Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Christmas break

Just like at work, I'm taking two weeks off for Christmas.  Only in this case, it'll be slightly longer than two weeks.  I'll see you on 4 January, 2017 with December's food totals (hint: halfway through the month there's still nothing on the veg tally).  Merry Christmas and happy New Year!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Moving a cherry tree

Well, it's done;  the morello cherry tree has moved from the center of its bed to the back, next to the fence.  The husband dug it up and moved it (I supervised) last weekend.  Hopefully it'll like its new position.

I initially planted the tree several years ago when that bed was mainly ornamentals;  the spot where it now resides had a large hardy fuschia.  That fuschia grew leaves upon leaves, but hardly any flowers--and those that did manage to form were tiny.  Seeing as it lacked the main attraction of fuschias (i.e. flowers), when our neighbor replaced the fence I gave him permission to dig it up.

Losing the fuschia really opened up the space and made me consider that section of the garden for a vegetable patch.  Last winter I suggested we move the rest of the perennials, and a couple of roses and peonies went to new beds further away--but we kept putting off the cherry and eventually it was too late to move it.  Buds formed and I didn't want to risk overstressing it;  I resolved to move it as soon as it went dormant this winter.  In summer I pruned it flat on one side to make it easier to grow against a fence;  I watched it every day through November for leaf fall.  Finally the day came.

Although he had to cut through quite a few roots, the husband managed to get it out and replanted about four feet away.  I imagine we won't get much of a harvest from it next summer, but the space it's vacated will no doubt give us a good yield of vegetables;  an acceptable trade off.  And I'm sure in subsequent years we'll get our 5 pound cherry harvest once more.

And if it dies after all that--well, it only cost £20.  I think we can afford to replace it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

November garden recap

Fig tree, before the snow
Roots

I don't know if the rutabagas, celeriac or remaining beets are worth eating.  Still too small, and not much chance of growing bigger now.   The 2017 garlic is growing strongly, and some of the shallots have sprouted. 

Peas and beans

I managed to clear away most of the runner beans at last, and put several pods to dry for seed on a tray on top of the fridge.   The 2017 broad beans seem to have sprouted nicely in their new patch of ground.

Brassicas

I restaked a few of the sprouting broccoli which had falled over.  I still have kale, cabbage, and a few Brussels sprouts standing, but I didn't harvest any in November.

Miscellaneous

As the chickens broke out and ate pretty much all the chard, there's not really anything left in the Misc. plot.  Now that the runner beans are cleared away, that space will be 2017's Misc. bed.

Fruit

I moved the potted peach tree off the patio and into the garden, to expose it to a full winter chill, in the hopes it will flower in spring.  Not decided as to whether I'll actually plant it out or leave it in the pot.  All the fruit trees and bushes have shed their leaves now.  The few strawberry runners I replanted were scratched up by marauding chickens, but luckily I still have the parent plants.

Perennials and herbs

All perennials gone dormant/died (hard to tell really).  Mint and tarragon also gone dormant but chives, rosemary, thyme still leafy.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

November 2016 Food Totals

Vegetables:

1.5 oz salad greens
2 lb 8 oz squash (untrimmed)

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

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

Fruit: 

No fruit harvested this month

Eggs:

Total:  160 eggs from 12 adult hens
Total feed bought: 2 bags layers pellets (40kg total)

Preserves:

No preserves made this month

Homebrew:  

Cider and elderflower and rhubarb wines still fermenting.  No new homebrew begun 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Chickens in winter

So it's not winter exactly, but the garden is behaving as if it were, and so are the chickens, to be honest.  The trees are mostly bare (leaves are great fun to scratch up);  the lawn is also mostly bare (grass is yummy, but why won't it grow back?).  Yesterday morning we had a hard frost;  the six year old went out in the morning with a hot kettle to melt all the chicken drinks (he thought it was the best thing ever).  When it snowed early this month, the chickens were very confused:  what was it, and where did the grass go?

The more pressing chicken/winter concern is the distinct lack of eggs.  We've dropped from 8-9 a day to around 4-5 a day.  Actually, we suspect one or more hens may be hiding a nest from us;  Rock, our newest laying hen with a distinct blue egg, hasn't laid one in the nest box for at least a week.  We think she's too young to go off her lay, so she must be hiding them.  We also suspect Cookie, the same age as Rock, is also hiding a nest, as she's about 7 months old and well past time to begin laying (we've never had an egg from her yet, and Rock's been laying for a couple months now).  We've all been out to have a look for eggs, but no luck yet. We don't even know what color Cookie's eggs will be, just that they'll be small (she's a Pekin bantam).

It's not as fun in winter for chickens as it is in summer:  less greenery to eat, fewer bugs.  It's cold and wet.  I recently saw a chicken attempt to have a dustbath in the mud (at least there are fewer pests, too).  We still rotate them around the garden, but there are a couple of no-go areas at the present, including the lawn.  They've eaten the grass down almost bare, and will have to wait for it to grow back a bit;  instead of having lawn 3 weeks out of 4, they'll probably have to go 3 or 4 weeks off before the first section can take their scratching and pecking.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Back indoors (till March, I think!)

Banana squash, hanging out on the kitchen table
I have to admit it, I haven't done anything in the garden this month.  I barely even managed to rescue my lone squash from the snow.  It's been cold and rainy--I've been inside staying warm;  I've even sent the six year old out to feed/water chickens and collect eggs (dropped down to 4-5 per day now, from 12 adult hens).  Luckily he likes having responsibilities, and doesn't mind the cold so much.

I haven't cleared away the frost-bitten runner bean vines or nasturtiums.  I haven't moved perennials to their new locations. I've been indoors:  reading, knitting, cooking, quilting--doing anything except brave the weather.  Maybe I should get the six year old to do it?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Brewing and drinking, winter 2016

It feels like winter, a far cry from last November;  last year we didn't really turn the heating on until about Christmas because it was still warm. Not so this year, as we've already had our first snowfall, extremely early.  Luckily it hasn't been consistently frozen, but hovering around 5-7C.  Cold enough, though!  But now's a good time to drink some homebrew and keep warm.  So what's going on, brew-wise?

Elderberry

As previously mentioned, I re-fermented last year's elderberry wine to make it more alcoholic.  It's now bottled up, to age for at least another six to twelve months;  we won't be drinking it just yet.  Although I might still have one bottle of two-year-old elderberry left, tucked at the back of the cabinet.

Elderflower

I made about 9L of elderflower brew, both as wine and champagne.  The champagne is long gone (it's meant to be drunk after about six weeks).  The wine is still hanging out in demijohns, but I think it might be ready to bottle up;  not sure we have enough bottles for it, to tell the truth.  I have a lot, and I already made a substantial dent in my bottle stash with the elderberry!

Rhubarb

I have just 4L of rhubarb wine, still in the demijohn.  Since racking off the elderberrywine, I have a free demijohn, and need to use up the bag of frozen rhubarb (from a friend's garden) still in the freezer to make another 4L.  Better get on it!  It's supposed to age like the elderberry before drinking, but we might not be able to wait that long.

Cider

We left it a bit late, but managed to pick enough apples to fill a 4L demijohn with cider.  We--husband, six year old and I--picked them from a wild tree we know and we have a juicer which we drag out once a year just to make cider.  I probably won't bottle it up until early summer, and if we can wait that long, it'll be for next winter's drinking.  I think there might be one more bottle of last year's cider too.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Tally of saved seed, 2016

I like to save my own seed when I can! 

This year I've saved tomato, chard, squash, Brussels sprouts, peas, runner beans, broad beans, pumpkin, melon, nicotiana, lobelia, marigold, calendula, and snapdragon. 

Most of the seeds I collect I just pop into envelopes or little folded bits of paper.  They're ready to go from there.

A few need slightly more treatment.  Tomatoes, for instance, are supposed to be fermented for a few days before dried out and stored.  I scoop out the seeds into a small bowl, cover with water, and let sit until a tiny bit of mold forms on the surface (about four days for me).  Then I rinse and let dry on a piece of paper, and store as usual.  I actually did a little experiment this year and saved a few dozen seeds without fermenting first.  I'll see how they germinate next spring.

