Friday, November 17, 2017

Strip grazing with chickens

A chicken on a frosty lawn
Strawberry inspecting the frost, Nov 2017
For a month or more, I've been using the chicken mower, aka chicken tractor, to strip graze my lawn.  It started out as a way to concentrate the chickens efforts on actually eating grass, rather than just snacking around the perimeter of a large section of grass and pooing on the rest.  And also because we have not one but two escape artists--who see the fence more as a stepping stone than a barrier. 

As you can see from the photo, I've enclosed their section of the lawn fully using chicken wire and a selection of poles;  they have a strip about 2 feet wide by around 12 feet long (ish).  I move this piece of chicken wire across the lawn every two days:  it's attached to their permanent run at the back of the garden.  They've already made two passes from one end of the lawn to the other, and will possibly be able to make one more this winter, depending on the state of the grass by the time they finish their current pass.

Those two escape artists still manage to jump out most days though.  I can't think of any cruelty-free methods* to stop them;  they're the two best egg layers--actually pretty much the only layers at the moment--so I can't even justify making chicken stew...

*I was thinking maybe a reversible one-winged chicken strait jacket;  one wing gets pinned down, but it can be swapped over so she can still stretch and groom each wing.  Probably not RSPCA approved though.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

First frost, 2017


Frosty leaves on the ground
Touch of frost, Nov 2017
Not truly the first frost of the year, but first frost of the season.  We've had a couple of light frosts, starting last week, though to be honest, it hasn't changed much out in the garden.  The veg beds weren't touched, except the outermost chard plants--and they can tolerate some frost.

The pumpkins* in the perennial section were lightly affected, so I picked the remaining two, both partially orange.  The other three pumpkins growing close to the house weren't affected at all;  they're all still on their vines, ripening slowly. 
A partially orange pumpkin, ripening on a brick wall
Medium pumpkin (now eaten), Nov 2017

Though we sometimes get our first frost in November, it can sometimes hold off until up to January.  Garden-wise, I'm hoping for some good extended frosts this winter in order to kill slugs and other creepy crawlies.  Though on the other hand, I like it a little warmer so as to save on heating (cheapskate).

*As an aside, I'm not entirely pleased with the pumpkins' performance this year.  True, there are seven of them altogether--a massive increase from my previous record (two)--however all but one were late forming and fairly small, and the one early one is a probable zuccini cross (and pretty small too).  I guess if any of them have exceptional flavor I'll save seeds--otherwise, I'll try a new variety next year.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Greenery in the old chicken yard

A garden bed, growing various green manure plants
Green manure growing in last year's chicken yard, Oct 2017
In May, the last time I updated about the old chicken yard it was full of mustard;  I let the chickens mow it down for me then before it flowered, so it wouldn't cross with my kale.  I had originally seeded this section with a winter green manure mix including mustard, rye, and red clover.  The rye and clover eventually germinated once the mustard finished, and I later sowed some alfalfa (lucerne).

Since that last planned incursion in May, chickens have been strictly forbidden from this section, and the green manure--plus some weeds--have grown strongly and covered most of the bare soil.  I'm pleased about the alfalfa in particular;  as a perennial, I hope they establish well enough to allow periodic chicken grazing, without reverting back to the scorched earth it was.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

October 2017 garden notes

A runner bean vine growing against a wooden fence
A few last runner beans, October 2017
Roots

We finished the last of the carrots in October.  Still a few beets growing but I don't have high hopes for them.  Picked plenty of celery, and lots more to come for November.  Harvested a few spring onions (grown in a pot).  Resowed Roots bed with winter grazing rye seed (green manure), but none sprouted yet.

In 2018's Roots bed (2017's Misc bed), planted out 99 garlic cloves (all own grown garlic), and 35 shallot bulbs (7 from own grown, the rest bought).

Peas and Beans

Harvested a few runner beans in October, but finished them by the end of the month.  Left some growing for seed.  Put broad beans in a plastic bag to sprout, for planting out in early November (will plant out in 2018's Peas and Beans bed, which is 2017's Potatoes bed). 

Brassicas

Brussels sprouts staked up, and growing new leaves and sprouts, after earlier caterpillar damage;  none harvested yet and plants still small.  Purple sprouting broccoli growing very tall and sturdy.

Planted out four kale seedlings, and two looked still alive at the end of the month.  Harvested a very little off two older plants.  Winter cabbages growing strongly, but none formed heads yet.

Transplanted about ten spring cabbages into 2018's Brassicas bed (same as 2018's Peas and Beans), some of which were damaged by marauding chickens, but all still growing.  Transplanted summer cauliflower seedlings into cold frame with the remaining spring cabbages, and a few cauliflowers into planters next to the cold frame.

Gave up pak choi in planter:  slugs.  A few turnips forming roots in October, but none harvested;  same for rutabagas.  Harvested the last two (small) heads of summer cabbage.  Harvested a little bit of self-sown mizuna, and more are growing.

Miscellaneous

Harvested another few handfuls of tomatillos in October.  Plants still standing at the end of the month, with at least one more handful of fruits on them.  Tomatoes finished by the end of the month:  cherry tomatoes finally all succumbed to blight, but not without ripening a few last fruits.

Picked the last two squashes at the end of the month.  One small, one medium;  then pulled up the vines for composting.  Picked one orange-ish pumpkin (actually, the chickens did);  the rest were all still maturing on the vine at the end of the month:  one medium, four small (though the small pumpkins are about the same size or bigger than the medium squash).

Picked the very last of the zuccini at the end of October (four very small fruits), then pulled up the plants.  Picked the remaining sweetcorn ears, and also cleared away the plants.

