Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Food for the soul

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

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


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

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

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Dreaming of squash

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Me and my cabbage

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 5, 2017

July 2017 garden notes

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

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

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

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

Peas and beans

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

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

Brassicas

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

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

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

Miscellaneous

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potatoes

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

Fruit

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

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

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

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

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

Perennials and herbs

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

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

Still no sign of either rhubarb plant. 

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

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

July 2017 Food Totals

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

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

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

Total: 381 oz

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

Fruit: 

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

Total: 54.5 oz

Eggs:

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


Preserves:

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

Homebrew:  

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

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Update on the state of the flock, July 2017

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Broccoli and butterflies

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Waiting for onions

Photo of three onion bulbs growing in a cluster
My biggest onions, July 2017
We officially stopped buying vegetables a month ago, our last purchases being carrots, rutabaga, and onions.  The first two are long gone (and we're eating our own carrots now), but we still have a couple onions left--which I'm trying to ration out as slowly as possible as my garden onions aren't quite ready yet.

Several garden onions are a pretty decent size now;  some are approaching store-bought size.  Some are not.  I sowed the seeds in January in a tray on my kitchen windowsill.  I planted them out in February (I think?  Or was it March?) in clusters of two to five onions.  As space is limited, growing in clusters rather than rows means I get more onion per square meter (or about half a meter in this case).  The bulbs are bigger on average this year than previously;  last year I planted out onion sets separately, not in clusters.

They have also been getting the diluted contents of our wee bucket (yes, you read that right) two or three times a week.  I don't know if it's made them bigger/stronger but I've read that all the onion family like a lot of nitrogen.  When I can be bothered to walk all the way to the end of the Misc bed, I'll give the leeks a dose too.

But the onions are still growing and I'm not prepared to harvest them until they reach their maximum size.  We may be going without onions for a few weeks.  I guess I could always pull up a few shallots;  having planted them from grocery store bulbs I'm not quite so invested in their success--I really pampered those onions to get them to where they are today!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Summer fruit: strawberries

Photo of a bunch of red strawberries growing next to a low brick wall
Alpine strawberries, July 2017
 The alpine strawberries, variety Baron Solemacher, have been producing regularly since June.  It's nice to pick a small handful of these sweet little berries.  They really are small, though!
Photo of a small red strawberry on the palm of a hand
This is a big one!
They have a nice sweet flavor, with a little bit of tartness.  I like their crisp outer seeds, too;  they add a nice texture.  Most of the berries get eaten out of hand, but as we've been picking the blackcurrants to freeze, some of these strawberries have snuck their way into the freezer bag (gooseberries too).  This is their second summer:  I sowed them as seeds in 2016. 
Photo of two ripe strawberries growing under chicken wire
Strawberries under chicken wire;  it stopped the birds but not the slugs

I have around ten or twelve maincrop strawberry plants, but don't really have a dedicated bed for them.  Some of them live next to the alpine strawberries, a couple were hiding under this spring's sprouting broccoli (I thought I'd moved all of them last summer), and there are a few scattered elsewhere in the perennial section of the garden.  They, like the alpine strawberries, flowered quite early but not all of them produced fruit this summer.

We ate most of these berries in June--about a month earlier than usual--and now they're finished.  As these strawberries are sending out lots of new runners, I hope to establish a brand new bed for them in the perennials section later this year.  Hopefully next year we'll get a bigger harvest.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The giant cabbage

Photo of a mature Savoy cabbage growing in a garden bed
January King 3 cabbage, July 2017
When I cleared away the purple sprouting broccoli in May, I discovered this little Savoy (winter) cabbage hiding underneath them, which got missed when all the other cabbages got eaten in February/March.  It was so small, I figured it might grow a little and we could eat the greens.  Well, little did I know--it's now around three feet across and forming a big compact head. 

I don't know if you can tell from the photo, but I've been planting this year's winter cabbages (same variety) just behind it.  I was going to pull it up to make more room for the new ones, but the husband pleaded its case:  "it's not fully grown yet!"  Yikes.  It gets to stay for a little while longer, until it's fully grown.  Four feet across, maybe?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What's on the menu, July 2017

Photo of fresh garden produce:  peas, cabbage greens, multicolored carrots and a tiny artichoke
Dinner, 10 July 2017
At the moment my most abundant garden vegetable is chard--not surprising, seeing as I harvested 371 ounces (approximately 23 pounds) of it in 2016.  This year most of it self-seeded and then I transplanted to the Misc bed;  some of these plants are trying to go to seed themselves.  The ones with this trait I've been pulling up whole to eat, and they usually weigh in at around a pound of leaves and stems per plant.  The rest I treat as "cut and come again", taking the biggest leaves.  All of it is still tender and mild, even the really big leaves.  Yum.
Photo of a collection of plastic containers filled with vegetable plants
Big planters of carrots on the patio table, smaller seed trays in front

We started harvesting the carrots from the planters on the patio recently, too.  They really only get finger size in there, but that's good enough.  I have terrible luck with them in the ground (carrot fly and slugs), but so long as the planters are kept moist, they grow well.  I bought a pack of seeds for multi-colored carrots, and we're thrilled to eat yellow, white and purple carrots as well as the usual orange.

The maincrop peas are hanging in the garage to dry in their pods now, but I picked the second batch of earlies for a (very small) harvest this week.  Enough for a spoonful each--very tasty.  If you look closely in the photo above, you'll see there's also a tiny artichoke in with the peas!  I've read that you're not supposed to let artichokes flower the first year (to encourage root growth), so I picked this one and the seven year old and I ate it between us.  Kind of tasted like the cabbage I cooked it with.

