Category Archives: April

Help…l need a veg plot!

Quick update: we have moved again and this time we have a ‘real’ garden. A lovely garden with a shed, mature shrubs and trees which back onto a lovely river. BUT…and there always seems to be a but, this garden is not mine. We are renting and although there is space to have a small plot our landlord does not want me to start digging up his grass for him.

I can’t blame him as we might only be here for 6 months. We would buy this house if he would let us but he has no wish to sell at the moment. So the house hunt continues. It leaves me, however, deprived of a veg plot and at this time of the year my heart is yearning! The waiting list for an allotment is 4 years.

I have been looking at some of your blogs and l am so envious to see your rhubarb, leeks, tomato plants and purple sprouting broccoli etc growing away. My beautiful veg plot is the single biggest thing l miss most about leaving France. Although l must admit to enjoying the extra time off l have from not having to tend to a plot and large garden, on balance l would still like to have a small plot; just enough to grow the basics without it feeling too much of a burden. I have learnt from my mistakes of taking too much on at once.

I have said this in previous posts, but without a real plot to tend l find it difficult to write this particular blog. I could, of course, just write up on Mr Middleton’s experiences in the interim and at least that would keep my blog ‘alive’. It just might satisfy my need to have a plot or it could make the whole situation far worse which is what l am afraid of.

I will give it more thought but what is spurning me on are not just your lovely comments but the huge number of hits l get every day. People are looking in and so l do feel l should not disappoint.I will look through his books again and see what l can come up with!

In the meantime, you lucky lot with budding plots, take it easy and enjoy the fruits and veg of your labours.


Posted by on April 23, 2012 in April


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My Garden

I thought l would add a few photos of the garden as it is not normally quite so weed free but with the long hot dry spell the weeds are slow in returning.

The potager

The potager takes up half of the garden. The other half is made up of two large round grassed areas suroounded by various shrubs, grasses, trees and flowers. The beehive is actually a compost bin l made some years ago following a Geoff Hamilton design. It fools everybody!

Looking back to the house

The garden is made up of deep-beds with paths made up of crushed sea-shells. I don’t use weed-killer on these paths but hoe them all as and when. The hot, dry April is making it very hard to get the seeds going. I soak the row first before putting in the seeds hoping this gives them a head start but l am having to water every 2 or 3 days or else l would loose most things.

First showing of the peas

The peas are a bit slow emerging but l am sure they will be romping away now. In front l made a small sowing of lettuce ‘cut and come again’.

Bean poles

I have been soaking a load of willow over the past week or so and today l weaved some btween the bean poles to give the beans something extra to climb up and make the whole structure a bit stronger. Mrs Hunt finished off the other side and l have to say she made a far better job of it than l did! Did you know its National Bean Pole Week?

Catch crop of Lettuce

I planted up a catch-crop of lettuce in-between the bean poles. These will be ready by the time the beans have got to the top of the poles. It just uses up what would otherwise be a waste of good soil.

Broad Beans

The broad beans are flowering well and look set to provide a good crop but the leaves are being eaten by something. It’s not the dreaded blackfly so not sure what it is.

Early potatoes

The early potatoes l put in not so long ago keep appearing above the soil l earth up over them. I have almost run out of soil so they will now have to take their chance if there is a frost. My greenhouse is fit to bursting with courgettes, pumpkins, squash, runner beans and tomatoes that really need to be planted out but if there is a frost, and there well could be, l stand to loose the lot!

Sweet-pea wigwam

I made up this willow wigwam today as well. I planted a couple of cucumber plants either side and the rest will be planted up with Sweet Peas. This area still needs a lot of work as it is the herb garden and needs a lot of sorting out. The ground is really hard here so might wait until after it has rained.

The weekly jottings of Mr Middleton for the 4th week in April and the weeks of May were covered last year but l will be looking at the Dig for Victory leaflets and see what they have to tell us.I have been making some purchases on ebay over the past few weeks of old WW2 Dig for Victory memorabilia. There are some serious buyers out there and one small leaflet recently fetched nearly £70.00! More details on another post.


Posted by on April 27, 2011 in April, The garden


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Easter Sowing, Planting and Cooking!


This is a very active period in the garden. Many sowings are made outside of the hardier things, while the less hardy are raised inside and hardened off for planting when frost is past.

