After a bit of a break I decided to grow chillies again this year. This was after I was given some seeds as a Christmas gift. I haven’t bothered for a few years as I always grew far more than we used, but I am resolved to preserve them and use them through winter.

The ones I was given were Prairie Fire, and then I bought some Basque from Real SeedsIMG_1596.JPG

Oddly, the Christmas gift ones came with some composted elephant poo to plant them in – I added it to my compost and used my usual peat-free organic compost from New Horizon.


I sowed the Basque ones in February and the Prairie Fire a little later in March, due, if I remember correctly, to space in the heated propagator being at a premium. Anyway, all went well and I ended up with some splendid plants and lots of chillies.

The Basque were described as having respectable heat and good flavour. Hmm. They seemed pretty weak to me, and have very little flesh. I stuffed some with some left-over burrito filling, but they weren’t great. I still have quite a few so will probably give it another go, but haven’t bothered to save any seeds, although I think there are still some left from the original packet.

The Prairie Fire were also disappointing, and confusing. On our holiday we went to the Eden Project, and I studied their display of chillies and the Scoville scale – the more Scovilles, the hotter the chilli. Well the Prairie Fire had seemed to me to be not very hot so I needed to use quite a few to get enough heat – and they are tiny and fiddly to chop up. So I thought I would look for something both hotter and larger. In the shop there was a display describing them as ‘really really hot’ at 108,000 Scovilles. But then right next to this were some seeds with the Scovilles at 20,000 – 30,000.

So now I don’t know what to grow next year – I will need to experiment or just choose at random. I have planned to buy as much organic seed as possible, so that will limit my choices, which may be a helpful thing. Anyway, I used all the seed I had, and won’t be saving any.

I have hung the Prairie Fire seeds up to dry on the dresser in the living room.


I’ve read that you can grind them to chilli powder in a coffee grinder kept especially for the purpose (we don’t like chilli flavoured coffee), but this small string is all there is – seems a little wasteful to buy a grinder just for these. I will look for a second-hand one, or try Freegle, I think.

So that’s my 2016 chilli harvest – small but how many chillies does one need? Flavours are disappointing, but I will grow something else next year and try to find something just right for us.

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Potatoes 2016

I thought I’d write short reviews of the crops I grew this year and ideas of what i want to do differently next year. So I’ll start with the potatoes I harvested a few weekends ago.

They were Sarpo Mira, bought at HEOG‘s potato day back in February


I’ve never grown maincrops before because of the blight problems that usually destroy the crop, but Sarpo are blight resistant, so I thought I’d give it a go. I usually grow just one bed of earlies because I only want a few home-grown spuds – decent organic ones are commonly available in the shops and not overly expensive. I did miss digging up afew salad spuds in the height of the summer so am thinking about growing earlies in a pot next year – a whole bed of them is too many and lots get wasted.

So I planted them on 10th April, not very deeply, in a bed that had had my home-made compost added. Then I mulched with straw and added more straw as the haulms appeared.


They resisted the blight pretty well, but did succumb in the end. So I cut off the dying haulms and put them in the green waste bin for the council’s hot compost heap to take care of. Then I left the tubers in the ground for about 4 weeks – I can’t remember how long I used to advise people to leave them. If you do this the spores from the haulms end up in the straw and on the soil surface.  After a number of weeks, with no potatoes to live on, the spores die and you can safely lift the tubers through the soil and straw and they won’t get blighted. I am really pleased with the crop – all these from 18 tubers in a 6′ x 4′ bed:


They’re now in a large brown paper bag (upcycled chicken feed bag) in the (newly tidy) garage. Hopefully, they don’t have blight and will keep well for a few months, as we don’t eat lots of spuds. They’re rather waxy so will probably make good roast potatoes. There are quite a few lovely big ones for baking, although floury spuds are tastier that way.

So, for 2017, yes, I’ll grow maincrops again, but only blight resistant varieties. And a few earlies in a container for summer salads.

Local folk may want to know that HEOG‘s 2017 potato day is planned for 4th February 2017, 10am – 2pm, Kenilworth Senior Citizens’ Club CV8 1QJ.


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Great Garage Tidy 2016

Okay, so it’s not gardening related, but it is what I did with my weekend and I thought it worth documenting for future reference.

We’ve been on holiday from work for the last 2 weeks. We had a brief break in Cornwall, but then spent 4 days (yes, 4 whole days) tidying out our garage.

