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Preview: Little Garden Helpers

Little Garden Helpers

Growing Greens with Growing Children

Updated: 2018-03-01T21:05:22.868+00:00


Doing the Bare Minimum


It has been a hectic few weeks since we stepped into spring and somehow, despite the sunshine a couple of weeks back, the garden didn't quite get the attention it deserved. We have sown a few seeds. Everything we planned to sow in March has been done, but nothing more. Then, as Easter approached we decided it was probably best to wait till we returned from a trip to visit Grandma and Grandad North, before we sowed anymore. We were remembering last years destruction of our seedlings by a little mouse and some very hot sunshine which left our crops eaten or shrivelled.

We returned from a lovely trip up north yesterday and so are now ready to get serious in the garden. Starting, I think, with a first haircut for the lawn. I'm hoping it will be a dry day so by the time Garden Dad gets home from work it will be dry enough to mow. And while our Little Garden Helpers make menus for their cafe, I'm going to find all the seeds we will plant at the weekend and make sure I know where and how I am sowing them.

And until I have news from the garden I will post about some of the fun things we have been doing while we haven't been in the garden...    

Snapshots of Spring


Today was the first day of spring so this afternoon I took Garden Lass and Garden Boy on a walk around our garden to look for the signs of spring. There are lots of little buds waiting to burst forth, healthy new leaves and sycamore seedlings appearing at every moment. Here are some snapshots of spring in our garden:[...]

Relaxing in the Sun


I'm just taking a peaceful break for a cuppa in the garden. Garden Lass has been helping me pull out the weeds in the patio cracks. The beautiful sunshine has encouraged me to make the patio a little more inviting so once all the weeds are packed into the green bin we will wash down the garden table and chairs. When Garden Dad and I were making our plans for the garden this year one of the things we decided was that we needed to spend more time relaxing and playing in the garden. It is easy, especially early in the season, to throw ourselves into the planting and we are determined this year to enjoy the garden as a place to relax this year as well.

Tidying up the patio is just the start of the preparations. Garden Girl and Garden Boy are growing out of the slide we have in the garden so we thought it was time to look for some new garden toys. We are also going to make sure we furnish the two seating areas we created at the bottom of the garden. One of these catches the evening sun, so will be perfect for a glass of wine at the end of the day, while the other is in the shadiest corner of the garden and therefore ideal for the children to escape to the hot midday sun for a picnic.

I hope very much that the sun we have today is here to stay so we can pull out our sunglasses and suun hats and begin to enjoy the garden on a daily basis. In the meantime I'm heading back to inspect worms and ladybirds with
Garden Lass.

First Sowings


Last weekend was a weekend of all weathers. The sun chose to shine while I was accompanying Garden Girl to a birthday party but after that we had rain, sleet and even snow. For all the motivation I had, opening the door and heading out into the garden was a task not to be. Determined to remain motivated, I drew a plan of the garden, marking out where each of the seeds will be sown. I also started to put together a monthly list of things to do, which I will pop up here each month. I wanted a list that I could use again each year and which would be specifically relevant to my garden and the things we grow.I had a couple of opportunities during the week to pop out and sow broad beans but these were during the school day and whilst I often do work in the garden during this time I did not want to exclude our Little Garden Helpers from the very first sowings of the year. Thankfully, today has been perfect for a day in the garden and we made the most of it.Our three Little Garden Helpers delighted in helping with the first sowings of the year, measuring out the distance between beans and pushing the beans themselves into the soil, before covering them up and watering them. Garden Lass eagerly joined in and when she had run out of beans she continued to happily push stones from the pathway into the raised bed. This was in total opposite to last year, when she happily spent her time scooping soil from the raised bed onto the pathway!I was also able to weed the herb bed, which is always hard work because of all the weeds tangling themselves around the thyme and oregano. Those that grow up through the middle of these woody herbs should perhaps be admired for their persistence but it is frustratingly difficult to get at their roots without pulling up the thyme and oregano as well. And then there is all the moss growing at the shady end of the bed which I am never quite certain whether I should totally remove or just break up and dig in. I usually end up going for a bit of a mix of the two.While I was working my way along the herb bed I was disappointed to find so many snails, nestled and sheltered by the herbs, undisturbed over winter. I removed as many as I could but I am sure there are more hiding in the warmth of the low growing herbs. Our Little Garden Helpers had the opportunity to see a variety of different snail shells however, and one brave little snail tried to make an escape from my bucket and gave them a delightful peek at its body and antennae as it tried to slither slowly away.On a more pleasing note I saw a lot of seven spotted ladybirds and not a single harlequin. I'm not sure if this is because the latter species tend to come out later in the year but I am taking it as a good sign that there are so many seven spotted ones in the garden at the moment. And our Little Garden Helpers were absolutely thrilled to see one of them residing in the ladybird house we put up last year.I have never had much success getting my little ones to help with weeding so while I was busy pulling up unwanted green things, our Little Garden Helpers were playing hide and seek amongst the plant pots and having watering can races. I'm not sure how a watering can race works but it involved running about with a watering can, getting wet and lots of laughter!We came inside for dinner, wet but satisfied with our day in the garden.[...]