I also saved seeds from some grocery produce, namely melons and squash.  I've still got my own squash, the seeds of which I'll be trying to grow, but we had a really tasty little grapefruit sized orange squash from the store--I saved its seeds, plus the seeds of a couple yummy melons.  My pumpkin plants this year came from last year's bought pumpkin (we picked it at a local farm).

I have a lot of good seeds saved for next year, and I look forward to starting them off.  I think I may still buy a couple:  onions, tomatillos, and maybe a few more, but hopefully in the future I'll be saving most if not all my own seed. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Growing for Thanksgiving

Our family likes to celebrate our American heritage on Thanksgiving every year, despite the fact we live in England.  We get together with another local family every year and have a feast:  there will be four or five adults and three children.  This year I'm proud to be able to supply some of the meal from my garden.

Vegetables

I have enough salted runner beans and fresh cabbage which I will be proud to serve.  The husband may be in charge of cooking vegetables, and he might decide to just steam them;  however, his specialty is to stir fry them with onion which sounds good--I might suggest garlic too.  Sadly I have no homegrown onion or garlic left.

Pie

Both I and my friend have agreed to bring a pie to our feast and my contribution will be pumpkin.  I also have the option of cherry (still a good sized bag in the freezer), but I think I'll save that for the husband's birthday in January.  I'm so happy I was able to grow two lovely little pumpkins, one of which will be our Thanksgiving pie.  I'll use our own hens' eggs in it too.
Two pumpkins above, squash below;  all harvested now
Other contributions

I was asked to bring a bottle of homebrew and we may take our last bottle of cider, or we may bottle up the rhubarb wine;  it's still a bit rough, but pretty tasty.

In the future

I would very much like to raise our own Thanksgiving bird in the future, whether turkey, duck, or chicken.  Our cockerel Lavender, which we ate at the beginning of the month, was not big enough for a Thanksgiving meal--well, maybe for just one person!  I would have to buy a meat breed specifically, not just any old chicken;  Lavender's breed (Cream Legbar) was a small one bred for egg laying.  I would be happy to raise a nice meaty bird one day--or most likely two:  one for Christmas, also.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

First frost

Throughout October I didn't spend much time in the garden, particularly toward the end of the month.  Not much was happening, and there wasn't a whole lot left to harvest--seeing as the chickens helped themselves to the bulk of the remaining chard.  I did a few jobs here and there, and mainly occupied myself with indoor pursuits.

We had our first frost of the season at the beginning of November;  this is a bit early, but not entirely unexpected.  It hit the front (mainly ornamental) garden, and car in the drive, but didn't touch my vegetable patch;  it helps that the vegetables are in a sheltered (next to the house), south facing position. 

But really, the only plants still out there that would be negatively affected by frost are the nasturtiums, and I didn't even plant them--they self seed every year.  Still, the leaves make a nice occasional addition to stews and casseroles, and flowers for the odd salad that I continue to let a few grow.  And nasturtiums are my frost indicator.  When there's a frost, they'll die off immediately.

I've been waiting on first frost to eat the celeriac, and the regrown Brussels sprouts.  Also so I can fully clear the nasturtiums away (so I can pile compost and manure on the beds), and move the last few perennials out of the veg patch.

Our first frost out back happened on Wednesday:  it snowed!  We got about half an inch or so;  it snowed for about 12 hours then melted (enough time for the six year old to build a tiny snowman).  I guess it's time for me to get out there and clear nasturtiums away.
Brassicas in lower left corner;  lawn and ornamentals elsewhere

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Preserves taste test, November 2016

I have to admit, towards the end of October, garden vegetables were pretty thin.  There was still some chard and kale, but everything else was just about done.  I really rationed the last few onions and garlic to make them stretch!  And I opened up a few jars of preserved veg to tide us over till the end of the month.

I have quite a lot of preserves, though not enough to feed us through winter sadly.  Still, there is enough to add some flavor and texture to meals.  Here's what we've eaten so far:

Small jar of pickled mixed garden veg

This was made in August and contained runner beans, zuccini, onion and garlic.  I chopped the veg, packed it into small sterilized jars, and poured over boiling hot spiced malt vinegar (random spices from the cupboard--I think whole coriander seed was involved).  I opened this jar to add to a pork stir fry in October.  The plain pickled veg was pretty tart, but cooked with the stir fry was very nice, and I couldn't tell it apart from regular cooked veg.  Result:  5*

Jar of one dozen pickled eggs

This was made in September.  I wish I had used our own eggs for this but they're actually bought ones (come on chickens, get going!).  I boiled the eggs, shelled them, and packed them in the same manner as the pickled mixed veg.  The six year old has been very excited to try them--it was the first time for both of us.  He proclaimed them delicious, and the husband agreed they were good.  I'm not entirely sure I like them, but the husband assures me I'll love them by the end of the jar.  Result:  3*

Two jars of green tomato salsa

This was also made in September, and I ended up buying onions for it as I was desperate to preserve the green tomatoes before they went moldy with blight.  It also contained storebought peppers (sweet and hot).  The whole family really enjoyed it with cheese on scrambled eggs.  Result:  5*

Half jar of salted runner beans

I put away three 1L jars of salted runner beans, starting in August.  Whenever I picked a big handful of them, I'd set aside the most tender beans for salting:  I chopped them fairly small, and added them to the jar with a good covering of salt in between each 1/2-1 inch layer.  It took about two weeks to fill a liter jar bit by bit, and once filled I just put the jar in the cupboard with the rest of the preserves.  To use, open it up, take the required amount of beans out and soak in cold water for two hours.  I used them in a stew and a curry and they tasted nice:  not too salty (although cooked plainly without a sauce they would probably still taste salty).  Result:  5*

Still to come:  pickled zuccini, apple chutney, green tomato relish, dried chard leaves, dried peas, pickled rhubarb.  I'll report back here on the results!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

October garden recap

Kale, October 2016
Roots

I cleared away the last ten onions from the Roots bed:  small but tasty.  There are still beets, celeriac and rutabaga, not doing much--still a bit too small to eat, though we had the biggest of the beets (still small).   Garlic cloves planted in 2017 Roots bed are sprouting nicely;  I managed to find some shallots to plant after all:  at the local discount supermarket of all places.  Around 30 shallot bulbs planted.  Last year's leeks haven't managed to make seed--after flowering pretty much all summer--but some are sprouting new growth from the base.

Peas and Beans

There were still a few runner beans to be had in October, but they've pretty much stopped producing.  I sprouted a handful of broad bean seeds midway through the month and planted them in a trench in 2017's Peas and Beans bed (this year's Misc bed).  They have not yet come up.

Brassicas

I have huge cabbage plants, and have taken a few outer leaves to eat so far.  The advice on the seed packet was to plant one foot apart, but I think I should have planted two feet apart;  they're enormous and fiercely competing for space.

The broccoli are also planted one foot apart, but are growing up more than out, so they fit just fine;  I don't expect to harvest them till early spring.  Kale continues to produce.  Last year's Brussels are growing nice little sprouts.

Miscellaneous

I pulled up the container tomatoes at the beginning of the month and made green tomato relish.  It looked like it got the blight, same as the in-ground ones.

The zuccini hadn't given up yet, once it found its stride;  it took a while to get started (August), but still managed several fruits throughout October.  My two small pumpkins were beautifully orange and the bigger one parted from the vine for Halloween carving (and for cooking the next day);  the smaller is on the kitchen counter.  My surprise squash is still orange-ing up on the vine and is a lovely size, considering how late it formed (September).

Still chard standing, but probably won't get any new growth until spring.  I picked it gradually before the chickens broke out and ate most of the leaves;  there's still a little left standing.  Also have a container of salad greens of which I've harvested a little.

Fruit

I picked all the Sparta apples in October.  There are one or two left in the fruit bowl.  I also picked all three remaining almonds (grand total of four), and six little Asian pears.  That's it for fruit for the year, I think.

I bought a yellow fruiting raspberry on the cheap.  I moved a few strawberry runners.  I will be moving two little gooseberry bushes and a few random raspberry canes to the back corner near the other soft fruit in November, hopefully.

Perennials and Herbs

I mulched the artichoke, rhubarb, and asparagus beds.  Still need to move the sorrel out of the main veg beds.

