Friday, April 20, 2018

Raised beds and slugs

A very small blackcurrant bush growing in a weedy raised bed
Newly planted blackcurrant in the old chicken yard, Apr 2018
I remember reading a lot about raised beds when I was first learning about gardening.  They seemed to be a panacea for all gardening woes, and I really wanted to build some in my own garden.  Many years later, I have dismantled all of them, keeping only the three brick and mortar ones built by a previous owner.

I think for some climates/situations raised beds probably work just as promised, but here they are just a magnet for slugs and snails.  I had different beds made of wood, brick and stone, and those pesky molluscs would climb in, tuck themselves away in the convenient hiding places I had provided, and wreak destruction every night.  In the last raised bed I took apart, the wooden walls were covered with happy fat slugs on all the inward facing sides. 

Slug pressure is pretty constant here, and I have come to accept that they will eventually find their way anywhere in my garden.  I've even found them in pots on top of my cast iron patio table, and in my window boxes.  Why (and how) they manage to climb such a height is beyond me, but they do.  Rather than provide them with a free B&B in a raised bed, all my vegetables are now grown in deep beds, completely level with the rest of the garden, and with no type of border or wall around them;  at least this deprives the slugs of a convenient hiding place. 

Of the three brick beds remaining, two are in the old chicken yard, which is still recovering from too much chicken for a bit too long.  Pictured above is some newly growing alfalfa, feverfew, a weed or two, and of course one of two new blackcurrants.  The slugs aren't much interested in any of this, but no doubt the population hasn't recovered yet after all those chickens!  I don't plan on putting any annual vegetables here in any case.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

State of the flock, April 2018

A chicken behind a wire and stick fence
Behind bars, Apr 2018
Our biggest news is that we have four new chicks, bred from our Orpington rooster and our two Australorp hens.  They were hatched around the end of March under our broody Pekin hen and are growing well.

The sad news is that our Orptington unexpectedly died.  We can't say for certain, but it might have been related to his no-crow collar which had been adjusted earlier that day.  This is the third young rooster to die without explanation, and all three had worn a collar (though none had been adjusted so recently before death).  Coincidence?  I'm having a good hard think about keeping another rooster.

We're at eleven adult hens now:  six ageing brown hybrids who are giving us up to two eggs a day, one each Cream Legbar and White Leghorn (both now two years old), one year old twin Black Australorp (honestly, I think of them as one chicken in two bodies), and our Pekin bantam.  We're getting an average of four eggs a day, with no one seeming to lay every day, not even our young Australorps who only began laying this year. 

I haven't put them back on their regular garden rotation as it still isn't growing much out there;  they're getting one hour a day of free range, with the rest confined to their yard which has been mulched with straw to try and soak up the mud.  Mother hen Cookie and her chicks are in a separate rabbit hutch with full access to grass and a little patch of the perennials section (mainly weeds).

Friday, April 13, 2018

Keeping up with the greens

Artichokes, daffodils and bricks, Apr 2018
We really haven't had many nice days still;  I've missed sitting out in the garden regularly, but have taken advantage when I can.  Right now we're in full daffodil bloom--mainly in the perennials section, but a few stragglers left in the vegetable patch, somehow.  I put a couple stakes next to them to mark where to dig once they've finished;  I'll move them after they flower though this means they probably won't flower again next year but the year after (I'm ok with this though).

I'm a bit surprised with the amount of vegetable harvest we've got right now, actually.  It's been cabbage every day for the last week, including extra for sauerkraut.  Salad greens every day for lunch too (mainly miners lettuce and a little arugula), and I had to put a big batch of new chard up for later--leaves to dry using my usual technique, stems in the freezer.  I might have to do another batch in a day or two;  the winter cabbages are more of a priority:  they're trying to bolt and the chard isn't just yet.

And then there's the kale.  I think there's only two plants left from winter, but both are growing very strongly and I know it--like the chard--is putting out its new growth now in preparation for going to seed soon.  I need to harvest it quickly!  It's softer than the winter cabbage so unsuitable for sauerkraut (even with that I only used the tougher outer leaves).  I'll give drying a shot.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Chicks ahoy!

Close up of four black and white chicks and their mother through some chicken wire
One week old, and their first ever grass
Well, suspense over:  broody hen Cookie managed to hatch five chicks from seven eggs total.  Sadly one died soon after, but the other four are happy little fluff balls.  Cookie's been a busy mother for the last two weeks:  showing them the ropes and keeping them warm;  it's been unseasonably cold and she went broody a month earlier than last year.

We got our first confirmation of them on Easter Sunday, when refilling Cookie's water:  there was a loud cheeping from under her while she was clucking.  Eight year old and I agreed it was the best Easter present ever--even better than chocolate!

Friday, April 6, 2018

March 2018 garden notes

A small garden bed with garlic plants growing strongly, and two leeks in the foreground
Garlic patch with leeks in front, Mar 2018

Finally finished eating celery (2017's Roots bed) by the end of March, and let the chickens onto this bed to scratch and clean it up in preparation for this year's Misc bed.