March Sowings


I have a plan for the garden, although my plans are always relatively vague. I order my seed packets according to the month in which they can first be sown and then, within that month, I prioritise according to personal preference. I do try to make sure that the varieties which can only be sown in a particular month are at the front of the pile but beyond that it is really a whimsical plan.Thus the plan I lay out for March is liable to change. If the weather becomes warmer and the night frosts subside I am likely to add a few packets from my April pile to March, however I will definately sow the following in March:Broad Beans Crimson Flowered The first time we grew broad beans they became quite heavily infested with black fly and they cropped for only a short period before they were ruined. We had sown them in the autumn prior to the growing season and so the next time we grew them we waited till February to sow the seeds and, although we had to wait a little longer for the crop, we had a much more fruitful season. Since then, we have saved our seeds to make early spring sowings and the broad beans are now the first crops to be put in the ground each year.Tomatoes Tigerella, Mirabelle Bianche, Sungold F1 Hybrid, Gartenperle, Ruby F1 Hybrid, Vilma, Harbinger You can perhaps gather, from the long list of varities, that tomatoes are one of the things we enjoy growing the most. Homegrown tomatoes taste delicious and with the children helping themselves to fruit whenever they want we can't help but grow lots of tomato plants. The greenhouse, in summer, is filled with that delicious tomato scent, the hanging baskets drip with bursting fruits and our meal times have an added luxury of taste. I did promise myself that we would try to be sensible this year, but as you can see, when it actually came to choosing, we failed in our efforts. Though in my defence, we only have a few Tigerella and Mirabelle Bianche seeds left over from last year and the Harbinger seeds were free!Cucumber Burpless Tasty Green F1 Hybrid Garden Boy loves cucumbers and was very excited to help me choose the variety at the garden centre. He looked at the pictures and I read out the names. Once I had read out the name of this variety there was no looking back. With lots of giggles the Burpless Cucumber was declared the winner! We will let you know later in the year if they live up to their name or not!Cress Fine Curled and Extra Curled These are probably the same thing, but we already had some seeds and Garden Boy really wanted the packet with cress heads pictured on the front, so given the frequency we sow cress we bought the extra packet. We will continually sow these throughout the year, but it is always good to get some in early so that the children see some early growth and retain the excitement they have at this time of year.Salad Leaves Stir Fry Mixed, Mixed Lettuce Leaves We eat a lot of lettuce and having had disastrous crops outdoors, with the birds eating the lot, we now stick to eating young leaves grown in trays, inside the greenhouse. We might have to grow more this year though, as Garden Boy has started to eat lots of lettuce. He decided one day he would be a snail throughout dinner and as a result would only eat lettuce during that meal. Since then, he has happily munched away on various types of lettuce and I suspect the indoor crops will be in as much danger from Garden Boy this year, as the outdoor crops have been from the birds.Sweet Basil, Plain Leaved Parsley and Coriander With no appropriate windowsills in our house we struggle to grow herbs indoors, so as soon as it is warm enough to start them up in the greenhouse we are keen to get the herb seeds sown. Basil in particular, is a favourite, although Garden Girl is eagerly awaiting the coriander.Cornflower Snowman We are growing these because the seed packets came free as part of a promotion and they do look beautiful. We will probably grow them in pots to keep beside the greenh[...]

Is this a Queen Bee?


Over winter we store empty plant pots and outdoor toys in the greenhouse and when we came to clear them out this year we found this bee in one of the toy boxes.

Garden Dad thinks it might be a Queen Bee and I'm feeling a bit sorry that I have displaced it from its hibernation. I hope I haven't exposed it too early to cold nights but I am also a little concerned that it will try to return to the greenhouse toy store and end up stinging one of the children. From my brief exploration online I believe that at this time of year a mated Queen bee will be busy looking for a suitable hive and beginning to gather nectar, so perhaps the warmth of the greenhouse will no longer be needed and a new home will soon be found. I have my fingers crossed.

Back with a Burst of Colour


It feels as if winter is coming to a close and spring is just starting to emerge. After a long winter break, this weekend seemed the right time to re-open the shutters, dust away the cobwebs and once again pick up my garden trowel and keyboard.The garden has been nothing more than a play area over the winter months this year. Ordinarily you wouldn't find us to be fair weather gardeners but we really did put the garden to bed around October time. We had no winter vegetables because we were only using up seeds we already had last year and a cheeky little mouse, with the help of a scorching sun, early in the 2011 season left us with an empty winter store. We consequently moved our attentions to the house, enjoying Christmas and settling into school. But we are back, with a burst of colour!Garden Boy was so keen to start planting that he was ripping open seed pods that had fallen from our neighbours tree, planting the seeds carefully in our herb patch. A trip to the garden centre was in order, so today, having tidied the garage and cleaned the greenhouse yesterday, we went along to stock up on compost, get our little garden helpers some new watering cans and buy some colourful flowers to bring instant colour to the garden.Having refuelled with a cuppa on our return home, we spent a happy afternoon planting up old wellies, the narrow bed behind our seating area and a basket to cheerfully welcome visitors. I even had eager helpers to pull up the first set of weeds, daring to emerge! And with a tin full of new seed varieties I feel ready and raring to go...[...]

Feeling Organised


I am pleased to say that we are much more on top of the garden, than I am with this blog. With all the lovely warm weather we have had, we have been outside a lot and I have that rare feeling of being exactly where I should be with the garden. All the raised beds have been cleared and dug over, apart from where turnips and squash are still growing, and the entire garden is weed free, including the patio. The last of the tomatoes have been harvested and their pots are tidied away. I have also given all the herbs a hair cut and tidied the bed up for autumn. The strawberry bed is now looking tidy and the grass has been cut.