Still harvesting a small amount of rosemary, tarragon, chives.  Mint, sage and thyme not dead yet.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

October 2016 Food Totals

Cabbages amongst the (volunteer) nasturtiums, Oct 2016
Vegetables: 

8.5 oz tomatoes
58 oz green tomatoes
39 oz zuccini
1 oz carrots
16  oz runner beans
21 oz kale
3.5 oz beets
4 oz salad greens (miner's and lamb's lettuces)
15 oz chard
4 oz nasturtium leaves
1 oz celeriac leaves

2 pumpkins (2 lb 6 oz, and 2 lb 15 oz: untrimmed)

Total:  171 oz, or 10 lb 11 oz

Does not include fresh herbs (rosemary, tarragon, thyme, chives) which were too small a quantity to weigh, i.e. less than 0.5 oz, or the two pumpkins.  

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

Fruit: 

6 Kumoi pears
23 Sparta apples
1 autumn-fruiting raspberry

Eggs:

Total:  196 eggs from 12 adult hens
Total feed bought: 2 bags layers pellets (40kg total)

Preserves:

1.5L green tomato relish (tomatoes and garlic from my garden, bought onions)
Small jar dried bergamot

Homebrew:  

4.6L elderberry wine bottled up (six bottles)
4L cider (apples from wild trees) begun
Elderflower and rhubarb wines still fermenting 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Let the vegetables end (sort of)

Container with lambs lettuce and miner's lettuce, October 2016
After an unexpectedly warm--near constant low to mid 20s Celsius--summer, albeit a little late starting, it's now gone cooler and more rainy here at the end of October.  The main bulk of my plants are finished and cleared away.  I've told the husband we can start buying vegetables again in November.  This will be supplementing the winter veg (kale, cabbage, broccoli, salad greens and a few leeks and root veg) still growing, and the preserved veg in the cupboards/freezer.

Since the second week of July, we have bought no vegetables--except 10 onions for emergency green tomato salsa.  Note this only includes vegetables and not fruits;  all fruits were allowed and we continued to buy "salad" fruits like avocados, cucumbers, etc;  this was explicitly stated at the beginning of the challenge.  I know, loopholes and all that. 

I should also state that not every vegetable we ate came from our garden.  I was given quite a lot, including three overflowing sacks of rhubarb (the bulk of which is still in the freezer) and enough zuccini to make several jars of pickles.  I also obtained some free vegetables from other sources.

One of my five year goals is to be self sufficient in seasonal fruit.  Hopefully this would extend to salad fruits too!  (Though maybe not avocados.)  I anticipate that in future years, building on the success of this year, I might be able to manage this.  My main obstacle to growing en masse is not my small space:  it's organization.

Using The Complete Guide to Self Sufficiency as my guide, I had very clear and timely instructions on what to plant and when this year--this is a book written for my particular climate (central/northern England).  In previous years I haven't followed any sort of plan, other than "plant vegetables" and mainly used the backs of seed packets as my guide to gardening--along with a garden year book focused on ornamentals and the occasional internet advice.  I now have a specific plan, and it showed genuine improvement on my previous gardening attempts.

Maybe the extraordinary summer weather contributed more to my success this year, and having secure fencing for chickens certainly helped (no major chicken-caused damage this year);  but I also attribute it to John Seymour's method.  Let the bought vegetables begin again--we've had a full 16 weeks (that's just about 4 months) of not buying.  And we will continue to eat from the garden until further notice.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Doing those autumn jobs!


We had a mass chicken breakout:  they ate the leaves off several chard plants, scratched up the newly sprouting green manure seedlings in the Misc bed--and scratched up some small beets in the raised bed.  Oh well.  I'm thankful we had no major incidents before this, and to be honest, this was not major at all (though it would have been at the beginning of summer when everything was still small and fragile).

I managed to plant out about 35 cloves of my own grown garlic last week;  the chickens scratched up a couple of earlier planted cloves (from the store), which showed some good root growth.  I popped them back in the ground too;  that makes around 85 cloves planted.

I also sowed cauliflower seeds in a tray--hopefully to plant out later on in the raised bed/cold frame next to the house.  If the slugs don't get them, that is.  That raised bed had plenty of chicken attention and has some nice bare spots in it now;  it was just growing chard and a few beets (and weeds);  I think they only scratched away the smaller weeds and smallest beets.  Lots of space for cauliflowers.

I cleared away most of the Roots bed--there were still about 10 onions lurking under the self-sown nasturtiums.  Not big, but tasty at least.  I pulled out some unwanted ornamental crocosmia in the Roots bed (it regrows every year, and if not checked will spread very quickly--at least it's pretty), and had plenty of growth from it and the accompanying weeds to feed my second composter.

And last but not least, I started 30 broad bean seeds to sprout in the garage;  when they do so I will dig a trench in the garden and plant them out.

Still not done:  clear away runner beans, plant shallots (can't find any I care to pay for;  maybe I'll go for seed instead), mulch brassicas with compost, pile manure/sow green manure on beds.  Better get going!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

We are what we eat: chicken!

Chicken dinner 2015 (feet go in the stock pot)
Let's talk about chicken.  It's a tasty meat with a mild flavor.  It can be roasted, baked, fried, sauteed, grilled, stewed, and more.  It tastes good with everything.  It makes an amazing curry or stir fry.  Then there's chicken soup:  a necessity during flu season.  Chicken bones make a fantastic stock.  We love chicken--it's delicious and versatile.

Chicken comes from a bird.  It comes from a chicken, of course.  A chicken that runs around, sleeps with its head under its wing, tips its head up to swallow a drink, clucks to get your attention.  Chicken comes from a curious, friendly, busy bird:  active and interested.  At least, our chicken does.

We hardly ever buy chicken meat any more, since it doesn't compare to our own chicken.  Why would it?  Supermarket chicken was raised in a closed barn, full of birds in cages.  Those chickens eat only chicken chow, and are bred to grow quickly;  usually by eight weeks old they're big enough to slaughter, and if they aren't killed soon after they might die of heart failure anyway.  They don't have much room to move around in, which is good because their legs can't really support all that weight very well. 

It's cheaper to raise chicken this way, and supermarket chicken is cheap.  Our chicken isn't cheap.  A chick costs us around £3.50-£5 when newly hatched;  chick feed is around £10 a bag, and growers feed is £12.  That's expensive chicken--at least twice as much as supermarket chicken.

But there's not just a big difference in price;  there's also a big difference in quality.  Our chicken is happy and healthy, able to act out its natural instincts and behavior, and every day is a good day--until the very last minute.  Our chicken tastes sweet.  It tastes intense and juicy.  Its giblets make a beautiful mild gravy.  Its skin is crispy but tender.  In short, it's the best chicken we've ever had.

Are our chickens our pets?  Do we eat our pets?  Well, no.  We treat them with respect and love, and we let them live as natural a life as possible:  they get to be chickens.  They are not our "feather babies" but animals in their own right.  It's hard to kill them, just as it was hard to take our 14 year old dog to be put to sleep at the vet.  We take responsibility for their lives and wellbeing, and we take responsibility for their deaths.  Everything dies, whether sooner or later.  And unlike our old dog, chickens are useful in death as well as life:  they allow us to go on living.  We give them good lives, and a good death.

We'll be killing Lavender*, our 6 month old Cream Legbar cockerel in a week.  I'll be sorry to kill him--though the six year old's not, as he's continued to be aggressive towards him.  But I won't be sorry to eat him.
Lavender
*Our big black cockerel Winnie died unexpectedly overnight a few weeks ago;  we found him cold and stiff on the floor of the coop.  Tiny, our miniscule English Game cockerel, has a reprieve for now;  unless we get a complaint about his crowing, he gets to stay.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The John Seymour gardening method: six month review

Glass over tomatoes in the Misc. bed, broccoli and kale adjacent;  with pumpkins, runner beans and Sparta apples growing against the fence:  September 2016
How is the John Seymour gardening method going, 6 months in?

