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?


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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

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.


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.


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.


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

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. 


6 Kumoi pears
23 Sparta apples
1 autumn-fruiting raspberry


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


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


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