Tuesday, July 17, 2018

More than I can chew...?

Last November I applied for an allotment with the local council.  This month I was offered one, and of course I accepted right away.  But, uh, is this a good idea:  having two gardens in two separate locations?

When I envisioned taking on an allotment last winter, I imagined I would plant bulk crops like potatoes, peas, sweetcorn, and the like:  things that get harvested all at once and don't need too much maintenance;  things that store/preserve easily.  And maybe some of those to supplement the chickens' feed too.  I even considered keeping a breeding flock, as we wouldn't have to worry about a rooster annoying the neighbors.

It's too late in the season to plant out those bulk crops now.  If it was rainy I could do a batch of peas, but it's been too hot and dry.  I'll have to focus instead on improving the soil and trying for a few winter crops like cabbages--I've got about a dozen Savoy seedlings potted on, waiting for a bare spot in my own garden;  these could go out, as well as the cauliflowers, though the purple sprouting broccoli needs daily attention at harvest time--ideal for just outside my kitchen door and no further.

And I'd have to really get into visiting every day, rain or shine, before putting animals on an allotment;  it's not something I'm ready to do quite yet.

Luckily, the husband and I discussed at length the amount of labor involved before applying for an allotment;  he agreed to take a more active role if I got one.  Our own garden is mainly my endeavor;  he and the eight year old participate only when specifically asked.  The husband pledged to visit regularly (probably mainly on weekends), and as the site is close to school, the eight year old and I can visit on our way home.

Can we, our little family, do this?  Can we up our game and produce even more food--maybe even all our own vegetables, year round, in the near future?

Friday, July 13, 2018

Conserving water, part 2: gray water

It's still hot.  And dry.  Some things in my garden are ok with this, whether because they just like it like that (squashes seem pretty thrilled), or they have deep enough roots to manage (Savoy cabbages, planted out last summer, are just muscling through).  Some things are struggling a bit--the Roots bed is sad.

Every year I try to plant a mixture of heat-loving veg and cool-loving veg;  this way I'll get something no matter which--our summers are variable, and it's impossible to predict which way they'll go.  Last summer was also warm and dry;  however I've never experienced such a prolonged spell of hot rainless weather in all my 14 years here.  I've certainly been through a few wet, sunless summers!

Most years I haven't needed to irrigate--unless you count watering planters which I do even when it rains.  There's been the odd spell of dry weather over the years, and I've dragged the hose out once or twice--or more likely persuaded the husband to--but never have I been concerned for the state of my plants until this summer.

As far as I'm aware, at the moment we're not under a hosepipe ban.  If we were, we'd only be allowed, legally, to water by watering can.  This even includes topping up ponds--only by hand.  But we have been urged to conserve water so that we don't get a hosepipe ban;  I'm doing what I can to use our gray water so we don't have to use clean tap water for irrigation.

To this end, I asked the husband to stick our washing machine exit pipe out the dryer vent in the wall, so that the water can be directed to the veg beds.  He's put the end of the exit pipe end (poking out of the house wall) into a 1 m (ish) length of rigid pipe;  this can be directed onto the nearest veg bed (which is Peas/Beans/Brassicas), and to extend it we have another 1 m (ish) piece of plastic guttering which just reaches across the patio to the edge of the Misc bed.  The machine pumps it out of the dryer vent, and from there I rely on gravity to get it to the beds.
A pipe across a patio, surrounded by potted plants
Washing machine water goes in, July 2018
I'm using my washing machine at the end of the day instead of morning, to reduce evaporation (any watering from the hose is also done in the evening).  I have a bucket, not big enough to collect an entire wash's worth of water, which could use for hand watering though I haven't done this yet--I'd rather let the machine/gravity do the watering for me.
A trickle of water from a piece of gutter across a patio, surrounded by plants
And comes out, July 2018
I've also dug out our big stock pot, capacity 9 L, to use as a washing up bowl for dishes, handwashing, etc in the kitchen.  It collects all the water from the kitchen sink which I can then take outside to tip over needy plants (mainly the tomatoes and sweetcorn).  I've been emptying it at about half capacity, as it's a bit heavy otherwise.  I try to dump it on the places the washing machine water can't reach, and have been emptying it several times a day.  A bit of a labor intensive way to water...

