Blue Tits in the Bird Box

Looking Out

As ever at this time of year, the Blue Tits are working their way around the garden looking in and inhabiting the bird boxes. We usually get a brood hatched but over the last couple of years, Greater Spotted Woodpeckers have found the nest and reached in taking the nestlings before they’re able to fledge. I don’t know whether to feel good or bad about this. It would be nice to have a family of Blue Tits but, Woodpeckers need to feed their family as well.

Anyway. Here’s hoping.Wildlife

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2019-Sowing Tomatoes

2019 Tomato Sowing

Despite the weather, I've sorted out the tomatoes to grow in 2019. Its a 50/50 split between new varieties acquired from a seed swap and seeds I've saved from previous years. The full list is:

Angelle, Aunt Ruby's German Green, Balconi Red, Black and Brown Boar, Black Krim, Black Vernissage, Britain's Breakfast, Cherokee Purple, Darby Striped, Gartenperle, German Red Strawberry, Giallo d'Inverno, Halms Gelbe, Homosa, Japanese Black Trifele, Jaune Flamme, Kenilworth/King George, Koralik Red Cherry, Livingston's Favourite, Marizol Gold, Marvel Stripes, Maskotka, Micro Tom, Minibel, Mortgage Lifter, Moskowsi Ultra Skorospelyi, Nectar Rose, Pink Moineau, Polish Linguisa, Radio, Rapunzel, Raspberry Oxheart, Red Robin, Red Zebra, Sallisaw Cafe, Summer Cider, Sunset's Red Horizon, Tiger, Tiny Tim, Violet Jasper, Yellow Pigmy.

Follow the links and there are descriptions of them (where I've grown them before) and the various pages will get updated as the year progresses.

As ever, my plan is to grow those that I know I like, try others and refresh the seed store. The last is the most difficult thing to do, there's little point in growing a cultivar which I've grown before and didn't like but seeds have a finite lifetime so if I don't grow them, I won't be able to grow them again in the future (and I've only got limited space altogether). Anyway, that adds to the fun.

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MYHarvest Report

A while ago, I posted a post that included a reference to MYHarvest. Well the group involved have published their first report and I think it makes interesting reading. You can find it here.

They’ve taken some figures from us food gardeners (allotments and backgarden) to show what quantity of food we produce and it was more than I expected.

Anyway, read and enjoy.

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Recipe: Stir Fried Vegetables & Omelette

A nutritious, tasty, quick to prepare omelette.

As usual things from our garden are in italics.

Ingredients (for 2)

  • 4 eggs
  • 100g baby sweetcorn
  • 100g carrots
  • 100g mushrooms
  • 100g green or white cabbage
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 2tsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp oil (peanut or similar for flavour)
  • pepper





  • To make the filling, slice the sweetcorn, mushrooms, onions, cabbage and carrots through the fine slicer on your food processor;
  • Heat 2 tbsps of oil in a large frying pan and stir fry the chopped vegetables with the soy sauce a 1.5 tsp sugar for about five minutes, then tip them onto a plate to keep warm;
  • Whilst stir frying, beat together the eggs, fish sauce remaining sugar and pepper;
  • Heat half the remaining oil in the pan and pour in half the beaten egg mixture. Swirl it around to make a thin coating in the frying pan. When cooked put half the vegetable mixture onto one side of the omelette and flip the other half over the top. Slide the omelette onto a plate and repeat with the rest of the eggs & vegetable mix.
  • You might have more vegetable mix than will comfortably fit onto the omelette but don't worry, just spoon it on top of the omelette.

We serve it with a salad and bread.

There you are, it takes about 20 minutes altogether.

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Recipe: Pork & Cabbage Stir Fry

A quick and easy stir fry that goes well with brown rice or noodles.

As usual things from our garden are in italics.

Ingredients (for 4)

  • 450g pork cut into small strips
  • 1/2 tsp Chinese five spice
  • 1 x Onion sliced finely
  • garlic (according to taste)
  • 1 x large carrot cut into batons
  • 1/2 white cabbage shredded
  • 2 tbsp sherry or rice wine
  • 1 tbsp soft brown sugar
  • oil for frying





  • Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add the pork & five spice. Cook for a few minutes until golden brown then remove and set aside.
  • Put the onion & garlic into the pan and cook for a few minutes until soft;
  • Add the carrot, cabbage, sherry (or rice wine) and brown sugar. Season with pepper and stir fry for 2-3 minutes.
  • Return the pork and heat through for another minute.