We took 6 van loads to the tip:


Actually, I’m not quite clear what we threw out! There were lots of old toys and games  – our tip has a re-use shop attached which raises money for Age Concern (or maybe Help the Aged?) so they took all those to sell on. There were rather a lot of old boxes! You know when you buy a new kettle and keep the box for a few weeks just in case? Well we still had boxes from kettles long defunct. There was too much furniture in there, but it was all upcycled anyway – nothing we had bought new. In fact, one cupboard was in the kitchen when we moved in in 1998.

So here’s some before and after pics:


We did find a few really useful things- some Rootgrow that had been forgotten, a lovely set of watercolour pencils, and an Eden Project guide from our first visit in 2004.

So, just the shed to sort now:


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Cuttings v2.0

Sorry for the shock – 2 blog posts in so short a time. Yep, it’s time for another relaunch of Home on the Hill. You see, the main purpose of this blog is as a bit of a diary for me – but it doesn’t fulfil that function because I tried just posting once a month, and then it seemed such a huge task, that I simply didn’t do it. So now I’m going to try a ‘little and often’ approach, taking lots of photographs (which I do anyway) and letting them do the talking. I might even manage a weekly post, but don’t hold your breath!

So it’s Sunday afternoon and I’ve knocked off a little early this weekend because we’re off to Cornwall for a few days so I need to pack. Actually, we’re back now but I held off publishing so they weren’t too close together.

My friend Elaine does the ornamental parts of our garden for us – one whole acre is just too much for folk with full-time jobs. A couple of weeks ago she told me to take some cuttings of the salvias she had planted. Now I’m not great at cuttings but I had a go. But then we had an unseasonal heatwave last week (28 degrees Centigrade in September) and they ended up looking like this (they were in a heated propagator too):


So today I had another go:

Then I went in the house and consulted the bible on how to do these things. Maybe should have done that first because I’m not sure I followed any of the instructions well. So we’ll see if they root.

I also did quite a lot of tidying up. I’d got a bit behind with the strimming because I was at the Permaculture Convergence one weekend, then ill the next weekend. Here’s some pics of the untidy bits:

And here’s a few before and after shots to finish:

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Making leafmould

From time to time I’ve written articles for Leicestershire Master Composters Composting Chronicle – a limited readership as I’m sure you can imagine. So I thought I’d ‘upcycle’ the work I’ve done and publish them here too.

So, Autumn, a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Time to gather in the apple crop, tidy the garden, and make leaf mould. Well, compost geeks like me make leaf mould.
Leaf mould is wonderful stuff – high in organic matter yet low in nutrients, ideal for those crops that need this kind of soil conditioner. But we’ll come to how best to use it later. First, how to make it – it couldn’t be simpler.

There’s nothing wrong with adding fallen autumn leaves to your regular compost heap. They rot fairly slowly on there, but will add browns (carbon) and are a useful addition. However, if you have the space, or a lot of leaves to deal with, leaf mould is a much better use of them. Unlike a regular compost heap, leaves on their own are mainly decomposed by the action of fungi, and it’s a little slower and colder than a compost heap. Ideally, construct a dedicated bin from chicken wire and some posts – something like this:


Then simply gather your leaves and chuck them in. Leave it for a year or two, and you have finished leaf mould. To speed up the process, you can chop the leaves up first, using a leaf blower or by running over them with your lawnmower. You’ll need a new bin each year – don’t add this year’s leaves to last year’s or you’ll never get to harvest the finished leaf mould.

If you don’t have space for something on this scale (although that’s a pretty big bin in the picture – you can make something much smaller) then simply gather the leaves into black bin bags, puncture some holes in them and store them in a quiet corner – behind the shed, for example. If the leaves are dry when they go into the bags, great. If not, adding some moisture will help – if you can bring yourself to wee on them, that’s ideal! You can use the leaves of all deciduous trees, even walnuts (walnut trees exude a substance from their root which stops other plants from growing, which is why some people are reluctant to compost their leaves. But the offending substance breaks down in the leaf mould making process and won’t cause any problems when you use the product). Avoid leaves of evergreen species such as holly and conifers, but there’s no need to be too fussy – a holly leaf or three won’t hurt.

At the end of the process you should have something that’s pretty unrecognisable as leaves. It may have the odd unrotted leaf in it, but these can be picked out, leaving a crumbly rich brown soil-like material. One use of this is as seed compost. It’s low in nutrients, but seeds don’t need any nutrients to get started because they have it all within them. Simply fill up your seed trays with leaf mould and sow as usual.

It’s also a great soil conditioner for crops that don’t need lots of nourishment, like runner beans. Lots of people think runner beans are hungry, but this is wrong – they love lots of moisture at their roots, which is why they enjoy the traditional bean trench compost, but they fix their own nitrogen directly from the air, so the the nitrogen in the trench contents goes to waste.


