Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Food for the soul

A colorful Peacock butterfly on a buddleia blossom
A welcome visitor
My garden is a beautiful place right now.  Apart from the abundance of vegetables and the promise of more to come--both fruit and veg--the whole property is at its peak just now.  Even the lawn looks glorious!

There are some wonderful flowers (both perennial and annual) in the perennials section and the front postage stamp, including roses, sunflowers, dahlias, sweet peas and more.  I put lobelia in some of my tomato planters, giving a pretty splash of blue to entice the hoverflies--we've had swarms of these helpful little insects this summer. 

It's so nice to sit next to the goldfish pond, listening to the trickle of water, and watching the butterflies flocking to the buddleia nearby.  The above picture is of a peacock butterfly, recently spotted.  I planted the buddleia to screen the view of the neighbors, with the added benefit of attracting butterflies and bees.  It does me good to see it covered in these lovely little creatures.

Part of my Plan for the garden is to provide beauty and tranquility.  What with the flowers, lush greenery, helpful insects and fresh vegetables and herbs, my garden is a haven right now.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Dreaming of squash

Small yellow squash growing under big leaves
Squash, unknown provenance, July 2017
I'm trying not to count my squashes before they're matured;  one year I had about five big pumpkins all go moldy and fall off the vine before they ripened.  This year I mistook the young plants for zuccinis as I was planting out, so that the squashes went in the main bed and the zuccinis (all but one) went into a bed in the perennials section.  Not a huge mistake, but it means I have to keep an eye on the squashes so they don't overrun the other veg--which most of them are attempting!  I think there are about six vines, each with at least three or four fruits on them (so far).

The seeds came from a grocery store specimen last autumn.  It was a smallish orange one with fairly dense flesh, and not too sweet.  We normally only see butternut squash at the store, which is not my favorite:  I buy it because it's the only option.  We really liked this little orange squash, and the sticker said it was British grown (i.e. theoretically better adapted to our climate), so I made a point of saving seed from it.  Here's hoping I can save more seed again, this year from my own harvest.

Squash is a great vegetable to have, as it stores for a long while--making it an excellent winter vegetable.  Ideally, I'd like to have enough squash in storage to eat one a week from December to April/May:  20-30 squashes.  Realistically, I'll be lucky to get six (one per vine).  If I get two per vine, I'll be ecstatic!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Me and my cabbage

Woman holding a large savoy cabbage in a garden, with chickens behind
It's me! July 2017
I don't know if I've put a picture of myself on this blog--well, here I am, with one of my Savoy cabbages;  photo taken by my seven year old son.  I'm on our back patio facing the house, with the garage to the right of the photo, and the vegetable garden to the left (not pictured).

This is one of three Savoys that somehow got missed over winter;  they were sowed in the summer of 2016, and the one I'm holding is the smallest.  All have very little slug and bug damage compared to the summer cabbages I sowed in early spring, and have big waxy leaves.

In fact, the leaves are so big and thick, I thought they would need a lot of cooking to be edible--not so.  They cooked up normally and were nice and tender.  We did not eat the stems or mid-ribs;  trimmed of these, the leaves weighed in at just over a pound.  Unlike chard, which cooks down to about a quarter of its volume (a pound of chard makes one meal for us, and we eat the stems too), this lovely cabbage didn't decrease in volume and ended up being served in four meals. 

The giant cabbage?  Yeah, I picked it about a week ago and we're still eating it every day.  So far it's clocked in at over 3 pounds, trimmed weight.  Not all of it has been weighed yet (just the outer leaves so far).

Saturday, August 5, 2017

July 2017 garden notes

A garden bed packed with different vegetables, including cabbage, beans and potatoes
Misc bed in front, Peas and beans behind (with classy DIY runner bean support), Potatoes at the very back, July 2017

Begun harvesting shallots in this bed in July.  Most of them have flowered, and the bulbs are small and woody.  I'll definitely try growing them again, but make sure to catch them before flowering.

