Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Vindication at Last !

Stuart from the Marketing Dept writes ...

I’ve not really ever been much of a gardener ( what an admission), I dabble a bit and definitely start the season with good intentions but as the year goes on I always seem to lose my way.

I also get those begrudging comments of encouragement from the wife, “why didn’t you read the instructions … really helpful!

This year the worm turned, everything I touched seemed to grow and flourish. My Runner beans, French beans, Courgettes, Beetroot, (see how possessive I’ve become), all burst into life, my carrots grew long and straight and my Tomato’s just took over the greenhouse. The Pak Choi was a revelation but I think I need to thin them out next year- any tips gratefully received.

However, my saving grace and salvation came from the humble Damson. Having just moved into our new house I can’t take credit for the planting or nurturing of the trees, they were just part of the fixtures and fittings when we arrived. However it was I who harvested the little beauties and it was I who paraded into the kitchen to announce that from now on, we were to become self-sufficient in Damson Jam!

In a flurry of excitement and activity, the recipe book was read, the saucepans were arranged and the sugar weighed. A peek in the cupboard and hey presto- six Burgon & Ball’s ‘Delicious Jam Jars’, these are great as they can transform a humble jar of jam into something stylish and presentable. 

Everything went well- sort of!  What on earth was a setting point? What did it look like, it tasted nice but I’m a 6ft rugby player and I was never prepared for this. A call to my mother and sanity was restored, eventually the point was reached and the jars filled with a wonderful luscious deep crimson molten goooooo. Labelled and with the lids screwed tight I not only have a wonderfully full larder but also the beginnings of a sustainable source of affordable Christmas presents. For peace of mind may I suggest you download Burgon & Ball’s Harvest Recipe Book before you begin?

At this point I think my wife finally understood why I persisted with the garden and why I wanted to ‘grow my own’. As the jam cooled we couldn’t resist it anymore, spoonful’s later we were busily planning the next kitchen garden adventure- Chutney seems to be the firm favourite – to be continued!

Finally, as a resident of Dorset I have come to love the local speciality- Dorset Apple Cake, I’m sure there are regional variation’s but whatever recipe you follow it’s a great way to use up the apples from the garden. Top Tip the NEW Apple Picker is superb, take a peek; it really helped me to safely reach the ones at the top of the trees.

I’ll let you know how I get on but if you have any recipes you can recommend then please post them back to me.

Happy Gardening and Good Luck in the kitchen.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Spud Harvesting Time for our South East Sales Representative and his special helper!

Jason writes......I have always grown veg from an early age but mostly concentrated on tomatoes, marrows and runner beans. Now with a 3 year old in the household we decided to build a raised bed and give him a say in what we grew for the table.
In February we took Archie to the local garden centre and amongst the basket full of seeds and plants he chose were lettuce, carrots, potatoes, courgettes, pumpkins, peppers and broad beans (the latter being his favourite veg - a 3 year old with very sophisticated tastes!).
We started most of the crops indoors and moved them out when things warmed up a bit.
Now after a few weeks of careful watering we are ready to dig out our first early potatoes.

Out came the Potato Harvesting Scoop and being pirate mad, Archie had great fun sifting for pirate potato treasure which he has now stored safely in his loot sack (or Spud Sack for non pirates!).

The potatoes are fantastic and you can really taste the difference to shop bought. We will definitely be growing these again next year as they are so easy to grow and it's fanstastic to know no herbicides or pesticides have been used on them.

5-A-Day Garden at Hampton Court

Our 5 A Day Garden, which has been delighting visitors to the RHS Wisley Plant Centre since April of this year, moved to Hampton Court last week to entertain and hopefully inspire, the 150,000+ visitors to the worlds biggest flower show.

The aim of the garden is to show how it can be possible to grow enough fruit and veg to provide 2 people with their recommended 5 a day portions, from just 10m2 of growing space.
The key to such heavy cropping is the deep bed method of cultivation - where plants grow in very deep loose soil or compost so the roots are encouraged to grow downwards instead of out and as a result, far greater density of spacing is possible. Our Home Allotment Willow Planters replicate the conditions of the deep bed method as well as allowing greater light to the plants and warmth to their roots.

A wall planner showing the crops we recommend growing and a month by month schedule for planting is available to download from our special website http://www.5adaygarden.co.uk/
We took the opportunity at Hampton Court to vary a little from the schedule and show what an enormous variety of crops you can grow in planters - there were over 64 different varieties on show. Here's a few of my favourites:
the totally delicious and very productive crystal apple cucumber (thanks Bob Flowerdew for your suggestion here)

the striking globe artichoke

and turnips - just ready to harvest

The garden is now back at Wisley - if you get the chance, go. Its a brilliant day out and the gardens are just amazing - but even the shops themselves make a visit worthwhile - and you might get to see the great Tina who grew all the wonderful veg plants in the garden.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Grow Your Own makes an appearance at Glastonbury

Known more for it's music, headlining superstars and wellington boots, this year's Glastonbury festival celebrated it's 40th anniversary, by departing from the traditional and welcoming not only the sunshine but also the Grow Your Own movement.

