Friday, June 22, 2018

Spending money on the garden

A garden bed with peas and cabbages growing
Snap peas in foreground, trio of Savoys behind, June 2018
Regular expenditures on the garden include purchase of seeds and plants.  To be honest, at this point in my gardening journey I rarely buy plants any more--though I did just buy some lavender plug plants.  I've got pretty much all the perennials I want/need, and I almost never buy vegetable starts these days, preferring to grow from seed myself (cheaper).  That said, I'll probably be buying replacement rosemary and tarragon plants sometime this year...

While much cheaper, seeds add up and I do my best to wait for sales and stock up.  I just bought 10 packs of seeds online in a £1 sale from one of the major seed merchants.  My favorite seed purveyor doesn't seem to hold sales, so I pay full price for theirs--though they provide heirloom varieties with instructions for saving your own seed.  I generally buy the more unusual varieties from them and stick to the plain (i.e. easy to grow) stuff in the sales.

Other garden expenses in the past have been insect mesh and bird netting, fencing, paving bricks, pond liner and pump, tree surgeon services (ouch: expensive), lawn mower, garden tools.  Over the years I must have spent hundreds of pounds on this little patch of land.

I hope to reduce spending as my food growing establishes and expands.  I'll do this by saving seed where possible, as well as propagating plants such as through cuttings and grafting.  I hope to be eating more perennial and self-seeding vegetables in the future (thank you chard).  And getting stuff on sale or for free where I can, of course.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Addressing the hungry gap

A stack of three plastic trays and several small potted plants on a patio table
Seed trays on my patio, May 2018
The "hungry gap" is an old-fashioned term for the period in mid spring to early summer when the stored vegetables and fruits have run out and the new season stuff hasn't begun producing yet.  It's certainly the most challenging time of year for vegetable gardeners, and I need to consider it carefully for my (future) goal of full self reliance in vegetables.

My present goal is self reliance for six months of this year, and when I started this challenge last month we were just coming out of the hungry gap.  Last spring and summer I planned ahead for my winter and spring vegetables:  in 2017 I sowed/planted purple sprouting broccoli and sweetheart cabbages, leeks, Savoy cabbages, Brussels sprouts and kale all with the hungry gap in mind.

Only the sweetheart cabbages performed well however;  the others either finished too soon (sprouts), too late (half the Savoys are still heading up), or were just insignificant (broccoli, kale and leeks). 

My chard was self sown, also in 2017, and put out a big flush of growth before going to seed at the end of May;  I actually have a big patch of self-sown mizuna too which I've barely touched, as we've been trying to keep up with the cabbage--there's only so many leaves three people can eat, no matter how much they like them!  We do like them luckily, but a plateful per day is plenty.

So the two heavy hitters of the hungry gap were chard and cabbage:  both leafy greens.  We're still harvesting both and in need of some variety for next spring, please--preferably non-leafy. 

In our case, I think the key is to preserve as much of the summer and autumn harvest as possible;  I'd love to still be eating those zuccini pickles, or have a few more squashes put by.  And maybe get the season started a little earlier by growing under glass:  one day we'll get that greenhouse.

In the meantime, I've got seeds sown and plants growing for 2019's hungry gap:  cabbages, chard, leeks, kale, Brussels sprouts, purple broccoli...

Friday, June 15, 2018

The peach tree

So about this peach tree...
Close up of a tree branch with immature nectarines growing
Peaches?  May 2018
I think it's a nectarine.

I've been dreaming of doughnut peaches for four years now, ever since I put a seed in every planter out back;  and two trees grew, and the first tree finally fruited this year, and...they don't look anything like doughnut peaches.

Talk about disappointment!  They better be the best nectarines ever.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

State of the flock, June 2018

A black Pekin bantam and four young black Australorps on a lawn
Cookie (the speckled one) and the kids, May 2018
Well, the integration of the chicks and the main flock was pretty smooth and mostly painless.  Cookie has officially stopped taking care of her latest brood and is laying eggs again:  we think she'll be going broody again soon, though as we don't have an adult rooster, we might ask around for some eggs for her to hatch again.  Why?  We think all four of those chicks are boys!  One's possibly a girl, but I do think at least three and maybe all four are boys.  Oh well.  Chicken on the menu. 
A variety of colors of chickens, all laying down together on a lawn
Florry at front looking innocent, May 2018
I recently took drastic measures to ground our escape artist Florry and her partner in crime Rock:  they both got a double amputation to keep them from jumping the fence into the vegetables.  By this I mean instead of clipping just one wing (which is supposed to throw them off balance but was completely ineffective with these two lightweight and very determined birds), I clipped both wings, thus depriving them of lift.  But as a precaution (Florry, especially, doesn't give up), I've put small stakes around all my newly planted vegetables in the hopes she won't scratch them up if she does get over.  More than once this past year I have come very close to giving Florry the chop;  the only thing that stopped me is her prolific egg laying.  Well she's currently laying about one a week now, instead of one a day, but as she's also not jumped the fence since I clipped both wings...