There is still more to do. There always is. But it feels managable and with the sun still shining the weekend promises more fun in the garden. I hope you are all manageing to make the most of the sunshine!

An Angry Bee = A Tidy Greenhouse


This weekend we started tidying the garden up a bit. Autumn isn't quite here yet but the leaves are beginning to scatter the lawn and some of our crops have finished producing fruit. The broad beans which were so abundant earlier in the year had actually finished before we headed away on our camping trip but we hadn't got around to clearing them. I chopped them back, leaving about 5cm stem behind. Although broad beans are very easy to uproot it is beneficial to leave a short stem behind as they add valuable nitrogen to the soil.While I chopped, Garden Lass ferried stems to Garden Girl, who piled them all into the green bin. Pirate Garden Boy, meanwhile, was helping Garden Dad dig for the last of the potato treasure. We then moved onto digging up carrots and the last of the spring onions. The idea had then been to dig over the soil and mulch it but we unearthed a Queen Bee while we were digging who didn't take very kindly to being disturbed. She flew in angry circles above the carrot patch for a very long time afterwards so we thought it better to stay away. We sat on the lawn and trimmed the greenery from the carrots and spring onions, then enjoyed an ice lolly while we waited for the bee to calm down, which she didn't.Unable to continue with the digging, we decided to get to get to work on the greenhouse. We tidied up all the toys, buckets and kids gardening tools. Then we emptied out spent tomato plants and the cucumber plants that never did fruit this year (a real shame because they had been so successful in previous years.). We still have a few tomato plants that are fruiting but these now all sit neatly down one side of the greenhouse so we managed to stack some of the larger empty pots into the now tidy greenhouse.Garden Dad, meanwhile dug up some swedes, giant by our previous growing standards, and cleared some of the french bean plants which are no longer producing beans. The runner beans and some other varieties of French beans are still producing though, so I think we will still have a supply of beans for a while yet.Unfortunately on Sunday the weather was a little wet, but we diecided to keep going with work in the garden regardless. The edges of the lawn needed a trim and a tidy up which Garden Dad managed to finish before the worst of the rain. While he was busy with that, our Little Garden Helpers were helping me to repot the rosemary and lavender cuttings we took earlier in the year. All of them had developed good roots and once the tomato plants have finished I will move the cuttings into the greenhouse for the winter. By spring next year they should be healthy plants ready to be rehomed in the front garden and herb bed.Then, as the rain started to fall we began to dig up strawberry plants. The strawberry patch had been taken over by small, white, wild strawberrries which are quite nice but do stifle the red berries which we all prefer. So we decided to dig them all up, cut away any unwanted runners from the other varieties and then spread out the best plants with a bit more room for growth between plants next year. There is now a note in the gardening diary reminding us to keep on top of the strawberry runners!We didn't manage to finish this task however, as the rain started to fall in bucketfuls. We do feel like we have a good start on clearing the garden however and hopefully we still have some sunshine left to enjoy the garden a bit more before the wet weather becomes more frequent than the dry![...]

Teach Your Toddler: Frogs


Garden Boy was really eager to learn about frogs, In fact, if you will excuse the pun, he was literally hopping about with excitement at this topic. Before we started we took a trip to the library. Last year we did much of our research about Garden Bugs on the internet but I wanted our Little Garden Helpers to remember that books can provide the answers too, so we borrowed a couple of books about frogs ('Watch it Grow: Frog' by Barrie Watts and 'Wild Britain: Frog' by Louise and Richard Spilsbury, and this is what we discovered...Things to Tell Your ToddlerFrogs live on land and in water. Animals that live on land and in water are amphibians (like Peppa Pig's camper van!). Frogs have long, sticky tongues which they flick really quickly to catch their food. They eat all sorts of insects including snails and slugs so they are good to have in the garden. They do not chew their food. They just swallow it whole! Frog's have eyes on the side of their heads, not the front like us. This means they can see all around them so they can see if an animal wants to eat them or if there is a tasty insect to eat itself. Frogs move on land by jumping. They have long, zig-zaggy back legs to help them jump. Frogs move in water by paddling. They have webbed feet, like ducks, to help them swim. Frogs like to sleep in the day and hunt for food at night. This is because it is cooler and wetter at night and if their skin dries out in the sun they will not survive. They also sleep (hibernate) all through winter. Frogs lay thousands of eggs in water, called frogspawn. Tadpoles swim out of the eggs after a few weeks and over a few months gradually grow their legs and lungs which let them breathe and move on land. Female frogs do no make sounds at all. Male frogs croak as loud as they can by puffing up their throat as big as they can. Activities We Did  Pretend to be a frog. Puff up your face and croak as loud as you can. 'Erm... Garden Girl, are you a girl? Do girl frogs croak? Then why are you making a noise?' 'Thats not fair! Boys say silly things so why should they croak and not girls?'. Show me how a frog moves on land, and now in water. Now show me your tongue and catch some insects. And now its getting cold, winter is on its way, find somewhere safe and sheltered to sleep.  Make origami jumping frogs. We followed the instructions here to make ours. We didn't have any green paper so we just coloured some white paper in before we started folding. Garden Boy needed a bit of help with the folds but Garden Girl managed all on her own. Once you have made them have frog races with them. Make frog bread. I came across these on The Fresh Loaf website while I was browsing the internet and couldn't resist. They were also really delicious and all three Little Garden Helpers loved making them. Make a frog mask. Garden Girl made hers at school but I think it was quite an effectve use of a paper plate and some green paint and is really simple to do.  Draw frogs. Drawing pictures helped them remember the special features of a frog such as the round body, big eyes and zig zag legs. We read 'The Big Wide Mouthed Frog' by Ana Martin Larranaga and 'Ten Friendly Frogs' by Sally Hobson and sang 'Five Little Speckled Frogs' It was a couple of weeks ago now that we were learning about frogs but all three of our Little Garden Helpers are still talking about frogs and jumping around pretending to be frogs. Garden Boy particularly enjoys trying to catch insects with his tongue while Garden Lass, at the mention of a frog jumps on her toes and giggles. She absolutely loves pretending to be a frog but not quite as much as she enjoyed with the bread dough. Garden Girl was the least impressed with frogs, expressing much disbelief that female frogs do not croak at all and consequently dubbing them 'si[...]