1. Pot Sweet Corn.- Do not let sweet corn, sown in small pots, get root bound, but transfer to 5-in. pots.A greatly increased interest has been shown in this delicacy since our American allies came over. Unfortunately its successful culture is limited to the south and midlands, though it has been grown quite well in protected gardens further north.

2. Prepare Tomatoes for Outdoors.- Tomatoes being raised for outdoor growing should be pricked out and potted on if ready. Try to time them so as to be a foot high and ready for planting out at the end of May or early in June. Adequate stakes or ties must be provided for each plant. As they go, remove all side shoots, which arise in the axils of the leaves. Use a rabbit’s tail to fertilize the flowers, particularly early in the year.

Sow vegetable marrows now in the greenhouse. Push the seeds singly into small pots. They must not be planted out of doors till May, when the danger of sharp frost is over.

3. Make up Celery Trenches.-  Celery trenches should be made up now to allow time for settling down before planting. A thick layer of manure should be placed in the bottom and soil placed over it.The trench should be 10-in. deep, and the surplus soil rounded off at the sides to provide a growing place for lettuce, or beans etc. and for blanching the celery later. The trenches should be 12-15-in. wide for a single row, but at least 18-in. for a double row.

Most of the winter greens should be sown now, such as pre-Christmas broccoli, kales, etc.

4. Spray Apples and Pears.- Apples and |Pears should be given their second anti-scab spray.

5. Planting Work.- Plant out broad beans if they have been delayed. Plant out cauliflowers for succession, and make successional sowings of turnips and beet. Continue potato planting. Turn over the land as greens are used. Hoe between outside crops.

So, l hope you all have your Rabbit’s tail to hand and will be busy fertilizing those tomato flowers with it! I will be planting the last of my potatoes today it being traditional to plant potatoes on Good Friday. Why? I have no idea. Just tradition l guess. Instead of the celery trench l will be digging two trenches for my runner beans and put in the stakes at the same time. We get some vicious winds here, being close to the coast, so they need to be pretty rigid.

Yesterday, Mrs Hunt and l spent a few hours in the kitchen and did some baking. I had a go at making Hot Cross Buns.

Salter scales and pastry cutters

I used my old Salter scales that l bought for a couple of euros on a car boot sale from a fellow ex-pat. She threw in the pastry cutters as well which has a complete set inside the tin. Not sure of the date but could be 40’s or 50’s?

I got the recipe for Hot Cross Buns from the ever reliable Delia Smith.

Hot Cross Bun mix

Sure its easier to nip into Tescos and buy 6 for a £1.00 or whatever but apparently nothing quite beats the taste of a home baked bun. Its just the same for home grown veg then.

The end result

Ah, divine! Even if l say so myself! Have a great Easter and Happy Gardening!


Posted by on April 22, 2011 in April, Cooking


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Filling the Salad Bowl

I have to share this timely snippet from Mr Middleton’s book written 70 years ago in 1941 ‘Your Garden in Wartime’:

April. Filling the Salad Bowl.

I hope you are having a good time with the seed packets, and not wasting too much time watching to see if the things are coming up. One of the first things l want to talk about today is the salad bowl. We are all interested in food values just now, and later on we shall all be eating beans and carrots and potatoes, and getting as fat as pigs if we are not careful. So to balance the diet, and keep ourselves fit, we are told we must eat plenty of green leaves, and we must eat them raw, not cooked, because cooking destroys some of the mysterious substances called vitamins which we hear so much about. There are several of them, and by all accounts they are very necessary and important, they help to digest the other food, keep your eyes bright and your complexion clear, and prevent your hair falling out. In fact, the vitamins do us more good and keep us in better health than a daily dose of medicine.

Mr Middleton goes on to say that most vitamins are found in green leaves and especially lettuce leaves stating ‘So if you want to keep fit, eat plenty of lettuce’. There is an element of truth in that even today l suppose but we know a lot more regarding our health and realise that lettuce leaves are not a magic ‘cure all’! They contribute towards a healthy diet but exercise plays its part too, as he goes on in telling us how to grow them:

The first thing to remember about lettuces, and indeed all salads, is that we want crisp tender leaves, which means they must be grown quickly without checks or delays in good soil that does not get dry. You can’t grow nice tender lettuces on shallow, dry soil in the hot baking sun. Apart from that, they are very accommodating, you can grow them among the other crops alongside the celery trench, or in any odd corner so long as there is some good soil there….the way to keep up a nice, steady supply is to make very small sowings, just a short row, about once a week from now till the middle of August….you can sow the seed sparingly in drills, half an inch deep, and thin them out when they come up to nine inches apart, or you can sow them on the seed-bed and transplant them when ready.