We lost Plucky, our oldest hen last week;  we were hoping she'd make it to her sixth birthday in September:  she really was an old lady.  She was adopted from the British Hen Welfare Trust, as an ex-commercial laying hen, and spent far more of her life as a happy free-ranger than she ever did closed up in a cage in a barn.  Most of our charity adopted hens have lived around three years, though we also have a four and a half year old adopted hen still in the flock.

Currently we have nine adult hens and four juveniles (sex unconfirmed).  We're getting around 4-6 eggs a day:  not bad, really.

Friday, June 8, 2018

At the seaside

We went to the beach recently, which is over an hour's drive from us--we don't go often, unfortunately!  But we thought we'd take advantage of the nice weather while it lasted.

Though the beach itself was cold and misty, the town was sunny and warm:  the whole drive was hot, until the last three streets up to the sea itself!  We've never seen such a thing.  So while we had fun exploring the cute little town, including playing at the park, we also had fun walking and splashing on the chilly beach, doing a little foraging for the garden.

What did we bring back?

Seaweed

The tide was just going out as we began to walk the beach, and on the smooth sand were many little patches of black seaweed.  The eight year old had a great time running around collecting them, and between the three of us, we filled a carrier bag full.  When we got home, I used it as a mulch around my (extremely small) asparagus plants.  The idea is that as it breaks down, the seaweed will release its minerals into the soil.  Last time we went to the beach (last summer), I collected some and put it around the redcurrant which has now doubled in size!  Coincidence?

Shells and crab claws

Admittedly, we didn't find a lot of these--we collected a lot more seaweed than seashells!  However, the eight year old managed to fill his two hoodie pockets with these.  Once back home, he put them in a canvas bag and crushed them with a mallet.  We put them in a small dish for the chickens to peck at.  They certainly enjoyed them, and gobbled all but the biggest pieces.  It's supposed to be a calcium supplement, and of course a good source of grit for their gizzards.  They tore little holes in the canvas bag, though:  sharp.  Hope they're not too sharp for gizzards.

A plant container mulched with smooth ocean pebbles
Ocean pebbles in the blueberry pot
Smooth ocean pebbles

We always like to collect lovely stones, with the idea of making a small mosaic patio with them.  I actually made a little mosaic last year, but as it was non-mortared (just set in sand), it's kind of disappeared into the soil.  I need to excavate, rescue the stones and start over.  Some pebbles have become decorative mulch in a few containers, too.  As a side note, we also used a dozen of the prettiest beach agates in our mancala set, which was missing some marbles.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

May 2018 garden notes

A small vegetable patch with various plants growing, and fan trained trees at the fence in back
Misc bed in front (with stakes), Brassicas/Peas/Beans to left, Roots at the back right;  May 2018
Roots

No sign of parsnips, sown in March.  Second year in a row they've not appeared--think I'll give them a miss next year;  cleared away all weeds in this bed and replanted with celery seedlings.  Also planted a few celery in a perennials bed, as I had some spare.

Haven't seen the scorzerona sown in April yet either, but not quite given up hope.

A few more beet seedlings appeared in late May, after a rainstorm.  Carrots in planters growing well.

Onions and (new season, non-perennial) leeks growing slowly, all mostly protected against rampaging chickens with a defensive barrier of sticks and wire trays (most newly planted veg have been given the same treatment this month).  Last year's leeks now going to seed--will leave them in place to divide into new plants.

Garlic growing well;  pulled a bulb to test, but not quite fully mature (big and tasty though!).  Shallots still small.

Peas and beans

Pods forming on both winter sown broad beans by the end of the month, and both these and spring sown beans still flowering.  None harvested in May.

Early peas and mange tout both begun flowering by the end of the month, but none harvested.  Maincrop and snap peas not flowering yet.