Teach Your Toddler: Garden Bugs


Last week we revisited the garden bugs we had learned about last year. We looked back over the blog posts I had written, talking about the activities we had done and it was amazing how much information our Little Garden Helpers had remembered and they were keen to learn more. Visiting Butterfly World was a brilliant way to spark their interest and we followed up on this by making cardboard butterflies to decorate our living room. I tried to keep it simple so that Garden Lass could join in, so they each chose some sparkly card or foam which I cut into a butterfly shape. They then cut shapes from scraps of material, foam, card and paper and used these to decorate the wings. Garden Girl took great care, trying to make each wing the same, while Garden Boy spread as much as glue as he could over the wings and then carefully placed a small but select collection of shapes on his wings. Garden Lass just enjoyed joining in and stuck shapes onto her butterfly until she ran out of room.

We did a bug hunt in the garden, finding butterflies, bees, moths, wasps, flies, spiders, ladybirds, snails, slugs, earwigs, black fly, a centipede, worms and ants. Garden Girl walked around with her clipboard and pencil and demanded I tell her how to write each bug we found. We talked about where we were finding each kind of insect and why. Garden Boy suggested that ladybirds liked the herb bed because 'they are my friends and they can see me there,' while Garden Girl said 'they are all on our vegetables because they are naughty and want to eat them'. As far as I can tell Garden Lass just thought they were there for her amusement and particularly enjoyed picking up ladybirds and watching them crawl up her arm.

I was a little disappointed to find that there were far fewer ladybirds in our garden than last year, although there was also far less black fly, so perhaps they had just gobbled them all up and moved on to a new food source. There were many more snails, but I disposed of these whenever we found them. I assume this is due to the heavy rain we have had, or perhaps the fact that I have moved pots around less this year. Having not been pestered too much by ants on the patio this year I thought perhaps we were getting away with it but we found ant nests in two of our potato bags which we tipped out and disturbed.

We also spent time drawing some of the bugs we had seen in the garden with Garden Boy favouring spiders, ladybirds and flies and Garden Girl favouring butterflies, bees and snails. We played the ladybird game we had made last year and which has been a popular choice on Sunday games mornings all year. By the end of the week we were all enthusiastic to learn about a new garden creature and we decided to start with frogs... 

PS. If you want to find out information or see the activities linked with garden bugs we did last summer click the 'Teach Your Toddler' link on the right.

A Butterfly on my Bottom!


We jumped right into our garden bug lessons yesterday with a trip to Butterfly World Project. It is a fabulous resource and well worth a visit, even though it is yet to be completed. By the end of 2012 it is set to be the largest butterfly experience in the world, with a massive 100m biome housing thousands of tropical butterflies. Yet even without the biome the project was a massive hit with my three little garden helpers.There is currently a small butterfly house, with some tropical butterflies, where on our last visit, Garden Girl managed to hold a butterfly in her hand, an experience she will never forget and which has solidified her interest in butterflies. On this visit, Garden Girl and Garden Boy patiently held out their hands and waited for a butterfly to land, without much success, but luckily for them they were rewarded instead by a butterfly landing on my bottom. They have continued to giggle about this today. They were also astounded to see a giant butterfly. It took quite a lot of persuasion before they believed it was real and not just a cardboard butterfly placed there for display. I'm just pleased it was a slightly smaller butterfly that chose to land on my skirt. Garden Boy was also thrilled to discover some eggs lying on a leaf. When I exclaimed 'Oh, you've found some butterfly eggs', he corrected me by saying, 'No Mummy. Don't be silly. They will be caterpillars first.' I was so proud, as other visitors looked impressed by his knowledge.  Garden Lass was far more interested in smelling the flowers than catching butterflies, which was something of a relief as I had thought lots of fluttering around her face would panic her. She barely even noticed them, although they probably noticed her, as she pulled leaves and flowers from their plants to take deep sniffs of them. I must apologise to those who planted the entire gardens, as she spent much of the day breathing in the scent of the various flowers she had beheaded. I tried my hardest to keep her from pulling the heads away, I really did, but she had a determined interest which leads me to believe she might have a career in perfumery. On this visit however, the highlight for me was the leafcutter ants. These are a new addition to the Project and offered a fantastic look at the lives of these highly intelligent creatures. It was amazing to watch the little ants carry pieces of leaf larger than themselves along ropes and branches into their tunnels. I could have remained in this building for much longer watching the busy leaf cutters, had it not been for the tarantala residing in a glass case and watching me the whole time. This forced us to move onto the other insects where we saw snails, crickets, locusts, stick insects and more ants. Garden Lass was delighted by the noise the crickets were making and excitedly quacked back at them, clapping at the same time. (Quacking is her standard response to all animals, except cows who get a mix of quacks and moo's.) Garden Girl and Garden Boy meanwhile were taking a detailed look at all the insects with the magnifying glasses provided.And then there are the gardens, with treasures hidden around every corner, from walls made from junk, to a fairies bedroom, colourful flowers to jewels and spiders webs to giant plant pots.The whole Project is engaging and fun and we will definitely become regular visitors, although if the landscape designers are reading this, please could you plant some trees. It was a very hot day and not even the giant ant sculpture was casting shade![...]

