Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Trying for chicks

As mentioned previously, we are hoping to breed our own replacement layers and a few extra cockerels for eating.  To this end, we have our own big fluffy Orpington rooster (named Toasty), now at about ten months old;  and two nice Australorp hens of the same age.  These two hens have only begun laying and I've been collecting their eggs and saving them, not eating them.

The plan is to have six eggs, hopefully fertilized (we know they're trying, at least) ready for when our little broody hen Cookie--a Pekin bantam--is ready to hatch a nest.  I have four eggs saved now.  When I get seven, we'll eat the oldest egg and save the newest one;  I will continue to rotate them until Cookie's ready.  We think she's getting close as she's started laying eggs herself and she only lays in preparation for hatching, not year round like some of the others.

The husband thinks we should save our White Leghorn Florry's eggs too, but I honestly don't think they're fertilized;  I've only seen Toasty try and mate with the two Australorps and with Cookie--though I know that's not a successful match!  It's also possible that one or both of the Australorps will go broody.  If they do, we'll let them, but may have to buy extra fertilized eggs for them to sit on:  maybe even a few duck eggs.

If it turns out that the eggs I saved haven't fertilized and Cookie/other hens are still sitting on a nest after 4 weeks, Plan B is to sneak some day old chicks under her/them, like we did last year.  No doubt we'll be able to buy some locally.  The seven year old has been angling for some Silkies for the past year.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Garden Objective: firewood

According to The Plan, one of my garden objectives is to provide firewood for barbecues.  Last month we paid a big chunk of cash to get a mature tree felled in our back garden--this wood was cut and is now stacked for drying, though the larger diameter logs will not be dry enough for at least a year, possibly two.  We also have a huge pile of sticks and twiggy bits which might be ready by summer, if kept dry.  The wood from this tree (a sycamore, also called a sycamore maple) should keep us in firewood for several years.

However, this was a pretty expensive way of providing for firewood!  We have one other mature tree out back which may be subject to the same fate in the future, but I plan to set up a much cheaper supply of homegrown wood through a coppicing system.  I already have the trees set up for such a coppice, too.

There is the remains of a hawthorn hedge at the back of the property (planted by a previous owner) which had overgrown quite badly at one point;   the husband cut it all down to about waist height several years ago and I have been trimming it once a year (in winter) to keep it under control.

Now I plan to change the system.  Instead of cutting each hawthorn tree every year, I will allow growth on them for several years and begin a rotation for harvest.  It will be a five year rotation--or even longer--and I will cut the growth of just one tree each year.  Instead of big logs it will be smaller diameter wood, but suitable for barbecue and other small fires.

Hawthorn is a vigorous grower and hard to kill, which is why it makes a good hedge.  The wood is dense and burns hot--it's a hardwood--though it's also very thorny:  a little problematic for firewood but workable for my own situation and needs.  Although the hedge will begin to cast some shade as the hawthorns grow for longer between trimming, it shouldn't be an issue:  it will only affect a small part of the perennials section and luckily not the main veg beds. 

Hopefully this system will provide me with a small but regular amount of good firewood for as long as I care to keep it up.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Waiting for a little spring

A frosty, mulched garden bed with brick stepping stones
I moved the (more attractive) stepping stones onto the lawn, and put brick replacements on the veg beds.  I think that's a volunteer foxglove in foreground and Brussels sprout to the right, Jan 2018
It's still cold outside!  Some years we've had a mild February, and a couple of times in the last decade or so it's been brutal;  this year has been cold but not overwhelming.  But a little too much to tempt me outside much.  I've been picking a few salad leaves every week or two, pulling up some celery once in a while, and having a quick check every few days. 

In the warmer months, I'm out in the garden as much as possible:  making the rounds, doing a little planting/harvesting/general maintenance, relaxing and enjoying.  By the end of autumn, I've got a definite tan and golden highlights in my hair--now in mid-February, that's all faded.  I've been staying warm and dry indoors, and while I can feel the ghost of that outdoor itch once in a while, it's too weak to pay much attention to.  I'm in no hurry just yet.