Some of the old varieties he suggests trying are: cabbage types: Trocadero, Continuity, and Commodore Nutt and cos or tall varieties: Balloon Giant White and Jumbo. I haven’t come across these varieties but perhaps a heritage seed company still stocks them.

He tells us that ‘ the main thing with lettuces, and all other salads, is not to let them get too dry. I don’t believe in watering vegetables as a rule, but salads are different, you can’t get tender, juicy leaves if the roots are dry’.


Posted by on April 20, 2011 in April, The garden


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A Spring in my Step

Mr Middleton says : Pruning blackcurrants, raspberries, and other plants consists of removing old to make room for new.

April- 2nd Week

1. Finish Onion Planting.- Finish onion planting as soon as possible. Onions thrive best on a bed which is rich and firm, and do not like loose and newly dug soil. Sow onions for salad purposes if not already done.

2. Sow Spinach and Peas.– Spinach can be sown outside. A good variety for now is the Long Standing Round, which does not run to seed so readily as the ordinary round type.

A successional sowing of peas should be made. Sow at intervals of a fortnight to keep up a supply right trough the summer.

3. Sow Radish and Lettuce Outdoors. – Sow radish out of doors., choosing a position between rows of cabbage or cauliflowers, or between peas and beans. This quick-growing crop can be grown and matured before the other vegetables are fully grown, so this is a good way to use the wide pieces of land between the rows. The method is known as inter-cropping, and is a way of getting more than one crop from a piece of land. Lettuce can be so used too, and plants can be put out now.

4. Fertilize Potatoes and Plant More.– Draw a little soil up to the potatoes planted during last month, which are showing. Apply a dressing of a potato fertilizer between the rows and mix it with the soil when drawing it up. Plant more potatoes.

5. Sow Salsify, Chicory, Runner Beans.– Salsify can be sown now. Chicory can be sown for forcing in winter. Runner beans, which will not stand frost, may be sown in boxes and brought on in a cold frame to be planted when danger of frost is past.

6. Plant Out Cabbage and Spouts.- Plant out cabbages and Brussels sprouts. The sooner the sprouts are out and growing the better.

7. Sow Carrots and Turnips.– Sow long-rooted carrots. Suitable varieties are St. Valery (which is an excellent show carrot, being smooth), Altrincham and Long Red Surrey. Sow six-week turnips.

8. Spray Fruit Bushes and Trees.- Spray blackcurrants for mite and gooseberries for American gooseberry mildew. Spray cherries for aphis.

9. Look to Frames.– Harden off brassicas, etc, in frames. All lights should be off now.

Purple Sprouting Brocolli

We are still eating the Purple-Sprouting broccoli l grew last year. Its delicious and certainly rivals asparagus for a early spring crop. The salsify and parsnips have been excellent too. We have lived off Spicy Parsnip soup this winter! There are still some in the ground but will probably be a bit woody now as they have sprouted tons of new growth and look like they need a good haircut.

The Greenhouse

I sowed my first crop of peas about 2 weeks ago and they are just coming through now, although the slugs look like they are having a feast on the succulent young tips. I have put some netting up for support but will use some sticks on the others l sow as it looks much better and provides a more solid frame for the peas to climb up.

Pea supports

My radish and lettuce are going great guns. I am determined, this year, to have a healthy succession of salads throughout the summer. So far, so good!

Young radish

No signs of my early potatoes so far. I am growing them in the old traditional way ie. in trenches and then earthed-up. I planted them under plastic last year but the slugs also live there and had a bit of a feast. Also, it is difficult to water them in a drought, which we experienced last year.

Over-wintered Swiss Chard

I sowed my runner beans in pots last week and are in the unheated greenhouse. No signs yet.