Another thing I've been doing--for several years actually!--is making use of the wee bucket every day (by the way, this is technically not gray water).  The eight year old and I use it during the afternoon and evening, and the next morning I dilute it with water and chuck it over a different spot.  The onions and leeks get it a couple times a week, as does the celery.  Other places get it sporadically, even occasionally the planters, for both a drink and a boost of nitrogen.

The only source of gray water I don't currently make use of is from the bathroom:  neither the sink nor tub;  I don't have an easy way to collect it or direct it.  I've got a length of small diameter plastic tubing which I might be able to use as a siphon out of the tub, but it's not long enough to actually reach the garden or even the patio;  it'd have to siphon into a watering can or bucket and then get carried downstairs...I guess if we do get a hosepipe ban I'll explore this option.

(Edited 13 July, 2018, to add photos)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Conserving water part 1: rain water

I'm such a failure:  I don't have a way to collect rain water, other than setting out empty buckets/containers during a shower (I actually do this, to use on my blueberry bushes).  My gutters from the house roof direct straight to the sewers.  I don't even have gutters on the garage roof.  I have no rain water stored, at all.

Why a big deal, though?  It rains all the time here!  No need to save the rain water when it'll just come from the sky again, right? 

Well, we've had a prolonged hot, dry spell.  I guess it's been more than three weeks without rain on the garden, and temps in the mid to high 20s Celsius, with absolutely no cloud cover.  The sun has baked my garden (and me:  you should see my tan!) and the vegetables need a drink.  I've even gone so far as to persuade the husband to drag out the hose for watering--in the late evening, of course, to reduce evaporation.

I used to collect rain water in a big plastic wheelie bin, meant for garden waste.  We almost never send our garden waste off the property--I think it got filled one time last year, with a big wad of extremely prickly blackberry brambles which I couldn't face chopping up for my own compost.  So this bin had been sitting empty on the driveway for ages, when my garage roof sprung a pretty substantial leak.  We couldn't fix it immediately, so the wheelie bin went underneath it, and I would use the water for my patio containers every day.  If it got too full I'd siphon it out the garage window usually into the pond, or occasionally onto a bed.

Now the garage roof is properly watertight again, I've got no rain water.  And I need rain.  What I wouldn't give for four or five big tanks, already filled from this spring's rain, especially now that water's scarce;  I've read Northern Ireland has a hosepipe ban, and it's not inconceivable that we could be next.

Friday, July 6, 2018

June 2018 garden notes

Close up of a hand cupping a little artichoke bud
Small but tasty, June 2018

Celery growing well, especially on the side of the bed where the chickens overwintered (extra manure).

Still no evidence of scorzerona, first or second sowings.  A few more beet seedlings appeared from another sowing early in June, but pretty sparse;  picked one good sized beet as it was trying to bolt:  yum.

Harvested a few good finger sized carrots--that's about as big as they get in their planters.  Still plenty to come.

Onions and leeks still pretty small;  been giving them bi-weekly doses of diluted urine (the celery has been getting it too).  Shallots also small.  None harvested yet.

Harvested the garlic in June, as the leaves were turning yellow and the stalks falling over--maybe knocked over by a cat or hedgehog--but figured they weren't going to grow any more in that condition.  Bulbs smaller than last year, but still acceptable;  will save the largest for planting out in autumn, but have been eating the smallest all through the month.  Left them to cure on trays in the garage for two weeks, and are now in a cupboard in my kitchen:  99 bulbs (not including a few tiny one-clove bulbs).

Peas and beans

Harvesting broad beans all through June--all eaten as young whole pods.

Only a small amount of early peas harvested--about a quarter of the seeds sown grew into plants;  ate them all out of hand without weighing (probably no more than 1-2 oz total).  Cleared them away and sowed this patch with pre-sprouted snap peas, some of which popped up by the end of June.

First batch of snap peas very bushy and harvested some nice little pods this month.  Harvesting small amounts of mange tout peas all through June--mainly eaten raw in salads.  Started harvesting maincrop peas at the end of the month;  probably won't be growing these kind of peas (normal podded peas) next year:  too labor intensive to harvest and prepare.

Put up supports for runner beans, which had climbed to the top by the end of the month, with a few flowers forming at the end of June.  A few flowers also appeared on earliest sown French beans by the end of June.  After clearing away the last spring sweetheart cabbage, sowed another small batch of pre-sprouted French beans, which started coming up at the end of the month.