I've done a few indoor-y garden things, such as sowing a few trays of seeds on the kitchen windowsill, and starting off a handful of broad beans (I pre-sprout them before planting out).  Most of my winter garden jobs have been done, little by little:  pruning, mulching, tidying.  When spring finally comes around, I'll be ready.  Until then, I'm happy to hibernate just a bit more.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Long term projects

A garden bed with two leeks and two small cabbages growing
Two leeks, regrown from the previous season (sown 2016), Jan 2018
One day I'd like to live on a bigger property, and run it as mixed farm with livestock, orchard and crop gardens--and maybe more.  We're unlikely to be able to afford to buy land in this country, so to fulfill my dream we'd probably have to emigrate elsewhere--or hope we win the lottery (from our once a year ticket!).  We're tentatively planning it for the Long long term, but I accept that it might not come;  we have to weigh up all our needs as well as the available options--for one thing, the husband has a chronic health condition which needs regular monitoring, so a place with a national health service is a must.

But moving on to our (shorter term) long term projects, for the property we live on now.  We're scheduled to pay off our mortgage twelve years from now, although we hope to pay it off early.  There are some projects we want to do specifically to improve the house, but there are also some big garden projects including things which will help with our self reliance.  In no particular order:

Reshape the pond

We sort of threw our pond together over a weekend, and it's haphazardly finished.  Don't get me wrong, it's better than no pond at all and I like it, but I'd like to redig and level it so that the lining doesn't show, and the edges look pretty and professional--and so the filter is integrated and not quite so ugly!  The husband and I were talking about this recently, and I have a definite idea of how I'd like it to look. 

It's probably a job for next winter.

Erect a lean-to greenhouse or conservatory

I've looked online at kits for both of these, and although more expensive, I'm tending towards a conservatory simply because it'll be better for property value.  I want to put it against our house as an extra room leading off from our dining/kitchen.  I want it to grow lots of tomatoes and maybe citrus or other tender fruit.

Because of the prices, we'll have to save up for this one--at least a year or more.

Put up a permanent fence around the chicken yard

As mentioned in previous posts, our chickens luckily don't live permanently in their permanent yard!  They get to rotate through the rest of the property, but their yard is something they always have access to.  Right now, in winter, they're spending a lot of time there so as not to destroy the rest of the garden while it's dormant.  I've put up a slap-dash chicken wire arrangement and I'd like to replace this with a tall-ish picket fence to make it a bit more attractive.  It would still need two gates, and I would still continue my rotation system with them, using the chicken wire as usual. 

This is probably something we could manage to build this year.  In addition:

Put up an archway to the chicken yard

This may go up first, before a fence.  The current entryway to the chicken yard has a very beautiful, very thorny rosebush at the side.  I'd like to put up an arch over the gate, to contain both gate and rose.  I'd probably move a second rose or other climber to the other side.  It's a shady place due to the mature horse chestnut tree at the back, so not an optimal food growing place.

Extend the vegetable beds

In the back, we've had one of two mature trees felled.  If we ever get the horse chestnut done, or thinned into a v-shape (I'm not sure if I want it fully gone), I want to dig up the lawn and extend the veg beds.  We've yet to see how the loss of the first tree will affect light levels, but in any case, it wasn't really casting shade on that section of lawn. 

I don't have a time scale for this--we can't afford to pay for an arborist this year, so it'll be at least a year or maybe two.

Improve the front for future food production

I haven't written much about the tiny section of garden at the front of the house--mainly because I hardly ever touch it!  It usually gets a major weeding and pruning once a year, and the husband mows the little patch of grass during summer.  It's north facing and in shade most of the day;  in winter it's in constant shade.  It has a crabapple sapling, several ornamentals and plenty of weeds in addition to the little lawn.  This winter I've begun putting spare used chicken bedding on the main bed.  I'll carry on doing this throughout 2018;  the idea is to get the soil so soft and rich that the weeds' roots can't hold on any more and I can just pull them out for good.

