Saturday, 30 March 2013

Spring cleaning

I have started taking out some of the vegetables that have finished , the brussels sprouts and some lettuce  have gone to seed and I must start digging the beds over ready for the summer vegetables.
The dwarf beans and courgettes and tomatoes are growing like mad in the grow house and if the weather stays warm  they might be able to go out a bit earlier than May.
The landlord has been refreshing his garden with some new soil and rotovating. He is planting potatoes.
I bought a grevillia today, a shrub with lavender like leaves and lovely coral flowers, my picture has made them look a bit pink and at the moment the flowers are a bit sparse but hopefully they will come.

 I also bought a lovely marguerite with smaller flowers which are different pinks on the same plant.

pink margeurite
Last autumn I bought a few freesia corms and I am so pleased with the colour of them, the red ones are gorgeous and I think there is going to be a blue one.

pinky red freesia starting to open.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Spring is bursting out all over

A very pregnant Merkel

Every day now we say she can't go on much longer, I'm sure it has to be by the end of the month. She spends a lot of time lying in the sun sleeping or constantly demanding food.

Huge excitement for me this morning when we went to collect my pots and seed trays from the courier.
I have potted up the tigerella tomatoes, golden courgettes and stripy aubergines and lots of the flower seedlings. Some, like the thyme and nicotiana were tiny and pricking out is difficult and others like arctotis and stachys were much easier.
There is hardly a spare inch of space left in the grow house, I think the flower seedlings will be able to come out to harden off in a couple of weeks unless the weather changes drastically.

Right side of grow house

Left side of grow house
The flower garden is starting to fill out a bit now and I am beginning to see progress.

Spring garden

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Garden visit 2

sweet potato slips, coleus and choisya cuttings

Today Mark and I hosted the second garden visit which was very enjoyable.
Jo and Roger brought me two sweet potato slips which I am excited about as I have never grown them before. They told me what to do with them, leave them in water until I can see roots, pot them up for a couple of weeks and then they can go out into the vegetable garden. They are from the morning glory family and have lovely flowers so I think I will plant them on my pea netting.
Heather brought me some coleus cuttings and I hope they grow well as they have such nice coloured leaves.
Lesley joined us today and brought me some choisya cuttings, I love choisya, it always looks good and it is so well behaved.
Britta joined us as well and showed some of us Horta growing on the land, some like the asparagus,  I knew but I didn`t know about the mediterranean cabbage. A bit like broccolli , smaller, with flowers a bit like rocket. Britta brought me a pot of rocket and we may be going to her garden at Potami next time.
I bought a gorgeous geranium from Lesley yesterday called orange splash, a very unusual colour, deep peach with splashes of orange.

orange splash geranium
 Heather also brought with her some flowers picked from her garden and the tiny , yellow rose which I think is banksia is so pretty, I must beg cuttings after it has finished flowering.
Everyone wants some freesias when they have finished flowering and Britta wants some periwinkle.
I will have quite a few vegetable plants to give away I think, always good to be able to swap.

PS on the ham, it was amazing, so good I forgot to take pictures. I froze some to share with Stephen and Robert when they get back from their travels and I took a picture. Frozen, so doesn`t look so nice but here it is.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

A bit down

I am feeling slightly depressed about the garden today, the chickens are not allies when you are trying to make a garden. Despite the sticks they have been trampling all over the flower garden and I leanos has dug a big pit on the far side of the spirea for his dust bath.
The right hand side which is in partial shade has started to fill out with plants I grew last year but the very hot, dry side is looking very bare and sad.
I sowed seeds on that side but very few have come up and the chickens have eaten quite a few of those.
The green house however is getting very full of seedlings and as soon as the pots arrive I can start potting on.
Some plants will hopefully be big enough to go into the garden in May and the rest I hope I can get through the heat of summer and plant out in September or October.

One side of the green house

The right side of the garden

The left side with sticks and bare earth

The garden group are visiting on Saturday so maybe they will have some advice. Probably "eat the chickens!"