A Bountiful Harvest


We are now a week into the summer holidays and it seems to have disappeared in a blink. Our new flooring took four days to lay, with the help of Grandad South and there are still skirting boards to refit, so the house has been upside down with furniture and toys in the wrong place. It will be a relief when everything returns to normal.My task, whilst the floor was being laid, was to keep the children out of the way so we enjoyed trips to the libray, local park and zoo and then, with furniture not yet restored, we visited friends and a local Farm and Adventure Playground. So apart from one day which was spent catching up on washing, having been without the machine for nearly two weeks, yesterday was the first real opportunity to get stuck into the garden.Having been left to its own devices for so long, the garden is showing signs of overgrowth, so I decided to systematically work around the raised beds, harvesting anything that looked ready and pulling out weeds on the way. By the end of the day, parts of the garden were looking tidier and our kitchen table was covered with lovely fresh vegetables. I spent the evening cleaning them up and tonight we will enjoy a lovely meal entirely from homegrown vegetables, with plenty going spare.Whilst Garden Boy wanted to play Pirates, Garden Girl was a massive help in the garden yesterday. She was very eager to harvest vegetables with me and while Garden Lass sat contentedly podding broad beans (I think she would happily do this all day, she loves it so much), Garden Girl and I worked our way around the garden, enjoying the sun and a lovely chat. 'Wakey, wakey onions', she shouted, as she pulled them out of the bed. 'It's time to see the sun'; then 'These carrots are huge, Mummy. We will have to dig as far as Uncle M's world (Peru) to get these out.' She chattered excitedly about how we should cook all the lovely vegetables and what we should plant in the spaces left by the onions and shallots.Then the conversation moved to the activities we did last summer about garden bugs and Garden Girl asked if we could do more this summer, so we thought about the best creatures to pick. Both Garden Girl and Garden Boy wanted to look again at all the creatures we learned about last summer so we will spend a week revisiting butterflies, ants, ladybirds, worms and snails. Then with the remaining four weeks they have chosen Dragonflies, frogs, birds and spiders. Its nice to have a plan for the summer which everyone is excited about.And now, here are a few pics from the garden yesterday:[...]

Counting the Days


Over the last few weeks the garden, for the most part, has been looking after itself. This has been a good thing as, if I am honest, I have had very little time to devote to the vegetable patch. End of term madness seemed to start weeks ago with sports days, summer fairs, classroom changeover days, assemblies and meetings. We have also had more than the usual number of playdates as everyone tries to fit them in before they head away on holidays.

On top of all that, Garden Dad and I have been spending our evenings, which would normally have been spent pottering in the garden, preparing the house for our new wood floor, which will finally be fitted this coming weekend. Garden Dad is looking forward to trying out his new machinary and I am looking forward to heading our for a few day trips with out Little Garden Helpers while Grandad South gives him a hand laying the boards. The house will be transformed and I am excited to see what it looks like when it is finished but it will be something of a relief when the summer holidays finally arrive and things slow down. I am looking forward to spending full days with our Little Garden Helpers, visiting local attractions and parks, getting crafty and rediscovering the garden.

Getting on top of the weeding will have to be the first task. We haven't left them entirely to take over but there are areas which need some hard work and the lawn mower definately needs an outing. The great thing is though, that although we have left the garden to its own devices, everything is flourishing, thanks to the lovely hot, sunny days interspersed with lots of heavy rain. We have already had some lovelystrawberry, broad bean, runner bean and potato harvests, our Little Garden Helpers delighting in searching for potato treasure and Garden Lass particularly enjoying podding broad beans. It has made them excited about forthcoming harvests and I think they will be keen helpers during the holidays. I'm counting the days! 

Pretty Pink Nails


Last night I swapped the dirt beneath my finger nails for pretty pink nails and a host of other lovely beauty treatments courtesy of local beauty salon Beautylase. I even had my eyebrows threaded which I was surprisingly quite impressed with. I have never been much of a beauty salon type girl. I'm much more comfortable in my jeans and wellies and a bare face, cheeks coloured by the sun, or more usually the chill! However it was really lovely to spend an hour being pampered by a team of lovely and laid back ladies and when I left I determined to treat myself once in a while.