Speaking of cabbage, we're eating the summer cabbages direct from the holding bed.  I'd wanted to transplant them out after the Peas/Beans bed was finished, but ended up not having enough time--the cabbages are too big to transplant now;  they could have moved a month ago, but as the peas were still going strong there was no where to put them.  I transplanted in the smaller winter cabbage seedlings instead.  Some of the summer cabbages are trying to head up, and I've been picking every other one, to give the others a chance.  It's very tender and mild cabbage, almost like lettuce.

Speaking of lettuce, I've got my lettuce patch going at last!  My pots of lettuces are tucked away on their own little table under the big patio table.  They get a bit of shade during the warmest part of the day, but get a bit of late afternoon sun.  It's really too hot on the patio during summer for lettuces, but they seem to be fine in the shade.  I'd have them in the ground (much cooler) if I thought the slugs wouldn't massacre them.

Most of these vegetables, with the exception of lettuce, just get added to casserole/stew/curry/etc.  On Monday we had roast pork and gravy, with a selection of garden vegetables, shown in the first photo, steamed lightly.  We all shared the purple carrot!
Photo of various pots growing lettuces on a patio
Lettuce patch, 2017

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Drowning in blackcurrants

Photo of a branch with ripening blackcurrants
Blackcurrants, June 2017 (does not accurately indicate the extent of the flood!)
I can't believe the blackcurrant harvest this year!  I don't have the exact date of planting for these two bushes, but I would guess about five years ago.  I bought them from a church jumble sale for £5 (I think--it was a while ago);  they were just rooted cuttings, about 12 inches tall.  They grew and grew for those five years, and I think it was two years ago we finally got our first tiny harvest.  Last year was a bit better, but no more than a few ounces total. 

This year so far it's been more than a pound of blackcurrants.  Bear in mind the size of these berries--about the same as blueberries--and I think you'll agree this is a LOT for two bushes to produce in one year:  and harvest isn't over yet. 

We've been picking them every few days for the past week, and making them into berry and banana smoothies, along with a few alpine strawberries, and raspberries and redcurrants (these two now finished).  A bit tart, but very refreshing and tasty.  There have definitely been enough for jam making, if we had been so inclined!  But a smoothie is fresh and healthy, and we're looking forward to a few more next week.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

June 2017 garden recap

Roots

I harvest all the garlic bulbs at the beginning of June and once that spot was cleared I resowed it with beet seed, some of which have sprouted (still pretty small).  I also resowed other bare spots with more beet seed, and most of it seems to have come up. 

Earlier sown beets are growing--one or two getting big--most small.  Some onions forming little bulbs now.  Celery looking lush and leafy.

No sign of parsnips, so I hoed away the weeds in its patch and relegated it to the brassica section (right next to it) for replanting with young kale and spring broccoli.

Earliest sown carrots in planters are at about finger size now--probably as big as they'll get, given the size of the planters.

Shallots in Roots bed all have big flower heads on them.  None harvested yet.

Peas and beans

I harvested all the broad beans over the month of June, and cleared them away at the end of the month.  Their patch, and the adjoining failed parsnip patch, has been replanted with young kale and spring broccoli.

First batch of early peas was harvested and cleared away:  resown with rutabaga seed.  Lots of mange tout peas harvested in June, but not cleared away.  Maincrop peas and second batch of earlies still growing but formed plenty of pods.

Nearly all dwarf French beans up and growing, but no flowers yet.  Only about nine runner bean plants survived the slugs (40 seeds sown).  Growing quickly but no flowers yet.

Brassicas

As mentioned above, kale and spring broccoli planted out.  Rutabaga seeds sown but no plants appeared yet.  A few earlier sown rutabaga growing.

Two cauliflowers harvested in June, one small one big (both given away).  Two plants left, one of which has a nice head growing;  the other plant is spindly and has no head.

Been thinning and eating summer cabbages as greens--none forming heads yet.  Two very large Savoy cabbages (leftover from last winter) are forming heads--the outer leaves of one of them stretch about three feet across (!!).

Brussels sprouts and broccoli growing nicely in the holding bed.  New winter cabbages growing well in seed tray, soon to be planted out (probably after the peas are cleared away).

Miscellaneous

Planted out all the tender plants started indoors:  tomatoes, sweet corn, tomatillos, zuccini, squash, pumpkin, cucumber and melon (some of these in the ground, others in containers).  Tomatoes, cucumber and tomatillos started flowering in June.  Others are still thinking about whether or not to start growing!  One zuccini plant looks promising, at least...

Sowed a row of radish seeds in between the squash plants.

Leeks growing slowly.  Lots of chard growing, lots eaten already.  Most of the chard was self-sown and moved to the appropriate bed:  I've been pulling out (and eating) the plants which are trying to bolt. 

Lettuces in pots on the patio table are growing well--slugs haven't found them.  Been eating salads about once a week in June.  Shallots in Misc bed are beginning to flower.

Potatoes

Potato plants all about waist high now, and covered in pretty white and pink flowers.  I've staked them up where they're draping over adjacent beds.   A few volunteer potatoes (from the Misc bed) were dug up and eaten in June.

Fruit

All morello cherries harvested in June, which is a month earlier than normal.  Fruit was small and sparse and tree looks a bit stressed (it was moved over winter and has endured a hot and dry spring).

Nearly all redcurrants harvested in June.  Enough for eating out of hand, or adding to smoothies.  Began picking blackcurrants--many more than redcurrants, but still just for eating/smoothie-ing. 

Almost all maincrop strawberries harvested (around a dozen), alpine strawberries started, and sweet Kordia cherry harvest started (only a few dozen of these on the tree) in June.  Picked two gooseberries to test (not ready yet).

Plums, apples, raspberries, figs, blueberries and almonds all still growing.

