Saturday, January 28, 2017

Suburban Permaculture Project: The Patio

Photo of plant pots on an untidy patio, the nearest growing chicory, another growing spring onions
Containers on the near patio, Jan 2017
I have two patios in the garden;  one next to the house and one further away next to the pond.  The near patio (large) we inherited with the house (our elderly neighbor tells us her husband laid it many years ago), and the far one (small) we built ourselves.

The near patio is made from light colored large paving stones, and it faces south;  it is bordered on one side by our garage and the other a tall fence.  Combining all these factors, along with the presence of the house itself, makes for a sheltered warm micro-climate.  It's possible to take advantage of the warmth and shelter by growing plants too tender to stand in the garden itself.  For example, it's here I have my young fig tree planted, and where I keep my containers of tomatoes and squashes--all of which need a bit more heat and light than my climate naturally provides.

The near patio is quite large:  about the same size as my vegetable patch.  If we were to use it just for sitting outside, as it was no doubt originally intended, it would be sadly underused!  From autumn through to spring, it's not warm enough (or dry enough most of the time!) to sit outside.  And when warm in summer, it can get unpleasantly hot, especially with the reflected heat from the house;  we prefer to sit on the small patio next to the pond, which is cooler--and where we can enjoy watching the goldfish.

Instead of a sitting area, the near patio is an extension of my vegetable garden, serving as a container garden for tender plants, a cold frame for starting off seedlings earlier, and a seed bed (seeds started in trays on a table tend to attract fewer slugs and are more likely to survive here).  I keep a garden chair or two on this patio, and I have a brick barbecue, too.  Although it's a bit cluttered, it serves several functions.

The far patio is built from unmortared paving bricks and is just big enough to hold three garden chairs.  Like the near patio, it acts as a heat sink for nearby plants, augmented by the pond itself.  Being unmortared, plants can--and do--grow between the bricks;  some of these are there deliberately like the campanula, some are just nice to have like dandelion. 

Wait, dandelion:  nice to have?  Actually, yes!  Dandelion is a choice food for chickens, so much so that we have almost none left on our property--even in the lawn.  The few we have grow between the bricks of the far patio, and since the chickens can't scratch up their roots like they can in soil, these dandelions act as cut-and-come-again salad for them.  Our chickens generally get access to this section of the garden one week out of every month, giving the dandelions plenty of time to regrow each visit.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Planning ahead for spring 2017

Photo of young clumping leek growth
Leek regrowth from plant sown spring 2015
Well, as detailed in my previous post, 2016's grand total of vegetables was 86 lb (77.5 lb from May to Dec, from the start of this blog and project).  2017's goal is to beat this total.  And in addition to that, I want to extend self sufficiency in vegetables by at least one month;  last year we bought no veg for four months, so I want to extend that to at least five months.  Here's what I'm planning for the coming spring. 

It's time for some quick growing salad vegetables, such as lettuce and spring onions.  I've got some sprouting in a tray in my kitchen window.  I'll plant them out in the cold frame next month, hopefully.  Also in February I'll be sowing the remainder of my broad beans, some parsnips, and possibly some early peas.

I have cabbage, kale, leeks, and lamb's and miners lettuces all still standing, ready for harvest;  we've had a few salads and some kale already, but I'm letting the leeks grow a bit more (new growth off of old plants).  The overwintered broad beans are small but growing slowly, and the sprouting broccoli looks good, ready to start sprouting later in spring. 

My two rhubarb crowns are showing signs of life;  I forced them into early growth for the first time last year--I'll do the same this year on one crown.  The sorrel hasn't shown signs of life yet, but was one of the earliest crops we had last year, so I look forward to it too.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Tally of garden food, 2016

Main garden Jan 2017:  garlic in lower left, kale and broc on the right, cabbages at center back
I began this project in May 2016, but didn't just start gardening at this time;  I've been gardening for many years now, and this year's garden consisted of a culmination (and continuation) of all that work.  However, for the purpose of this blog, I have tallied up my food totals from May to December 2016:
Vegetables:  1242 oz, or just over 77.5 lbs

Eggs: 1244 eggs (sounds like a lot, but we still had to buy eggs every month)

Fruit:  We had fruit every month--whether a handful of berries or a treeful of apples--from June to October.  Most was unweighed, other than 78 oz morello cherries.

In 2015 I didn't keep a record of eggs or fruit (except 56 oz cherries), but my veg total was 63 lb, counted from Jan to Dec;  my full year 2016 total was 86 lb.  Quite an improvement all around, and I expect to beat 2016's record in 2017.  No problem!  I'll be discussing my plans for the coming year's veg plot.  I've even started sowing a few seeds indoors already;  I can't wait.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

2016 Goals revisited

close up photo of gorse flowers
Gorse:  nice to see flowers in January
It's been more than six months since I made The Plan, so how are things progressing?

