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Winter Strawberry Flowers

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Yesterday, during one of my regular trips to the compost heap to empty the teapot, I noticed a couple of tiny strawberry flowers:

Winter Strawberry Flowers

Earlier in the autumn I cut the strawberry plants down, ready to plant more in the spring, but a few weeks later some of them had started to regrow. The warm autumn might have confused the plants but I didn't expect flowers to start appearing during the winter.

Giant Squash Plant

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A couple of years ago I tried to grow Butternut Squash and one of the plants did quite well and we got 2 squash off it. This year I haven't had a single squash but the plant has grown huge and taken over half of the garden. It has covered the leeks, carrots and shallots so our crop of those has been very poor too.

Giant Squash Plant

The recent warm weather seems to have confused some of the other plants in the garden. I recently cut down one of the pepper plants and the wild strawberry plants but some small green shoots have appeared. I expect the strawberries to do ok over the winter but I will probably have to put the pepper somewhere sheltered to see if it survives the winter to give it a good head start in the spring.

I am still getting tomatoes and chilli peppers from the garden although things are ripening quite slowly now. At least those two crops have been successful this year and I have made roast tomato soup several times, often adding some other veg, such as peppers and courgettes, to the roasting pan.

Giant Sunflowers

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Last month I mentioned the feral sunflowers which appeared in the garden. One of them is now at least 7 feet tall and towers above me so I needed to point the camera upwards to take the photo below.

Giant Sunflower

Purple Poppies

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Last year I sowed some poppy seeds in the far corner of the garden to add a splash of colour. I bought a packet of seeds from the supermarket and scattered them liberally all over the patch. When the flowers had finished blooming and the seed heads had dried out I collected the seeds, along with some seeds from purple poppies which were growing on the pavement halfway down our road.

In the spring I got the pot of seeds and scattered a lot of them in the corner plot again as well as in a couple of small trays of compost. A lot of the poppies have grown but so far the only flowers to appear have been a light purple colour. They seem to be very delicate because most of the time whenever I see a poppy, there are only a couple of petals remaining.

I photographed the poppy below in our garden this morning. I didn't touch the flower when I took the picture but about 10 minutes later the petals had started to fall off.

Purple poppies

Feral Sunflowers

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Last year I planted two types of sunflower - traditional yellow sunflower seeds which I picked out of the hamster food and red sunflower seeds which I bought from a seed supplier on ebay. I planted some more of the same this year but I noticed that there were more sunflowers growing in the garden than the ones I planted. The ones which had self-seeded seem to have grown faster than the ones I started off in the propagator.

A feral sunflower in the garden

There were sunflowers sprouting in the courgette tubs and in several of the plant pots where I put tomatoes and peppers. Most of these had to be uprooted but I left some of those in the larger tubs. One of these is pictured above.

While I was in the garden to photograph the sunflower I noticed that the tomato plants were wilting slightly and the compost in the pots was dry. Now I thought this was slightly odd because there was a lot of rain during the day. I even commented to someone in the office that the rain would be good for the tomatoes. I don't think I am growing a special type of waterproof tomato. I expect it might be the tall fence blocking the rain. Something similar happens with the strawberries, which are on a set of metal shelves which means the lower trough gets less rain than the one on top. This means I sometimes have to go out and water them even if it has been raining.

A splash of colour in the garden

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Most of the plants in our garden are there for one reason: to provide food. There are a few flowers there to provide a splash of colour, the biggest at the moment is the Clematis:


We originally bought the clematis because we had bought a trellis and needed something to grow up it. A couple of years ago it died off but when it grew back it was more vigorous than before.

We bought some viola plants about the same time and they lasted a couple of years before being eaten by slugs.

Viola in the veg garden

They managed to spread seeds around the garden and this plant established itself at the edge of the herb bed, next to the veg patch.

Viola in the veg garden

I don't know whether violas have a good or bad effect on other plants - I'm not really up to speed with companion planting but my brief reading on the subject suggests that they go well with herbs so I'll leave the plants there for now.

Accidental Sunflowers

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Last year I grew some red sunflowers and collected the seeds at the end of the season. This year I planted some of these saved seeds and so far I have a few short sunflowers starting to appear in the flower bed. A lot of seeds must have been scattered around the garden because there are a few sunflowers in the vegetable pots too. Most of the courgettes and tomatoes have sunflowers as neighbours where seeds must have landed in the compost. Ironically these 'accidental' sunflowers are all taller than the ones I deliberately planted. I may have to move a few of them since they are likely to get a bit big and compete with the vegetables.

Sweet peppers

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I have been attempting to grow sweet peppers for a couple of years but have never had much success. The yield has always been poor with a lot of the peppers failing to ripen. Last year I decided to keep some sweet pepper and chilli pepper plants over the winter because I had read that it gives the plants a good head start. The chilli plant was looking a bit sad - the leaves had gone dry and turned brown. I expected the worst but some green shoots have started to appear. Last week I noticed some flower buds appearing on the sweet pepper and now a tiny pepper has started to form.

small pepper bud

I only planted this years pepper seeds last week (sweet, cayenne and jalapeno) but it will be interesting to see what results we get compared to last year's plants.

Getting the garden ready for spring

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I have started getting the garden ready for the spring. While it is still too early to start planting seeds (apart from broad beans), I've been buying seed packets so I'll be ready. Last year the courgettes and chillies were the most successful so I'll be planting those again. I have bought some extra varieties: jalapeno peppers to join the cayenne and Summer Ball pumpkins from Thompson & Morgan. The latter produces courgettes which turn into pumpkins if left on the plant. I look forward to seeing how they turn out.

The soil in our garden is quite shallow and poor quality so we have some deep potato planters which are ideal for growing courgettes in. Last year I had one courgette plant in one of these pots which was a prolific producer of veg. Another plant in a smaller pot started off well but tailed off quite early in the season. I intend to use the planters again but I have 2 more which need filling so I have started turning the compost heap every week in an attempt to hurry it along so I have enough ready in the spring.

I have had great success with parsley and moderate success with the land cress and with rocket, but for some reason the chard, spinach beet and other salad leaves have never grown as well. I'll be trying them again this year in case they go better this time.

There have been some green shoots appearing in the far corner of the garden, where the bulbs were planted. Some will be the dwarf crocus but some mystery shoots which appeared in a pot of compost might be garlic. I'll have to wait and see what comes up.

Last year I bought a mint plant from the supermarket, as a 'growing herb'. It seemed to be thriving but the extreme cold before Christmas seems to have killed it off. There is one tiny green shoot coming up at the edge of the pot and the leaves look like they could be the right shape to be mint. With any luck the plant will regrow because I never got around to using any of it in cooking.

No electricity = no wifi

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I was using my computer at home this morning when the Internet stopped working. I noticed the wifi icon on the computer was flashing so I thought the router had briefly dropped the connection. Emma pointed out that the electric clock had gone off, so for some reason our power was out. I then noticed that all the neighbouring wifi networks had disappeared from the wifi menu, and I could also hear some nearby alarms going off, so it then became clear that the power had gone down for the nearby area and not just our house.

It's an automatic response to switch on the room lights when we get up, which I immediately did, then suddenly realised how stupid that was.

Our oven has mains-powered electric ignition so I had to light it by hand to bake the baguette for my sandwich. We don't have any long matches or special long lighters for lighting cookers, so I had to reach to the back of the oven with an ordinary cigarette lighter, while carefully turning the gas on. The gas makes a fairly loud 'whooshing' noise, which made lighting it a little scary but I managed without losing too many arm hairs (unlike Emma last week when she lit the grill, and the automatic lighter didn't seem to want to work at the time).