Planted out pre-sprouted runner beans, peas and dwarf French beans at the beginning of the month;  runner beans small and growing by the end of the month, but only a few French beans and peas up.  Put another batch of French beans to pre-sprout.

A vegetable bed packed with broad bean plants interspersed with Savoy cabbage plants
Peas/Beans/Brassicas bed, May 2018
Brassicas

Eating the spring sweetheart cabbages all through May;  several still left for June.  Finished the purple sprouting broccoli and cleared away by the end of the month.  Harvested the flowering tops of kale.  Took cuttings of both kale and sprouting broccoli (at least one kale cutting rooted!).

Planted out Brussels sprouts and red kale into holding bed, and covered with insect mesh to protect against cabbage butterflies;  both growing nicely.

A few kohlrabi and radishes up from previous sowings;  sowed a few more in May.  Turnips sown (in a separate bed) in April growing strongly.  None harvested.  Self-sown mizuna sprouting in unexpected places and growing well.

Sowed a tray each of Savoy cabbage, cauliflower, and purple sprouting broccoli--all intended for winter/spring harvest.  None up by the end of the month.

Miscellaneous

Harvested a LOT of chard, nearly all to dry for later with stems in the freezer.  Last year's chard forming flowers now;  some has been cleared away and some left to set seed.  New season chard all over the place, growing strongly.

Miners lettuce and arugula flowering/setting seed this month, though still eating a few arugula leaves in May.

Planted out ten or so red leaf lettuces (all from own saved seed) at the end of May, which seem to be growing a bit--I have bad luck with most lettuce, but the slugs (and rabbits!?) seem not to have found these (yet).

Planted out bunching spring onions, all growing well.  Container-grown (non-bunching) spring onions smaller, but growing;  sowed a few more containers.  Nearly finished all last year's spring onions by the end of May.

Planted out my meager sweetcorn (six in total), all squashes and pumpkins, nearly all tomatillos, several tomatoes and zuccini, and most of the cherry tomatoes (these in planters).  I waited for a rainy day to get all these out, as it's been too hot for transplanting most of this month--boy did I get wet and muddy that day!  Fun times.

Transplanted most of the peppers (sweet and hot) into containers at the end of the month, but all still pretty small.

Fruit

All soft fruit except the autumn raspberry have formed fruits:  strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, whitecurrants, redcurrants, blackcurrants.

Good amounts of fruit on both cherry trees, plum tree, almond tree, both apple trees.  I counted about five pears on Williams tree, but have again picked off immature fruits from Kumoi pear in hopes it will grow bigger first (it's put out a little growth this month).  I think this is the last time I'll pick off its fruits--even if it is still smaller than me next year. 

Fig tree has about a dozen new fruits, al big and glossy.  Peach tree has at least half a dozen small fruits.

Put wire trays over some of the strawberries to protect from birds. 

Close up of a terracotta pot growing young spring onions and dill
Spring onions and dill, May 2018
Perennials and herbs

A few dill in containers now growing well;  sowed some more seed in May.  Summer savory also growing well--harvested a little this month, along with chives and parsley.  Parsley going to seed at the end of the month (hoping it'll self seed).

Thyme growing well, and mint still small but growing.  Looks like tarragon isn't coming back after the cold winter.

Rhubarb looking good, but as mentioned previously, I'm not harvesting it this year.  Artichokes growing ever bigger--taller than my waist and still putting out lots of leaves;  no flowers yet. 

Four or five asparagus have reappeared, all just about as spindly as they were last year as seedlings.  Mulched them with seaweed.

Harvested a little sorrel in May, all growing strongly.

Friday, June 1, 2018

May 2018 Food Totals

A small garden bed filled with large cabbages and broad bean plants
Peas/Beans/Brassicas bed, full to the brim May 2018
Vegetables:

131.5 oz chard
24 oz purple sprouting broccoli
6 oz salad greens (miners lettuce, arugula, spring onion)
140 oz sweetheart cabbage
5 oz kale
2.5 oz garlic

Total: 309 oz, or 19 lb 2 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.

Fruit:

No fruit harvested

Eggs:

Total: 135 eggs from 10 hens
Total feed bought: 2 bags layers pellets (40kg)

Preserves:

3 medium jars dried chard leaves (and 1 gallon freezer bag of chard stems!)
2 small jars dried kale leaves
1 small jar dried nettle leaves

Homebrew:  

Cider still fermenting
No new homebrew begun