Perennials and herbs

The new artichoke plants are still growing strongly, at about waist height.  No flowers on them, but I hope to pick some next year.

Rhubarb both look dead.  Hopefully they're not...

Asparagus from seed growing a bit bigger but still very small and spindly.

Sorrel flowering.

A bit more die-back on the rosemary.  Thyme, tarragon and chives have plenty of growth.  Bergamot, (new) chamomile and mint still growing.  Chervil (in pots) finished.  Dill in pot going to seed.  Summer savory in pot growing nicely.  Sowed more dill and basil in pots, and parsely in the ground:  none sprouted yet.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

June 2017 Food Totals

Vegetables:

2 oz spring onion
10.5 oz salad greens (lettuce, baby chard)
14.5 oz mange tout peas
46.5 oz broad beans
10.5 oz peas
9 oz cauliflower
24 oz cabbage
38.5 oz chard
1 oz new potatoes

Does not include fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, tarragon, chives, chervil) which were too small a quantity to weigh, i.e. less than 0.5 oz.   Does not include my garlic harvest (about 80 heads) which was not weighed

Total: 156.5 oz

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

Fruit: 

10.5 oz mixed berries (red and black currants, alpine and maincrop strawberries)
10 oz morello cherries


Total:  20.5 oz

Not included:  1 sweet cherry

Eggs:

Total: 152 eggs from 12 hens
Total feed bought: 2 bags layers pellets (40kg total), 1 bag growers pellets (5kg total)


(Note:  for one week a neighbor collected our eggs, and we didn't get a record of those)

Preserves:
 
1 medium jar of apple and pear vinegar from storebought fruit scraps


Homebrew:  

Cider, elderflower wine, rhubarb wine, elderberry/blackberry wine still fermenting. No new homebrew begun

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Cucumber flowers--hopefully cucumbers to follow!

Photo of young cucumber plants, climbing up sticks and mulched with chopped straw
Cucumbers in the cold frame
My patio cold frame was a riot of cool weather salad-y things such as miner's lettuce, arugula, and lamb's lettuce this spring--nearly all self-seeded.  Half of it still has self-seeded calendula (tons of pretty orange flowers), but the other half has been cleared away entirely.  I mulched it thickly with chicken bedding (manure and straw, maybe a month old) and planted up my cucumber seedlings. 

I stuck in some woody trimmings from elsewhere in the garden for the cucumbers to climb, and they are growing nicely--and beginning to flower!  I still have my upturned plastic bottle waterers to keep them moist, and the mulch helps retain water too, as the cold frame is in a very warm and sheltered spot, and can dry out quickly if it's a hot day.

Last year I planted my cucumbers in the ground in the main veg patch, and most of the young plants got eaten by slugs;  only one survived and we only got one or two fruits off it.  Only small fruit, I should add.  It was a fairly warm summer, but the first two weeks after planting were still cool and rainy, and the plants couldn't keep up with the slug damage.  The one that survived was also badly damaged and took a long time to recover.

This year I planted out later, and decided not to put them in the ground at all.  It's been an unusually dry spring and early summer, and slugs haven't been as rampant as the past few years--I probably could have got away with putting them in the ground after all.  Still, in the cold frame's best, as it's the warmest spot in the garden and has plenty of good chicken manure (and lots of red worms--how did they get in there?) to make the plants grow.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Planting in succession

Photo of a small patch of broad bean plants next to a patio
Tall broad beans, small broad beans
Since the Peas/Beans bed is followed on in the same season by Brassicas, it means ruthlessly clearing away plants as soon as they've finished producing.  I did this a few days ago with the first batch of early peas:  I pulled them up and immediately resowed their patch with rutabaga seeds. 

The broad beans are nearly finished too, and I've already cut down about half of them, but won't replant/resow the bed until they're all gone--probably within the next week. 

Lastly, the mange tout peas are also just finished, only they're a bit harder to get out--they're fully entangled with the maincrop peas!  The early peas too were mixed up with the maincrop, but as they were only about 18-24 inches tall, it was fairly easy to distinguish them.  Not so with the mange tout, which are the same height as the maincrop:  about 5 feet tall.  Oh well, I'll give it my best shot, and if all else fails, I can cut them down but leave them on the maincrop peas.  I'll still be able to plant under them.  I'm leaving the maincrop for drying anyway, so it doesn't matter if they're a bit smothered.

As for the spent pea and bean plants, they got chucked to the chicken yard, for them to scratch over and pick at.  They should be lovely compost in a few months.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Let the vegetables begin, 2017

First broad bean harvest, May 2017 (now in June, they're nearly gone!)
We had bought our last vegetables of the season last weekend:  a bag each of carrots and onions, and a rutabaga.  We will henceforth eat only garden veg, hopefully for the next five months (till 20 November) as per my One Year Goal.

Truthfully, we could have stopped buying a couple weeks ago:  things are really taking off!  I harvested the garlic (loads!) the day before I went to the hospital;  I was away from home for a week and the husband picked (to give away) a big bunch of peas, broad beans and a very respectable cauliflower.  The chard has also taken off, and it's really time to think about thinning--and eating--the summer cabbages. 

The only thing we're lacking right now is a good source of onions.  I have a few small spring onions, but the maincrop onions aren't much bigger, and the shallots are still green and growing.  I have a lot of little leeks but we won't eat them till winter/spring.  I suppose I could sow some more spring onions, but I just don't seem to have the knack for them--they mostly don't appear:  slugs, I suspect.  Maybe I'll try them in a pot.

As I'm not quite up to full strength following my hospital stay, I'm glad most of the hard work is already done in my garden.  Time for harvesting and enjoying, and hopefully a bit of preserving;  I've already frozen some extra broad beans, and I think I better start drying chard leaves (they go great in a stew or casserole).