Eating some beets now, both white and red (pretty sure I didn't buy white beet seed!  but very tasty).  Most still small but growing.

Onions and celery both getting big, but none harvested.  Eating carrots in planters gradually.

Peas and beans

Finished and cleared away all peas in this bed: early, maincrop and mange tout;  maincrop plants hung up in the garage to dry pods for winter storage.  There is still another small batch of maincrop peas in one of the perennial beds, nearly ready this month.

Runner beans and French beans flowering and forming tiny pods, but none harvested in July.


Harvested main heads from two broccoli plants, one small, one medium. 

Planted out winter cabbages after peas cleared away, about 18-24 inches apart (really they need about 36 inches, but they'll have to share).  Kale and spring broccoli planted out earlier growing well.  Rutabagas sown earlier (both batches) growing a bit.  A small batch of turnips sowed and some sprouted.

Brussels sprouts in holding bed growing nicely.  About half the summer cabbages eaten in July;  of the remaining ones, two or three are forming nice compact heads.  The leftover Savoys also forming lovely heads.


A few cucumbers harvested in July, but plants seem to be diseased:  possibly cucumber wilt.  Melon plants completely demolished by slugs--none left.  Both grown in planters.

Cherry tomatoes forming good trusses of fruit, but none ripened yet.  Other tomatoes only just beginning to flower in July.  Most tomatoes in planters, but two growing in the main bed.  Tomatillos in main bed flowering and forming fruit, but also look diseased.  No idea what though--leaves are yellowing and wilting slightly.  Hope they survive.

Most squashes and pumpkins planted in the main bed, and two pumpkins in planters.  No pumpkins formed yet, but several squashes growing.  Plants look strong with good growth and flower formation. 

A couple zuccinis harvested at the end of July.  One plant very big, the others not as advanced, but just beginning to form fruits at the end of July.

Sweet corn plants still pretty small, but growing.  Not sure if they'll have enough time to produce.  Leeks still very small.  Harvested some radishes, and sowed some more seed.

Eaten pretty much all the bolting chard, now on to the non-bolting chard.  So much chard!  Eating lettuce leaves still about once a week, and still sowing a few plants in pots.  Eating a few spring onions and sowed a few more in pots (now sprouted).


Some potatoes chest high now.  I staked them up at the edge of the holding bed.  Still growing!


Finished Kordia cherries (we had about 6-8, birds had the other 12-15).  Finished blackcurrants (tons!), finished gooseberries (lot more than I expected off two 18 inch tall plants), finished raspberries and blueberries (only a handful each), finished last redcurrants and maincrop strawberries.

Alpine strawberries still producing in July, though slowing down.  Maincrop strawberries sending out runners, which I will transplant in August or early September.

Plums getting big, apples getting big (only two apples on each tree, sadly).  Williams tree has two small pears--I was wrong to doubt you, Williams! 

Fig still has three or four big fruits, and forming lots of little ones--probably don't have enough time to mature this year though.  Almonds growing well.

Lightly pruned plum, both cherries, Sparta apple, and Williams pear in July.  Tied down a few branches on Laxton fortune apple.

Perennials and herbs

Artichokes growing well, and even produced small flowers in July, which I picked off to encourage root growth.  Hoping for a good harvest next year.

Asparagus from seed still growing little spindly spears.  Chickens ate all the sorrel;  hope it's still all right.

Still no sign of either rhubarb plant. 

Most herbs still growing well;  rosemary still alive after its bit of die back.  Thyme and bergamot flowering.  Harvested mint just before flowering to make a bottle of mint sauce.  Newly sown parsley sprouted.  Basil and new dill in pots very small. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

July 2017 Food Totals

A flock of chickens grazing a lawn
Black chicks nearly grown up, July 2017

215 oz chard!!
39 oz carrots
53.5 oz cabbage
11 oz cauliflower
9.5 oz lettuce
15.5 oz beets
1 oz peas
0.5 oz artichoke
8.5 oz new potatoes
2 oz celery
1 oz spring onion
4.5 oz broccoli
5.5 oz radishes
5 oz cucumbers
4.5 oz shallot
7 oz zuccini

Does not include fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, dill, tarragon, chives, summer savory) which were too small a quantity to weigh, i.e. less than 0.5 oz.