Garlic growing strongly in this year's Roots bed, but only a few shallots sprouting up.

I sowed a patch of parsnip seeds early in the month--and they got snowed on!  No sign of them by the end of the month;  I didn't get a single one last year so I'm not holding my breath for them. 

Sowed a few beet and carrot seeds at the end of the month.

Onion and leek seedlings now sheltering in my cold frame, to be planted out in April.  Last year's leeks still growing slowly, with a couple now ready to harvest (I'll let the rest carry on growing and dividing).  I sowed another tray of leek seed early in the month.

Peas and beans

Dwarf broad beans growing and thinking about forming buds.  Seed sown in February now sprouting up.

Early, maincrop, and (I think) mange tout peas all sprouting up, having been sown in February and early March.  I lost track of what I've sown, but all are in separate patches this year--the maincrop peas are actually in their own bed with the plum tree.  Put a small batch of mange tout to sprout near the end of the month.


Began harvesting winter cabbages in March, some of which are now trying to bolt.  Harvested a small amount of kale, mizuna (self-seeded) and the last of the Brussels sprouts including leafy tops.

Spring cabbages growing well, particularly in the cold frame.  Purple sprouting broccoli also growing well, but no shoots yet.  Neither of these harvested in March.

Planted out about a dozen overwintered cauliflowers.

Sowed two varieties of Brussels sprouts in trays outdoors, but none appeared by the end of the month.  Sowed a small row of radishes and another of turnips at the end of the month.


Overwintered chard beginning to put out new growth this month;  a little harvested.

In the cold frame, lots of growth on winter salad greens (mainly miners lettuce and arugula), giving us a small salad per week.  Harvested a few overwintered spring onions, grown in a container.


Took a few cuttings from the redcurrant and cut back the yellow raspberry;  all fruit bushes putting out new growth by the end of the month.  Planted out two new blackcurrants which I got for free--one definitely growing, the other possibly.  Blackcurrant cuttings taken earlier are leafing out, but I don't know if that means they've rooted.

Almond tree and patio peach flowering at the end of March;  I've been hand-pollinating them both, although bees have been spotted on the almond.  Many flowerbuds formed on the Williams pear, Kumoi pear, plum, both cherries--none of these opened yet though.

Slightly pruned Sparta apple tree;  both it and Laxton Fortune starting to form buds by the end of March.

About a dozen strawberry plants left after chicken rampaging.  They scratched up most of the alpine strawberry plants too.  

Perennials and herbs

Artichokes growing strongly.  Rhubarb forming new leaves and stems.  No life spotted yet from asparagus.  Sorrel growing a little, but has been eaten by chickens.

Been nibbling a few daylily shoots (chickens have too) this month. 

Chives growing strongly, picked a few parsley leaves, thyme still alive.  All other herbs still dormant or dead (rosemary probably).

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

March 2018 Food Totals

In a garden, a boy reclining under a tent made from a sheet decorated with bunting
Making the most of our one nice weekend, Mar 2018

5 oz kale
7 oz celery
9 oz Brussels sprouts and leaves
6.5 oz chard
1.5 oz mizuna
2 oz salad greens (miners lettuce, arugula, spring onion)
27 oz cabbage

Total: 58 oz, or 4 lb 10 oz

Note:  I weigh all my vegetables after preparation:  peeling, trimming, etc.  Does not include fresh herbs which were too small an amount to weigh, i.e. less than 0.5 oz.


No fruit harvested


Total: 104 eggs from 11 hens
Total feed bought: 2 bags layers pellets (40kg total) and 1 bag chick crumb (5kg)


1 medium jar fermented carrots (own garlic and dill seed, bought carrots)


Cider still fermenting
No new homebrew begun

Friday, March 30, 2018

Garden objective: basket weaving

A small rustic basket on a countertop
Second ever basket!
According to The Plan, one of my garden objectives is to grow materials for weaving;  willow is specifically cited.  I have a small stand of willows:  three in total and they grow near our little pond.  For the past three years I've harvested all the withies in winter after the leaves fall off, leaving the stumps (or stools as I believe they're called). 

These are not a particular variety grown for weaving;  they came from a wild tree near our house.  I took some wands in winter, stuck them in the ground where I wanted them, and they took.  However, the withies grow fairly straight and long and are perfectly adequate for my own personal use. 

And since I've been harvesting for three years, I've made exactly three baskets from them:  two small hand baskets, suitable for egg collection or vegetable harvest (the other one looks pretty similar to the one pictured), and a big basket I use for laundry with a handle on each side.

All three of my baskets are pretty rough looking, though the third one is slightly better than the second, which is a small improvement on the first.  I didn't prepare the withies particularly:  I wove them while still green and pliable, rather than letting them dry and resoaking.  I didn't peel them either.  The first basket--the laundry basket--is now two years old and still perfectly serviceable.

I have my eye on our yucca to try my hand at weaving a basket or two with its leaves;  they're more flexible and would require a different technique, but I think I'm up for it.  Like growing food, it's very satisfying to harvest raw materials and make them into something useful.