, but since I upped the ante, I’ve had to paraphrase.

The four sisters crop

The four sisters crop

You may recall that I tried a ‘four sisters‘ planting this year, adding sunflowers to the traditional mix of beans, corn and squash. The sunflowers were self-seeded from the bird feed, so were something of a bonus, but have turned out to be remarkably prolific. We have managed quite a few squashes (not bad for about four square metres), lots of runner beans – both fresh pods and seeds for drying – but once more the corn has been a disappointment. Despite growing flint corn rather than sweetcorn, and having a really sunny summer, few of the cobs are full.

So, what do I conclude? Well, corn is too unreliable to put much effort into, but I like the combination of beans and squashes, especially since the latter are so good at suppressing weeds. The beans make use of vertical space and so the squashes don’t seem to have to be planted at a reduced density compared to planting them on their own. I’m not convinced that the sunflowers were a particularly good variety for my needs, but they were easy to grow and successful and they were an accident this year, andI can be more selective in the future

Next year my three sisters will comprise squash and courgettes, beans (var. The Czar, again) and sunflowers (probably naked ones, such as var. Lady Godiva)

The four sisters


Sunlight streams through the willow hedge onto the ‘four sisters’

When I wrote about the ‘three sisters‘ planting that I did earlier in the year, I promised I would report on how it has progressed. Well, the situation so far is good – beans are flowering, we have already harvested our first courgettes and the flint corn is shooting up. However, I have to confess that I introduced an extra sister into the mix by including sunflowers, and these too are doing well.

You may be wondering about the sunflowers and I have to admit that growing them was unintentional (although not unwelcome). We feed a mix containing sunflower seeds to the wild birds in the garden. Earlier in the year I left a tub-trug containing compost near to one of the window feeders and clearly not all of the seeds that the birds dislodged got eaten. Thus, when I planted my intentional seeds in pots, I got some sunflowers too. Never liking to let anything go to waste, I planted these in with the three sisters combination of corn, curcurbits (courgette and squash) and beans. And, my word they are doing well. No only that, but my transplants have been joined by some self-seeded individuals (volunteers) that have appeared directly in the bed.

The UK is currently experiencing very sunny weather, so I have high hopes for this bed, although I can’t see any winter squash fruit setting yet, and the female flowers on the corn are only just appearing. It certainly looks like there will be a good harvest of both beans and courgettes anyway, and I’ll let you judge the prospects for the fourth sister:

Good morning sunflower!

Good morning sunflower!

Any volunteers?

Have you ever grown potatoes? Or Jerusalem artichokes? Or oca? If so, it’s likely that you still are! Unless you are VERY thorough in harvesting, there are always a few tubers left behind that manage to grow again next year. At this rate, I think we will probably have potatoes and oca growing in every bed of our garden in the next few years… we don’t like Jerusalem artichokes*, so they are absent.

Calendula seed themselves every year in our garden

Such unplanned plants are often referred to as ‘volunteers’ and they can be a real bonus. Of course, in a meticulously planned garden you might not want to have a squash plant rampaging across your flower beds or garlic interfering with bean production (apparently legumes do not grow so well in the presence of members of the onion family), but they can also be an unexpected treat. I always allow the self-sown pot marigolds (Calendula) to establish as they attract beneficial insects, particularly hoverflies. When clearing beds  after one crop we regularly come across potatoes and if we don’t find them the chickens often dig them up… providing us with an unplanned meal or two. Potatoes also appear from the compost heap – frequently at unexpected times of the year because of the warm conditions. These must originate from peelings and are always welcome. One year we even got volunteer carrots between the paving stones… I have no idea how this happened as I NEVER grow carrots!

A volunteer sunflower from the bird seed

Perhaps my favourite volunteer this year is a sunflower derived from the bird seed. I have never grown sunflowers in our current garden, so its appearance has been an unexpected pleasure and it is currently attracting lots of insects – particularly bees. A second one has also appeared. Both are in the squash bed and have been joined by several brassicas… not sure what, but we’re eating the leaves like kale (they’re always edible that way).

New sunflower and a brassica in the squash bed

Often, volunteers are vigorous plants; after all, they are growing in a place that must be suitable for them otherwise they wouldn’t have survived there. If you find such plants at an early stage and you really don’t want them where they are growing, you can always transplant them – tomatoes and squashes really don’t seem to mind too much being moved and you can minimise disturbance by taking a good root ball with you. But my inclination is, where possible, to leave them… it adds to the diversity of beds and prevents the garden becoming too regimented. I love the idea of plants thriving in the right place for them, like in a natural ecosystem, even though I know that I really do have to exert some control!


* It may interest you to know that Jerusalem artichokes are being used as a biofuel crop because they are so easy to propagate, grow on land unsuitable for many other crops and produce so much biomass (the average fresh tuber biomass is estimated to be 45-90 tonnes per hectare – thanks to the Molecular Ecology Group at Lanzhou University, China for this information). Mr Snail-of-happiness is delighted about this alternative use, as he hates the taste of them with a passion!

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