Total: 381 oz

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


44.5 oz mixed berries (mainly blackcurrants but also gooseberries, redcurrants, strawberries and alpine strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and sweet cherries)
10 oz morello cherries

Total: 54.5 oz


Total:  143 eggs from 11 hens
Total feed bought: 2 bags layers pellets (40kg total), 3 bags growers pellets (15kg total)


2 medium jars pickled zuccini spears (zuccini from friend's garden, dill and garlic from my own garden)
1 medium bottle mint sauce


Elderflower wine bottled up.  Cider, rhubarb wine, elderberry/blackberry wine still fermenting. No new homebrew begun

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Update on the state of the flock, July 2017

English game bantam cock
Tiny rooster, April 2017
We said goodbye to two of our chickens in the past two months, both younger birds whom we had raised from chicks, one of whom was Tiny, our bantam English game cock.  We don't know the cause for either of their deaths;  Patches then hen was two years old and Tiny was one year old.  Both were in good health in the days up to their unexpected demise, and both had been eating and drinking as normal. 

Some of the suggestions I came up with are:  bird flu (joke!), freak accident (it looked like Tiny may have been caught under something), poisoned accidently (I've seen some of them pecking at various things like potato leaves, laurel leaves, rhododendron leaves...).  Both chickens were found in the morning, cold and dead, with no obvious wounds. We'll miss them both, especially Tiny.  Even though at times he could be an annoying little pipsqueak, he was still a good rooster and we liked his funny little antics.

This year's chicks are nearly the size of the adults now, though still with chickie characteristics such as small combs and squeaky voices.  No crowing yet, and to be honest, I'm still not entirely sure who's a boy and who's a girl.  There is one with obvious male features--early development of comb and wattle--but the other four, who knows?  We want to keep one rooster to try breeding next spring, but I'm also hoping to eat at least one. 

And Cookie, our little bantam hen, has gone broody again.  I'm half inclined to give her another batch of eggs to sit on, to give a few more layers and have chicken to eat in winter.  We have sixteen chickens altogether, including newest chickies.  I'm sure we can handle another six, right?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Broccoli and butterflies

Photo of a small head of broccoli growing on a plant
Broccoli, July 2017
I've never tried to grow summer broccoli, also called calabrese, before.  I thought I'd give it a try this year.  I managed to get about six plants growing this spring (there were at least twice as many to begin with, but the slugs had them).  A couple started growing heads at the beginning of the month, and last week I harvested two of them.

One was too small but I had to pick it as it was about to flower.  It was about as big as a purple sprouting broccoli head:  about the size of a golf ball.  The second, shown above, was a much nice size.  We had it in a chicken stir fry, along with garden carrots and garden garlic.

Now, however, is the time of the dreaded cabbage white butterfly.  The seven year old has helped me inspect brassica leaves for eggs and caterpillars.  There are two types: the small and the large;  one lays single eggs which turn into relatively harmless green caterpillars.  The other lays a grid of eggs, around 20 or more, which grow into black and yellow striped caterpillars that wreak havoc!  If 20 different butterflies each lay a single egg, a broccoli plant can withstand that kind of damage.  However, 20 eggs each from 20 butterflies:  complete defoliation. 

Last year I diligently inspected each plant every single day for a month.  Then it was about three times a week for another month...I don't think I can keep up that standard of vigilance this year.  I'll try to look at the bigger plants every few days, and I'll keep an eye on the newly planted winter cabbages.  It's best to rub off eggs before they hatch, but I'm willing to be ruthless about caterpillars too.  I don't really have the stomach to kill actual butterflies--I don't have the patience to chase after them either.  I can only shake my fist and growl at them.