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Taking a break

Photo of a garden bed with a cabbage and cauliflower, both in front of flowering peas
Big cabbage, center; smaller cauliflower to the left (and one hiding behind); peas flowering at back
I've got a non-emergency, non-life-threatening health condition for which I need a hospital stay.  I can't say just how long I'll be away;  hopefully no more than a week or two, but right now things are a bit uncertain so it may be longer.  I've still got a few garden tasks undone, which the husband may have to take over! 

As it is, I won't be updating here for just a little bit.  Hopefully I'll see you back here very soon and don't worry about me, I'll be just fine.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

May 2017 garden recap

Photo of a block of young celery plants in a garden bed
Celery in its trench in Roots bed (herb bed behind)
Roots

I've harvested a couple garlic bulbs now:  both good size.  I'll probably get all the rest in June and cure for storage;  some will go for eating, some will go for planting in October/November.  The shallots in this bed are flowering and look fantastic above ground, but I didn't tried pulling any yet to check their bulb growth.  I think they are meant to be harvested once they die down;  they aren't even close, unlike the garlic.

Still no evidence of parsnip.  A few beets growing, and more beet seed sown in May.  I put down some coffee grounds on top of the rows after sowing to deflect slugs, although it looks as though it needs topping up again after a few rain showers.

Onions in clusters looking happy and strong, though still small.  Celery planted out in a trench at the end of May, growing well.

Peas and beans

Starting picking broad beans at last!  More to come.  The spring sown plants are much bigger than the autumn sown ones, and seem to have formed their pods pretty much at the same time, though the autumn sown ones flowered first. 

The first batch of early peas flowered quickly and is now covered in tiny pods, with some flowers yet to come.  Mange tout peas also just started forming at the end of May, but none harvested this month.  Maincrop peas just beginning to flower at the end of May.

Sowed pre-sprouted French beans and runner beans towards the end of May, and French beans began popping up, though no runner beans yet.

Second batches of early and maincrop peas still short and not doing much (we had an unusually warm and dry May, which may have affected their growth).

Brassicas

Of the seven original cauliflowers, three are looking leafy and healthy, and one is still clinging on;  the others disappeared completely.  Summer cabbages in the holding bed are growing quickly, as are the broccoli and Brussels sprouts seedlings.  There seem to be two winter cabbages still in last year's Brassicas bed (this year's Misc bed), which were hiding under the sprouting broccoli.  I cleared away the sprouting broccoli in May and suddenly those cabbages have started into action.

I sowed trays of more winter cabbage, kale, and sprouting broccoli in May, all intended for winter/spring eating.

Miscellaneous

With the last of the spring sprouting broccoli cleared away from the Misc bed, I now have a nice clear space for planting out.  However, the tender plants (tomatoes, squashes, etc) stayed in my kitchen window for the month, waiting until the middle of June to plant out. 

Chard transplanted earlier growing well, as are half the leeks (the other half are in the holding bed, probably to be planted out in late summer).  The spring sown shallots are not as advanced as the autumn sown ones in the Roots bed. 

Lettuces sown early in the year still producing (cut and come again types), but later sowings keep disappearing, even in trays up on the patio table. 

Potatoes

Potato plants growing huge (mid-thigh height) and some forming flowers already!  Just letting them get on with it, and not planning on digging them up till autumn (or till they die back).

Fruit

Fruit growing well but sparsely on:  plum, sweet cherry, both apples, fig.

Fruit more abundant on sour cherry, but tree looks a little stressed;  it was moved over winter, and May has been a dry month, considering.  Lots of nuts on almond tree.

Lots and lots of berries on redcurrant and blackcurrants.  Modest amounts on the few strawberries and alpine strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries, blueberry.

No fruit on Williams or Asian pears.

The seven year old helped me drape bird nets over both cherry trees (both are about as tall as me) and the redcurrant (nearly tall as me).  I netted the strawberries on my own (ran out of netting so did it DIY style).

Perennials and herbs

This year's artichokes from crowns began putting out good growth in May, at last.  However, the two rhubarb both look very sad--too hot, maybe?  The one forced into growth earlier in the year looks almost dead.

Asparagus from seed sprouted up but very small and spindly (pre-sprouted it, then sowed it in a bed with annual lupins).  Lots of sorrel growth.

Rosemary has had some die-back, but hopefully will continue growing.  Lots of chive, chervil, thyme growth.  Sage looks like it's died (rotten birds!).  Mint, parsley, tarragon and bergamot growing well.  Dill (in a pot) small but growing.  Still no sign of summer savory, sown in a pot.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

May 2017 Food Totals

Photo of a small vegetable bed with two rows each of young cabbages and broccoli seedlings
Brassicas in the holding bed, May 2017
Vegetables:

49 oz sprouting broccoli
10.5 oz salad greens (red lettuce, baby chard, miner's lettuce, arugula)
39 oz broccoli leaves
4 oz mizuna
22.5 oz leek
13 oz kale
3.5 oz young garlic
5.5 oz mixed herbs (chervil, sorrel, thyme, leek, garlic, etc)
10.5 oz chard
3 oz broad beans

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

Total: 160.5 oz

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

Fruit: 

No fruit harvested this month

Eggs:

Total: 201 eggs from 12 hens
Total feed bought: 2 bags layers pellets (40kg total), 1 bag chick crumb (10kg total)

Preserves:

1 medium jar salted mixed herbs (thyme, sorrel, leek, garlic, etc)

Homebrew:  

Cider, elderflower wine, rhubarb wine, elderberry/blackberry wine still fermenting. No new homebrew begun

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

2016-2017 One Year Goals Reviewed

It's the time of reckoning.  How did I do on my goals, due to finish by 31 May 2017 (today)?

