Welcome to Lovely Greens

My blog focuses on country living projects including diy tutorials, home cooking, and recipes for handmade bath and beauty products. Click this image to see my project gallery! All the best, Tanya from Lovely Greens x

How to make a Better Strawberry Pallet Planter

Use a single wooden pallet to create a beautiful and rustic planter ideal for planting with strawberries or other edibles.

Getting Started Keeping Honeybees

Linda Tillman of 'Linda's Bees' writes on how you can get started learning about and keeping honeybees. A great guest post for anyone interested in learning more about beekeeping!

DIY Healing Eczema Balm

Learn how to make a healing balm for dry and inflamed skin with this video tutorial. Made with Neem oil, it's a natural product perfect for those suffering from eczema and psoriasis.

Grow your own Beauty Garden

Learn how to create your own beauty products using flowers and herbs from your own garden. This is the first post in a series and focuses on the types of plants you can grow for different types of skin.

How to Make Natural Soap Series

This is the first of a four-part series showing how you can make your own handmade and natural soap at home.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Fridge Voyeurism

Call me crazy but I've decided that in addition to handmade soaps and seedlings that I'd also like to try my hand at selling food items at my farmer's market stall. I love cooking and already make quite a haul of jams, jellies and chutneys throughout the summer so thought what the heck, let's see what's entailed in getting licensed to sell them to the public. Emailing the Manx government, I found that the the first step to this is having an official come out to inspect where I'll be preparing the food: my kitchen. I've booked this inspection to happen tomorrow.

I stress over tests and inspections and though my kitchen is kept tidy I decided I needed to do a full clean of the room today - top to bottom. I can't help it but I'm imagining a tough old bird walking in with white gloves and sharp eyes searching out any place where there could be dust or germs. The cat's out of the bag - I'm neurotic (husband rolls eyes).

While I was wiping down my refrigerator I decided to take a picture to shock my non-European readers. In fact ten years ago I'd probably have been shocked myself to think that there are people out there who have what essentially is a mini-bar (sans booze) in their kitchen. For goodness' sake, I have relatives that that two or three massive American fridges and never seem to find room for everything. Though I don't doubt that there are bottles of ketchup in there from 1987.

What I can say after adjusting to a smaller space is that not only do we assuredly pay less money for electricity but that the food we eat is much fresher. Because there isn't as much space, you're really forced to eat what you have in there in order to make room for more. That's okay with me because the fresher the food the better the flavour and the healthier it is for you - that goes for meat and dairy as much as for fruit and vegetables.

The downside to small fridges includes having to get creative with how to chill large items like picnic sized bowls of slaw or potato salad. It also includes having to go to the shop fairly regularly - I go once or twice a week. I see that as a downside not because I don't like going, I actually enjoy my 'gathering' excursions, but because of the petrol needed to get there and back on a regular basis. When you're paying the equivalent of about $8.89 per gallon of petrol it's prudent to watch how you use it.

Anyhow, back to my afternoon's labour. Everything is as clean as a whistle and the floor is freshly swept - I think I'm ready for that inspection now. If only she'd arrive before my husband manages to mess up my hard work with toast crumbs and wet teaspoons peppered across the work top. Men!

You're never going to believe this but in that little space between this paragraph and the last I had a friend stop by who apparently knows the lady coming to inspect my kitchen tomorrow - that's the Isle of Man for you! He's assured me that she's lovely and won't give me too much hardship, thank goodness for that. I think I can relax now...

Have a great day everyone and I hope my dinky fridge will have given you something to think about or in the very least a good laugh :)

Monday, 27 February 2012

Vitamins as Medicine

I celebrated my first day of kicking the cold with an outing to see Rebel Cinema's screening of the film 'FoodMatters' at the Northern Lights Community Centre. The film was touted as "an eye-opening documentary that'll make you think again about what you eat, by lifting the lid on how the food we eat can help or hurt our health. Nutritionists, naturopaths, doctors, and journalists weigh in on topics organic food, food safety, raw foodism, and nutritional therapy." It sounded interesting especially considering that my husband and I are really trying to make positive diet changes in our lives which include organic produce and ethically raised protein.