This should take about 10-12 minutes altogether so you've had time whilst doing this to cook the rice or noodles in the normal way.

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Garden Birds – RSPB Birdwatch

Every year I sit down for an hour or so at the end of January and do the Garden Birdwatch for the RSPB. This year I did it again and (as always seems to be the case) the weather was windy and cold. The number and varieties of birds in my garden always seem to be fewer than almost every other day around the actual time I choose.

This year we've been better at feeding the birds but its the first time we've done the count since we got rid of the pond over the summer (the pond had gone even more stagnant than usual and had killed off all the tadpoles and snails and we decided enough was enough and so filled it in). Anyway, this meant that the birds in the garden were focussed nearer to the house and really only around the seed and suet feeders.

What did we see:

  • Blue Tits
  • Great Tits
  • Long Tailed Tits
  • Goldfinch
  • Woodpigeons
  • Robin
  • Dunnock
  • Crows

What have we seen since:

  • Great Spotted Woodpecker;
  • Green Woodpecker;
  • Blackbird;
  • Thrush;
  • Nuthatch

I assume that either it was too windy or the birds came but at different times. Its tempting to increase the numbers seen to reflect what appears in the garden but that's not what one is supposed to do

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Tomato Blight

Crimson Crush fruit with blight

Blight is one of the killers for anybody who wants to grow tomatoes. The problem is that many other problems (sunburn, windburn, magnesium deficiency) show similar symptoms to the early stages of blight so any grower has to make a decision whether to remove the infected plants to try and save the rest of the crop at a stage where they may actually be perfectly healthy plants.

Late Blight: Late Blight (or Blight) is caused by a wind and rain borne fungus (Phytophthora infestans). It is the same fungus as causes potato blight so if you are growing on an allotment, the chances are that your, or your neighbours, potatoes will infect your tomatoes.

The first signs of blight will be on the leaves. Brown marks will appear and they will spread rapidly to other leaves and plants. Once the plant is infected, blight will progress to the fruit and they will brown and rot. You will not get a crop. The only solution is to remove and burn the infected plants and hope that the blight hasn't spread.

The risk of blight increases when there has been 48 hours of wet and warm weather and after four days the spores will definitely be airborne. However, if your plants are not affected, a period of dry weather may help to slow down the problem. If you want to protect your plants, spray with a copper fungicide after 48 hours and repeat every 10 to 14 days.

Plants are less likely to get blight if they are grown in a greenhouse/polytunnel and you water them in a way which doesn’t get the leaves wet (either directly on the ground or - even better - use a drip watering system. It is also sensible to attend to your greenhouse tomatoes first as the blight spores can attach to your clothes and be transported into the greenhouse that way.

Blight stays in the ground from one year to the next on living material (old tomatoes, plants, leaves, etc.), so if you have any blight destroy all infected plants, fruit, leaves (absolutely everything). Burn them or put them in the dustbin, do not leave any part of the plant on the ground as it will probably cause re-infection next year.

Keep the plants well ventilated and try to avoid the atmosphere in the polytunnel/greenhouse getting damp. Do this by watering your plants in the morning (certainly not when the ground is hot during the day).

Blight can only be prevented, not cured. If you have blight in your crop, the best thing to do  is to rip out affected plants and burn them. If you have caught it early, fruit can be used green but are unlikely to ripen (lots of chutney). However, you will probably have to use the fruit quickly as it could rot.

In the UK, the progression of blight across the country is reported by and is very useful to know whether there is blight in your area.

There are a number of commercial fungicides that can be used to try and prevent blight but we try to avoid using them if at all possible because they have to be used before blight appears and so may not be necessary.

Over the past few years, there have been a number of "Blight Resistant" Cultivars on the market. We've tried Crimson Crush and Mountain Magic with limited success. It should be noted that these cultivars are only described as "Resistant" not "Tolerant" and our experience has been:

  • in years where there isn't much blight, they survive and grow as well as the rest of the crop;
  • in years where there's a medium presence of blight, the plants survive and you will get a crop but (in general) the fruit is blight infected and much of it will rot if it hasn't ripened on the plant;
  • in years where there's a heavy presence of blight, the plants survive but all of the fruit get blight.