And once we were all looking and feeling glamorous, a group of local bloggers, including Mediocre Mum, who organised the fabulous evening, enjoyed a drink and meal while chatting about blogging, kids and life. It was great to meet the people whose words I read but have never met, as well as meet some new bloggers whose blogs I am looking forward to visiting. I hope we get together again soon.

The only problem I have now is that I really don't want to do any gardening as it might ruin my nails!

A Fun Holiday in a Beautiful Region


Garden Dad is once again outside in the rain, this time planting out our courgettes and squash. I have more sense though and decided to stay indoors and share with you all our camping pictures. I did promise you after all.So having looked through hundreds of pictures, I have, with great difficulty, selected 25 photos which I hope will give you a sense of the fun we had, as well as the beautiful place we were staying. With day trips to historic Bath, Avebury stone circle and Bowood House (complete with adventure playground and Pirate Ship), we were not short of places to visit and it is not surprising that our Little Garden Helpers have been asking to return.[...]

Water Fight!


Having had a week away and then a very busy week on our return, not least because we had to build two pirate ships for Garden Boy's third birthday (one playmobil and one chocolate cake), the garden has not had much attention. So yesterday, despite the rain, Garden Dad hid our Little Garden Helpers under raincoats and they all headed outdoors to pull up weeds and plant out the french beans which were tangled around each other and were really quite deperate to be in the ground.

I don't suppose the rain mattered too much given that Garden Boy was trying out his new water gun which can fire water the length of our garden. I have a feeling everyone would have been soaked through regardless of the weather. Apart from me, who was sensible enough to stay indoors, although Garden Girl tells me I missed out on a lot of fun and I believe her. I have a feeling the water fight lasted longer than the gardening, given that Garden Dad was back out in the rain after the children were tucked up cosy in bed and there are still some French Beans waiting to be planted!

And for anyone wanting to make a Pirate Ship Birthday Cake, we took the basic idea from here

Review: Vango Cedar Camping Table and Drinks Cooler


During half term we took the children camping to a lovely campsite just outside Bath (there will be more about this in another post when I have sorted through the photos ) but we were really lucky to have the opportunity to try out and keep some new camping equipment from Vango while we were there so this is what we thought.First up, is this Cedar table which was an absolute Godsend. Last time we went camping Garden Lass was just a baby, but this time she was on her feet, running about and climbing. Everything is an adventure to her and you can imagine how interested she was in all the camping equipment. Having this table to keep everything off the floor and out of reach was a massive help. Because of Garden Lass's sense of adventure we set the table up inside the tent and used it to store things, however as the children get older it will be great for sitting around to eat our sausages and mash and play cards in the evenings. The table was really easy to put together. Even I managed it very quickly despite three children 'trying to help'. One of the legs is adjustable to allow for uneven ground, which is inevitable when camping and the result was a very sturdy, practical table. When folded up it doesn't take up a lot of room, but it is quite long and we only just fit it across the width of our boot, so take measurements before you buy if you have a small car. Otherwise I really couldn't fault this piece of equipment and with an RRP of £72 I think makes a brilliant to addition to a family's camping essentials. We also took along this Drinks cooler which is essentially a large cool bag, in a stand. The basic idea is that you can put ice around the edges of the cool bag, then fill it up with milk, beer or anything you want to keep cool. For us, the best bit was that it kept all the food off the floor and folded up small for transport. Unfortunately, on this particular campsite we had no means of freezing our ice packs, however on other sites this facility is provided and this is when this little gem will come into its own. A cool beer after the children have snuggled into their sleeping bags is enough to make this a must have. We have also used the drinks cooler to keep beer, wine and fizzy pop cool at barbeque's in the garden. There is never enough room in the fridge and with a couple of bags of ice from the local supermarket, this keeps your drinks cool and conveniently located outdoors so there is no need to leave the sun to refill your glass and with an RRP of just £30 we think it really is value for money.So if you are heading for the great outdoors this summer but want a little bit of luxury to make life easier and the beers cooler head over to the Vango website for more details on these items and to see their full range of camping equipment.[...]

Order Restored


The last few weeks in the garden have been something of a salvage operation. Firstly we had to clear out all the pots from the greenhouse that had been raided by mice, or scorched by the sun. This reduced what we had growing by over half. I was unsure whether to reuse the compost or not, so in the end, rather than waste it completely, I decided to use it all for earthing up the potatoes. The potatoes were one of the crops that were still looking lovely and healthy when we returned from our trip so this job cheered me up a little bit.

We then set about re-sowing anything we could. It was too late for tomatoes and cucumber, although a few did survive, so we will have some to enjoy later in the year. However, there were some things for which I had run out of seeds. We had decided that this year we would just use up the seeds we already had. Unfortunately, this means we will now have no homegrown Brussells Sprouts on Christmas Day and no homegrown pumpkins for Halloween, as along with the sunflowers, they were all lost. We will also have only one variety of courgette and one variety of squash, but I made up for this by sowing a huge number of french beans. We also re-sowed basil, parsley, coriander, lettuce, cress and mung beans.

With new seeds nestled happily in their pots we gave everything a really, really good soak, including the rosemary bushes we had planted at the front and the grass we had sown before we went away. I think we have lost some of the rosemary bushes, as they are looking very brown, but at least we have a few healthy looking cuttings we can replace them with next year. And as far as the grass goes, it is patchy - but then so is the old lawn, so at least it is 'in-keeping'.