I began gardening according to Seymour's method in his book The Complete Guide to Self Sufficiency this spring, starting in March.  To recap, he advocates dividing the vegetable patch into four main growing beds, plus a bed each for seed sowing and holding (an intermediary bed for holding young plants before planting into final growing positions).  He also has a bed dedicated to herbs and perennials, and also a bed for fruit (I do grow these, but mixed together and with ornamentals).

The four main veg beds are Peas/Beans/Brassicas, Roots, Miscellaneous, and Potatoes;  I did not have a separate bed for potatoes this year, giving me just three main beds.  Additionally I did not have a dedicated seed bed, but raised my seeds in trays--to alleviate losses due to slugs.

On the whole, I liked using this system, and it worked pretty well for me.  I had a good harvest off the Peas/etc and Misc. beds.  The Roots bed harvest was less successful (slugs!), though I actually raised some of the root veg in containers because of high slug damage.  The holding bed was very useful for growing the brassicas, and they transplanted pretty well after the peas were finished (I still have a couple left to transplant after the runner beans come out at the end of the month). 

I really like the holding bed;  it allowed me to grow a lot more in my small garden space than in previous years.  It means I can grow a full bed of the more tender vegetables in summer, then transplant the brassicas out from the holding bed after they've finished.  I get two harvests in one year from the same bed:  peas and beans first, then winter brassicas after.  It has meant I haven't grown many summer brassicas (just kale), but perhaps next spring--with some judicious planning--I'll be able to grow a few more alongside the peas.  It's a small sacrifice to make though, in return for a bigger harvest of those short-season vegetables.

I might redivide the beds to allow for a Potatoes bed next spring;  we don't eat many, but then again, my growing space isn't very big:  I could grow ten or so plants and we could certainly eat them gradually over winter. 

The Complete Guide to Self Sufficiency has a calendar of seasonal tasks which I have been following pretty faithfully.  It's a more helpful guide than my big gardening year book;  the tasks are set out bed by bed, and it's obviously geared toward food production (the year book is more focused on ornamentals though it does contain veg/fruit/herb garden tasks). 

All in all, I like this method and will continue using it next year.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The last garden jobs for autumn 2016

Leek flower, September 2016
I started documenting this project at the end of May 2016, after most of the hard work of spring had been done.  I did some transplanting and a little seed sowing during the summer, but the main work was a little weeding, caterpillar removal, and vegetable harvest--not to mention garden enjoyment!   And true, this time of year is not heavy on garden tasks, as the growing season ends.  September was fairly sunny and warm, and unexpectedly extended the growing season a little longer (I even got a few extra zuccini and a surprise squash).  Now, however, things are slowing down, cooling down.  But as I am looking ahead to future food, I have tasks now.

Plant garlic and shallots

I had a modest garlic harvest this year.  We have already eaten the smallest bulbs and I saved the biggest for replanting.  I've bought and planted 50 cloves (from 4 heads) of garlic already;  I'll plant some of my own harvested garlic later this month, in 2017's Roots bed (2016's Miscellaneous bed).  I think I have about 10-12 big bulbs, with probably 8 cloves each;  this won't be enough to plant as well as eat--with judicious use we should probably last until November I think, after which I'll probably start buying it again.

I've never grown shallots before;  I've read they can be planted just like garlic.  I've looked for bulbs from the local garden centers unsuccessfully.  I'll have to look online (or failing that, an upmarket grocery store).

Sow cauliflower

I have a variety of cauliflower which is sown now, grown in a cold frame over winter, and planted out in spring for a summer harvest.  I'll give it a shot. 

Harvest potatoes and runner beans

The main runner bean patch is pretty much finished;  the big pods I saved for seed can be hung up to dry for next year.  I need that space to transplant the final few winter cabbage and spring broccoli plants out of the Holding bed.  There is a random potato volunteer there too, to be harvested (or destroyed, depending on its blight status). 

Clear away spent plants, sow winter cover crops

It's too late for most of the Miscellaneous bed plants.  The bed needs to be cleared and green manure seeds sown onto it;  I've already done this where the tomatoes were, thanks to blight.  I'll be clearing the Roots bed too, and piling lots of chicken bedding (manure and straw) onto it.  (A little later in the year, once they have died down, I'll move the peony and raspberry canes from the Holding bed, and spread either chicken bedding or compost onto it.  I don't want to move them until they're fully dormant.)

Mulch

Everything in the Brassica bed is growing well and I need to give it all a good mulch.  I'll use the oldest compost from my first bin;  this will protect their roots from cold, but hopefully not harbor slugs.  I'll also mulch my soft fruit bushes--and rhubarb, artichoke and asparagus (hopefully all still alive)--with chicken bedding.

Sow broad beans

Lastly, I'll try sowing broad beans for next year's crop.  I'll sprout them in the garage first, then plant them in 2017's Peas and Beans bed.  However, I'll reserve some seed for spring sowing too, in case they don't survive the winter.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Four things I'm glad I did this year

Carrots in plastic tubs on my patio table, July 2016
1. Grew carrots in tubs

I haven't managed carrots for a few years.  I've never grown them successfully in the ground:  first it was carrot fly, then it was slugs.  Raised beds helped with the carrot fly--but not the slugs.  Plus I had more than one escaped chicken incident involving raised beds (raised beds make the best dust baths, don't you know).

Determined to get carrots, I filled a couple of old plastic storage tubs with a bit of chicken manure and straw, topped up with regular potting compost.  Around the rims I spread a layer of VapoRub (the advice was vaseline but we didn't have it on hand, plus the intended recipient of VapoRub, aka the six year old, hates the stuff) to repel slugs and other creepy crawlies.  The tubs were sown with seeds, placed on top of a table on the patio, and grew lovely 3-4 inch unblemished carrots. 

2. Spent 5 minutes every evening for a month rubbing out caterpillar eggs

Last year we had wholesale destruction of all brassicas because of cabbage white caterpillars.  They pretty much killed all the kale, and set the Brussels sprouts back so far that we only got one meal off the remaining six plants.  This year I was dedicated and nipped that problem in the bud in late July/early August.  No plants were killed or even set back due to caterpillars. 

3. Built a second composter

It's not pretty, but it's digesting my excess nettles, elder and blackberry vines.  The chickens helped me turn the contents of the first compost bin, making for some very nice looking compost.  Hopefully with a little more chicken help, this new pile will be ready for spring.

4. Put a second biofilter in the pond

The husband scored a secondhand filter and we filled it with a big piece of foam from an old cushion.  The water is pumped into this filter, forced through the foam which grabs any algae particles, before flowing into a gravel grow bed and back into the pond;  it cleaned up the water completely in about three weeks.  The pond has been crystal clear since, and its duckweed population has exploded;  our chickens enjoy eating the stuff so much we nicknamed it chicken salad:  free feed!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Planning for winter: chickens in the garden

Plucky and Tiny at the front; Cookie, Red, Lavender and Rock at the back
Our usual rotational system for chickens in the garden changes during winter.  The main vegetable harvest, the frost kill of annual flowers, and herbaceous perennial die back opens up new areas of the garden for our birds.  And on the flip side, the lawn becomes less available and for shorter periods, otherwise they might destroy the grass entirely.  Sometimes in winter we even just let them free range over the entire back property for up to a few weeks at a time (though they invariably end up hanging out on the patio next to our back door). 

Weeding, fertilizing and pest control

Things can grow here in winter, albeit very slowly;  too much chicken pressure can overwhelm.  I can use this to my advantage:  where there are weeds or other unwanted plants, I can leave the chickens to scratch, peck and manure until the ground's bare.  With my good sized flock, they can accomplish this over winter easily.  I have a few areas of excess weeds, waiting for the attention of my industrious helpers this winter, and it's certainly something they do naturally and well.

I also hope to concentrate their efforts in areas of excess slugs.  Hopefully my chickens can scratch up and eat/expose/otherwise kill any overwintering pests, and knock back the population enough to give my spring plants a good start.  It's too much to ask to eradicate them entirely, but so long as I can get my plants started well, I can live with slugs.

As well as fresh manure straight from the bird, I like to pile the autumns's manured straw bedding from the coop straight onto the beds, and let it sit until spring.  The chickens help me spread it around (scratching up piles of organic material is their favorite pastime);  it feeds the soil and encourages worms (free feed!).