My impression of the film was that it presented very good arguments and evidence for its points, but that it was a soap-box for Raw-Foodism more than anything. On a more intriguing note, it did present arresting evidence that nutritional therapy using high doses of vitamins can cure human disease.

I and probably you have seen articles and even television documentaries that set out to debunk the idea of vitamins as medicine. Or even state that taking over the recommended daily allowance is dangerous. But I know personally that at least one vitamin can have unbelievable effects after seeing my husband suffer severe and recurrent migraines for years. For a long time he simply treated the pain of the migraines with over-the-counter pain medication. Then we figured that his food intolerances might be the root cause of the attacks. After removing suspected trigger foods from his diet the headaches got a bit better but still cropped up from time to time. Then randomly he came across some information on how doses of vitamin B2 can nip migraines in the bud - whether taking it regularly or by simply popping a couple at the onset of the headache. Growing up with a conventional belief in modern medicine it sounds ridiculous - but it works.

The film presented evidence that extremely high doses of vitamin C have been linked to the full recovery of cancer patients - in one independent study, 50% of the terminally ill cancer patients put on extreme doses of the vitamin survived - and not only did they survive but they stayed cured rather than contracting the disease again like so many other survivors do. I haven't back checked all the facts presented in the movie but I'd say that if it's not going to kill you (and high doses of vitamin C will not) then why not try it - especially if you've got no other real options.

The other vitamin focused on in the film was Niacin, known also as vitamin B3. The film claimed that high doses of it have been shown to essentially cure clinical depression. Indeed the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, cured his own depression using Niacin and afterwards tried to have it integrated into routine AA therapy. Unfortunately the idea was quashed by conventional doctors who were already involved in the organisation. Again, it's another vitamin that isn't going to kill you so you really have nothing to lose. In fact, you don't even need to take the vitamin in pill form; one of the doctors interviewed stated that the amount of niacin in two handfuls of cashew nuts would be enough to relieve depression in many cases. If you consider that known side-effects of Prozac include self-harming and suicidal tendencies then I'd try the cashews first thank you very much.

I'm curious to know if there are other people out there who have had any success with using vitamins as medicine - or even if their attempts have led to naught. What are your experiences?

Friday, 24 February 2012

Sick Day & Painted Stones

I've been almost bragging to friends that I haven't been sick this winter...I really should have knocked on wood! On Monday I started feeling a bit off and by Tuesday I was suffering from a full blown cold - sore head, sore throat, congested chest and lack of energy. I must have picked up something other than seeds at the event on Sunday.

So what was supposed to be my first Farmer's Market day yesterday had to be cancelled. It was a real let down but there was no way I was getting out of bed let alone try to hawk personal care products - I'm sure everyone would have kept a wide berth of me in any case. I do look forward to next week though and hope that I'm feeling better by then. In the meantime I'll be sipping on tea with honey and guzzling my herbal cough medicine - who ever heard of one that tasted good?

I won't be up to much today but felt that since I was stuck indoors that I'd start working on a little project inspired by crafts found on Pinterest - rock paintings. I've always enjoyed painting but have generally done it on flat surfaces such as watercolour paper or canvas. It's a different experience to paint on something textured and three dimensional and I'm pretty much hooked to say the least.

One of my favourite pieces I've painted recently was one of a butterfly. I'm not certain which one it is - maybe a Monarch? It got me to thinking that it might be fun to paint local butterflies to not only have a fun day being creative but to become more familiar with the ones I see in the garden. I've put a little collage of the main types found on the Isle of Man and will be working from those images (see below).

I think everyone loves butterflies (other than those pesky white ones who ravage brassica) but I wonder how many varieties can average people identify. Do you know many?

Monday, 20 February 2012

Seed Swap Success!