Now, our experience may not be the same as everybody else's but we have decided not to grow blight resistant varieties but to focus on growing tomatoes in a way that minimises the chances of blight.

Early Blight: Early Blight is similar to Late Blight but is caused by a different fungus (Alternaria solani) and starts earlier in the season. Rather than killing the plant and rotting the fruit, Early Blight weakens the plant and significantly reduces the crop. It is less common in the UK, but relatively common in North America and therefore appears frequently on the web (which leaves everybody expecting to get early blight even if it doesn't happen). However, it can appear if the plants are wet and in cold springs. 

Early blight is becoming more common in commercial potato crops in the UK as growers move from broad spectrum fungicides to more selective solutions and so may become more common in the UK.

A solution for early blight is to increase the ventilation around the plants by pruning off the leaves (which would be lost to blight in any case). Increased ventilation means reduced moisture and so will reduce the probability of early blight.

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Recipe: Vegetable & Pearl Barley Stew

A quick to prepare tasty vegetable stew which can be modified by adding more vegetables as you like.

Preparation is simple then it sits in the slow cooker until you're ready for it.

As usual things from our garden are in italics.

Ingredients (for 4)

  • 200g of butternut squash and/or sweet potato diced;
  • 10g dried mushrooms soaked in warm water;
  • 1x onion finely diced;
  • 1x celery stick chopped;
  • 1x large carrot finely chopped;
  • 3x garlic cloves crushed;
  • sprigs of rosemary;
  • 1x red pepper finely chopped;
  • 1xtsp oregano;
  • 150g pearl barley;
  • 1ltr hot vegetable stock





Put everything into the slow cooker and cook on low for about five hours by which time the pearl barley should have absorbed the water and plumped up and the vegetables should be tender but not breaking up.

If you want to be posh, serve with a few shavings of parmesan cheese (but you don't have to).

There you are simple to prepare and it looks after itself.

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Tomatoes for 2019

Now is the time of year when I seriously start thinking about what cultivars I'm going to grow. I have limited space and, over time, I've reduced the number of different varieties and plants I grow from a maximum of 70 down to 35 last year.

These are my criteria for choosing:

  • What new cultivars have I acquired during the year (mainly from a seed swap);
  • Which cultivars do I really like;
  • Which cultivars that I like haven't I grown for a few years (so my seeds are need to be refreshed);
  • Getting a mix of colours and sizes.

Having done all that, my selection for 2019 will probably be:

Which, if you follow the links, you'll see are mainly new cultivars with a few favourites thrown in.

So, which cultivars are you thinking of growing?

See our full list here


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Recipe: Chicken Stir Fry with Szechuan Pepper

This is a quick and easy to make stir fry which can easily be modified to suit your tastes. We served it with rice noodles and it took about 25 minutes altogether as we could prepare the vegetables at the same time as stir frying the various ingredients.

As usual things from our garden are in italics.

Ingredients (for 2)

  • 250g chicken thighs;
  • 200 quick cook vegetables
    • Mangetout Peas
    • Baby Sweetcon
    • Sweet Pepper
    • etc
  • 1 small shallot;
  • 2-3g root ginger grated
  • 1 garlic clove crushed
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp Szechuan Peppercorns
  • 1 Red Chilli (optional))


  • 2 tbsp Light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 100ml chicken stock
  • 1 tsp sesame oil




Chicken Stir Fry with Szechuan Pepper


Prepare the chicken in small strips, cutting off the fat. Heat the oil in the frying pan and add the chicken and cook for about 3 minutes stirring in between chopping the other vegetables.

Finely slice the shallot and add to the pan. Whilst this is going on, cook the rice noodles according to the instructions on the packet. This will probably take 3-5 minutes so they'll be ready just when the sauce is reduced.

Chop the other vegetables into fork sized pieces and add to the pan. Cook for a further 2 minutes, stirring all the time. Then add the garlic, ginger then after about another minute the crushed peppercorns. Cook for another 2 minutes.

Mix all the sauce ingredients together and whisk, then pour over the mixture stir through and cook to reduce the sauce a little.

Add the noodles and stir it all together.

And there you are, a tasty, not to spicy, stir fry.

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