Sunday, 17 March 2013

I`m hooked on crochet

When I am not gardening or thinking about gardening , I can very often be found with a crochet hook in my hand.
We don`t have a television although we do watch occasional DVDs and it would be a very long winter without a hobby.
I have to order my wool in from the UK, which leads to great excitement when I open the parcel to see what the colours look like in real life.
Last year I sold a blanket through a shop in the town but the shop mark up made them very expensive and I am hoping that this year there may be a craft exhibition happening in the town.
It has been talked about, we will see, otherwise I may put some on Etsy to see what happens.
When I took the blankets out of the bag I was suprised to find nine, some cot size and some much bigger.
I hadn`t realised that maybe I have been getting just a bit carried away and I have another one about half done.
It is a good job Spring is here and I will have other things to do or maybe we would be suffocated by them.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Windy Weather

The wind is very strong from the south today and visibility is poor because of all the dust blowing up from the Sahara.
The green house is still standing but an entire tray of gazania seedlings were hurled across the terrace.
I have planted them out, the ones that survived , and we will see if they make it. Very frustrating.
I will have to water again tonight as the wind is drying everything out.
The broad beans are also being battered in the wind, I will be extremely upset if they snap as they are podding up nicely now.
I don`t think I can do much more in the garden or growhouse today although I did manage to pot on some arctotis.
Merkel , the cat, looks ready to burst and the landlord has put a nice box with blankets in the store for her maternity ward. Needless to say, she is so far having nothing to do with the box and will probably go into an olive tree to have her kittens.
The wind today is a warm one and it is hard to believe the weather forecast which says it is going to be cold over the weekend.

let`s hope the gazanias make it.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Ham and veg

Last week we did another trip to Lemonis the butcher to get the pork for our ham. It amused me to find out that the cut we wanted was called bouti which made sense when you think of Beyonce and bootylicious.
We bought two and half kilos and put it in the cure. We have to turn it every day and it will be ready to cook next Monday.
All I have to do now is think what sort of glaze I want on it, I am leaning towards mustard and brown sugar.

This afternoon I helped the landlord put in another support to keep his pea fence from blowing in the wind and he rotovated a strip to put in some cabbage plants I gave him. I hope they grow fast as he is not convinced they will be ready before it gets too hot.
The tomato and aubergine seedlings are up now, maybe I could use paper cups for potting on.
I planted seeds of dwarf french beans called speedy and I am hoping they do better than the climbing
beans did last year.
I am hoping to get enough plants of tumbler tomatoes as I would like to try them in tubs on top of the pillars on the terrace. It may be too hot we will see.

They could look great , couldn`t they?

Tuesday, 12 March 2013


Absolutely beautiful weather, warm and sunny with a light breeze.
Today I spent some time potting on lettuce and mesembryanthemums and nolana and getting very frustrated because I couldn`t do more.
I have used up my current supply of loo roll inner pots and I have heard there will be a delay on my delivery of pots and seed trays from the UK because the truck is over full.
I have to wait for my daughter to have them couriered over.


The seeds are coming up in the flower garden now and I am watering every evening as it is so dry.


Sunday, 10 March 2013

Mother`s Day

I started the day with lovely facebook messages from all the family and then had a nice, quiet morning as Mark and Bonnie went off to Sendoukia with the Skopelos Scramblers.
I stayed at home with a very pregnant Merkel, the cat and I leanos.
I scrubbed my rag rug which I leanos was very interested in and I had to squirt him with water when he decided to try and take a dust bath in the geraniums.
I weeded the flower garden, it was very warm,  at least 20 degrees here.
I dug up some white freesias which were growing in the roses and I`m hoping they will be ok ( not the time to move them really.) Hopefully they can then be given to anyone in the garden group who would like them.
I sowed some Arctotis seeds and opened the grow house as it was very steamy.
Quite a few of the seeds are starting to make an appearance now and I was able to plant out some more cabbages.
The broad beans are finally showing signs of podding up but it will be a while yet until we will be eating them.
The round head english lettuce I sowed in the carrot box have appeared and I will have to thin them by the end of the week.
I turned the water supply on for the landlord and watered the flower and vegetable gardens as it was very dry half an inch down despite the rain we had the other day.
I ended the day with a face book chat with my eldest daughter and a Skype call with my other two daughters, lovely.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

First Garden Visit

About three weeks ago I put a message on Skopelos news asking if there were any gardeners interested in meeting up for advice, seeds, cuttings etc. and I was contacted by four people. Three are at the Glossa end of the island and one who will be here in April.
Today we had our first garden visit, we went to Palio Klima to Heather and Neil`s lovely garden.
It looks very well established and exuberant, just my sort of garden in fact, flowers bursting out all over.
The most fantastic wisterias are about to flower and I am really looking forward to another visit when they and all the roses are in bloom.
Heather is pushing the garden back into the olive grove and new areas look great.
I love all the different rooms in their garden and with the stunning backdrop of the sea and Skiathos, it really is a gorgeous spot.
Heather very kindly gave me permission to take cuttings and after drinks and great cake I came home with my plastic bag and potted them up.
Some things I am sure I have taken at completely the wrong time but we will see.
Next time they will be coming to us, much smaller and much, much newer garden.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Compost and canes