As you can see from the new seeds I have laid out in the above photo, yesterday's first Gardeners' Social and Seed Swap event was a huge success. I took in about the same amount of seed packets as I brought home but scored some fantastic finds: Goji berries, Woad, several varieties of Spinach, Radiccio, Aubergine (Eggplant), Scorzonesa (Black Salsify), a variety of herbs and flowers and quite a few others.

At the end of the event there were quite a few packets of seeds left lying on the stations and so while cleaning up I put them all into a bag and took them home as well. There are tons that would have filled the rest of my seed requirements for this year and I'm kicking myself that I put in a seed order at all. I think what I'll do with them is leave them in our allotment shed which will be built by the end of next month. That way anyone from the site can have a rummage through and pick ones out that they need.

The event itself was fabulous! It did start off fairly quiet and I was initially worried that we wouldn't have many people show up. Then all of a sudden we had a seed scrum on our hands - albeit a very well mannered one :)

Since I nor any of the others involved in planning the event had experience running a seed swap before we assumed that gardeners could chat to one another and swap seeds one to one. The trading areas we set up were really to encourage people to come to a particular place in the room to see if there were others who wanted to trade items. What happened in actuality is that people came and plopped all their seeds, spuds, sets and seedlings down on the tables and then rummaged through the seeds which were already there. It was like a free rummage sale and everyone seemed to have a great time looking through the items and picking up what they liked. I couldn't get close enough to get a good picture of the peak trading time but the image above shows what the trading looked like generally throughout the event.

While I was shooting around the room selling raffle tickets and chatting with visitors I also had a brush with local fame by way of Simon Clarke from Manx Radio. He took the above picture of me with my camera (which I sent off to him today) and sat me down to record a piece for his 'Countryside' show tomorrow morning. I really hope he edits it as promised since I had a complete brain fart after one of the questions he asked. You know when you're already going a million miles an hour and then you start babbling on about something and lose your train of thought? Imagine doing that while you're being recorded! Eek.

In any case, I'm pleased that we've received so much support and coverage for not only the event but for all the allotments on the island. Since our local government's re-organisation and budget cuts have happened we haven't had the support we need. The Allotment Forum was originally a group of allotment representatives who met on a quarterly basis to discuss planning issues and other business among ourselves but also with reps from the government. Sadly, we haven't had an official meeting in nearly a year so it's up to us to keep the contact growing and promote our 'Grow Your Own' cause. Without the enthusiasm and energy from allotmenteers throughout the island our little group would have withered away a long time ago.

After the event I spoke to Amanda Griffin, one of the organisers of the Jurby Allotment and our resident Permaculture guru. She's been waiting to do a seed order until after the event and was elated to find everything she needed yesterday. That will save her about £40 overall and will ensure that seeds that might have been left in cupboards and garden sheds will have a chance to grow. Amanda isn't alone though since I probably saved £20+ myself and others saved even more. With times getting tougher for people the world over, it's great to be able to organise an event that saves people this kind of money. The figures expand when you take into account the amounts they'll eventually save on all the fruit, herbs and vegetables they'll be able to grow for themselves, rather than purchase from the shop.

With the success we had yesterday there's no doubt in my mind that we'll make sure a Seed Swap happens as an annual event. And in light of our initial amateur success, I really encourage other gardeners, allotments and growing groups to organise one of your own. It's a chance to meet up before the growing year, save some money, re-home unwanted seeds and take home ones you're excited about. The main things I've learned from our first run and research into other seed swaps in the UK are:

1. Don't be too strict with how seeds are swapped - people will find their own ways of doing it if given the basic idea. Our trading areas for 'Vegetables', 'Fruit' and 'Flowers and Garden Plants' were enough to get the ball rolling. Next year a section for 'Herbs' might not be a bad idea though.

2. Make the event as affordable as possible - people want to swap seeds mainly as a way to save money. We made our event free to attend but to pay for the cost of hiring the room we held a raffle which many people contributed to by either bringing in raffle prizes or by purchasing tickets. The proceeds easily covered our expenses.

3. A cosy atmosphere and the possibility of buying a drink make swapping all the more fun. We held our event in a community club that had an open fire, comfortable seating and a fully stocked bar. Other alternatives for venue could be at a private home or even at a local pub.