Far more sensible to just use leafmould or even newspaper to fill that bean trench, and add all those compost ingredients to your regular heap. Other places to use it include the plot where you plan to grow carrots or onions in the coming season. Or around perennial planting, such as shrubs and herbaceous plants, as a mulch. It will keep the weeds down, conserve moisture in the soil, and improve the soil as the worms and other invertebrates integrate it into the soil for you. Unlike regular compost, the time of year you use it doesn’t matter too much as there’s not many nutrients to leach away. Late winter is fine, if this is when you have time. But you can leave it where it is until it’s time to mulch your ornamentals or prepare that bean trench in spring.

So, this autumn, as well as gathering your apples, tidying your vege plot and enjoying the last of the sunshine, give making leaf mould a go. This time next year you’ll be reaping the rewards, and sweeping leaves is great exercise for your abs!

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St George’s Day weekend

Trying a different tack with the blog today – just going to post some pics from the weekend. 

Spent Saturday in the garden working on the veg patch – sowed a few more seeds, spread some compost, erected the sunflower frame.

You may be wondering what’s that on the side of the compost bin – well that’s what happens if you compost your not quite 100% cotton undies!

Then in the event I went to a HEOG meeting – a bread making demonstration. I’ve always thought bread-making was time consuming and faffy, but Susie made it look quick and easy. Feeling inspired to have a go. We ate lots of the stuff she cooked, and the pizza was especially yummy – although the smell of garlic on my breath this morning was so strong I’m amazed Keith managed to get in the room with me!

Finally set off back to the station, but managed to miss my train home by seconds – actually pressed the door open button, but they were already locked. Damn! 30 minute wait for the next one.

No photos from today, but we went to our son’s house across town and chopped back his massive laurel hedge for him. The have done some sewing because it was too cold and damp for gardening. 

Posted in Composting, Cooking, Hedges, Organic gardening, Permaculture, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New season begins with the Edible Garden Show and a HEOG meeting

So the 2016 season is off to a good start with a trip to the Edible Garden Show and the first HEOG meeting of the year.

We had booked tickets for the Edible Garden Show way back in the autumn as it has returned to Stoneleigh which is very close to where we live. We went the first year (2011, I think) and haven’t been back since. Although it has grown since then and now fills 2 exhibition stalls, we were a little disappointed in the range of stuff and are not sure we’ll bother again. A big thing on my shopping list was seeds, and I have decided for 2016 to go as organic as possible and use organic seeds where they are available. Sadly, they weren’t available at the show – if they were, I didn’t manage to find them. I did buy some non-organic flower seeds to add to an ornamental area of the garden. Not that I subscribe to the idea that only food should be grown organically, more that I didn’t think I’d be able to get organic seeds of chinese chives from alternative suppliers. Most of the other stuff for sale seemed a bit ‘gadgety’ if I’m honest. There were lots of tools, but when you’ve been gardening for years, you don’t need to buy many tools. It all seemed a little too much like the GW show at Birmingham, full of stuff bought by people who like the idea of gardening but would rather buy it than do it. One exhibitor caught our eye – a compostinIMG_0125g toilet system. For some time I’ve been planning to install a loo in the lower reaches of the garden. My plan was to buy a shed and just pop a simple bucket and loo seat in it, with the bucket filled with sawdust – this would only be suitable for urine, but who pops down the garden for a poo? Ecotoilets supply a much posher system – fancy shed, separating toilet for liquid and solid waste, solar panels for provide light. But all in all, I think this is rather overkill for a garden loo – much more suited to allotment sites and boats etc. Mind you, I am tempted to replace one of the loos in our house with one of these fancy ones – it always seems such a waste to flush all that lovely nitrogen away.

A highlight of the morning was meeting Sean Cameron from the horticultural channel. He was an interesting and engaging speaker and has given me food for thought about this blog and my twitter, instagram and facebook activities.

After lunch we headed into the second hall. This was full of delicious food vendors, which we wish we had known before we bought boring sandwiches from the main cafe. It was labelled as the ‘good life’ exhibition and I was expecting more crafts and homemaking skills than artisan foods. So although it was interesting, we bought very little as we were full from our lunch.

IMG_0144An enjoyable part of the show is the smallholding section. I keep a few chooks and have no intention of expanding the livestock here, but I do love to see and hear about smallholding and the small-scale keeping of animals. So we watched the goats and sheep for a while.