Egg production, feed, and reducing flock size

Hens are known to lay less in winter than in summer, because of lower light levels.  Some people leave a light on in the coop to encourage more egg production.  We don't do this:  mainly cause we're cheap and lazy, but also to let the hens rest a little.  We have to accept there will be fewer eggs, and slightly higher feed costs because of lack of grass, bugs and weeds to eat.

To cut down on feed costs I may get creative with their food.  And reduce the flock numbers by eating cockerels (probably at the end of this month);  in subsequent winters we may also eat older non-rescue hens (our oldest non-rescue hens are currently 18 months).  Additionally, every winter we have lost at least one rescue hen to old age.  At the moment we have six rescue hens, and though they all look healthy now, I wouldn't be surprised to lose any of them;  most of our rescue deaths have been quick and sudden.

Verboten

There will be one bed of standing vegetables which will be entirely off limits to the flock during winter: the brassica bed.  I'm growing cabbage, broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts--for human consumption only.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

September garden recap

Pumpkins:  on the fence
Roots

We had the last of the carrots, nearly all good finger size (grown in a plastic tub on my patio).  None for winter storage, sadly.  I'll have to consider my carrot strategy for next year to see if I can grow more, and bigger.  At least I got carrots this year (unlike the last few years).

We also had a few more baby beets, but the later sown seed (also in tubs) in July and August are not yet ready.

Still pulling up small onions as and when needed, but I think the bulk of them have been eaten now.

Celeriac still in the ground until a frost, to maximize size.  I was hoping for softball size but I think they're more like golf balls.

Peas and Beans

I pulled the last of the peas to dry for next year's seed.  I also harvested 8 broad bean seeds.

The runner beans performed well in September, but slowed down by the middle of the month.   Still picking some now and then, and I left about a dozen big pods to go for next year's seed too.

Brassicas

The kale, cabbages, spring broccoli are big and strong;  however I didn't harvest any except a little kale during September--they are all meant for winter eating so I'm letting them grow.  Growth has slowed with the falling light levels.

There are cute little sprouts on my old Brussels, too;  hope to eat them around Christmas.  The new season Brussels plants are still pretty tiny compared to the rest of the brassicas;  not anticipating much from them.

Miscellaneous

Tomatoes!  I harvested some!  Not a lot, but better than none:  good sized ones, too--bigger than the beets anyway.  I had to harvest all the in ground green tomatoes because of suspected blight, but made a batch of both salsa and relish with them (yum).  The tomatoes in planters may also have the beginning of blight, but I left them to grow on a little longer.

The zuccini plant finally decided to put out some growth, just as it turned cooler:  oh well.  I managed to harvest several small ones at least.

My two pumpkins turned orange, and we ate one banana squash as it looked a bit shrivelly;  I didn't want to lose it so we ate it sauteed with butter and garlic:  yummy.  Luckily, one new small squash formed;  I think it's a hubbard type squash, but forming so late in the season means we'll be probably be eating it like summer squash (e.g. immature), once the plant dies back.

Loads of chard, some dried, some frozen, plenty eaten fresh.  Again, like most things, growth has slowed.

Fruit

At last we got our plum harvest.  I suspect the tree was mislabeled when I bought it;  it was meant to be an Opal plum:  red skin, ripening in early August.  Instead it's got dark purply skin, green-yellow flesh, and ripened in mid September.  The husband thinks it might be Victoria variety instead.  I wanted an earlier fruiting plum to make up the gap between the cherries in July and the apples in September, but no matter, they were delicious and I picked 9--its first harvest.

Apples also came into season in September, both Laxton Fortune and Sparta.  Sparta apples not as purple as in past years, but a bigger harvest on both than previous years;  some Spartas still on the tree, but all Laxton picked and eaten.  Still waiting on pears.

Perennials and Herbs

It looks like there may be one artichoke not dead yet (out of six), but still very small and unhappy.  Not sure about the fate of the rhubarb and asparagus:  I think they may have died down.  Or just died.  Sorrel still leafy and luxurious;  I'll probably move it out of the main veg patch in October.

Still picking fresh rosemary, tarragon, thyme, and chives all through September.  Picked a very little bit of parsley and sage.  My sage is a small cutting in a pot, taken last autumn from a woody old plant which died over the winter;  I potted it on in the hopes it would bush out a bit (not yet).  The parsley is self-sown in my window box.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

September 2016 Food Totals

Lovely banana squash
Vegetables

64.5 oz runner beans
5.5 oz banana squash
10 oz onion
90 oz chard
13 oz carrots
4.5 oz beet
4 oz beet greens
59 oz tomatoes (ripe)
59 oz tomatoes (green)
13.5 oz zuccini
8.5 oz kale

Total: 331.5 oz, or 20 lbs 11.5 oz

Does not include fresh herbs (tarragon, rosemary, chives) which were too small an amount to weigh, i.e. less than 0.5 oz

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

Fruit:

23 Laxton Fortune apples
17 Sparta apples
9 plums

Eggs:

Total:   202 eggs (from 12 adult hens)
Total feed bought:  2 bags layers pellets (40kg total)

Preserves:


1L salted runner beans (about 1/8L from friend's garden, the rest from my own)
1L pickled zuccini (zuccini from friend's garden)
2L apple chutney (apples from a wild tree, onions and garlic from my garden)
1.5L green tomato salsa (tomatoes and garlic from my garden, onions and peppers bought)
0.75L green tomato relish (tomatoes and garlic from my garden, onions bought)
1L (1 dozen) pickled eggs
0.5L dried chard leaves



Homebrew:

Elderberry, elderflower, and rhubarb wines all still fermenting;  all tasted (so far so good).  No new homebrew begun

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Planning for winter: growing in the garden

Winter in the garden is less about work than about foresight.  I've been planning for winter gardening all summer long.  Not all of my plans will come to fruition (like my plan for a fresh leek harvest, sadly), but many seem to be on good course.

What do I have planned for winter growing/harvest?

Cabbage

I sowed winter cabbage seeds in mid summer, a variety called January King 3.  Most of them are big and leafy, and forming heads.  I believe it is a savoy type cabbage, well suited to standing winter temperatures.

Brussels sprouts

True, the young plants I sowed from this year's seed are small and unlikely to produce much this winter--they may even just go to seed in spring without producing at all.  But I do have several of last year's plants, gone to seed this spring, and regrowing new little sprouts now.  I cut down the biggest sprouts plants after they formed seed to make way for new crops, but the smaller ones weren't taking up much room, so I let them stay.  In this vein, I have a cabbage plant which is still growing and producing small heads on long stalks--now in its third year! 

Leeks

What, leeks?  Yes, I may still be able to eat my leeks, flowering and trying to set seed all summer.  They've been in the ground for more than a year now, but they might still be edible!  I'll be giving them a try at least.

Salad greens

I mentioned in a previous post that the slugs keep eating all my lettuce seedlings.  Hopefully they will leave my lambs lettuce and miners lettuce alone.  We haven't had garden salad since early summer.  I also have a couple small spring onions left, growing for winter use.

Chard and kale

Though not related to each other, these two are the plants that keep on giving.  Although growth is slower as the days get shorter, there should be enough to give us fresh winter greens once or twice a week in winter.

Pumpkins and potatoes

There are two small to medium sized pumpkins ripening on the vine as we speak.  I have high hopes for them:  pumpkin pie, certainly.  I have one remaining potato plant, now hiding behind my tangle of runner beans.  By necessity I won't be digging them out until the runners are done. 

Beets, rutabaga and celeriac

The beets and rutabaga are chancy.  I sowed seed of both in containers in July and August (sowings in the ground disappeared quickly), and have some good plants growing but only a little root formation so far.  The later sowings are pretty small still, but I'm keeping them well watered and hoping for the best.  As far as celeriac goes, I believe I have three still surviving--and they aren't very big!  But I'll let them grow until first frost.  If nothing else, we can eat the greens off all of three.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Oh dear: blight

I think my three in-ground tomato plants have blight.  I've never seen this in person before, but I know it's not uncommon in this country.  It has been a long, warm summer, and has lately become a little cooler and more humid:  good conditions for blight, I understand. 