4. Don't require people to show up with seeds in hand since this discourages beginner gardeners. Instead ask people to offer 50p or some other small amount to the person with seeds that they'd like. If everyone lays their seeds on the table like they did at our event, you can ask that they make a small donation of the same amount to the organisation. This happened spontaneously for us when several people came up to me with money for seeds that they wanted. These small donations could go toward paying for the room hire or for other projects in your organisation.

5. Make sure you have enough people to run the raffle, sign-in sheet or facilitate swapping. Though I managed to get all the seeds I wanted I had to go at the very end since I was so busy. I think one of my friends who was manning the sign-in desk was also swamped with what she was doing and might not have made it over to the stations very often.

6. Advertise Advertise Advertise! A journalist friend wrote us an article for the local paper and several of us printed and posted flyers at local businesses and garden centres. I also emailed the heads of many of the gardening organisations on the island asking them to send provided information and a digital flyer of our event to their members. Through all of this work we were then approached by Manx Radio to do a spot on the event about two weeks ago. This has helped to not only create more awareness about the Seed Swap but also got me in touch with several people who would like to have an allotment themselves.

7. Lastly, have an absolute blast! Gardening can be a solitary hobby but when we all get together it can be be a great time chatting about the last growing season, invaluable tips for the year to come and even make beekeeping buddies such as I found yesterday.

I hope these tips help and if you have any questions please feel free to leave them in the comment section below or email me directly.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Little Job for the Weekend: Sowing Tomatoes

I've only planned one little gardening job this weekend:sowing tomato seed. I haven't had much luck with tomatoes in the last two years but ever the optimist I'm trying again and hope to squeeze a few good plants into the conservatory. Growing them outside this far north is really just a waste of time though; if they do end up growing well, by the time they form fruit the plants will be wasted away by Blight, the bane of Solanaceae growers in the British Isles.

So you might look at the above picture and wonder why I've sown so many, if I only plan on growing a few. The reason is that as of the 23rd, I'm the proud owner of a weekly farmer's market stall where I plan to sell handmade soap, lip balms, miscellaneous crafts, preserves and seedlings. So all those little seeds that germinate into little plants are going to be sold at my stall sometime in the next few months. Wish me luck and do come visit me Thursdays at Tynwald Mills if you're on the island :)

Back to sowing now... Though two of the varieties of tomato I grew from packaged seeds, the last variety is from seeds I saved from last year's crop of 'Yellow Stuffers'. An organic variety, they grow into large fruit which are relatively hollow - perfect for stuffing. And with them I've tried a new technique for saving tomato seed that I found out about last year. Following up on a tip from a fellow allotmenteer, I scraped the tomato seeds out of the fruit and onto a paper towel. By letting the seeds dry onto the towel, you can save yourself the hassle of cleaning the goo from the seeds and can simply plant the seeds, paper and all, into potting compost the next year. The person I got this advice from has been saving her seeds like this for years and it never fails.

Saving tomato seeds in a paper towel

The other thing I have on this weekend is tomorrow's Gardeners' Social and Seed Swap at the Laxey Sailing Club. I've been promoting it quite heavily over the last couple of weeks and hope that my recent interview on Manx Radio as well as a journalist friend's newspaper article will bring in a good crowd. I'm really looking forward to it and hope it will be the beginning of a yearly event! If you're local and interested in attending please check out the below flyer and show up at the club from 3-5pm tomorrow.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Friday, 10 February 2012

Make Baileys at Home

What's the most fun way to spend a rainy day? Making booze! At least if you're one to indulge in it... If not, turn away now before you're corrupted ;)

After making Kahlua last month I've been meaning to try re-creating Baileys. There are literally dozens of recipes online and all seem to differ just a wee bit from each other. Some include egg, others call for almond extract, but all of them call for some basic ingredients which are condensed milk, cream, whiskey, chocolate, vanilla and coffee. Using just these will give you a delicious and fun drink that is close-enough if not exactly the same as Baileys.