Sowed a small batch of pre-sprouted asparagus peas, but only a few appeared by the end of June (been a hot, dry month and I think this has affected germination of all the beans).


Finally finished the last of the spring sweetheart cabbages in June, and as mentioned above, resowed their space with French beans and asparagus peas.

Brussels sprouts and red kale under insect mesh both straining to escape!  Really big, but not ready for harvest yet (or safe to take the mesh off:  butterflies fluttering about all this month).

At least two purple sprouting broccoli cuttings rooted, with some of the others still alive, though not sure about roots yet.  Planted out two kale cuttings from May, both growing strongly, though not sure if they'll go straight to flower.  Took a few more cuttings of kale and broccoli.

Potted on Savoy cabbage, cauliflower and purple sprouting broccoli seedlings;  all put under insect mesh (this one is actually a net curtain bought from a charity shop).  All growing strongly on my patio table.

Radishes sown earlier are either bolting or wilting:  none formed any good roots, probably from hot, dry conditions.  Not sure about kohlrabi or the few turnips in this bed either.  Turnips in the old chicken yard growing nice roots, however (lots of manure in this bed, and it's in partial shade);  harvested some of the biggest ones at the end of the month.

Last winter's remaining Savoy cabbages forming heads now;  have picked off a few caterpillars, and one was stricken with aphids.  Luckily the sparrows have now completely cleaned off all aphids and it seems to be recovering nicely.  Harvested a couple outer leaves this month.

Harvested three cauliflowers (from a planter) at the beginning of June, with the remaining three (in the main Brassicas bed) forming good heads at the end of the month.


Last year's chard now fully flowering;  have pulled up some, but left about 15 to set seed.  New season chard now ready for harvest:  picking a little for salads and stews.

Red leaf lettuces growing very strongly this month, and producing enough to pick small salads twice or more a week.  Planted out a second batch:  some in the ground, and a few in large pots and planters.

Harvested a couple new season spring onions, and the rest growing well--all these in planters.  Letting bunching spring onions establish before harvest, and these are growing even bigger than the non bunching ones.

Lost one sweetcorn plant:  down to five total, though growing strongly.  Lost a few tomatillos, and the rest are a bit spindly still, but growing.  Tomatoes growing well:  cherry tomatoes flowering with a few green fruits formed at the end of June, and regular tomatoes just beginning to flower.

Zuccinis, squashes and pumpkins (I mixed them up in the bed and can't tell them apart now!) growing new leaves, and a few making flowers but no fruit yet.  Found a couple volunteer squashes, growing well with the turnips in the old chicken yard (I think they're squash anyway). 

Planted out late-sown cucumbers by the second week of June--some in the ground and some in planters--just starting to grow by the end of the month.  Also planted out my one melon seedling in a planter on the patio, but my hopes aren't high:  growing, but still very small.

Peppers in planters growing bigger, but no flowers yet.  Began watering them (and tomatoes/cucumbers in planters) with manure tea once or twice a week:  water which had dried chicken poo soaking in it for a day or two.

Aztec broccoli (not true broccoli) up and growing, but still a bit small.  Achocha getting very bushy now, and trying to smother its immediate neighbors (a volunteer potato, lettuce and the sweetcorn), though no flowers yet.  Keep adding new stakes to encourage it to grow up instead of out.


Harvested all the strawberries this month (birds and slugs had some too).  A few raspberries by the end of the month, with lots more green ones to ripen. 

Too many redcurrants:  mostly eaten out of hand, but some given away or eaten by neighborhood children.  Finally finished them by the end of June.  Brought the blueberries (in pots) inside at the end of June, just as the berries started turning blue, to protect from birds.

Netted both the Morello and Kordia cherries, and picked all the Morellos to freeze:  eight year old wants a pie but it'll be a small one.  Started picking Kordia cherries at the end of the month--they're bigger than the Morellos but fewer of them.

Picked all the blackcurrants at the end of the month--not as many as last year, but the bushes had some damage from the felling of the sycamore tree in January.  Gooseberries still a little hard, and whitecurrants still green this month.  Autumn raspberry tall and leafy, but no flowers yet.