The chickens have been scattering my compost heap all down the slope in the garden so Mark and I went to the builders merchants for metal poles and to the agricultural store for some chicken wire.
I also bought myself a bright yellow trug so I don`t lose it in the undergrowth.
The  compost is up against a terrace wall so we put four metal poles in and fixed the chicken wire to three of them. The last piece is fixed to a bamboo cane which I can tie to the last metal pole for entry.
The chickens could decide to parachute in from the top of the wall but I watched them yesterday and although cross and grumbling they didn`t jump.
I added chicken manure to the heap and I am going to the beach in a couple of days to get seaweed.
When I have the strimmer I will have loads of green stuff to add.
Some of our kitchen waste goes to the chickens and some to the heap, it will stay there now.

Mark and I went to cut our canes for the vegetable garden. There are lots of places on the island with large stands of bamboo, usually where the ground is a bit soggy and  people help themselves to them.
We cut about fourteen or so, they grow very tall so we used the loppers to cut them down to about seven foot. They will need to be scraped down and left to dry out thoroughly before being used to hold the beans and tomatoes.
If you put them in the ground before they have dried properly, they root and they are the devil to get rid of.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

The Olive Harvest

Unfortunately I wasn`t here for the olive harvest, we collected some early olives and put them in a brine solution at the end of October and some bigger ones in a sea water brine with lemon in November.
I went off to the UK at the end of November and the harvest started a couple of days later.
Huge tarpaulins are spread down the slopes and around the trees and long, thick bamboos are used to knock the olives out of the trees.
Mark only had a go at that once as it is apparently quite specialised and you damage the trees if it isn`t done correctly. It makes the branches dry and more pruning is required.
Mark did help with sorting the olives however, they were spread out on something that looks like a large wash board so the leaves and twigs can be removed.

They are then put in sacks and go off to the olive oil factory  to be pressed.

Mark at the olive table.

Getting the olives down

The landlord was very pleased with the quality of the oil and it is delicious. Mark collected reddish, black olives which also went into brine and we are now going to put them into oil with new fennel stems and garlic.
The first olives are very nice, the sea water ones are horrible, very bitter, I won`t bother with them again.
The best ones are the red ones, it is a good job Mark made a lot.

On the left are the first green olives. In the middle are the red olives and on the right the sea water olives that will probably end up in the bin, sadly.
The olive harvest on this land took about a month.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Sow exciting.

Some of my favourite things.
Last week I received two packets of seeds, one from Thompson and Morgan and one from Jekka`s Herbs, how thrilling!
My father is a New Zealander so I have sown seeds of Clianthus or Kaka beak to remind me of my visit to see him. I hope they grow.

Photo of kaka beak taken by my step mother Fiona Dickinson.

 I want some trailing plants for the low wall in front of the flower garden, I will have to think about it as it is a very hot area.
I put some nepeta ( catmint) seeds in the flower garden and planted out some baby nasturtiums which will be a lovely raspberry pink.
At the moment the garden is a forest of long kebab sticks to try and keep the chickens off the seedlings.
I have been busy collecting loo roll inners to make pots for potting on. I have used them for sweet peas and beans before, very successfully, so I hope they will be good for other seedlings too.
I have some seed trays and pots coming out in a truck soon, hurrah.

I am hoping to buy a strimmer or hortikoptiko soon to try and keep paths around the house and washing line and to keep weeds from the fence around the vegetable garden. Ticks are a big problem when the grass is long and lush and it will be quite a while until the sun dries it up.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Weeds and seeds.

I got stuck in, literally, it was very muddy in the vegetable garden after some heavy rain but there was a bit of weeding to do.
I cleared the wall where the wisteria grows and mattocked and raked two beds.
I planted some cabbage seedlings in one and swede  in the other.
I weeded out the bottom of the sugar snap peas which are flowering well but we don`t seem to be getting many pods. I don`t know why, maybe not enough bees yet.
I took out two brussells sprout plants that had finished and generally weeded the rest of the beds.
I sowed some more salad bowl lettuce, best for us as you can pick leaves and leave the plant and sowed the first of the beetroot.
I don`t want to plant in the raised beds again because I will need to dig and manure them, ready for the summer vegetables to go in in May.
In the afternoon I sowed some nolana,a shrubby plant that looks a bit like small morning glorys and some thrift. Apparently I have a long wait for the thrift, it could take three months to germinate!
I am not patient with seeds, I expect them to come up overnight.