I also sowed 4 long rows of carrots this week so should have a good supply of young sweet carrots in a couple of months. I love eating them when they are very small.

My squash, courgettes and pumpkins have all germinated. Just have to keep the dreaded snails off them now.

Young Squash, Courgettes and Pumpkins

Have a great weekend and Happy gardening!


Posted by on April 15, 2011 in April, The garden


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One Year On…

There is no more peaceful spot on earth than an English garden, and for some years you and l have been building up our little flower gardens, making them more beautiful, more intimate, and more than ever an essential part of our homes. But grim times are with us, and under stress of circumstances we are now called on to reorganise those gardens, and turn them into munition factories; for potatoes and beans are munitions of war as surely as are bullets and shells; and the gardeners of England can do much to help the nation in its hour of need.

And so says Mr Middleton in his introduction to ‘Your Garden in War-Time’ which Aurum Press have just re-printed. It was originally printed back in 1941 and Britain was in the thick of it; Britain’s cities were being bombed and food was becoming increasingly scarce with the Atlantic convoys under attack from German U-Boats. The need to ‘Dig for Victory’ was as necessary as ever before.

Not much has changed in 2011. A new Government coalition and its strict measures to cut the deficit is having a massive knock on effect with the economy in general. Will it work? Who knows. To me it seems to be too much, too soon. For many people the need to make their own cut backs is just as relevant today as it was back then. And for many, so to is their enthusiasm to continue to Grow their Own.

Trends and fads come and go but the sale of vegetable seeds continues to far outstrip the sale of flower seeds as does the increasing demand on councils for new allotments proving this trend is here to stay for some time to come.

With our decision to return to Blighty my vegetable garden will not be in full production this year. Instead, l have decided to grow crops that we will benefit from this season ie. salads, peas, beans, carrots, potatoes, herbs, squash and tomatoes. It’s enough to be going on with! Fingers crossed and with a fair wind we will sell our cottage this year and be able to start a new life in England.

And no, l have no idea what l will do at this stage as to what l will do when l return or where exactly we will return to! We have a few irons in the fire so will see what comes about. We wish we could pick this cottage up and take it back with us! Along with with my veg plot, of course!

The weather here has been exceptionally warm and dry making the ground hard. When it is like this l find it is better, when sowing seeds, to pour water into the channel you make for your seeds first, let it drain then sprinkle your seeds into it and cover as normal. It gives them a good head start and once they have come through you can water as normal if necessary.

So, with that, l am off to sow the rest of my crops. Its a great time of the year. Happy gardening!

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Posted by on April 14, 2011 in April


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I’m Back!

So sorry for the lapse in postings for the past 8 months or so but a lot has happened in between. The main one being we have decided to move back to dear old Blighty! We have lived out here in France for the past 7 years and it has been a great adventure for us. We have seen and done things we thought we never would have done, and probably wouldn’t had we stayed in England.

However, we both feel the time is right for us to return and so our cottage is for sale. We are not in a hurry to go back, in fact we would quite like to have the summer here as that is the best time here in Brittany. In fact, our local town, Paimpol, hosts the Chant de Marin this year and special guests are Simple Minds and The Chieftans! So looking forward to that!

As we don’t know how long it is going to take to sell our cottage, l have decided to continue, as best l can, with the vegetable garden. By that, l mean, sowing short term crops for the summer and autumn. I have a mental block about sowing seeds for winter crops as l want to believe we will be back by then!

So, l will resume my postings and the following of Mr Middleton’s advice. I have some new books of his too so will be using those over the coming months. Happy Gardening.



Posted by on April 12, 2011 in April, The garden


Things to do with nettles

I love this link from The Daily Telegraph web site. I made Nettle Soup a few years ago and it was delicious. Back in the War Years people foraged far more than they do today but with people like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall it is becoming a fashionable thing to do again. Roll on September and Blackberry time!

Top Ten Uses for Nettles


Posted by on April 29, 2010 in April, Cooking, The garden



Sow, Plant and Hoe


Mr Middleton says: All pruning should have a purpose. If you don’t know why you are cutting a shoot, don’t cut it.