HEOG meeting

After a successful potato day, the HEOG meetings started again properly with a talk from Suzanne from Down to Earth in Earlsdon, Coventry. It’s not a shop I’m familiar with as I don’t really go to Coventry to shop, and certainly not for food. But the conversation was interesting and I particularly liked the idea of organic meat and fish being sold from ‘under the counter’ so as not to upset the vegan customers. I must confess, I’m more interested in hearing about gardening and growing than shopping, and I tend to choose local food over organic (I do lots of our shopping at a farm shop on my way home from work, then top up with a Suma order every few months and supermarkets for everything these places don’t supply). My issue with this type of shop is that they are quite difficult for a working person to access – there’s nothing near my place of work, and they tend to be closed by the time I get home. I know I could shop on Saturdays, but I resent spending daylight hours shopping when I could be in the garden. So I’m not a great supporter of independent organic shops, I’m afraid. But the talk about how the business has grown and developed over the years was enlightening.

HEOG have a full programme of events lined up for the summer and autumn, and I have a new camera, so I’m hoping to document them more, take more photos and blog a little more. But we’ll see – I’ve planned that before and not done it, so I’m not prepared to make any promises!


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Interesting evening

So, Keith and I joined our local organic gardening group, HEOG, and have been to a few interesting talks and meetings. Last week, we went one sunny evening to Pleasance Farm, near Kenilworth. Although this isn’t an organic farm, it is in the Natural England Higher Level Environmental Stewardship Scheme – I’m not sure of the detail of what that means, but I do know that it’s about farmers being paid for environmentally friendly practices, such as planting trees and encouraging wildlife.

The farmer explained that although they haven’t gone for organic certification they do try to keep artificial fertilisers and sprays to a minimum. The main business of the farm is fattening beef steers for Waitrose. They grow crops primarily to feed to the cattle. This mixed farming has resulted in well-managed soils with high levels of organic matter. They grow wheat, barley and lupins for the cattle, plus some plants to provide seed for overwintering birds. They have also planted a small native broad leaf woodland, and run a small pheasant shoot here.

As we looked around, the cattle spotted us and ran over to investigate:

Very nosy cattle

Very nosy cattle

The cattle are kept in the Pleasance field – the Pleasance being the late medieval guest accommodation wing for Kenilworth castle – it’s just lumps and bumps in a field now but causes lots of headaches as it is a listed monument:

The Pleasance

The Pleasance

Kenilworth Castle, viewed from Pleasance Farm

Kenilworth Castle, viewed from Pleasance Farm

While this wasn’t a gardening related evening, it was a pleasant way to spend a sunny evening. It’s interesting too, to hear that many farmers reject organic certification as too restrictive, and prefer to farm in an environmentally responsible way, while reserving the right to use artificial fertilisers and weed-killers where they believe it to be necessary. In recent years, organic certification hasn’t necessarily given returns large enough to justify the cost – and if the ultimate buyer (Waitrose, in this case) doesn’t want organic produce, why bother with certification?

Personally I’m trying to reduce my meat consumption as it’s a huge factor in a personal environmental footprint – particularly for beef and lamb. But when I do consume it, I’d prefer it to come from environmentally responsible farmers like these. However, we don’t have a Waitrose in the town where I live, and anyway, the cattle have travelled to Lincolnshire for slaughter (because Waitrose only use 2 slaughterhouses in England, and that’s the nearest) so it’s hardly local. Mind you, I buy meat from a local farm shop, and I don’t know where their animals have to travel to for slaughter. Must ask.

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Why I won’t be getting a spinning wheel (yet)

For ages I’ve had a hankering to learn to spin – not the exercise bike kinda spin, but spin yarn from sheep fleece. Last July I joined in Tour de Fleece and taught myself how to use a drop spindle. I had more or less decided to buy a wheel and learn that too.

My enquiries led me to Pam Austin’s Spinning School, and I was persuaded to try the beginner’s package rather than jump straight in and buy a wheel. For £80 you get a ‘how to spin’ lesson; then the loan of a wheel for a month, complete with plenty of fleece, carders and other necessary bits and bobs; then a second ‘how to ply’ lesson. After this you can continue to rent a wheel until you find the right one for you; or you can buy. Or not.

I had my first lesson with Pam a few weeks ago, and got photographed for her website too – thanks to Julie Walker for the picture:

Pam teaching me to spin

Pam teaching me to spin

So, the idea is that I spin up at least 2 bobbins, then return on 28th March for part 2. I’m so pleased I took up the beginner’s package because I’ve decided that this really isn’t for me at this point in my life. I like spinning, I’m not bad at it. But I do find myself saying ‘just 15 minutes, then you can pick up your knitting’. And a lot of the yarn that spinners seem to produce is of the variegated variety – lost of colour blending and pretty yarn. Now I’m not very arty (much more mathsy, if there is such a thing!), and I do like the pretty yarn. BUT I don’t like the finished objects it turns into – they’re all just a bit too hippy knit-your-own-yoghurt for my taste. And I am a product knitter – it’s the finished object that I covert and that’s why I do it.