Just like the Kahlua recipe, Baileys turns out to be dead easy. Making it reminds me of whipping up a cocktail more than anything else. I don't even have to give you any directions other than to say to dump all the below ingredients into a bowl, or better yet a blender, and to whisk/blend until it's completely incorporated. That's it. Once you do this you can funnel it into empty bottles and keep it in the refrigerator for up to two months. I won't ever be able to confirm that expiration date though since it's highly unlikely that it's going to last out a couple of weeks at my house.

Homemade 'Baileys'
Makes about 1 bottle

1 cup Double Cream (Heavy/Whipping)
400ml (14oz) Sweetened Condensed Milk
1-2/3 c Whiskey (preferably Irish)
2 Tbsp Chocolate Syrup
1 tsp Instant Coffee
1 tsp Vanilla extract
1/4 tsp Almond extract - originally I put this in but think it tastes much better out.

...As stated above, simply blend thoroughly and enjoy. If you don't have a blender it helps to dilute the coffee crystals in a tablespoon of hot water beforehand. Chin chin!

Photo credit: from the bottom photos you can see I was working at night so I found a lovely photo on Flickr's creative commons section for the top image. Thanks goes out to 'Lemon 168' for such a pretty and festive shot :)

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Beekeeping in the Rain

My first hive arrived a few weeks ago and with its scent of brand-new cedarwood was reborn my enthusiasm for beekeeping. From that day I began re-reading my course book,'Bees and Honey' by Ted Hooper, and started looking at events that the Isle of Man Beekeepers were planning for the upcoming year. I was also happy to receive the offer of a nucleus of bees this spring which could make starting out much easier than having to capture a swarm. A nucleus is basically a queen plus a few hundred workers who form the heart of a fully grown hive. But even if this nucleus doesn't work out, in a way I'm fascinated by the idea of collecting a swarm. I like the idea of capturing and providing for a colony of bees already searching for a new home.

So with this fresh burst of energy, I responded to an email sent out to the association looking for volunteers to help move some hives. Looking for more practical experience I eagerly emailed back offering my help. The day scheduled for the move was last Saturday the 4th and though we've been enjoying bright skies and mild weather ever since, the weather decided that day to let us have a month's amount of rain in a twelve hour period. You can't really tell from the photo above but everyone was soaking wet though not in the least bit miserable. I wasn't much help that day other than assisting in opening an overgrown gate, but it was still fun to be out and around such enthusiastic and experienced local beekeepers.


If you haven't read one of my past posts on honey bees before then I should tell you that the Isle of Man is one of the most special places, in Europe and the world, to keep bees. We are free of both Varroa and many other diseases that affect honey-bees worldwide and so have healthy and thriving populations hives peppered throughout the island. Having also recently read the book 'A World Without Bees' has made me all that more aware of  how lucky we are to be a haven for bees during times of Colony Collapse Disorder and related global honey-bee disappearances. 

Maintaining this healthy status is extremely important to not only local beekeepers but to the entire community and so it means that we don't allow bees or second-hand equipment to be shipped here. Because of these beekeeping regulations, acquiring second-hand materials and bees is a local venture which is best begun by becoming a member of the Isle of Man Beekeepers. Offering a beginner's beekeeping course at the beginning of every year, the association encourages people to keep bees for themselves and educates them on the art of beekeeping both in general and more specifically on our island. By becoming a member you also have access to the advice and support of a friendly group of both beginner and experienced honey-bee enthusiasts. These are the people who will help you to find the right equipment, track down honey-bees and help you along your path to becoming a confident and competent keeper of bees.

If you are interested in beekeeping on the Isle of Man, you can contact the Isle of Man Beekeepers directly by following this link. They welcome inquiries and are an invaluable source of information, whether you're looking to keep bees for yourself or just wanting to learn more about beekeeping on the Isle of Man. 