1. Sow Calabresse, Pickling Onions and Garlic.- Calabresse can now be sown in the outside seed bed. This is a form of cauliflower which provides a green head in summer and, when this is cut, produces shoots for winter use. Pickling onions can be sown. Queen Pickling or Silverskin Pickling are good varieties. Put the seeds in thinly on the onion bed. Shallots should be growing now and will benefit from a dressing of general fertilizer hoed in between the rows. Onions planted out in March and now established can also have a light fertilizer dressing. Garlic may be planted in exactly the same wayas shallots, except that the old bulbs are first broken up and the small sections planted separately.

3. Plant first leeks.- The first leeks should be planted now for those that are exhibiting or who like to have them early. Exhibitors must prepare their soil especially well, using manure and fertilizer. Leeks do like a rich soil. There are two ways of growing them- in trenches and in holes. The trench method is best for the exhibitor. It is made in the same way as a celery trench and is about 6-in. deep. The plants are put in 2- or 3-in. deep in single or double rows. As the plants grow they are earthed up with soil to produce well-blanched stems.

6. Earth-up Potatoes: Prepare Marrow Beds.-

9. Sow, Plant and Hoe.- Make any necessary successional sowings. Prick out celeriac  sown earlier. Dress shallots with fertilizer. Prepare outdoor tomato sites. Plant out parsley. Thin out Salsify to 6 in. Hoe around fruit trees and bushes.

This poster seems apt in the run up to the election.

I made some sowings of Early and Late Purple Sprouting Broccoli two weeks ago and they are just starting to appear, as are the Ruby Chard, carrots and Spinach. The ground is very dry now and l have had to water the seedlings to try and help them along but they never seem to respond the same way as when they have a drop of proper rain. Today was hot and sunny and it looks set to remain the same.

I am moving things out of the greenhouse and hardening them off outside. My leeks are too small to be planted outside yet but another two weeks should see them big enough. I have some Salsify seed and l will make a sowing this week. The garlic l started in October last year has really come on but… has the dreaded rust! Every year is the same and l think this will be the last time l try growing it. Its not worth the effort or the space it takes up in my plot that could be used for other crops. I can already see l won’t have enough room for everything l want to grow; its the same every year!


Posted by on April 29, 2010 in April, The garden, Uncategorized


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Mr Middleton talks about Gardening

I managed to successfully bid on an old book by Mr Middleton on ebay and l now have it in my possession.

Front cover

It doesn’t have its dust jacket and there is a small burn mark on the cover, probably when someone who was smoking was so engrossed in reading the latest gardening advice.

He looks a real character and l love the way he has his trousers so high up; very Simon Cowell!

Note how later editions become the ‘cheaper editions’!

So, at 68 years old, how does the book stand up to current gardening advice? Well, very good as it turns out with some lovely stories from letters that he had been sent in from the general public. I will be using this book a lot and upon closer inspection l have noticed that the text in the calendar has been taken from this book.

So what has he got to say for the month of April?

Reminders for April

Anybody heard the cuckoo yet? Neither have l; but still l suppose he ought to be about due now. And the spring flowers are also due, and there is  a blue lining to the grey skies, so prepare to get busy. Presently the garden will be such a blaze of glory that we shall be able to forget about Jack Frost and muddy boots and spades, and have nothing to do but revel in the scent of wallflowers and daffodils.

He goes on to talk about beetroot, salads, pests and fruit and finishes with this:

And, by the way, if you are putting up any rustic work- as so many of you are- do make a good job of it. There is far too much flimsy stuff going up all over the place. And be careful to remove the bark from the poles; especially from the top cross-pieces. When l first built my rustic arbour l didn’t trouble to take the bark off- l never thought of it, as a matter of fact; and a couple of summers ago we had a lady staying with us, and she was sitting uner the arbour with the roses all round her, doing her knitting, and l think her mind was drifting into the realms of poetry or romance or something like that, and all was peace. All of a sudden she let off such a yell- it must have been heard all over the neighbourhood- threw her knitting in one direction and herself in another, then rushed indoors, and we didn’t see her again for an hour or two. An earwig had dropped down her back. In due course l discovered that the loose bark on the rustic work was responsible- it was full of the beastly things, and if l had only taken the bark off when l put the rustic work up, that tragedy would have been avoided. So there’s no reason why you should make a similar mistake, after a warning like that, is there?

More next month!


Posted by on April 23, 2010 in April, The garden


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