1 Year Goals (by 31 May 2017)

  • Make 20 bottles of homebrew (cider, elderberry wine, blackberry wine, etc)
  • Produce 10 jars of preserves (pickles, jams, etc)
  • Track all garden harvest by weight/amount
  • Track egg production and chicken feed
  • Make a food dehydrator
  • Build an outdoor rocket stove
5 Year Goals (by 31 May 2021)
  • Fully self-reliant in vegetables, eggs and seasonal fruit
  • Raising meat
  • Greenhouse built
As you can see, not everything was accomplished.  I updated The Plan early this spring, with some similar goals and a few new ones.  Hopefully I'll get that outdoor rocket and dehydrator by the end of 2017.
Photo of a Pekin bantam hen and four black and white chicks on grass
At last, a photo of Cookie and her chicks!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

An unexpected heatwave

Though last May wasn't particularly warm or sunny, this one has been much more so.  My tomatillo seedlings in the kitchen window have been wilting from the heat--I had to move them onto the counter in the shade.  However, in our variable climate here in Britain, I don't take anything for granted and am not quite tempted to plant out those tenderest vegetables just yet.

I usually plant out tomatoes, zuccinis, squash, etc, around the first week of June, but this year I may wait until the second or third week, depending.  The ones that went out in early June last year just got eaten by slugs;  the temperatures weren't warm enough for them to grow.  Rather than risk that happening again this year, I'll wait just that little bit longer--if they aren't going to grow anyway, no point in exposing them to the slugs just yet.

Thankfully there hasn't been much slug activity this week in the heat!  The forecast is set to change in the next few days though, and no doubt they'll be back in force.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Cookie's family

As the chicks we introduced to Cookie for adoption were nearly a week old, I was more worried about them not accepting her than the other way around--and I was a little concerned about the integration of them and her own younger hatched chick.  However, all is well in the chick nursery, as Cookie and chicks seem happy with each other, and everyone is getting along just fine.

Strangely, all the chicks have the same coloring, although I'm sure her own hatched chick was meant to be yellow (and grow up to be light brown).  They're all black with white underbellies, though the hatched chick is noticeably younger/smaller than the four introduced chicks.  It's only younger by less than a week so it'll catch up in no time.  I watched Cookie showing it how to drink, and it's been tussling with the others in the food dish, so no worries there.

It's very cute to see the chicks snuggling up to their adopted mama, under her wing or on her back.  It's also adorable the way Cookie hovers over them and clucks gently to them.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Cookie did it!

As mentioned in a previous post, we set some fertilized eggs under our little broody bantam Cookie last month.  One has hatched!  I wasn't confident about their chances after a nest mishap about halfway in:  Cookie got up to stretch her legs outside of the house, and came back to sit on the wrong nest (on the day's newly laid eggs instead of her own).  When I noticed the mistake I felt her eggs--they felt a bit too cool, and I doubted their chances of hatching. 

In fact, their due date was last Tuesday, four days ago, and by Thursday morning I was calling around asking for day old chicks (to try and sneak under her at night instead, hoping she'd take them for her own hatched chicks).  That afternoon, the husband came in from changing her water, "There's a chick!"

We still got the day old chicks yesterday (actually five days old) and the husband tucked them in under Cookie under cover of darkness last night, with no fuss.  He said they cheeped at him agitatedly but shut up as soon as they were tucked in.  Here's hoping both parties (chicks and Cookie) accept the adoption smoothly.

(No photos just yet, as I don't want to stress out poor Cookie who's new to this motherhood business!)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Weeds in the perennials bed

Photo of a garden bed with various shrubs and flowers and a ground cover of weeds
Perennials (edible and ornamental) and chicken food (weeds)
I've had a bit of an internal debate about my perennials section in the back corner.  It's the least visited area of my garden, unless you count the front postage stamp of course.  I frequently visit the goldfish pond but only go into the perennial section beyond it once or twice a week.

Currently it has many shrubs, both decorative and food producing.  It also has some herbaceous, aka non-woody, perennials, but most of all it has weeds:  everywhere!  Now I'm not a fan of bare, exposed soil.  I certainly prefer weeds to that.  However, I'm torn as to whether I should leave the weeds (as they're great chicken feed), or go with the more tidy look of thick mulch;  After all, the rest of the garden is pretty tidy looking, especially compared to that riot of weeds.  You can't even tell where the paths are any more.

It's true I don't let many weeds grow in my veg beds:  they shelter slugs, the bane of my life.  Some weeds I permit, however, like the current covering of chickweed amongst the broad beans, or the occasional dandelion here and there.  I know the chickweed will die off in warm weather, and even if it didn't it's easily pulled or hoed out.  And dandelion, besides being the chickens' favorite food, doesn't take up much room either above or below ground, so a few here and there with the veg doesn't bother me;  I harvest the tops every once in a while for the chickens, leaving the roots in situ.  A whole bed of dandelions would be more of a problem, of course, but that's not the present situation.

But back to the perennials.  Right now I don't dare let the chickens in to self-harvest, as I don't trust them not to dig up the newly transplanted sorrel, or help themselves to the young redcurrants and gooseberries.  In fact, for a good proportion of the summer, they just aren't allowed back there because of the damage they do.  So either I have to cut the weeds myself and bring them to chickens, or just let them grow and grow until it's safe to let them in.

On the other hand, a thick layer of mulch will also produce some chicken feed:  bugs and slugs, although those weeds also produce bugs and slugs.  Mulch is easier maintenance--just topping up and raking it back into place every once in a while.  And it looks nicer than a tangle of weeds.  It's also good for the worms and other soil life, and in turn good for the plants.