Monday, 6 February 2012

Valentine's Day Apple Pie

There are more creative ways to tell someone you love them than a meal out on the busiest restaurant evening of the year. Staying home and celebrating Valentine's Day with a special home cooked feast is one of them - especially if the regular cook gets a break! Even though my husband will be preparing dinner for us that evening, I'm going to spare him a little stress by making the dessert beforehand. And I think a delicious Valentine's themed Apple pie served with old fashioned vanilla ice cream and pink whipped cream will fit the bill. The traditional apple pie would be nice on its own but using natural colouring to tint the apple filling a deep red and using heart shaped pieces to build the upper crust will make it more festive.

Valentine's Day Apple Pie
Makes one

Pastry for a 2-crust pie:
2 cups Multipurpose Flour
140g Butter
1 tsp Sea Salt
10 Tbsp Water

1/3 cup Dark Brown Sugar
1/4 cup White Sugar
1/4 cup Multipurpose Flour
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
Dash of Sea Salt
8 medium Apples (or however many small ones you need) - peeled and thinly sliced
3/4 cup Cherry juice
2 Tbsp Butter

1. Prepare the pastry: cut butter into the flour and sea salt, using a pastry blender or crisscrossing two knives, until the particles are the size of coarse crumbs. Sprinkle the water over the mix and mix it in with a fork or spoon - basically you want to incorporate it well enough so that there aren't any pools of water lying in the bowl. Use your hands to squeeze the mixture into a ball of pastry, making sure to get all the bits clinging to the side of the bowl. The consistency of the dough should be similar to play-dough so if it seems dry or the mixture won't form a ball then add a bit more water.

2. Divide the pastry ball into two then take one the pieces and roll it out onto a floured surface into a circle about two inches larger than your pie pan. Then place the dough into your pie pan - an easy way to do this is to roll the dough around your rolling pin and then unroll it out over the pan. Firm the dough down into all the corners and crevices and then press the edges of the dough around the edge of your pie pan. Trim the excess dough from the edges but leave around 1/2" so that the crust doesn't shrink into the pan during the baking process.

Half of the pie pastry pressed into the pie dish

3. Blend the excess dough into the other half of dough you have remaining and roll it out to the same size as the first. Use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out as many pieces as you can. Then roll the excess dough out again and use the cutter to cut as many more as possible.

4. Preheat your oven to 180°C/360°F Conventional or 160°C/320°F Fan

You can measure how many small apples you'll need by placing them into your pie dish

5. Prepare your apples if you haven't done so already and then pour the cherry juice over them. You could probably use another natural red colouring such as strawberry or beet juice instead. Stir the apples well - but gently - and allow them to seep in the juice until your oven has fully heated up (about 20 minutes). Come back to stir the apples every couple of minutes to distribute the colour evenly.

Colouring your apples naturally with cherry juice

6. Drain the juice from the apples and set aside. Now in a separate bowl, mix the filling's flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt until it's an even consistency and has no lumps. Pour this mixture over the apples and coat them well and then pour the mix into your pastry lined pie pan. Press the apples down so that there aren't any prominent pieces sticking up. Now dab the butter in tiny pieces all over the top of the filling.

The filling placed into the pie dish

7. Using your heart-shaped pieces of pastry, place them on the apple filling starting from the outside of the pan and moving inwards. The pointed ends of the hearts should face inside the pie rather than outside. You can leave small gaps between the hearts if you'd like but I choose to cover as much of the top as possible - the crust is my favourite part! When complete, place one last heart over the centre to finish the design and pop the pie into the oven.

The heart-shaped pastry pieces are layered onto the top of the pie

8. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the crust is a lovely golden colour and filling is bubbling up. The butter in the pastry should be enough to brown the crust nicely but if there's only ten minutes left in the cooking time and the crust isn't brown enough, melt some butter and paint it over the hearts then continue to bake the pie for the remaining time.

9. Serve warm with ice-cream if desired but it will be a bit messy until you've given it time to cool. The image above is of pie that's fully cooled and the heart-shaped whipped cream can be made by ladling cream into your heart-shaped cookie cutter directly on the pie. If you'd like to achieve a light pink whipped cream such as I've made, whip 1/2 cup of double cream with 1 Tbsp of cherry juice or better yet, a cherry liqueur such as Kirsh. Enjoy your Valentine's Day treat ~

The pie as soon as it's been taken out of the oven

Pin this on Pinterest

Thursday, 2 February 2012

February at the Allotment

All I seem to hear in recent weather reports is talk of 'The Big Freeze' and Siberian Snowmageddon marching a path straight for the British Isles. But when the sun is bright and the temperature generally about 4°C it seems preposterous that extreme frigid weather could be on its way. February does tend to be the coldest month of the year though so I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised if we get hit with a proper taste of winter before spring is officially on us.

Saying that, time is running out for planting up soft-fruit bushes if you have that in your gardening plan. It certainly wasn't in mine until last week when I came across some extraordinarily cheap bare-root plants at my local supermarket. Now I admit that buying good stock is probably best but at £2.50 a plant I couldn't resist snapping up a Red Gooseberry as well as Raspberry and Loganberry canes. Though the plants I brought home were produced by Wilko in Poland, all seem to be good standard types so fingers crossed they do well.

Raspberry Polka - This variety is known for extra large fruit which look DELICIOUS in photos online. Berries grow on first year wood so the only pruning that needs to be done is a savage cut of all canes down to the ground each winter.

Red Gooseberry Hinnonmaki Red - A self-fertile variety with extreme resistance to mildew, which is apparently its arch nemesis. It's also a very beneficial plant to have around if you want to encourage and feed honeybees which great seeing as my hive will only be about fifty feet away. Gooseberries are relatively new to my palate so I'm looking forward to experimenting with this year's juicy fruit. Gooseberry wine anyone?

Loganberry - Loganberries are a modern cross between a blackberry and a raspberry and have only been around for about 130 years. The cane I bought seems to be the original thorny variety that I can remember growing at my grandmother's house. Unfortunately it will be another year before I can harvest any berries since they only grow on year old wood.

Since I already have two redcurrant bushes in one of my bottom beds I decided to plant my new bushes there as well. I began the operation by unwrapping the canes from their plastic wrapping and putting them in a bucket of water. This will re-hydrate the roots before planting and so ensure that they have a better chance at surviving. While the plants were soaking I dug up a Cape Gooseberry bush I had in the same area and replanted it with some compost into a slightly better spot a couple of feet away. That gave me room to dig three more holes into which I dug in more compost and well rotted farmyard manure.

After 45 minutes in the water, I planted the Raspberry and Loganberry along the bottom of the bed, where I plan to place posts and training wires for both of them to grow on. The Gooseberry went above them about 4.5 feet away. It won't need training so I'll leave it there to merrily bush away and offer the Cape Gooseberry a bit of extra protection from our predominant westerly winds (check out my leaning towers of sprouts and broccoli in the below photo to see what the winter wind can do!). A generous drink of water and dollop of farmyard manure around each plant and they were all settled down in their new beds. I also covered them with horticultural fleece after the below picture was taken just in case we do get some freezing weather. Both the Loganberry and Gooseberry have already begun sprouting leaves and I don't want either of the plants to be damaged by the cold and frost.

After the rest of my plot chores were finished I had a stroll over the wildflower meadow to have a look at how things are progressing. This mild winter has been great for our little seedlings and many of them are leafy and strong and just waiting for a good drop of warm sunshine to shoot up and flower. I really can't wait to see how the patch looks - especially with my bees buzzing around collecting nectar.

And lastly I wanted to give an update on the seeds I sowed inside a few weeks ago. The leeks and onions are up and nearly an inch tall already - I'm fascinated with how quickly they grew and am really looking forward to planting all three varieties out in the garden in late March. Still no sign of ginger shoots coming up though so I'm thinking that I might move the pot out of the conservatory and into a warmer part of the house. Ginger seems to re-shoot every spring though so it could be that it senses that winter isn't quite over yet.

Have you been out pottering around recently? And do you have any personal advice on growing soft fruit? I'd love to hear from you :)