We have also moved the runner beans outside, planting them with support from a bamboo tee-pee. Weeds have been pulled up, although you wouldn't know it if you looked at our patio and the three surviving dwarf french beans have been planted out. I also spread out all the surviving brassicas, which in the end proved quite successful - the wood pidgeons had essentially thinned them out for me, leaving me with just the right number to fill my rows. Maybe it was in fact a Garden Fairy all along, helping me along the way, but we are not taking any chances and at the weekend Garden Dad built a frame for the netting and we did what we should have done weeks ago and covered them up!

New shoots are now startimg to appear in the greenhouse, there is some healthy looking growth in the raised beds and the flowers at the bottom of the garden are even starting to bloom. Order has once again been restored to our garden - just in time for another week away, but hey-ho - it can't be worse than last time, right?

I blamed the cat...


 It might be obvious from the lack of posts here in recent weeks that I have become a little despondant with our garden. You see, we went away for a week at Easter to visit family. I left in good spirits. I was up to date with sowing seeds, the potatoes were in the ground and unbelievably there wasn't a weed in sight. Garden Dad had even finished laying weed fabric and bark chip in the front bed and around the fruit bushes and apple trees. All was well in our garden and I was confident that when we returned there would be some lovely green shoots in the greenhouse and the raised beds.

But, when we returned, there were numerous casualties. Firstly, a mouse had discovered our seeds and tucked into a feast while we were away. I sowed 102 peas and only 4 survived the mouse! Not a single squash or courgette seed was left behind by the mouse to grow! And the mouse was not dining alone. No. While he was tucking into the greenhouse seeds, the wood pigeons were enjoying their own feast of newly appearing brassicas from the raised beds.

Shamefully, my first instinct was to the blame the cat that has been using our garden as a toilet. I mean, if he is going to use our garden for his personal business he could at least scare away the mice and wood pigeons! For all cat lovers out there however, I have since admitted that I had some part to play in the destruction of our crops by my failure to close the greenhouse door and put netting over our brassica seeds.

Sadly, for many of the greenhouse plants that managed to escape the greedy little mouse, the sun did its worst and despite the best efforts of our friends to water our plants daily, many were left scorched. We returned from our lovely week away to a graveyard of seedlings and all my optimism turned to despondancy.

This past weekend however, I have made friends with my garden again and optimism has returned. With a bit of work we once again have a greenhouse filled with seedlings and there is hope for some homegrown vegetables later in the year and conseqently for some frequent posting here.

Pretty Flowers


Garden Girl told me very early on in the year that she wanted some pretty flowers in the garden. She loves growing vegetables but equally loves anything pretty and our garden does lack flowers, so I readily agreed to a visit to the garden centre last week to buy some. We went for a swim first, grabbing a sausage roll for a quick lunch. The intention then was to nip into our local garden centre, choose some flowers and head home to plant them. However when we arrived at the garden centre there was a host of easter activities and we ended up staying for the whole afternoon.

We searched for golden bunnies, decorated plant pots, sowed seeds and had faces painted. We only had to pay a minimal fee for the face paints and half of this went to a charity, but the activities were well equipped and well organised so I was really impressed. However, I was a little bit disappointed when the staff offered a choice of seeds for the children. Garden Girl chose poppies which was fine, but Garden Boy picked up a packet of Mung beans. I asked how we should treat them once they had germinated and they were unable to tell us. As far as I was aware Mung beans are used for sprouting and I have no idea how to grow a Mung Bean plant in compost. I was handed the seed packet which only gave instructions on how to sprout them so I left with no further knowledge. What really disappointed me however, was not that they couldn't tell me what to do with the plant but that they actually said 'Well, it doesn't matter. You probably don't want to actually grow them anyway.'

Hmmm.Seriously? Garden Boy will be sooooooo disappointed if Garden Girl's poppies grow and his mung beans don't even pop up above the compost. And why would you organise a childrens activity that encourages growing things if you don't expect them to go ahead and grow them? That said, all three of our Little Garden Helpers had a fabulous afternoon at the garden centre and I will now be looking out for future activities held there, not least because they make delicious cakes in the cafe and we stayed long enough to require extra sustenance!

And we did remember to buy the flowers we went for in the first place and although we ran out of time to plant them that day I made them a priority the following day. By June there will be some lovely petunia's and impatiens of various colours decorating the border of our apple tree bed and presumably a happy smile on Garden Girl's face whenever she sees them!

But I Want to Eat Them


Last week Garden Boy spent a morning with me in the garden, working really, really hard. He pulled up a whole bucketful of weeds while he chattered to Garden Lass and the Ladybirds. He was having so much fun and was very proud of his work. When I eventually looked at my watch and saw that it was time to go and collect Garden Girl from school I suggesed he come with me to tip his weeds into the green bin. His face changed. His smile disappeared. 'We not throwing them out,' he pouted.

'If we put them in the green bin they will be taken away and added to a really big compost heap to make compost which we use to help our vegetables grow.'

'NO', we not throwing them out.' At this point he reached his arms around his bucket, hugging it close. 'I want to wash them and then eat them.'

'Oh Honey, they are weeds, not vegetables. We are pulling them up so they don't steal all the water from the vegetables which we will eat when they have grown.'