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
I'm up to 16 bottles of homebrew, and with 16L of various wines/ciders still in demijohns, I think I'll easily hit this target by June.  A food dehydrator and a rocket stove aren't yet started;  I did some experimenting with dehydrating-- disappointing results sent me back to the drawing board.
5 Year Goals (by 31 May 2021)
  • Fully self-reliant in vegetables, eggs and seasonal fruit
  • Raising meat
  • Greenhouse built
We did raise meat this year (we were hoping to raise just hens but got some roosters too).  We were fully self reliant in vegetables from July to November, but not in eggs or seasonal fruit.  We're nowhere near building a greenhouse, either:  we've had other priorities!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Christmas dinner from the garden? A little!

Well, this Christmas, as usual, we spent quietly at home:  just the three of us.  One of us had been in surgery less than a week before, and another was suffering from a nasty virus, but the littlest one was bright and chipper!  We had pretty simple fare for the day, and luckily managed to harvest a little from the garden.

For breakfast we had eggs Benedict, our family tradition;  we love it so much we really ought to make it more often.  We used eggs from our hens to make it. 

For our lunch we had turkey with roasted potatoes and vegetables, and from the garden I picked the entire season's harvest of Brussels sprouts:  a grand total of one whole ounce.  I don't care for store bought sprouts, but garden fresh ones are nice enough (mild cabbage flavor).  If you recall, I didn't have time to grow new season sprouts, so these ones were off two year old plants.  Luckily I have my own collected seed and will sow them for next winter/Christmas, and dig up the old ones.
A couple cabbages, waiting for harvest

I could have picked kale or cabbage from the garden;  I also still have a whole pumpkin, and some salted runner beans--but feeling so badly under the weather, I opted for just some quick sprouts (the six year old helped gather them);  the rest of the veg came from the shop.

Lastly, for dessert we had Christmas pudding which I made back in November, again using our own hens' eggs.  I usually make it about a month earlier and let it age in the fridge (traditionally aged in a dark cupboard, but I'm too nervous to risk it).

In the future, I hope to have a few more garden vegetables, including potatoes, for our main meal.  And though it probably won't be next Christmas, I'd also like to raise our own bird--whether chicken, duck, or turkey (or all three!?).  This would pretty much encompass our whole meal;  what an excellent goal.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Coping with chickens under cover

Chickens in a bird-proof net
For the last 8 weeks or so Britain has been under orders to keep all poultry excluded from wild birds, to stop the spread of bird flu.  This includes pet birds as well as commercial poultry keepers.  The order was meant to expire on 6 January, but has been extended to the end of February now;  the husband said he heard on the news that bird flu has been confirmed in parts of the country now--but thankfully not near us at present. 

To comply, we have severely confined our own flock to their house and a small covered run.  It's bird-proof, but not very big;  I'd estimate it's about 5 feet by 15 feet.  Normally they get a space about five times as big, or more!  But the alternative is to shut them in their house completely, but I can't bring myself to do so--it's just too small for 14 chickens--it would be cruel.

To keep them entertained (and to stop them bullying each other out of boredom), I've been collecting organic matter from all over the garden for them to scratch and peck.  They have a big pile of compost to play in and hunt for bugs, and there are a few shrubs in their compound, giving a tiny bit of hiding space and privacy.

The top of the compound is covered in chicken wire and is only waist high;  the six year old is the allocated keeper.  Actually, he does most of the chicken jobs anyway:  feeding, watering, shutting them in, letting them out, and collecting eggs.

I may try to gather a sack or two of leaves or garden trimmings from a neighbor or the local park, to throw on their compound floor.  I also have a moldy old straw bale that had mushroom spawn in it, so I might chuck that whole thing in (no doubt they'd love to scratch it to pieces!). 
A few of the inmates

Hopefully the deadline will end by March:  no more extensions.  Either way, by that time I anticipate a lot of miserable chickens.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

December 2016 garden recap


Rutabagas, celeriac and remaining beets still too small, and most likely only to go to seed now; time to pull them out.   The 2017 garlic and shallots are growing strongly. 

Peas and beans

The 2017 broad beans are about 2-4 inches tall and have not minded the several sharp frosts we had this month.


Of all the standing brassicas--kale, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts--only the sprouts got harvested: a whole 1 oz for Christmas dinner.  These were harvested off last year's (2015) plants.  Still a handful of baby sprouts on the stems, but probably not going to get much bigger.


No activity in Misc this month.  I let the chickens onto 2017's Misc bed (last year's Peas and Beans) to clean it up and fertilize.


The morello cherry tree was moved from the center of its bed to the back;  some random raspberry canes moved from the veg bed back to the soft fruit patch.  All fruit trees/bushes gone dormant.

Perennials and herbs

No activity in the perennials.  Harvested some rosemary and thyme this month, but all other herbs dormant.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

December 2016 Food Totals


2 oz salad greens (miner's and lamb's lettuces)
1 oz Brussels sprouts

Does not include fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme) 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. 


No fruit harvested this month


Total:  132 eggs from 12 adult hens
Total feed bought: 2 bags layers pellets (40kg total)


No preserves made this month


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