FROM THE MILL
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More migrant birds have been arriving this month. The first Swallows and Sand Martins have been flying over, Blackcaps and Willow Warblers are singing in and around the gardens and even a few bats have been seen flying at dusk.
Peacock, Orange Tip and Comma Butterflies plus a few Damselflies are now emerging in the warm weather. Unlike the much larger Dragonflies these are tiny Blue Tailed and Large Red Damselfly have been seen on the calm sunny days, slightly larger Banded Demoiselle are common all over the gardens and Meadow.
Some of the wildlife here is easy to overlook, the gardens are home to all sorts of animals, reptiles and insects, in the summer months a harmless Moth trap is placed in one of the meadows, the special light attracts all sorts of large Hawk Moths, plus some strange beetles and other bugs.
Grass Snakes are very elusive quickly moving into cover if disturbed, on warm summer days they can be found basking in a sunny spot, often on piles of rotting garden waste which they use to lay and incubate their eggs.
The Kingfishers are probably nesting now so have been seen less frequently, our regular Little Egret is being joined by two or three more. A Barn Owl has also been seen hunting along the roadside verges near the Mill, an Owl box has been put up in a secluded spot which will hopefully encourage them to nest in the next few years.
Using green manures in beds that are empty at the end, or very early in the growing season is a great way of keeping weeding to a minimum, plus helping to improve soil structure and nutrients.
With the various rotations in the Mill Gardens we often sow different types at various times of the year; Forage Peas, Italian Rye, Phacelia and Clover are all easy to grow and have numerous benefits. They can be cut and dug in to the beds before sowing starts in the spring or removed and composted depending on the season.
Phacelia tanacetifolia is fast growing and has the added benefit of very attractive flowers which bees and butterflies love, followed by twisting seed heads, we sow this in late summer/early Autumn and again in the spring. Red & White Clover are also great for insects and look very ornamental when in full flower.
Forage Peas are sown in late Autumn to overwinter, part of the Legume family of plants the roots have small nodules which form a symbiotic relationship with Nitrogen fixing bacteria, this allows them to “fix” Nitrogen creating a natural plant food.
Different green manures can also been sown together to combine their benefits, Tares is a form of Vetch & Rye Grass can be mixed, either by sowing together or Rye first in the autumn then Tares broadcast over the top in the spring.
More info on the benefits and how to grow Green manures can be found on the RHS website.
Last spring our hives were moved to a new location in a small wild flower meadow, with the help of a local bee keeper we now have two very healthy colonies that are thriving. Now the weather is warmer work has started to get our first crop of honey.
Over the winter months the bees cluster together to keep warm keeping the temperature inside at around 25 C, feeders containing a mixture of sugar and water are sometimes placed in the roof to provide extra food. They use a mixture of saliva, beeswax and plant resins call Propolis to seal the hive, as the weather warms up in spring the hives are opened and checked.
Colonies in winter are typically made up of 10 – 15,000 bees, this rises up to 50,000 in summer. With the hives opened the frames are all removed and checked, a smoker is used to make the bees go down into the hive while they are being disturbed. Queens are marked with a small blob of bright paint on their backs so they are easier to find.
Both the hives are now full so extra boxes called “Supers” are placed on top, a yellow plastic excluder is used to keep the queen in the lower part where she will continue laying eggs to raise new brood, a worker only lives for 5 – 6 weeks in the summer so new bees are constantly being born, the queen can live for several years.
The new boxes contain the frames where the honey will be harvested, over the next few months the hives will be regularly inspected and the honey extracted, the bees are now very busy all over the gardens and meadow, more updates to follow!
Fresh New Potatoes are one of tastiest crops to grow at home, even if space is limited they can be grown in large containers or just a small area of your garden.
Shop bought potatoes with small sprouts can be planted but it is always best to get started with seed potatoes, first they need “chitting” this means leaving them to sprout before planting. The small buds need to face up keeping them cool and dry, old egg boxes are ideal to store them in as they start to grow.
When ready to plant dig over the ground to a depth of at least 8 inches, level and if dry give the soil a good water. They can be planted with a trowel but it is better to dig out a small trench 4 inches deep and the same wide.
They will need “earthing up” so keep the rows at least 2 feet apart, and 1 foot between the tubers as you plant, gently push them into the bottom of the trench making sure most of the buds are at the top. Back fill the trench and gently firm the soil.
The first shoots will take a while to appear and are vulnerable to frost, so on cold nights it is best to cover them over with any sort of material, although they will recover if damaged it does set them back so it is worth trying to protect them.
As they grow it is important to keep “earthing up”, this means pulling the soil into mounds around the new growth, the buried stems will produce more and it stops any growing near the surface turning green.
To grow in containers use the same method, the bigger the pot or trough the better, plant a few tubers and leave enough room to keep topping the pot up with compost as they grow. Containers will also need regular watering.
Potatoes planted in March can usually be harvested in June, when the flowers start appearing that is good time to start checking for the first crop.
If you're looking for ways to use up your sad looking vegetables and make your ingredients stretch further, why not make a tasty soup! Our Head Chef has sourced a Leek & Potato Soup Recipe which uses minimal ingredients, but you can add in as many different vegetables as you'd like.
450g potatoes, peeled and cut into 1cm pieces (try Golden Wonders or Kerr Pinks)
1 small onion, cut the same size as the potatoes
450g white parts of leeks, sliced (save the green tops for another soup or stock)
850ml-1.2litres/1½-2pts light chicken or vegetable stock
142ml carton whipping cream
125ml full-fat milk
the white part of 1 leek
a small knob of butter
finely chopped chives
1. Melt 50g butter in a heavy saucepan. When it foams, add 450g potatoes, cut into 1cm cubes, 1 small onion, cut the same as the potatoes, and 450g white parts of leeks, sliced and toss them in the butter until they are well coated.
2. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper and toss again. Put a disc of greaseproof paper (called a cartouche by chefs) on top of the vegetables to keep in the steam), then cover the pan with its lid.
3. Cook over a gentle heat for 10 mins, or until the vegetables are soft but not coloured.
4. Uncover the pan and discard the paper. Pour in 850ml of the light chicken or vegetable stock, bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are just cooked – about 5 minutes. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh flavour.
5. Purée in a blender until silky smooth, in batches if necessary, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Return the soup to a clean pan and stir in three quarters of a 142ml carton of whipping cream and 125ml full-fat milk.
6. To finish the soup, finely shred the white part of 1 leek and gently cook it in a small knob of hot butter for a few mins until it is softened but not coloured.
7. Reheat the soup to a gentle simmer (add some extra stock at this point if the soup is too thick for your liking), then pour into warmed bowls.
8. Drizzle the remaining cream over each serving, top with a little pile of buttered leeks and a scattering of chives and black pepper and serve at once.
This recipe has been sourced from: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/leek-potato-soup
Look out for our handy Potato Growing Guide this week!