'Oh.' He had such downcast eyes and I felt so sorry for him. He had been working so hard because he thought he was digging up our dinner. He didn't eat his dinner that evening. I wonder if he was just too disappointed!

Birds of Prey


At the weekend Garden Girl and Garden Boy had a brilliant time scattering grass seed over the large bare patch of lawn. For once they did not need to be precise about where they put the seeds. They could just throw handfuls of them wherever they wanted and they loved it.

And then they were able to see their bird scarers erected, to keep the wood pigeons away. They are so proud of their birds of prey. Garden Boy has been telling eveyone how he made it and he looks out of the window regularly, to check that the big fake birds are doing their job. And so far, they are. Only once have we spotted a brave wood pigeon eating our grass seed but all our Little Garden Helpers banged on the window and it seems to have stayed away since.

If you want to make a bird of prey as well, this is how we did it.

1) Rip up an old piece of material into long strips. We used an old shower curtain.

2) Take two coat hangers and tie three pieces of rag onto each one. Our Little Garden Helpers loved doing this as they were learning how to tie knots and it was easier for them with large pieces of material.

3) Use another strip of rag to tie the two coat hangers together, leaving some rag trailing to act as tail feathers.

4) Draw eyes onto an old CD and make a beak shape using a yellow pipe cleaner. This can be attached by winding the ends around the CD.

5) Tie the CD in the middle of your wings to make your birds head.

6) Attach to some sticks and put in the garden. The large flapping wings will hopefully look like a bird of prey to smaller birds who will fly away scared, with the shiny CD acting as an additional warning to the braver birds.

A Satisfying Weekend


We managed to make quite a lot of headway in the garden this weekend. Our Little Garden Helpers were very eager to help out and in particular wanted to please me because it was Mother's Day. I took full advantage and let them help with some weeding and some sowing.It was very satisfying to finish weeding around the apple trees, where Garden Dad then laid some weed fabric to supress any other weeds that were thinking of popping their heads above the soil. We need browse the garden centre for ideas of what to put over the fabric so for the moment it is weighted down with some large stones. We have left a gap all around the edge of the bed so we can add some pretty flowers. Garden Girl is very excited about choosing some which we will probably do over the Easter break.Then I weeded around the blueberries where I discovered a strange, fungus type thing growing. At first I thought it must be some strange plant growing in the acid compost we planted the blueberries in, but on closer inspection it turned out to be mould, growing on cat poo. One of the neighbouring cats seems to be using our blueberry bed as a toilet. We have now covered the soil with weed fabric which will hopefully deter the cat as it will no longer be able to bury its little presents, however I am concerned that it will simply relocate to another of the raised beds, digging up our carefully sown seeds. If anyone has any ideas on how to deter the cat let us know.With lots of weeding accomplished we took a break and had a brew and a piece of Turkish Delight, chosen by our Little Garden Helpers for me for Mother's Day. Then it was time for the fun stuff and we spent the afternoon filling pot with compost and sowing seeds. We sowed,Painted Lady Runner BeansGem Store SquashSprinter SquashAll Green Bush CourgetteDario F1 CourgetteLong Green Bush MarrowYellow SunflowersBlack Magic SunflowersCoriander SantosGarden Girl and Garden Boy also enjoyed moving the onion sets outdoors. These had produced lovely healthy roots and had started to sprout in their tray in the greenhouse so were ready to be moved to the raised bed. The shallots are not showing quite as much growth yet, so I have left them for another week.We also managed to scatter our grass seed and set up the watering system in the greenhouse which is essentially a piece of fabric which soaks up water from three containers. The pots with seedlings sit on the fabric, soaking up the water and keeping them moist for slightly longer than usual. Garden Dad also built me another table for the greenhouse as I have now run out of room for all or seedlings. And this week the sun has been shining and I have been able to spend more time clearing weeds. I just hope it has not been too dry for our newly sown carrots, spinach and spring onions.[...]

I Wish...


... I had a potting shed, so that on wet, rainy days I could still sow seeds and re-pot seedlings. Then I could sit on a chair in the doorway with a hot cup of coffee, looking out at my garden, breathing in the scents and watching the rain drops.

... Or any kind of shed to store our garden tools. That way I would not have to navigate the obstacle course in our garage everytime I want another pot or a tool.

... I had a bigger greenhouse. And maybe a second one - one would be heated, the other not, so I had better control of the temperature for seedlings.

... I had a very flat, luscious lawn so we could play croquet without our balls rolling down a hill or bending away from the hoop at the last moment, (although I am told that is part of the challenge of garden croquet).

... I had better soil. The best soil in fact, that has no large stones or clay in it. Soft, dark brown luscious loam please.

... I had a bigger vegetable patch, a bigger lawn, a bigger patio and additonal space for an orchard, a secret flower garden and hidden nooks and crannies.

... I had a garden that was not overlooked by sycamore trees, casting shade on my veggies and sending down thousands of seeds to make more work.

... I had a multitude of different birds visiting the gardens but with none of them eating our seeds, uprooting our onions or eating our cabbages.

and yet...

... I love our garden!

It is filled with all our hard work and so many happy memories. Everything we have built up in our garden we have done ourselves, with the help of our little garden helpers and despite all the things I wish I had, our garden is amazing.