Monday, 4 March 2013

Why Scotch eggs?

Sometimes I may write about something that has nothing to do with gardening because it has excited me or improved our life here.

I went back to the UK in November and while I was there I was telling a lady in a butcher`s shop that it was impossible to get decent sausages in Skopelos, or at least the ones we were used to. She very kindly sold me a packet of the spice mix they use.

When I got back we went to Lemonis the butcher and bought minced pork and some slices of belly pork.
We minced the belly pork for some extra fat and mixed in the spice, a little rusk and iced water.
Fantastic sausage meat!
We made some patties ( can`t be bothered with skins) and I decided to try and make scotch eggs.
The landlord wanted to know why they were called scotch eggs and I looked on Google but couldn`t get a definitive answer.
Anyway, they were terrific, the landlords eggs were orange and perfectly set, not dry and he took one home to share with his mother.

After the success with the scotch eggs we decided to try bacon. The bacon here is thin and flabby and very unexciting.
I had ordered some cures on line from a firm called Tongmaster seasonings and they sent them out to me.
The very helpful Joe at Tongmaster gave me some more advice and we were off.
Another trip to Lemonis and after looking at pictures of cuts of pork, we ended up with a piece that looked like back bacon about 5 inches wide.
We rubbed the cure all over the meat and put it in a tupperware in the fridge for a week, turning it every day. After the week we rinsed it thoroughly and left it in the fridge to dry off for a day.
The next day I sliced it as thinly as I could and we tried it.
Proper bacon and eggs, amazing.

Next step.....HAM.
Thanks Tongmaster.

One year on.

On March the 1st it was the anniversary of us moving into the kalivi so I made a lemon cake with lemon curd filling which we had with coffee with the landlord.
We then spent most of the day picking up olive prunings and burning them.
We have been doing it for 2 months now and there is still a long way to go.
It is not too bad dragging the big branches,  it is the gleaning for little bits which is hard on your back and knees.
We had 3 huge bonfires and managed to clear quite a lot of land.


Last year I cleared a small bed at the top of the steps leading to the terrace and the landlord brought me some kind of grass with umbrella spoke leaves. I think it might get too big,  but at the moment it shares the bed with two geraniums and two osteospurmums and some freesias which are just about to flower. These are large flowered freesias and I don`t know what colour they will be. There is another large pot there which gets very hot and seems to be a place the lizard eating snakes like. They are harmless but make me jump.
I think I may add some gazanias to this bed when they have grown a bit more.
All along the terrace wall are small white freesias and I have added some geraniums and a lovely blue daisy which I think is called felicia amelloides.
I sowed seeds of marigolds there too but I think they would have been  better sown in autumn as they should be flowering now. A lot of annuals are perennial here so you are never sure what will show up.


                                                         felicia amelloides

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Pot luck

I am slowly clearing an area around the grow house, it is a steep bank and I have planted some ice plants and nasturtiums and moved some lantana seedlings from the vegetable garden. There was a huge orange, red and yellow one in there last year so I am hoping the seedlings are the same.


There is a large, very old greek pot at the top of the slope and we went to Nikos`s shop for peat and a plastic pot to plant up in the top of it. I have planted a yellow marguerite and geranium cuttings in it and I hope they grow well because the edge of the plastic pot is hideous at the moment.
Nikos gave me a pot of agapanthus which I was thrilled with. I adore them and saw them everywhere in New Zealand growing wild. I have planted them in front of another pot in the flower garden.
The landlord told me the name comes from agapi which is love and anthos which is flower so they are love flowers, isn`t that great.


I have planted the plumbago at the base of the wall under a huge planting of pink geraniums which are on the top of the wall , I think the colour combination will be lovely.
I have put a rosemary in a hot corner of the flower garden and sown seeds of California poppies ( Thai silk) and some scabious and arabis and some lovely deep pink nasturtiums which I am hoping will grow around and under the olive tree.
There is an osteospernum I grew from seed last year which is a lovely russety pink so I must take some cuttings of that.
About a month ago I took some cuttings of a yellow marguerite from a friends garden and they have all taken, I put one in the pot.