Leeks still growing (including a couple recently discovered ones), none harvested this month.  Picked a couple radishes, the last of the leaf lettuce, and started on the arugula and miners lettuce.  Still harvesting chard once or twice a week throughout the month.  Only a couple winter lettuces still growing:  slugs AND chickens...

Potatoes

Both remaining beds dug up and stored:  one batch in a paper feed sack in the garage, the other in a plastic tray in the kitchen cupboard.  More bug damage in the potatoes from the main bed than in the shadier bed near the chickens, but a similar amount of scab.  Eating potatoes all throughout the month of October.

Fruit

Picked all the almonds this month (saving them for our Christmas stollen bread).  Picked all three Williams pears at the end of the month to ripen indoors.  Picked one alpine strawberry.  Still have fruit formed on the raspberries, but none ripened yet.

Moved some strawberries and runners to a new bed in the Perennials section.

Perennials and herbs

Artichokes, asparagus, rhubarb, and sorrel still alive, but all dying back except the sorrel.  None harvested.

Rosemary looks dead, but will leave it for now, in the hopes it regrows.  Still harvesting a little thyme, chives, basil and dill in October.  Picked a few leaves of mint and parsley for eating fresh.

Friday, November 3, 2017

October 2017 Food Totals

Close up of a rutabaga root growing
Rutabaga/swede, October 2017
Vegetables:

33.5 oz runner beans
20.5 oz carrots
6 oz onions
28.5 oz tomatoes (ripe)
139 oz potatoes
46.5 oz zuccini
48.5 oz celery
5.5 oz kale
5 oz beets
5.5 oz tomatillos
42.5 oz chard
2 oz mizuna
3 oz radish
1 oz spring onion
3 oz nasturtium leaves
9 oz cabbage
3.5 oz chicory leaves
4 oz salad greens (miners lettuce, leaf lettuce, arugula)

Does not include fresh herbs (thyme, dill, chives, basil, parsley) which were too small a quantity to weigh, i.e. less than 0.5 oz.  Does not include the following which were unweighed:

2 winter squash (1 medium, 1 small)
1 small pumpkin
13 ears sweet corn (9 medium, 4 very small)
Total: 403.5 oz, or just over 25 lbs

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

Fruit: 

1 alpine strawberry
3 Williams pears
38 almonds

Eggs:

Total:  93 eggs from 10 hens
Total feed bought: 2 bags layers pellets (40kg total), 1 bag mixed corn (20kg)

Preserves:

1 large jar dried chard leaves
1 large jar dried celery leaves
1 large jar dried nasturtium leaves

Homebrew:  

Elderberry/blackberry wine bottled up (tastes like sweet sherry). 
Cider still fermenting. 
Cider vinegar finished fermenting, and some bottled up (ran out of bottles, however--still two plastic ice cream tubs full).

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Comparing seed-grown and self-divided leeks

A few small leeks growing through a wire tray in a garden bed
My poor leeks, with a wire tray to ward off chickens (not very successfully)
I've grown leeks for a couple years now, and while we really like to eat them, I've not been particularly successful at it.  I learned that leeks will divide into new plants like garlic bulbs if allowed, and I tried it this year--as well as growing some new from seed.

I let a few of last year's leeks remain and go to seed this past summer, and while the parent plants have died back, there are a few strong little leeks growing up from them.  One of these is pictured above:  the largest leek cluster above.  The rest are all from seed in that picture, although they all had a setback from rampaging chickens.  However, the difference is clear:  the self-divided leeks are much bigger and sturdier than transplants from seed, and I have a few others not pictured (including a few I hadn't noticed until last week) which are as big or bigger. 

It's not enough leeks for the likes of us, but after comparison, I think I may try and establish a permanent leek bed in the perennials section, rather than rotate them as annuals through the main beds.  If so, I may not harvest any this winter, but save them to transplant in spring;  if it means a perennial supply of nice big leeks, I'm willing to forgo a (meager) harvest this once.

Friday, October 27, 2017

So much celery!

A patch of celery plants growing in a garden bed
Celery, October 2017
Pickings are getting thinner and thinner...to complete my full five months of not buying veg (less than a month to go now), I've said to the husband that we'll be eating a lot of celery until then.  Probably past then, too--potatoes and celery are what we still have plenty of.  The only problem is the husband doesn't really eat potatoes because they're bad for his blood sugar levels (he's diabetic).  So the seven year old and I have been filling up on them while he's been choking down the celery.

Actually it's quite tasty, variety Giant Soup Red (I think).  It really is giant!  Some of the stalks have been burrowed into by bugs--I think maybe the slugs have put holes in them, but have found both woodlice and earwigs inside:  not what you want to discover in your soup.  Ants on a Log?  No thanks.  We're still eating at, after it's been thoroughly soaked and washed--I split it down the middle and scrub it with a brush.

I think technically they should be blanched, and I did get the husband to pile up soil to about a third of their height, but these plants are huge:  just about waist high, and they were planted into a trench about 20 cm deep.  I can't imagine being able to fully blanch these, at least not with soil. 

Back in May, when I planted them out, I put about 18 in a grid shape, but the remaining 18 or so got planted without spacing out--just in a big mat, the same as they were growing in the tray.  It's these I'm picking first, stalk by stalk, rather than full heads.  I'm saving the bigger ones (though not bigger by much, to be honest) till these ones are finished.  I've been cooking them as a main ingredient in stews, and also braised in broth as a side dish;  the flavor is excellent, and not too strong.  I'm also drying the leaves and will make a batch of celery salt once I have a good bunch of them.

Incidently, there's a very productive dahlia growing right in front of the celery patch;  I thought I'd dug it out last autumn, but it's still there, and throwing out dozens of purple and white heads still, even at the end of October.  I guess it's benefited from the extra chicken manure I laid down for the celery.