Although I'm not 100% sure of my diagnosis, apparently there isn't a treatment for blight, organic or not:  plants must be pulled up and burnt.  If allowed to remain, the fruit will spoil quickly;  so just in case, they're coming up and I'll rescue the green tomatoes to make some salsa and/or relish.  It's unlikely the fruit will have time to ripen now anyway, nearing the end of September, and luckily I have a good recipe for green tomato relish (from The Joy of Cooking).

It looks like my container tomato plants are still untouched, so they can remain for now.  I'm glad, as the biggest one has been giving me big ripe tomatoes for a week or so now.  I've made a point of saving seeds from it too--all of this year's plants are from my own saved seed.

As far as my remaining potato plant goes, I've no idea if it's got it too;  it's hiding behind a mass of runner beans and I can't even see it any more.  I won't be too disappointed if it has:  it was a volunteer, and we don't eat many potatoes anyway.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The last little bit of summer

Since I have been gardening here in England, there have been a few summers which were a complete washout.  In 2012 it rained pretty much every day.  Though to be fair, a few of my vegetables were pretty good that year, notably the onions.  But a lot of things just wasted away from lack of meaningful light and excess water.

This summer has not been so.  There has been rain, there have been cooler days, but mostly it has been sunny and warm.  A good year for growing many things--though perhaps not onions! 

Now at autumn equinox, I'm very satisfied with how my garden has grown this summer.  The weather was in my favor to be sure, but I didn't have too many failures, and was able to enjoy plenty of quality garden relaxation time all summer, hangin' out with the vegetables.

I've also carried on with my pledge not to buy vegetables--so far, so good.  I have, however, procured a few through other means:  a few friends and relations have given me some of their excess produce such as zuccini, runner beans, rhubarb and more.  Some of this, along with my own veg, is preserved for winter use.  My little pantry cupboard has lots of pretty jars of various vegetables, mostly pickled, some dried, and a couple chutney-ed.  What a good way to remember the success of summer, by eating it all winter.  Er, I hope it is edible...

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Foraging

Now's the time to go out and get the last of the wild food before winter.  We live only a few streets away from our local country park--a reclaimed coal mine--now a wildlife area.  There are many wild foods to gather here, including fruits, nuts, and herbs.

Earlier in the summer I gathered wild oregano and mint to dry for my cupboard;  I made a big jar of mint sauce too.  The six year old and I picked a few wild cherries in July, but just for eating, not for storage.  My own cherries are far superior in size and flavor, so those got stored instead, in the freezer. 

I've been picking blackberries for the freezer this month.  The six year old wants jam but I may just keep them for regular cooking and/or smoothie use.  I've made jam in the past--and I learned early on to strain the seeds out!  Last year we picked a ziploc bag full for the freezer.  Not so many this year, but it's only me picking them.

There are a couple wild apple trees at our country park, which are pretty good for both eating and cooking.  Even the crab apples have a good flavor, though the best crab apple tree needs a good frost on it first, so I haven't picked any yet.  Some of the trees have a lot of apples this year, more than previous years.  I've made apple chutney, courtesy of The Joy of Cooking, my favorite cookbook.  Later on I'll make apple cider, when I have a couple demijohns free (not long now, I hope). 

One thing I never manage to forage at our park, however, is hazelnuts.  I know where they grow, but I always miss out on them.  I don't know if someone else strips the trees before I get to them, or if it's squirrels (I've only ever once seen at squirrel at our park, in all my 13 years of walking it).  All I know is I wish I could get some, but never do!

There is also a very tall pear tree at our park, but again, I've never harvested it.  The pears are too far out of reach;  the one time I was able to reach them, they were gone before they ripened.  Oh well.

Another, more unusual fruit which I love at our park:  rugosa rose hips.  There's a very big bush which produces them all summer long, and they taste a bit like orange candies:  tangy, juicy, sweet.  Just don't eat all the way to the middle, because they have some very spiny seeds. I dried a few last year for tea (very nice, too), but they really are best eaten fresh.

It's elderberry season too, but as mentioned previously, all my demijohns are currently in use (two with last year's elderberry wine!).  If I can muster up the motivation to pick some, I'll freeze them now, for making wine later.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Four things I wish I'd done this year

Trays of Brussels sprouts and pak choi waiting to be planted out, Aug 2016
1. Moved all the perennials out of the new vegetable beds.  

Up until two years ago, I grew my vegetables in the back corner of our property.  Although I always grew a few edibles among the flowers near the house, I definitely haven't regretted changing things around.  It's so much easier and less work to have them right outside the back door instead of at the far corner.  But I there are still some remnants of ornamentals in the beds, such as a very nice peony.  I can't move it now or I'll probably kill it.  So it, and some other random things (a few raspberry canes, some sorrel, my morello cherry tree), have been hogging vegetable space all growing season until I can move them over winter.

2. Left the chickens on the vegetable beds for a longer period over winter.

I did let my chickens onto the vegetable beds during winter, but only for a week or two.  They scratched it up and tidied the debris for me, but I think a longer period would have resulted in fewer pests and more fertilization (poo).  I'll certainly keep them on it for at least a month before I start planting vegetables again--maybe even longer.

3. Got the seeds I needed--before I needed them.

I knew I wanted leek seeds.  I knew I wanted Brussels sprouts seeds.  I didn't have them when I needed them, and instead of waiting for my plants to finally produce some seed (sprouts did, in July;  leeks have been in flower since mid summer but no seeds yet), I should have just bought some.  Now I'm without new leeks, and the young sprouts are still miniscule;  I don't think they have time to grow and produce.  I have now bought new leek seeds, and have plenty of collected sprouts seeds, but both have to wait till next spring to sow--and at least a full year from now to harvest.

4. Sheet mulched the asparagus bed before planting them out.

It's a tangle of weeds now.  Sigh.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Ode to the English tomato

Tomato in planter, August 2016
Oh tomatoes.  Every year I swear I'll give them up, and every year I grow them once more.  The English summer is inhospitable to this lovely rosy fruit.

How I long for jars gleaming red in the pantry;  or stacks of little ruby husks, dried to chewy perfection.  Instead, I have solid green globes--inflexibly green, drooping from stems, refusing to redden, even in the (unseasonably) not-cold, not-rainy end of summer.

When I was a child, I remember taking a giant mixing bowl into the garden in the mornings and filling it to the brim with tomatoes as big as my hand.  We ate so many fresh--I liked them best with black pepper--but most went into stacks of jars.  It was hot work boiling them to remove skins, stuffing them into the jars and then simmering away, half a dozen at a time in the big canning pot.  We made plain bottled tomatoes to begin with, and then in later years branched out to pizza sauce and salsa.  How beautiful those jars looked, lined up on the closet shelves we used as a pantry.

Never, in my 13 years living in England, have I collected enough ripe tomatoes to make even one jar.  I once made three (very) small jars of green tomato relish, a gem of a recipe from The Joy of Cooking, but even that resulted from the end of season, gathered-the-night-before-first-frost harvest.

Last year I collected one or two fresh red tomatoes per week from September to Christmas.  The plants were grown in a raised bed on my patio, up against my south-facing house wall.  I collected seed from these tomatoes, to carry on the line this year.  True, this year's tomatoes hang heavy and full on the plants.  They look plump and beautiful, and the plants strong.  But still green.  I suppose I can resign myself to a (very) small line of green jars in my pantry.

(I did manage to harvest three last week)

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

August garden recap

A zuccini, at last

I remarked to my husband that it always rains on the first of August, and he was adamant it wouldn't this year.  Well, it did, but thankfully it was only a light shower late in the day--the good weather we'd been enjoying in July hadn't broken just yet.  So how did things grow in August?

Roots

The onions from onion sets matured, but were not particularly big.  It might be cheaper to grow from seed next time.  At least they taste nice.

The carrots in tubs were of decent finger size, and very tasty.  I harvested a few more beets (golf ball size at the biggest), and used some celeriac stalks/leaves sparingly (good flavor).

Peas and Beans

The last few peas are finished, and I let them go to seed for next year.  The runner beans started in earnest in mid August, almost a month later than last year.  They are in a slightly less sunny position this year;  I'll bear that in mind for next year.  Lots and lots of runner beans off them now they're going:  I've been salting some for winter.  Climbing beans still very sad from early slug damage.  Only one pod formed.

Brassicas

Kale slowed down in August.  Still growing, but picked less of it.  Transplanted most of the cabbages and broccoli to their final growing positions, but we'll will have to wait a bit longer for them to mature.  Good growth on them.

Brussels sprouts seedlings planted into the holding bed once the cabbages/broccoli were moved out.  They were sowed very late and are still small, but growing.  I don't know if they have enough time to mature, but I'll plant them out once the runner beans are finished in autumn.  There are three plants from last year which are regrowing sprouts now that they've finshed producing seed, so we may get sprouts this winter regardless.

Miscellaneous

No lettuce in August.  Seedlings keep disappearing, whether direct seeded or planted in trays.  I keep retrying, moving the trays to different spots, high up:  they still disappear.  Rotten slugs.

Tomatoes forming all over the place, but none ripened yet.

Potatoes harvested from one plant:  very big, very tasty.  One plant remaining.

Zuccini and cucumber still pretty sad, but both managed to produce fruit:  one zuccini and two cucumbers, both small.  Hopefully they'll give a few more in September.

Two pumpkins and one squash growing well.  I'm hoping for at least one more squash.

Chard is still rampant!  We couldn't keep up with it in August, so I froze some and dried some.  It's nice to have it preserved for winter.

Fruit

The last of the blueberries went to the six year old.  Not many, but enough for one or two a day.  Everbearing strawberries producing a berry every other day or so.

Plums going purple.  Apples and pears looking lovelier every day.

Perennials and herbs

Artichokes, asparagus (both new this year) and rhubarb not looking great.  Sorrel very happy, but only the six year old and the chickens eat it this time of year.

Rosemary, tarragon, thyme and chives thriving.  The tarragon is in a pot but I may divide it and plant it out, as I did with the thyme.  The garlic chives and oregano seem to have disappeared.  Mint is small, but still alive (newly planted this spring, as it all died under mysterious circumstances last year).

Saturday, September 3, 2016

August 2016 Food Totals

Runner beans, August 2016

Vegetables:

Chard:  83.5 oz
Onion:  21 oz
Carrots:  16 oz
Kale:  17.5 oz
Runner beans:  80 oz
Brussels sprouts (greens):  3.5 oz
Pak choi:  4 oz
Potatoes:  47 oz
Peas (dried):  5.5 oz
Beet greens:  8 oz
Beetroot:  3.5 oz
Cucumber:  2 oz
Zuccini:  3.5 oz
Cabbage greens:  4 oz

Total: 299 oz, or 18 lbs 11 oz

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

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

Fruit:

10 strawberries (everbearer)
8 blueberries
1 Opal plum
1 Laxton Fortune apple

Eggs:

Total:  199 eggs from 12 adult hens (our young Cream Legbar hen began laying!)
Total feed bought: 2 bags layers pellets (40kg total)

Preserves:

1L jar dried chard leaves
500mL jar dried nasturtium leaves
1 small bag dried peas (5.5 oz weight)
1 medium jar pickled zuccini (zuccini from friend's garden)
2 small jars pickled mixed veg: zuccini, runner beans, onions, garlic (zuccini from friend's garden) 
1L jar salted runner beans

Homebrew:  

Elderberry, elderflower, and rhubarb wines all still fermenting.  No new homebrew begun

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Self reliance in chickens, part 2: breeding

From left to right:  Tiny, Blue, and Winnie
Let's talk about a self sustaining chicken flock.

What we want in a flock

We eat eggs for breakfast every day.  Usually 8 or 9 a day between the three of us.  We need 12-15 young-ish hens to get this number reliably;  we currently have 13 hens, ranging from around 4 years to less than 1 year.  For the past month or so we are getting between 5 and 9 eggs a day:  some hens are not pulling their weight!

But then again, we're transitioning from a rescue/adopted flock (ex-commercial laying hens, which are past their prime) to a younger, mixed breed flock.  We'll probably continue to adopt a few rescue hens once in a while, but I'm planning on most of our chickens being no more than 3 years old.

Rather than buying chicks every year, a better way to self reliance is breeding our own replacement hens.  We don't want to invest in fancy equipment (mainly coz we're broke), so we need one or two of our chickens to go broody on us.  And we need a cockerel.

Cockerels

It just so happens we've got a cockerel.  In fact, we've got three!  But there's another little issue, and that is proximity of neighbors.  Crowing cocks are loud--really loud, especially early in the morning (4 am anyone?).  We've discovered the no-crow collar which works pretty well on one cockerel, is less effective on another;  and the third, well, he seems to have worked out how to get around it because while about half his crows are muffled, the other half are pretty glorious.

Actually, everything about this third cockerel is glorious.  He's big, handsome, has a magnificent comb and wattle, is wonderfully proportioned, and has all the best instincts:  he finds food for the hens, is always on the lookout for predators, and is ready to defend the flock with his new spurs.  And he's got a very healthy libido.  The other two cockerels don't even compare.  His name is Winnie, and we think he is a Maran.

We want to breed Winnie if we can.  He was a strong, fast-growing chick, has good instincts, and is mostly friendly:  he's got great genes.  We've got a few laying hens we'd like to breed as well:  big and friendly, and good layers.  What we don't have is a broody hen.

Broody hens

We've never had a hen go broody.  Nearly all our hens have been commercial laying hens, and that instinct has been bred out of them.  We have three young hens of different breeds this year;  we hope one or two will go broody next spring/summer.  If we don't have a broody hen, there's no point to keeping a cockerel--let alone three!  Which leads us to...

Chicken dinner

We will be eating at least one cockerel.  Maybe two, maybe all three.  If we get a neighbor complaint about crowing, Winnie's going in the pot, and the next cockerel can step up to his job.  In fact, Winnie's been a bit aggressive towards the six year old (but not to me or the husband) and though we're working on this, if he can't be friends, he's dinner.  To tell the truth, he looks like one tasty bird.  I'd be sorry to kill him--but not sorry to eat him.

And if we manage to breed our own chickens, some of them--surplus cockerels--will also be going in the pot.  And we'll probably be eating some older hens in the future, to make way for younger ones (we won't be eating rescue hens:  it sort of defeats the purpose).  Raising our own meat is one of my self reliance goals.  Chicken, provided we can breed and raise it ourselves, is a great way to fulfill that goal.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Self reliance in chickens, part 1: feeding

Old English Game cock, appropriately named Tiny:  he's miniscule

Let's talk about self reliance in chicken food.

Bought feed

Since I have begun tracking chicken feed (a few months ago) it seems we regularly buy 40kg of feed per month.  At the moment we buy the premium layers pellets;  when we bought the cheaper pellets, our hens began laying soft-shelled eggs--we prefer the higher quality for good eggs.  It's about £22 per month (compared to about £12 a month for the cheap feed), to feed 16 chickens, not all of whom are laying (three cockerels and two young hens).

Actually, I just did the math, and it's approximately what we would pay for the same amount of eggs at the store (slightly more expensive than the cheapest caged eggs, a bit cheaper than cheapest free range).  Certainly our eggs are better quality than store bought eggs, even free range, so it's still a good deal.  However, if we could save a bit of that money, it'd go a long way towards self reliance.

Other food

Our chickens eat more than just feed, however.  They get regular access to sections of the lawn and garden.  They eat grass, weeds--in fact they prefer most weeds to grass:  our lawn is pretty much weed free now!  They also eat all kinds of bugs and slugs, snails, worms, woodlice, beetles...  And they eat the leaves off some of my plants if they can get them, both vegetables (not allowed!) and perennial ornamentals like roses, mallow, bamboo, daylily.

They also get any garden trimmings, including vegetable garden trimmings:  if I cut a lettuce or cabbage I'll give them the ragged outer leaves before taking it inside.  They get most of the weeds I pull, and can pick over leaves off any prunings before I toss them in the compost.

This other food is season dependent;  in summer they can hardly keep up with the grass on the lawn, while in winter they eat it down to bare earth;  I keep them on the beds--or in their permanent pen--for the most part in winter, to save the lawn.  While there is some growth in winter, there's not enough to give the chickens much of it;  this translates into more bought feed.