Now I could spin plain coloured yarns (then combine them as I knit, using stranded colourwork techniques) – but I can buy these yarns. In fact, with a bit of care I can get local, or at least British, yarns quite easily – dyed or undyed. So I’ve decided not to buy a wheel right now. The time is better spent improving my knitting and sewing skills. And the money I’ll save can always be spent elsewhere (like the garden for example). I think there is a spinning wheel in my future – I’ll put it on my retirement list. So I’ll spin my 2 bobbin, and have my second lessons – then I can say ‘I can spin, but I don’t’.

Pam runs Woolly Days every month – I hope I’ll still be welcome, without being a spinner. Last month the focus was on knitted socks:

A collection of knitted socks

A collection of knitted socks

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In short, we would like to see more flowers

I think it’s probably true to say that most of the people who came to our garden open day were attracted by the music, and less people came because they’re interested in organic gardening, local food production and permaculture. For future events, that’s something I’d like to address – to attract more people for that reason. But I’m not sure how to achieve that. Okay, I was lazy with the publicity for the 2014 event, relying almost solely on social media. But then I am in a couple of Facebook groups with this kind of focus, and I did share my event there.  I know that if I’m looking for gardens to visit that inspire me; I find it quite difficult to find out what’s going on.

Visitors amongst the cosmos

Visitors amongst the cosmos

Crow's Feet

Crow’s Feet

One of things I thought might work is National Gardens Scheme – this is where people open their gardens to the public, and the money all goes to NGS, who pass it on to charities. A couple of huge advantages here are that they are well known, and there’s some guarantee of quality. They produce a ‘yellow book’ of gardens to visit each year, and their gardens are generally well-attended. Speaking as someone who has actually been shown a ‘garden’ as part of a non-NGS open gardens trail, which consisted of just lights and gnomes, not even any grass, the quality guarantee is important. I want to know that what I’m going to see is something worth seeing. But this means that there’s an inspection process. If you offer your garden to this scheme, some very nice ‘local organisers’ come and take a look.

Bee on calendula

Bee on calendula

So the point of this tale is that these local organisers came to our event last month, and then very politely declined to include me in the scheme in future. One of the reasons listed is ‘in short, we would like to see more flowers’! Now I know my ornamental borders would score a ‘could do better’ grade in class, but I’ve been to NGS gardens where I would give that grade to their vege gardens, wildlife areas and orchards. So I guess what this is telling me is that they are not judging gardens with the same set of criteria. I don’t think it’s the local organisers’ fault – they may well have understood and even enjoyed what they saw, but they know their audience and what they want to see. Also, the rules say that your garden must provide ‘at least 40 minutes of interest’. Now I had looked at my garden and thought that if I were to visit something similar it would take a good couple of hours to get round it. However, having watched our guests explore this garden I realise now that I’m extremely slow. It seems that not everyone is as geeky as me. So maybe there isn’t that much for the average visitor to see – especially if overflowing flower beds and immaculate lawns are what they’re looking for.



But where does this leave me? I was never entirely sure we were right for NGS, but thought it worth a go. I know when I look in the yellow book for places to visit, I struggle to find anything I think is really interesting. But I don’t know where else to seek out ideas. Garden Organic used to run a scheme where members could open their gardens, with profits going to Garden Organic, but that’s been run right down these days – I think I saw just one garden advertised under that scheme this year. Also, there’s no inspection so no guarantee of quality, or even ‘organicness’ (is that a word?). The Permaculture Association has its LAND scheme, but that’s more aimed at small producers and social inclusion projects. In order to be included in that, you need to accept volunteers at least 4 weekends a year (I think). A private garden with owners with full-time jobs, families and other commitments, just doesn’t fit into this scheme.




Well, we won’t be doing another open day until 2016 so there’s plenty of time to think on this some more. Obviously it would be great if a new scheme sprang up based on allotments and productive gardens, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Maybe I’ll add it onto my list of projects for my retirement? In the meantime, maybe I should try harder to grow an audience for this blog, my Facebook page, and get more Twitter followers. But then, that means writing more, tweeting more etc. And actually, I’m too busy doing it to write more than I do (although I could try and remember to Tweet more often). Maybe next time, I could do more work on the old-fashioned publicity side – tell the local paper, for a start. And send flyers to local gardening clubs – I don’t actually go to them because they’re too focussed on flowers!


All the photos from the day are in a Flickr album at

Posted in Open garden 2014, Organic gardening, Permaculture | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment