The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

The Bloggies, biodynamic gardening and the latest Cottage Smallholder Competition


Photo: Biodynamic Planting Calendar 2010

Photo: Biodynamic Planting Calendar 2010

I spent a happy hour in bed this morning – nominating all my favourite blogs for the Bloggies 2010. This is the most prestigious annual blogging award in the world and it’s now in its tenth year. You need to nominate three blogs in each category that you choose so I made a list of the relevant URLs and pasted them in. Lots of fun and a good positive start to the day!

Then the postman finally delivered my prize for the next Cottage Smallholder competition. As you know I’m using biodynamic techniques in the garden this year, and The Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar 2010 by Maria and Matthais Thun is core to this system of gardening. In my haste to order a copy, I ordered two. So this is the prize for our first gardening competition of 2010.

Maria Thun has been practicing biodynamic farming for over 50 years and this calendar is the result of years of research and experience. There is also a handy pull out calendar for the garden shed. I have been reading as much I can on the Internet but there’s not a lot of information out there. There was an interesting experiment with tomato growing at Audley EndMagic Cochin visited the Elysia Biodynamic Garden and said that the vegetables were amazing. Chickens in The Road has a good post about planting by the moon here  – the comments are worth reading too.

I had thought that it would be only relevant to countries in the Northern Hemisphere but there is a chart enabling it to be converted all over the world. So if you live in the Southern Hemisphere you can enter!

To enter the competition just leave a comment below outlining your best gardening tip for saving time and or money. You may enter as many times as you like with as many tips as you like. I want to post the prize fairly quickly so the winner can take advantage of its advice regarding the best times for sowing seeds. So the competition will run for just eight days and close at midnight Sunday 17th of January and the calendar will be posted to the winner on Monday 18th of January.

I can’t wait to read your tips. Best of luck to everyone who enters.

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  1. You can find mulch free in the fall if you live in a four seasons area. Home owners are required to use paper bags for collecting leaves and garden debris and that is placed next to the garbage cans for city pickup. It isn’t illegal to do but its even better if you ask your neighbors for the sacks or offer to help them rake their gardens in exchange for the sacks of leaves.

  2. magic cochin

    After all the good advice in the comments above – especially from Homojoe – I’m not sure what I can add!

    For some crops it’s easy to save your own seed – veg that self pollinate (for cross pollinators it’s more tricky unless you are happy to get some weird crosses!). I see the Real Seed Company site has lots of advice, so do the Heritage Seed Library at Garden Organic. I save my own Broad Bean, Runner Bean, various favourite Climbing and Dwarf French Bean, Peas (including Purple Podded varieties of course!), Bunching Onions, Coriander.

    And then Swap Seed – spare seed you’ve bought and seed you’ve saved can be swapped with fellow veg growers at organised Seed Swap days (search the web or look on village or allotment notice boards). Or be assertive and set up your own Seed Swap Day, serve some hot drinks and biscuits and have fun!

    For containers in summer I use ornamental grasses, scented geraniums, pineapple sage, lavender, trailing sedums, geranium macrorrhizum. All are tolerant of drier conditions and can either be left out all winter or kept in a frost free greenhouse for next year. I don’t buy bedding plants.

    Don’t be too hasty to get growing early in the season. Use your instincts – if we get a warm early spring then get sowing and planting, if it’s still cold don’t worry if you don’t sow and plant things until May. I usually plant Runner Beans directly in the ground in the second week of May. The saying – “don’t sow in soil you wouldn’t be happy to sit you’re bare bum on” is a wise one.

    If you want to grow your own fruit and veg be accepting of having to use the same crop while it’s in season day after day, or freeze, preserve and dry it. Invest in a copy of Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book and her Vegetable Book. Try all the recipes – it will keep you going for years! And your bound to find a way to love even the veg you thought you didn’t like!

    Don’t get talked into buying expensive equipment, gadgets, clothing, accessories, etc. In reality I only use a fork, a rake a hand fork, a hand hoe (for drawing a furrow to sow seed), a dibber, towel and secateurs. Oh, and an old kitchen knife. Look in second hand shops and on markets for reconditioned vintage garden tools – there’s a great stall on Saturdays in Saffron Walden Market for instance.

    My best advice for the ornamental garden is to observe and note the conditions in each area you want to plant up. Do some homework about the sort of plants which like growing in those situations – look in neighbours gardens and nearby gardens open to the public. Find related plants and create an ecosystem that is happy just like plants in the wild – you’ll also attract native wildlife and create a naturally happy habitat.

    If you like growing ornamental plants from seed and you’re in the UK and are a member of the RHS, remember that you can choose 20 packets of seed for an admin fee of £12. I’ve grown most of the perenniels in my garden this way. Local gardening clubs hold plant sales in spring – great for unusual bargains!

    And lastly, don’t get downhearted if a crop fails. There are so many variables in gardening and they change every year – that makes it interesting. Build up gradually and don’t expect to be self-sufficient in you first year.

    Here’s to a great growing season in 2010

  3. Tips off the top of my head:

    -Plant red-leaved lettuces…the birds don’t like them as much so you have untouched lettuces to enjoy and your effort doesn’t go to waste.

    -To get the best yield of potatoes in a small space, plant them in barrels or high tubs. When you plant them, start with only about 10 inches of soil in the bottom. Add another few inches every few days. By the time you get to the top and the potatoes are ready, they wil be growing all the way down the tub. I was amazed at how many I got from this method.

    -When picking blackcurrants, if you’re limber enough, look up and under the branches. I thought I was getting them all and never realised how many I was missing until I fell over into the patch one day and looked up.

    -Beer and slugs. They love it a bit too much as I found out when I left a can or twelve of beer in the garden after NYE. I woke up and they were full of pickled slugs. So, I started burying empty margarine containers around my vegetable patch and putting a little cheap beer in them each night. Empty pickled slugs, and repeat. After about a week, my garden is pretty much slug free. And the sad thing is, they can hold their booze better than I can. Also, it got rid of the cheap beer that someone left at my house. Slugs aren’t fussy.

    -On the ocasion that I need to do something heavy that involves hiring a mulcher or something, I pool together with the neighbours and we do the whole lot over a day or weekend. It’s also a good time to trade seeds/plants/produce/tips/GOSSIP ((that’s the best part. You’ll never believe what the man at #38 has been doing to his blueberries!)

    -Pretty as all those fancy gardening tools are, you don’t need them. I’ve been surviving with a ho, rake, spade and fork for years and have never needed anything else. If I need to lop things I bribe my parents with produce/preserves and borrow theirs. You can barter/trade/bribe/steal just about anything if you set your mind to it.

    That’s it from me for now, but there will be more!

  4. Rosemary Dempster

    We live on one of the more remote islands in Orkney, so can’t just nip down to the local garden centre, when we need something for the garden. Recycling is a must here. Last year my husband spent ages thinning out individual plants into thin plastic trays, a lot of which ripped by the time the plants were ready to go in the garden. This year we have saved all the cardboard toilet roll tubes and cut them in half. These will be placed in a plastic tray lined with newspaper and filled with compost to be used for sewing seeds or individual seedlings. When the plants are ready, the tube can be planted in the garden in its entirety, The tube will decompose naturally, and we will have saved time and money.

  5. When visiting garden centres and nurseries check if they have a recycling bin for pots and seed trays. These are great after a good wash, my Mum and I raise seedlings and plants to sell to raise cash for Cancer Research each year and we almost never need to buy pots etc.

  6. Stephanie in AR

    My best tip came from my Dad: when planting the garden do not mark the rows with a stick instead trandsplant a flower. Young children like to pull up sticks but leave the pretty flowers alone. By midsummer your garden will be edged with flowers that those same small children can pick or smell without trampling the rest of the patch.

  7. Last year i took advantage of the free veg seed offers in newspaper/gardening magazines, pay postage only of £ 1.99. I took advantage of three of these offers and have enough seed for my fairly large veg plot. All seeds where Thompson and Morgan. The offers provided a good range of herbs, salads, cabbages and root crops. I only had to buy peas and beans. Also it gave me the opportunity to try things that i wouldn’t of try if i had to pay full price for the packets. I’ve also got a few packets left for this year. They all had good use by dates. So my tip is to look for these offers before buying your seed, it will save you a fortune!!

  8. petoskystone

    this tip is for newbies especially: after you have carefully drawn up your to-buy list, go over it & slash the total amount bought by 1/3, because your eyes are bigger than your garden! saves money & the heartbreak of having to thin out & toss your babies. yeah, yeah,*everyone* says this–& it’s true!

  9. A lot of the online garden shops do pre order mini plug plants for bumper amounts of summer bedding plants ( the mix is usually lobelia/busylizzie/pertunia/begonia) and if you order in autumn for the next spring they are about £20 for 560 plants. I always order 2 lots ( don’t ask how long it takes to plant them out but needless to say I spend almost a day in the greenhouse).
    The first year I didn’t make as much profit as I brought french marigolds as well which I scampered round dead heading and keeping the seeds that summer, and of course I had to buy all the trays to plant them out in in the green house.
    But I have the same people every year now who all have the same orders for their pots and hanging baskets and give me the plastic trays back each year. So what with only a huge bag of potting compost to buy ( about a tenner) my free french marigold seeds, and reused potting out trays I end up with around 75 trays of 20 bedding plants a year which cost me the princely sum of £50.
    I keep some for my garden and sell the rest for £4 a tray, half the price of garden centre, beautifully cared for plants and delivered.
    I make about £180 – £200 a year which I then splash out on shrubs and exotic plants for my own garden that I wouldn’t normally buy.
    Maybe a tip for your gate stall fiona?

  10. hi fiona buying cheap seeds or seed potatoes is not cost effective we tried it last year thinking there would be no difference in quality to the more expensive we were wrong especially regarding sedd potatoes we will be buying better quality this year.happy gardening.carole

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