So there's my dilemma.  On one hand, free, high quality greens (with bonus bugs) for chickens;  on the other, healthy soil resulting in healthy plants (again with bonus bugs).  Both would serve to give us high quality food, in both eggs and fruit.  But which one is best?

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Chicken yard remediation update

Photo of a patch of mustard greens with several chickens around and in it
Chickens amongst the mustard greens
In the old chicken yard the mustard greens matured--nearly flowering--when I let the chickens on it;  I didn't want the plants to flower and cross with my kale (which I want to collect seed from).  I sowed them in Jan/Feb as green manure/cover crops, to help remediate the soil back there, which had been bare for several months thanks to too much chicken pressure.

The patch I grew only covered about a quarter of the old yard--a little bit of the yard is paved, and elsewhere holds some shrubs;  however, there are still some bare spots where my seed broadcasting skills obviously failed.  Actually, I take that statement back;  it's pretty much all bare again, as the chickens demolished that patch of mustard--they loved it!

I planned to let them on it for a week, but took them off after five days as they discovered a weak spot in the fence and escaped multiple times.  The mustard is nothing but a few short stems now;  I don't know if they will regrow, but I'll get out there and sow some more seeds (mustard or something else, not sure) and try to get the whole yard this time.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The promise of fruit to come

Photo of blackcurrant blossom
Blackcurrants in flower
All of a sudden, everything's growing, especially my fruit.  It looks like a good year for nearly all of them.
Photo of immature redcurrants on the branch
Redcurrants forming
 None of my fruit trees or shrubs are very old.  The oldest is the morello cherry (planted just over five years ago), followed by the blackcurrants.
Photo of immature almonds on the branch
Tiny almonds
 It looks like the only non-player this year is the Williams pear, again.  I picked the immature fruits off the Asian pear (its pollinating partner) to encourage growth, but none of the fruit on Williams seems to have actually been pollinated.  Sigh...
Photo of several immature figs on a small branch
Baby figs
 Since the morello cherry was moved over winter, I won't be surprised if it drops its fruit before ripening, but at the moment it's covered in cute little green cherries.  We only recently finished off the last of its frozen cherries from 2016:  yum.  They make an amazing cherry pie and crumble, so much nicer than from a can.
Photo of immature cherries on a branch next to a wooden fence
Green morello cherries
The strawberries are forming little fruits too, after beginning to flower in March (?!) but none have ripened yet.  I keep trying to increase our strawberry plants, and every time I do, the chickens break out and scratch them up.  At the moment I've got about five maincrop plants and five alpine/everbearing plants.  Not enough!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

April 2017 garden recap

Photo of a young artichoke plant surrounded by mulch and weeds
Artichoke and friends
Roots

In the Roots bed I have garlic and half the shallots (the other half in the Misc bed), both started in autumn 2016 and growing strongly.  I have a small section of onions, grown in clusters from seed and planted out;  they've doubled in size since I transplanted them (started indoors in January and transplanted in March).  I also put down seed for parsnip and beet (February and March, respectively) but neither are doing much.  I've seen about four beet seedlings and no parsnip.  I also sowed three plastic containers with carrot seed in March, all of which have sprouted (yay).

I have a tray of celery seedlings (started in February) in my kitchen window growing strongly, to be planted out in June

Peas and beans

Broad beans sown in autumn 2016 are flowering, though the tallest plant is only about 12 inches (the rest are even shorter).  Spring sown seed is growing strongly and nearly taller, but not flowering yet.  Mange tout peas sown in February are shooting up their supports, with maincrop peas (March) not far behind.  First batch of early peas growing, but second batch not yet appeared (sown at the same time as second maincrop batch, which is sprouting up an inch or two now). 

Brassicas

The brassicas will share the Peas and Beans bed, but most are to transplant in after peas and beans are done.  I have about six young cauliflowers in between the broad beans and the peas, but only three look like they're growing (slugs...).  Early cabbages in the holding bed, looking happy.  Summer/autumn broccoli and Brussels sprouts just popping up from seed trays;  Brussels will go in the holding bed, though broccoli might squeeze in next to the cauliflower--if not, holding bed.

Last year's kale and purple sprouting broccoli still being harvested.  Probably get another two weeks or so off both of them (they're in this year's Misc bed).  Kale (Sutherland variety) is just beginning to flower, and I hope to save seed.

Miscellaneous

Spring planted shallots are just poking up, and a few new chard from seed.  I also transplanted some self-seeded chard here--half of which the blackbirds tore up while digging worms!  I still have plenty of this chard, however, and newer transplants look fine.  Last year's chard around the garden (not in the regular veg beds) growing strongly, and we've eaten some, and given some to the chickens.

I have leek seedlings growing in trays to transplant out later (my book suggests planting them out after early potatoes are lifted in June/July, but I have no early potato plants in my Potatoes bed).

I have some lettuce growing in my cold frame, and keep trying to sow more seed unsuccessfully (slugs? probably).  Might have to sow it indoors.

Also have tomatillo, tomato and cherry tomato seedlings popping up in a tray in my kitchen, for planting out in June.

Potatoes

I dedicated a small bed for maincrop potatoes, and also planted a few elsewhere as I had leftovers.  None have appeared yet, although some volunteers have sprouted up in random places.  We always have some but never know where they'll appear!

Fruit

All fruit trees (except the two young peaches and the little crabapple) have been/are flowering and all seem to have set some fruit, although it's hard to tell with the Williams pear and the Kordia cherry just yet.  I picked the immature fruits off the Asian pear tree after flowering, to encourage it to grow bigger (it fruited last year at the expense of growth, and is still about four feet tall with only three tiny branches).