Throughout the site, an array of colourful flags and banners reminded festival goers about the benefits of self sufficiency. We'd like to congratulate them on their sentiments and indeed their creativity.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Burgon & Ball's Yellow Book Opening

This Sunday is the first open day under the National Gardens Scheme for one of the gardens in the Burgon & Ball stable - this one home of our Chairman Peter Jackson. Peter is completely mad about gardening and all Burgon & Ball tools have been thoroughly field tested in his garden! We think this is about the 27th year he and Pauline have opened the garden and this year it has featured in a beautiful new book - The Gardens of Dorset.

Lots of work goes into making the garden look its best before an opening and I thought I'd share some before and after pictures of cloud pruning topiary bushes. These box bushes have an interesting history - well over 50 years old they were fantastic and huge balls until 2 years ago. Then almost overnight they suddenly collapsed under the weight of their foliage. Various attempts to prop up the stems failed and so the drastic decision was taken to chop away all the green growth, revealing beautiful white stems and start to cloud prune them. Sadly one didn't survive this harsh treatment - but the other 3 did. Year one after the chop and they resembled rather ghostly sculptures. Year 2 and they are now well on their way to being rather marvellous re-incarnations.  The pictures below show one of the original bushes first and then the replacement for the dead one - I think in a couple of years it will have caught up with the other 3.

Friday, 11 June 2010

The best Birthday Cake Ever

Yesterday was my birthday and in time honoured office tradition, my brilliant comrades in arms burst out of the kitchen with a blaze of candles and a lusty rendition of the classic song.

Knowing that I'm probably the only person in the world that doesn't like cake, but that, to me, there is (almost) nothing sweeter than a good tomato this was their birthday offering....

Absolutely perfect!

After Derby Day

Gardening lore has it that the time to trim topiary is after Derby Day. We're often asked about the significance of this timing - the reality is that it's nothing more equine than that the likelihood of a frost being deemed to have passed - across the whole country. While it's a good rule of thumb, gardeners in milder areas may be able to start trimming well before this day, especially given a warm spring.

There's lots of topiary in the garden at B&B HQ so I tend to spread the job out a bit. Having worked my way around the bigger bits I turned, Topiary Shears in hand, to a raggedy bit of hedge I planted a couple of years ago.

The original plan was to create a nice squared up edging to a bed, but the more I looked at it the more I decided this hedge had other plans of it's own....so I decided to go with the flow and we now have the beginings of a free form hedge edge!

A tip for us cheeseparing gardeners; Box topiary for free........box is very easy to root, so if you have any biggish offcuts like these , put them to oneside.

Then pot them up and you should get a reasonable success rate in creating brand new plants.

A couple more tips on topiary:
Don't trim on a very bright sunny day as it has a tendency to turn the cut edges brown.

Do ensure your blades are sharp before you start trimming - the cleaner the less likelihood of disease getting in.

Fertilise after trimming to give your plants an extra boost.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Back from Chelsea

A highlight of our year - the Chelsea Flower Show - and what a year it was, apart from some rain on Saturday and temperatures a little too hot for plant comfort on Press Day, it was the most perfect Chelsea weather imaginable.

We were delighted to win a Certificate of Merit for the "outstanding presentation" of our stand - here's a pic of our old potting shed, complete with about 50 years of genuine dirt on the window!

This is the view of the marvellously tranquil Laurent Perrier garden taken from our stand - not a bad place to work for a week?

The Royal family like to visit the show - this year HRH the Duke of Edinburgh stopped by our stand and we had a little chat about tools - I can confirm that he is extremely charming! Here is a picture of HRH the Queen, clearly enjoying the Show.

As ever it was lovely to meet so many of our customers - here are just a couple of the comments we received:

"They are fabulous tools and I've been pleased with them all - just great!"

"Every year we come to Chelsea and buy one of your tools. We've come to realise we can rely on your tools"

It was especially great to hear from the lady whose town garden isn't big enough for a shed, but who has all her Burgon & Ball tools on display, hanging on hooks under the eves of her porch!

And finally - here are a couple of snaps of breakdown - I wonder where the wheelchair occupant has been turfed out and left?
Great tee shirt....

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Tomatoes setting

Isn't it amazing - from a packet of seeds

to this

in just 10 weeks.

Plants are flowering away like mad and the first fruits are just starting to set.
Tomatoes being almost my very favourite things in the whole world....I couldn't wait to get growing and started these off (admittedly a little on the early side) in February, in the greenhouse, in a wooden seed tray and got almost 100% germination from both varieties - Sungold and Gardeners Delight, varieties very carefully picked from some considerable experience and extensive tastings!
When the seedlings had formed their true leaves and were big enough to handle I transplanted them into individual paper pots. When roots started showing out of the bottom they went lock stock and barrel into 15cm pots before being transplanted into their final home - with 4 plants to each Willow Vegetable and Tomato Planter.
I hadn't banked on quite such germination success and as a result have more plants than I could possibly house in the Tomato House - so I've put 3 in a Grow Bag outside, cunningly disguised with the help of 'Hide Those Ugly Grow Bags' and passed the rest onto friends and family - noting with some delight (detect a hint of smug here?!) that my plants were about 4 times the size of those bought by one friend from the garden centre for £1 each! There's an interesing post in My Tiny Plot this week about waiting for the right night time temperature before planting out (55 degrees) - I put mine out in the grow bag a week ago and so they could well have been set back by the cold nights of the last few days.

To get the best crop it's important to pick out the side shoots that form between a leaf and the main trunk - these are suckers - if left they will develop into mini plants but will take strength from the main trunk, divert sugar from the fruit and turn the plant into a bushy thing that will compete with its neighbours for space and light. There's  a very interesting article on when to pick off the suckers and when it's ok to leave them, here http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/pruning-tomatoes.aspx

I've been playing hunt the sucker every day and pluck away with great relish - how could I have missed this one - I swear it's grown like a triffid overnight!

The plants are all firmly staked and I've used the best tie-ing method I know - our galvanised wire Plant Support Rings.
Simply pull the ring open, wrap it around plant and stem and squeeze back together, Couldn't be easier, doesn't damage the stem and can be quickly taken off and re-used next year.
When a few more fruit have set I'll start feeding them with Organic Tomato Fertiliser.
The smell of the leaves left on my fingers from picking out the suckers is just heavenly and has me nearly drooling in anticipation of a bumper harvest - fingers crossed!

Monday, 10 May 2010

Room for Flowers in the garden

A dull corner of the patio outside my kitchen window had been depressing me for weeks. Time to do something about it, I thought at the weekend - surely the last frosts have gone (as I write I can hear on the radio that it is snowing in Northumberland, and the morning's paper says a week of frosts ahead....).

I've used Euphorbia, with it's wonderful lime green bracts, and orange wallflowers, together with some pots of ready grown (and reduced to £2 a pot!) bright red tulips. A few orange marigolds, a Phormium yellow wave and some red pelargoniums complete the picture.
Already breakfast has been a more cheery affair and my spirits lifted before I head out of the door for the office.....now all I need to do is paint the walls!

Impossibly beautiful - the asparagus pea

Have you heard of it?
Almost certainly you won't have seen it in the supermarkets.
Apparently it's a pea plant, with pods that are eaten whole when about 3-5cm long and it tastes like asparagus. Ticking lots of boxes for me so far, plus it has lovely red flowers. So where's the catch? Is it difficult to grow? Is it, frankly, disgusting?
Certainly it's nothing new - my ancient copy of Peter Seabrook's great veg growing almanac refers to it as a standard veg alongside all other peas.
Curiosity and optimism won the day for me and I sowed some seeds in March.

Here is one today ready for planting out about 8 weeks after sowing - doesn't it look just gorgeous? Like a sort of botanical snowflake.
And this is what it should look like in a few weeks time.

It's now the perfect time to sow direct outdoors so why don't you give it a go? It likes an open sunny spot with light soil - perfect for growing in our Willow Planters - and it doesn't need much by way of support as it grows in a bushy form.
I'll tell you what it tastes like in due course.

Final round up of Winter Salads

The warmer weather we had a couple of weeks ago has sent the last of the winter salads bolting skywards. It was time to dig out my favourite winter providers - Texel Greens and Corn Salad (Lambs Lettuce) - this is the last pic of the salad jungle.

I couldn't bear to waste all that lovely home grown greenery but separating leaves from tough stalks would have taken about a week so I put the lot in a pot with some gently fried onions and stock and boiled for about 15 mins before sieving it to get the stringy woody stalky bits out - it made a huge amount of the most delicious and beautifully green, soup.
Other winter stalwarts that faced the chop were spinach (which also made the pot).
Winter purslane (which also made the pot) - and look at those amazing little flowers forming out of the centre of the leaf!
And finally red ribbed dandelions, which while looking lovely didn't taste the same (to me at least) and will not be making a comeback in winter 2010.