This section will never produce a lot, and I won't bother with vegetables, but it can probably act as an extension of my perennials section with fruit bushes, rhubarb, etc.  I anticipate it needs at least a year or two of improvement, but I have a couple blackcurrants I can plant out now, in hopes for a better future.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

January 2018 garden notes

A large jar with a head of celery and a small pumpkin on a kitchen counter
Celery table decoration (with bought pumpkin), Jan 2018

The only real vegetable harvest for the month came from 2017's Roots bed:  celery.  Getting a little tired of just celery!  But still a few plants left at the end of the month, probably to finish in February.  A few beets also still in the ground, but not expecting anything from them at this point.

Garlic definitely growing in 2018's Roots bed, and possibly shallots, too (hard to tell, as I planted them right next to each other, and mulched them with leaves and garden debris).

Sowed a tray of onion seed in the kitchen window.

Peas and beans

I counted about 26 broad bean (dwarf variety) sprouted, most between 2-4 inches tall by the end of January.


Winter cabbages slowly growing heads, as are spring cabbages (though most are much smaller).  Broccoli tall and lush, kale shorter but still leafy.  Brussels sprouts still standing but the remaining sprouts are too small.  Young cauliflower plants grown a little.  None of these harvested in January.


Leeks still standing;  sowed some new seeds indoors.  Winter salad leaves grown back after chicken damage, so we had a salad or two.  Chard slowly recovering from earlier chicken damage.


A bit of damage to the white, red, and black currants and the yellow raspberry from felling our mature sycamore tree.  Red and black should spring back fine, though white and yellow are both newer and still small, so we'll have to see. 

Took about six cuttings from the black currants and lightly pruned the gooseberries.

Moved a couple errant raspberry canes to the main raspberry patch.

Perennials and herbs

Artichokes putting out plenty of new growth from the base, despite repeated frosts and light snow.  A little new growth on the rhubarb (will not harvest this year, in order to let it get bigger).  Moved chive patch into the main herb patch:  starting to sprout up again.

Friday, February 2, 2018

January 2018 Food Totals

A Savoy cabbage covered in frost
Bit cold out there, Jan 2018

1.5 oz radish
1 oz miners lettuce
0.5 oz spring onion
15.5 oz celery

Total:  18.5 oz

Note:  I weigh all my vegetables after preparation:  peeling, trimming, etc. 


No fruit harvested in December


Total: 41 eggs from 11 hens (lost an old hen but young hens finally begun)
Total feed bought: 2 bags layers pellets (40kg total)


1 medium jar garlic salt


Cider still fermenting
No new homebrew begun

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Goals for 2018

Broad bean seedlings growing in a frosty garden bed
A few broad beans, Jan 2018
Well, new year, new goals.  If you check The Plan (also linked at the top of the page), you can read the current year's goals, as well as links to previous years'.  I've already achieved one goal!

1 Year Goals (by 1 Jan 2019)

  • Extend vegetable self sufficiency by 1 month (6 months total)
  • Cut down sycamore tree in back
  • Continue improving soil in front beds
  • Raise at least one batch of chicks
5 Year Goals (by 1 Jan 2024)
  • Fully self sufficient in vegetables and seasonal fruit
  • Raising/breeding meat and replacement layers
  • Greenhouse erected 
My 5 year goals are identical to the previous years.  We saved up a big chunk of cash to pay an arborist to fell our mature sycamore out back earlier this month (North American readers may know it as a sycamore maple).  It was a three-trunked giant--taller than the mature horse chestnut next to it--and is now in a pile to dry out for firewood next winter, hopefully.  I think our next wad of cash will be for a greenhouse, although the husband wants the horse chestnut down too--as does the next door neighbor who gets all the dead leaves blown off it in autumn!  But anyway, either of those probably won't be till at least 2019.