Blackcurrants covered in flowers, and redcurrant forming small berries.  Both alpine and regular strawberries flowering, blueberry and raspberries flowering.

Little fig tree has 20 or more figs, growing well.

Perennials and herbs

Two artichokes grown from crowns this spring are alive, but haven't made much growth since planting out early in the month. 

I forced one rhubarb crown starting in January for two small harvests;  it's now regrowing without the forcer (aka black plastic bucket), as is the other crown (unharvested).

Asparagus all dead it seems, but am attempting more seeds (none sprouted yet).

Sorrel all moved from main veg patch to the Perennials bed out back, growing well with lots of leaves.

Been regularly picking new growth of rosemary, chives and thyme.  Planted out the tarragon, growing strongly.  Sage planted out and torn up by birds (why!?) and now protected with a plastic mesh tray--looks very sad.

Still have a little bit of self seeded parsley, and mint is regrowing.  Bergamot in a pot is growing well, to be planted out soon.  New sowing of chervil in pots is growing well.  Also sown but not appeared yet:  dill and summer savory (both in pots).

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

April 2017 Food Totals

Photo of a tangle of miner's lettuce and arugula, next to three seed trays filled with random seedlings
Inside the cold frame, April 2017
Vegetables:

1 oz carrot
1 oz spring onion
22.5 oz kale
8 oz salad greens (miner's lettuce, arugula, red and green leaf lettuces)
1 oz rhubarb
40.5 oz sprouting broccoli
12.5 oz chard

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

Total: 86.5 oz

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

Fruit: 

No fruit harvested this month

Eggs:

Total:  235 eggs from 12 adult hens
Total feed bought: 2 bags layers pellets (40kg total)

Preserves:

No preserves made this month


Homebrew:  

Cider, elderflower wine, rhubarb wine, elderberry/blackberry wine still fermenting. No new homebrew begun

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Off season brewing

Photo of four demijohns, filled with a variety of different colored liquid
New brew
In my brewing cellar (aka behind a chair in the corner of the living room), I've got another couple of batches of new homebrew.  Still brewing away from last summer is 4L of elderflower wine.  This stuff is pretty potent;  we've been slowly drinking the first batch (both started around the same time), and while strong, it's also pretty sweet.  I prefer it with ice and lemon, and maybe a little water. 

There's still 4L of cider bubbling away too, from last autumn.  I anticipate both of these will be bottled up in late spring/early summer.  I won't be making more elderflower wine this year--we've got plenty!  But certainly more cider, as we've already finished the previous batch.

Newly brewing away are 4L each of rhubarb wine and elderberry/blackberry wine.  Both of these were harvested last summer/autumn and frozen at that time--all five demijohns were still occupied.  However, once they were free, I got these two new batches going.  Although I've done elderberry before, blackberry is a new one;  we picked a couple of small tubs of each, and I figured I might as well throw them all in together (turns out I missed a tub of elderberries though, as I discovered them at the back of the freezer the week after I began the batch). 

We have one bottle of three year old elderberry wine, and several bottles of one year old wine.  I think the younger wine is too harsh, but the older wine mellows nicely.  And we have so much elderflower and rhubarb wines I may try making a bit of vinegar from them too--always good for cooking.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Broody hen

Our little one year old Pekin bantam Cookie has gone broody.  As part of my master plan for self-sufficiency in chickens, raising our own chicks is priority, with the expertise of a broody hen.

None of our other hens, in our 6 or so years of chicken keeping, has considered broodiness, so this is as new to us as it is to Cookie;  she was raised by us in a box in our dining room, after being hatched at the breeder's house.  We're taking a chance on her by buying some fertilized eggs (we've got six Orpington eggs);  hopefully she's committed and will sit on them the full three weeks--and then go on to raise them, as there's not much point in brooding them only to abandon them as hatchlings.  Though we could step in at that point and bring them back to the dining room...

But that's not ideal.  We're hoping Cookie can raise us some healthy, independent chicks, with little to no intervention from us.  And if she's successful, the next step would be to keep a breeding rooster of our own (as Tiny rooster, our English game cock, is too small to successfully mate with any of our hens, even Cookie).  So come on, Cookie:  you can do it!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Peas and beans, April 2017

Photo of a small row of broad bean plants in flower, with chickweed in between
Dwarf broad beans interplanted with chickweed
In this year's Peas/Beans bed, I already have broad beans and peas up and growing.  I actually sowed the broad beans last autumn, and they've been hanging on ever since;  in the photo above, they're flowering now.  I also sowed a second batch this spring to fill in gaps in the row--these younger plants look a bit healthier leaf-wise, but aren't near flowering yet.

Last year I had maybe four or five broad bean plants survive, which I heroically saved for seed (I got about 10 seeds...sigh).  The rest are from new bought seed;  I think the spring sowing was from my own saved seed actually.  Let's hope it performs better this year.
Photo of young pea plants growing up supports made from buddleia trimmings stuck in the ground
Mange tout, with pea sticks
The rest of the bed is growing peas now, of three separate varieties;  I kind of had to plant them next to each other because of space constraints, so I hope I can keep them growing up their own supports and not all jumbled up!  I've got a batch of mange tout (I think we call them snow peas where I come from) really growing quickly, and two batches each of early and maincrop peas.  I hope to dry the maincrop peas for winter use, and keep the early peas for eating fresh.

Because I have both the peas and broad beans starting off so early, I hope to be able to grow a catch crop of French beans and/or runner beans in their places once they finish in early summer, and then in early autumn, I will be transplanting winter brassicas after the French/runner beans are finished.  I hope my timing is right, as I really don't have any space left in this bed for any more plants--I even had to sow the second batch of maincrop peas in the perennials section (it's just sprouting up now).