Other options

What else can we do to cut down on bought feed?  This time of year is good for gathering and storing food for us people, but how about food for the birds?  Here's some ideas I've been thinking and/or reading about:
  • Wild blackberries:  we pick these for ourselves, but a lot are wormy.  Chickens don't mind!
  • Other wild fruits:  apples, rosehips, sloes, hawthorn berries, etc
  • Dried leaves of their favorite weeds:  dandelion, clover, dock, etc.  These could be gathered and dried in bunches in the garage, and added to feed, either dry or reconstituted
  • Make silage out of grass clippings or weeds to feed in winter
  • Collect wild acorns or other nuts (crush with a sledge hammer before feeding)
  • Collect seeds of other weeds:  dock, nettle, goosegrass, etc
My goal is to reduce their feed by half per month.  That's one bag of layers pellets.  I guess I better get to work!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Taking compost up a notch

For several years I stopped composting--traditional compost, that is.  When we got our chickens, we discovered they could break down our usual composting materials much more quickly and easily than the compost bin ever did.  The bin went empty for a while, and I just gave everything to the chickens;  even stuff they didn't eat broke down very quickly thanks to their scratching and manuring.

However, I dusted off that old plastic compost bin last year to fill with excess chicken bedding (manure and straw).  Our flock numbers have been creeping up, and while I usually like to pile their bedding onto an empty garden bed, in the summer I had too much bedding and not enough beds!  So the composter got excess summer bedding, kitchen (and fabric, and paper) scraps, and a bit of our urine.  The chickens still got everything else.

This year I'm ramping it up again.  We have even more chickens (current count is 16..!).
Compost pile
I've built a second composter, made from scrap materials I had laying about (an old metal fireplace guard, wired into a square-ish shape), and filled it with leaves, bedding, and a few random garden trimmings.  It will also get the above mentioned scraps and urine.

Both composters are in chicken areas, and I will let the chickens do the turning for me;  I've already let them have the older pile (in the plastic bin), and they've happily flattened it for me over the course of a couple days.  I'll let them scratch it over for a few more, then pile it back in the bin for more cooking.  The newer wire bin has already begun breaking down;  I'll let the chickens scratch up that one very soon.

If I can, I will add a few more composters to my system;  right now one composter is next to the coop and the second is just outside the permanent chicken pen.  We keep almost all our organic (aka compostable) material on site, and get plenty of garden trimmings from fast growing perennial weeds such as elder, blackberry, and nettle in addition to the summer bedding:  I think we have enough material to fill at least one more bin, possibly two.

In fact, we have a third pile already:  part of the chicken's permanent pen is the site of our old, now drained pond;  we've been throwing extra garden waste in it for two years, so it's functioned as a big compost heap too.  The chickens certainly enjoy scratching it up to search for bugs, and it's got a thick layer of soil/compost under the top few inches of fresh material.  This heap doesn't heat up like regular compost; maybe I could make my third bin here, to get things cooking.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The slow pace of gardening

Will these raspberries ever ripen?  (they did eventually)
I want it now!

The main allure of gardening for me is the promise of fresh, tasty food.  Carrots pulled up and eaten raw, pie made from my own pumpkin:  whatever it is, it tastes better when I grow it myself.  It seems to take so long though.

I'm glad I sowed the chard and kale this spring, but it's been hard waiting for the next vegetables to ripen (zuccini and runner beans).  An outbreak of slugs and a freak rabbit attack took out more lettuces than I was prepared to lose, and waiting for the next batch to grow up is agony--we need salad!  Those onions are very nearly ready, and at this point, I just want to get them up.

It's like this all over the garden.  I'm waiting.  Waiting some more.  Doing a bit of sowing and transplanting, and then another bit of waiting.

Some days I go out and just sit next to my vegetables.  I have a chair on the patio (near the containers and onions), or I can sit on a railway sleeper (next to the kale and cabbage).  I admire my big tomato plant in a pot, growing plenty of little green fruits.  I inspect the cabbages for caterpillars.  I hang out with the chickens, or wander over and watch the goldfish.  I enjoy the sunshine:  it's nice.

So while I wait, I'll work on my suntan, and maybe catch up on some knitting.  I might even have a nap.  Not much to do except relax, until those vegetables are ready.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Thoughts on food supply

So much chard:  July 2016
I recently read an article on the BBC about food shortages in Venezuela, with people going hungry all over the country.  It gave me pause for thought;  it's not beyond the realm of possibility that it could happen to us one day, too.

Only a few winters ago we had major disruptions to our personal food supply because of heavy snow.  The roads were unplowed and we couldn't get out of our driveway for about two weeks, and the only store within walking distance ran very low on food as they couldn't get deliveries for a week or so. 

At that time, we didn't have much extra food in the house.  It was the middle of winter, and nothing much was growing in the garden (we had a few potatoes left, but they were under 18 inches of snow).  We managed, and I had to get creative with what supplies we had (canned salmon, olive oil, and pasta, anyone?), but if a similar situation happened, I'd prefer to be more prepared.

So, what to do?  Stored food is good, particularly a variety of foods.  We don't want to eat pasta over and over again (we don't eat it any more anyway).  Stored garden foods are great, especially if they're minimally processed, such as dried, pickled, or kept in cold storage or a root cellar.  Then there's food on the hoof, as they say:  animals that can give or become food (eggs, milk, meat);  though animals need food too, and if there's a people food shortage there's probably an animal food shortage.

I don't have a lot of stored food now, as we've gradually eaten our stores over the past year, and not replaced much.  I'm also trying to set aside some of the garden harvest every week:  recently it's either air-dried or frozen greens, though I've dried some peas too.  Even extra eggs can be pickled to set aside for the winter (the husband says they're nice but I've never tried them).

It must be terrible to send your children to bed hungry, and to not know when your next meal will be.  It could happen to anyone:  a job loss, a natural disaster, or even freak snowstorms.  It can't hurt to have a little extra food around, and to grow some yourself:  you never know when you might need it. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Cooking from the garden: rhubarb

Rhubarb and garlic pickle
Let's talk rhubarb.  This is a vegetable most often treated as a fruit.  It gets cooked with loads of sugar to make it palatable.  I'll admit, I find it hard to resist a sweet rhubarb crumble or pie, but we don't really eat those any more.  We treat rhubarb as the vegetable it is.

So what to do with this sour vegetable?

There are many recipes floating about for savory treatment of rhubarb.  My favorite is to simply chop it small and add it to a stir fry.  Usually it cooks down to a mush and adds a sour tang that complements soy sauce.  I add it to stews too:  it adds a nice note to the broth.

I have made a delicious lacto-fermented rhubarb and garlic pickle.  Simply chop up rhubarb (peel it if stringy) and garlic, cover with water, add salt (1 tablespoon to 1 L of water), and let ferment on your countertop for about a week, or until it tastes good.  The first time I made this, I ate the whole jar!

I'm experimenting with two other new-to-me recipes: pickling in vinegar, and wine making.

I started a few jars of rhubarb with garlic and various spices in vinegar.  I won't open them until winter, I think.  If they're truly dreadful, at least they were pretty cheap to make--I only bought the vinegar.

I have also begun a batch of rhubarb wine, made from my mother-in-law's rhubarb.  I've never had it before, and it'll probably be a six months to a year before I actually get to taste it...but I got the recipe from John Seymour's The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency.  He has a very enthusiastic section on homebrewing, and I hope to try a few more of his suggestions.  Here's hoping the wine lives up to its recommendation--I've read elsewhere that it's horrible, so...
Pink rhubarb wine, bubbling away (elderflower in background)
I was given two batches of rhubarb by a neighbor recently, and it was just so much rhubarb!  I froze a big ziploc bag full to use later.  There's only so many rhubarb-thickened broths you can eat.  I even made steak and rhubarb pie.  Yes I really did (and it was awesome).

One confession though:  after straining off the boiled rhubarb for my wine, I plunked the mush--this was before adding yeast--into some strawberry jam I was making for teacher gifts.  So I did make a sweet rhubarb-y treat after all.  Boy was it tasty! 
Strawberry rhubarb jam