The Cottage Smallholder


stumbling self sufficiency in a small space


How to prepare the best seed bed for winter salad

Posted in Vegetables | 9 comments

How to prepare the best seed bed for winter salad

My mother and stepfather were both talented amateur watercolour artists. They rented a chalet in the Swiss Engadine for a month each summer when we were growing up. They spent their days painting. I used to refurbish Henrietta’s wardrobe. She was my rag doll. Much loved and a great model for my creations. Later I moved on to reading and dreaming. As he set up his easel, my stepfather always announced each painting as “an exercise.” These two words insured against failure. If a painting was a success, then the announcement was forgotten....

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Garlic sprouting inhibitors – beware

Posted in Discoveries, Vegetables | 8 comments

Garlic sprouting inhibitors – beware

In the autumn of 2006 I split a fat head of French garlic and planted it in a sunny position in the kitchen garden. Even though we grow our own, our supply is supplemented with huge heads of garlic that Jocelyn and Miles bring back from France. Danny pottered down to the engine room (gardening wise) of our ship and christened it The French Row. “When will we see these French ones sprouting?” “They’ll send up shoots in the spring if all is well.” In the spring it was clear that all was not well with The French...

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Why buy compost for your pots when you can make it at home?

Posted in General care, Save Money | 9 comments

Why buy compost for your pots when you can make it at home?

With the “save money in 2008 challenge” gripping the reins of the cottage smallholder spending, I’d been a bit concerned about the annual outlay on seeds, grow bags and loads of compost for the large pots that are dotted about in the kitchen garden. We usually have fifteen tomato plants growing on a warm south west facing wall of the cottage. So I bought two ultra cheap grow bags from Netto and three decent ones and within seconds of planting them up, realised that the saving was a mistake. The Netto ones were rougher in...

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How to eat your own new potatoes on Christmas Day

Posted in Christmas, Discoveries, Vegetables | 20 comments

How to eat your own new potatoes on Christmas Day

As a woman, I move in a strange world. Filled with ladders, vans, dust, men and the occasional dog that observes me closely as I pass by. There are very few women at the builder’s merchants where I buy my paint. In fact I have never seen one buying anything alone. A woman is always accompanied by a man. So my progression in the builder’s merchants from Oddity to UBOK (Unusual But OK) has been a bit of a rocky one. Finally, after five years, I know and like the guys behind the desk. We chat when I need to have paint mixed. Sometimes...

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Increase pollination by planting sweet peas with your runner beans

Posted in Vegetables | 13 comments

Increase pollination by planting sweet peas with your runner beans

We have had bumper crops of runner beans for three years now. I am sure that part of the reason for this is because I have planted sweet peas with my runner beans. The combination is beneficial for both. The scented sweet pea flowers attract insects and this increases the pollination and yield of the runner beans. They are perfect companions. Both are greedy and flourish in a border rich in home made compost. They need quite a bit of watering so the automatic watering system is doubled in this section of the kitchen garden. They both need to...

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Growing your own tomatoes and coping with blight

Posted in Vegetables | 17 comments

Growing your own tomatoes and coping with blight

Each year we marvel when the first tomato seedlings appear. It’s hard to believe that they should grow into sturdy plants almost as tall as me and provide us with pounds and pounds of fruit. Out of 80 potential finalists, only forty will make it to the next round. Usually we end up with around thirty plants. These make up the cast of our grand tomato opera. A few divas and supporting roles and at least twenty less showy plants that make up the chorus. The main cast bask against the sunny side of the cottage and the rest are in the...

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The shrub that slept all summer

Posted in Plants and Bulbs | 7 comments

The shrub that slept all summer

If you plant a shrub that has been grafted onto root stock too deeply in the soil, the root stock can take over. This happened to my pretty viburnum. It fought back and was eventually dwarfed by a tall ugly shrubby tree. “We have to remove this and start again!” “But it has formed a perfect arch with the viburnum on the other side of the path. It doesn’t look ugly to me.” Danny did have a point so I kept the louche shrub for a couple of years and finally asked John to remove it and replace it with a pretty...

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The best piece of gardening advice

Posted in General care | 10 comments

The best piece of gardening advice

“Never plant two of anything in a group. Even numbers just don’t work. Stick to odd numbers one, three, five or a drift.” Roger Sagger (R & R Saggers Nursery Garden, Newport, Essex). This is probably the best piece of gardening advice that I have ever been given. If you think about it, Roger Sagger is right. Imagine four tulips in a border and then consider how five would look. The odd number gives a natural feel to the group. Unless they are planted in a straight line. I have only one Mahonia x media Charity. It grows in...

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