Peach aka nectarine tree has two fruits still growing on it.  Figs glorious and still green;  Williams pear has just a couple fruits that I can see.  Almond tree has tons of almonds;  Sparta apple has shed some immature fruit but both it and Laxton Fortune are still well covered in little apples.

Perennials and herbs

Harvested small amounts of parsley, chives, savory, and dill all through this month.  Picked a big bunch of mint to make a jar of mint sauce;  hoping it puts out a similar amount of growth next month so I can make another!  Discovered some self-seeded camomile--last year's batch either didn't survive the harsher-than-usual winter, or was scratched up by chickens (still have half a jar of dried leaves and it's way more powerful than any I've ever bought).

Rhubarb looks like it's dying back--hopefully not actually dying.  Asparagus not much bigger than last month, though still growing.

Harvested my first artichokes:  none bigger than walnuts, but they were starting to open, so I figured I better have them;  they were delicious after cooking whole and marinating (trimmed off the sharp tips first).  A few more buds forming at the end of June, but doubt they'll be any bigger.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

June 2018 Food Totals

Close up of broad bean pods growing
A few more broad beans, June 2018

103.5 oz spring sweetheart cabbage
21 oz  Savoy cabbage
41 oz broad beans
8 oz mange tout peas
28.5 oz salad greens (red leaf lettuce, baby chard, spring onion)
35 oz cauliflower and leaves
3 oz spring onion
2 oz artichokes
3.5 oz carrots
3 oz beet
8 oz snap peas
7.5 oz chard
6.5 oz turnips

99 garlic bulbs (unweighed)

Total: 270.5 oz, or 16 lb 14.5 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.


28 strawberries
1 alpine strawberry
9.5 oz redcurrants (incomplete)
32 raspberries
28 sweet cherries
1 blueberry
6 oz blackcurrants

Does not include a small bag of morello cherries which were unweighed


Total: 146 eggs from 9 hens
Total feed bought: 2 bags layers pellets (40kg)


3 medium jars dried marjoram (wild harvested)
0.5 L mint sauce


Cider still fermenting
No new homebrew begun

Friday, June 29, 2018

Another go at hatching chicks

Well, little Pekin bantam Cookie has gone broody again.  She's been sitting on the nest for a couple days now--I keep taking all but one of the eggs the other chickens have been laying, leaving her one fresh one every day to keep her motivated while I source some fertilized eggs for her.

And I have been given some eggs, very generously, by a colleague.  I was led to believe I was getting Orpington eggs until she actually handed them to me, and when I asked (as they were all lovely white eggs) she said they were Leghorn eggs.

As I have mentioned previously, we have one white Leghorn chicken, name of Florry, who is a champion egg layer, but also a champion escape artist.  This bird can hop fences like they're not there.  And she's a dedicated worker, i.e. extremely destructive, with her scratching and pecking.  Do I really want a potential six more Florries?  On one hand, there's the amazing egg laying ability (we wouldn't have had any eggs last winter if it weren't for Florry).  On the other hand there's the chasing of the chickens out of the garden every day--sometimes multiple times a day.

I said to the husband, we need to talk seriously about this:  if Cookie hatches these eggs, we need to upgrade our fencing.  Or we can eat these six white eggs and find some other kind of eggs for Cookie to sit on.  I'll let you know what we decide...

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Thoughts on seasonal fruit

Close up of fat, green figs growing on a branch
Glorious figs, May 2018
It's shaping up to be a good fruit year for our small bushes and trees.  None of them are very old, and most have been pruned/trained to stay small, thus limiting production.  Still, as we begin our little harvest (strawberries, Morello cherries, and redcurrants so far) I'm hoping to have enough fresh fruit throughout the summer, with a little extra preserved for autumn and winter.

My preservation techniques of choice are:  pantry (as in not refrigerated) storage, dehydration and fermented i.e. alcohol.  I may do a little freezing for short-term:  no more than a month or two;  our freezer's tiny and is usually reserved for our monthly milk order, containers of homemade stock and meat bought on special. 

Do we really need to eat fruit every day?  It's not an all-season food here on this cool, rainy island--not like vegetables.  My ultimate goal is self reliance in food;  this is probably not feasible for all foods (such as meat) on our very small property.  But we could be self reliant in fruit, seasonally;  obviously this means only eating fruit in season.  Our ancestors did it;  maybe we should too.  The eight year old might have a problem with this though...