Monday, 22 March 2010

It's time to get sowing (a posting from Maria in Sales Admin and her husband Phil)

Has spring finally arrived? The woodpeckers in our nearby woods are active - their drumming clearly audible over the sound of the neighbours labouring lawnmowers! The daffodils are late and the tits are still hunting for a suitable nest site. Despite all this seasonal confusion gardening must go on and the seeds must be planted (under glass of course!) so I was out in the garden at last, with my husband Phil.

Now in the past, Phil, a creative sort of chap, has utilised a small off-cut of chipboard to level and firm the compost in the trays ready for a neat sowing -this simple action ensures the seeds get the best possible start. But the aforesaid piece of old chipboard has now been consigned to the compost heap (yes chipboard is compostable) as our Burgon & Ball Square Seed Tray Tamper now takes pride of place. It's actually a rather satisfying job and it's convenient wooden handle makes the job so much easier - wonder if its any good for flattening pastry?!
A note from Phil - whichever word you choose - tight, careful or penny wise - I don't believe in spending money frivolously so in the past I always pinched one of my wife's old flour sieves to dust newly planted seed trays with the thinnest covering of soil, mind you it's got such fine holes that the compost often clogged and if it was at all damp then forget it!
And then I discovered the benefit of using the proper tools - Maria sourced a Burgon & Ball Potting Riddle for me and now my compost is always fine, free of those strange lumps (what are they?!) and it never clogs. Oh happy days when you find out that, as an old dog, you can indeed learn new tricks!

The Hawley Tool Collection at Kelham Island

The variety of tools in production in the earlier parts of the last century was extra-ordinary. Burgon & Ball alone produced over 90 different patterns of hoe head - pretty much one for every county, vegetable and colonial country. Here's a little selection!

The great Yorkshireman Ken Hawley has amassed an incredible collection of over 100,000 tools and tool ephemera over the last 50 or so years and now we can all see (at least some of) it! Last Tuesday I went along to the opening of the Hawley Collection at the brilliant and award winning, Kelham Island Museum in Sheffield. If you're ever in Sheffield, go, because there are some truely jaw dropping pieces of industrial kit, in working order, plus lots of engaging pastiche's from the bygone times of tool and cutlery production in Sheffield.

On my way out I way drawn by the most beautiful sweet sound, some kind of musical instrument I've never heard before. Transfixed, I followed my ears until I found the source - the Yorkshire Saw Player.  The sound (especially played in the echo-ey interior of this old industrial building) was haunting and ethereal - and made by drawing a bow along a saw. Another one to snap up the chance to experience if you possibly can.

Cutting back and Composting

Just when it seemed that nothing was ever going to start growing we get a few days of a little more warmth and there's action all round. Poor sedum pushing it's way through all that old dead growth.....

Time to cut off last seasons growth in the herbaceous border and get some compost down.
My compost heap is the favoured place for ivy runners from the boundary of our garden - consequently extracting the compost needs some careful work to ensure the little pink roots don't make it into the wheelbarrow and off for a holiday to the flower beds to start a new family. This year I determine to be more vigilant about controlling the ivy........ha ha!

When I first started making compost I was dismayed that it didnt come out of the heap looking the same as the compost that comes out of a sack - all uniformly dark brown with no big bits. Action is certainly faster since I started adding bacterial Compost Accelerator but I also now know that the job of making your own compost doesn't stop with spading it out of the heap - it takes lots of rubbing between your fingers and quite a bit of judicious sending back to the heap of the odd stick. But the smell - wow - earthy, musty, just like a walk in the woods in the autumn - probably something only gardeners would love, hmm maybe a new range of gardeners scented candles and room sprays ....Compost No. 5'?

Friday, 12 March 2010

A Blank Canvas for a new Garden – (a posting from Nicola in the design department)

We moved into our flat in October, and until now, have not done anything in the garden, but with the weather being bright and sunny last weekend we felt that it was time to get outside and make a start.

On Saturday our garden had four things living in it:

1. A Leylandii Tree
2. A Plum Tree
3. A Shrub (yet to be identified)
4. Alfie (our cat)

By Sunday it only had three...

I have never been keen on leylandii trees and hedges. Our garden is fairly small and this particular one was taking up a lot of space. In fact it was so wide that it was almost completely concealing the plum tree, so I made the decision that it had to go.

This is the first tree I have cut down so, pruning saw in hand, I decided that it would be best to start by cutting the foliage back to the main trunk. I started with the low down branches and worked my way up. This seemed to work well and was a lot easier than I thought it would be.

When I had cut back all of the branches I could reach, I used a ladder to get to the higher branches. When I couldn't reach any more branches from the top of the ladder it was time to saw through the main trunk (with assistance from the boyfriend).

Twenty bags of foliage down the recycling centre later, and the job was done. The plum tree now has much more space to grow so I am hoping for a bumper crop later in the year.