                                                    yellow marguerite

February freebies

On the 25th February Mark and I went to have a look around Palio Klima, a village at the other end of the island that was very badly damaged in the 1965 earthquake. The village was largely abandoned although many of the houses have now been renovated. It has cobbled kaldarimis or paths and was quite deserted at this time of the year.
We walked up to the church and I took some seeds off a tree growing there. A danish lady living there didn`t know what the tree was but said it has lovely lilac blue flowers in May.
I looked it up and it was a Melia or china berry. I don`t know if the seeds will grow as they were a bit dried up but we will see.
On the 26th of Feb.2013 we went to see some friends who are leaving the island after 10 years to get some books and they gave me a strawberry planter and about 30 or 40 plants.
They also dug up a plumbago for me and gave me a bottle brush in a tub and some cuttings of some kind of ice plant. I love plumbago and hope it grows well.

bottle brush               


The almond harvest

ripe almonds

In late September our landlord and his sister in law arrived to harvest the almonds.
Huge sheets were arranged on the slopes and long bamboo poles were used to whack the almonds out of the trees.
Once down , the almonds were shaken into the middle of  the sheets and we sat on the ground to pick out the leaves and twigs.
The landlord gave us about 5 kilos and Mark and I broke off the outer casings and with trial and error ,learnt how to crack almonds.
(Put them on up on the long ridge and bang the narrow end with a small hammer.)
I roasted most of them and although small , they were delicious.
After all that work I had 3 jam jars full!

The almond trees are in bloom again and so beautiful.

Eileen becomes I leanos

"Sicky Chicky"

Last spring our landlord hatched eggs in an incubator and built the "chicken palace" in the top right corner of the land.
Obviously,  so we all had eggs but also for the manure or Kopria for the land.( I had no idea how much this stinks when it is wet.)
When the chicks were big enough they moved in but one went missing after they were let out on the land. It had looked pretty ill as it had been badly pecked on its head and had a wonky leg, possibly even broken.
Three days later it showed up on our back doorstep very dehydrated and looking ghastly.
It was "Sicky chicky" for a while and then became Eileen, named after someone we once knew.
Over time it became obvious Eileen was a cockerel and although the head and leg healed he/she still had a distinct list to one side. The name changed to I lean and the landlord put the greek masculine ending on so he is now I leanos.
He has lived out on the land for five months now and has become a pet, he spends a lot of time around the house annoying the landlord`s cat Merkel.
He and the cat wait for their breakfast at the kitchen door or I leanos sits up at the picnic table.
He likes to have dust baths in my flower garden so all new planting has to be protected by long, pointy kebab sticks.
                             What a difference 5 months make!

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Plastic, Fantastic!

In the middle of February I was delighted to receive a parcel which my daughter had sent out to me.
It was a walk in plastic grow house, no more struggling with sheets of plastic.
Mark started putting it together for me and the landlord joined in making very short work of it.
Mark and I had made a small platform near my veg. garden for it and it fitted perfectly.
I put about six trays of seeds in it and came indoors.
Within about an hour a terrific wind got up and blew the growhouse over spilling all the seed trays on to the floor.
The next morning we put some heavy slabs on the bottom bars and it is now fine. I do have a couple of trays of the sweepings so it will be a suprise when they come up.
I have sown gardeners delight tomatoes, a stripy tomato called tigerella and a tumbler variety which I am hoping to put in pots on top of the pillars on the terrace.
II have started some of my flower seeds too, Geraniums, Gazania, Mezembryanthemum, Agapanthus and Penstemons. I will be sowing more soon.


Friday, 1 March 2013

A sticky situation.

In June we had a glut of apricots and I started to make jam. I made 20 0r 30 jars and also bottled them in syrup which were lovely.
Unfortunately, someone who shall remain nameless still has my preserving pan so I had to make quite small batches. This year I will buy a new one.
Our cooker is about the size of a large microwave with 2 rings on top with an oven and grill so this year I will move it outside for jamming and bottling as it was unbearably hot in the kitchen
I also bottled plums, peaches and pears, all very good and I made red and yellow plum jam.
In July I made fig jam and bottled figs in brandy.
We had a great afternoon with our landlord picking the black cherries which we put in a jar with sugar all summer and then in September we put an equal volume of brandy in for cherry brandy. Very nice but a bit sweet.