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

My seed "bed"

Photo of an old wooden table covered in various seed trays and plastic tubs and pots of plants
Seed trays and containers on the patio, April 2017
My gardening manual, The Complete Guide to Self Sufficiency, by John Seymour, advocates a separate bed just for sowing seeds to be transplanted out.  My regular garden year book suggests this too, as do the backs of various seed packets.  I haven't made such a bed, since previous years' experience has taught me that direct-seeded plants rarely survive in my garden.  There are a few exceptions (chard and mizuna have self seeded pretty successfully this spring), but most of my seedlings either get mown down by slugs very early on, or just never appear at all. 

I try to raise most of my vegetables and annual flowers as transplants, to give them a better chance of surviving slug attacks.  Some of these are tender and raised indoors first (tomatoes, cucumber, etc), but a lot can be sown in trays outdoors this month.  I keep them high up, like on a table, to minimize slug attacks;  like being directly in the ground, they're just as vulnerable in a tray if it's on the ground too.

For the most part I space the seeds at regular intervals in the trays, unless the seeds are too small to handle, like celery or snapdragons;  these are broadcast, but I try to limit their numbers to around 20-30 seeds per tray.  It's really easy to accidently tip out a hundred of these tiny seeds, and they're a real pain to prick out when all clustered together.
Photo of carrot seedlings close up
Carrot seedlings in a container, April 2017
Pricking out:  when seedlings have grown a true leaf or two, I will try to prick out these little plants into regular spacing, usually into a new tray to make it easier on myself.  In February I sowed a tray with a third each of lobelia, snapdragons, and tobacco flowers, then went on to prick them out into their own separate trays.  After I pricked out all the plants I could possibly want--about 30 of each, including some for gifts--I tipped out the remainder into the compost.  

As for the seedlings which I'm able to space regularly in the trays:  brassicas, leeks, etc, I try to grow these on in their trays until they become fat little plants and transplant them into the ground.  They're usually around 2 inches apart in their trays, giving them enough room to grow for about 6 weeks before needing more space anyway.

There's one vegetable I grow exclusively in containers, and that is carrots (I have the double whammy of slugs and carrot fly).  These I broadcast and don't bother pricking out.  I'll thin them out as they grow bigger, and eat the thinnings--or the seven year old will, or the husband will...they're very popular here.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

I have a lawn

Photo of a little boy sitting cross-legged in a homemade tent on a small lawn
Seven year old in a willow wand/bedsheet tent we made
Though my food yields would no doubt be bigger without it, some of my property is still given over to grass. 

We live in a mild, rainy climate which can support a lawn quite easily, with no extra watering.  When I first moved to this house, the lawn out back was substantially larger than it is now;  it covered more than half the garden, with small flowerbeds around most of the edges.  Gradually we made those beds larger, and eventually dug up the grass in the back corner for a veg plot (now given over to perennials, both ornamental and edible).  There is still a sizeable portion of lawn, however.

When I first mentioned the possibility of digging out the lawn to replace with veg beds, the husband was not convinced.  He thought we should keep some of it for recreational purposes, and I admit, having a bit of lawn to sit on during sunny days is nice.  The lawn is also a good source of chicken food which they harvest themselves, as long as we fence them in.  It's not all just for looks, you know!

But a few years later, he told me that he would agree to replacing the grass entirely if I wished.  And really, I do want to add more veg beds--I never have enough room to plant everything I want! 

At the moment, I've got all the sunny locations near the house in veg production.  Moving past the big patio and to the back of the garage is the last place (in full sun, that is) not in food production:  it houses the umbrella-style clothes line on a patch of lawn.  This autumn, I may move the clothes line to a slightly shadier place (still part sun) on the remaining lawn, and dig that patch over.  It would add another 2m x 2m ish bed for growing some veg, and hopefully increase my yields. 

The only downside is that this new bed would be detached from all the other veg beds, and not visible from the house.  I like having all the beds close to the house where I can keep an eye on them for pests or other problems. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Purple sprouting broccoli, hooray!

Photo of purple sprouting broccoli forming on a big leafy plant
It's sprouting
I've been waiting just about a year for this moment:  I sowed the seeds last spring, grew the young plants on in my holding bed, and transplanted them out after the summer peas were finished, in late summer.  I vigilantly picked caterpillars and eggs off them every day for a month, to keep them from being stripped (they've been completely defoliated by caterpillars in previous years).  They grew all autumn and winter--in fact they even outgrew their stakes and flopped over (two are still staked up, at least).  But all the while, they've been just taking up leafy space, with no harvest from them.  Until now.

Purple sprouting broccoli doesn't grow a big central head like storebought broccoli;  it grows little shoots all over the plant, which are time consuming to harvest, I'll admit.  The first shoots are picked--I use scissors--then new, smaller shoots grow in their place which are then harvested, then new smaller ones grow, and so on.  This plant is a labor of love, from its long growing time to its little-by-little harvest.  But it's one of the few vegetables to be harvested this early in the spring, and a very welcome change to our diet:  particularly if we were eating solely from the garden (wish we were but not quite there yet).

I have around a dozen plants, all in 2016's peas/beans/brassicas bed, except for two which somehow evaded notice in the old holding bed.  Now they're all sprouting, I expect to pick them every two or three days--left too long, the shoots will flower, which are still edible but not as nice (a bit soft for cooking, and spicy when raw).  There have been years where I let them get away from me, and lost a large proportion of the harvest to flowers.  I'll be diligent this year and if I have to, will freeze any excess.  Hopefully it won't come to that though, and we'll eat it all up as it comes--it's laborious enough without the extra preparation of freezing!