Saturday, February 25, 2017

Start of spring sowing

Wide shot of vegetable garden beds in winter with garlic and broccoli plants growing
Garlic and broccoli, mainly
Now coming up to March, when the sowing begins in earnest, I'm getting a head start on the earliest plants.  Inside, I sowed a small tray of lettuce and spring onions, which have already been transplanted to the cold frame on my patio.  Also inside, next to the artichoke crowns growing merrily, is a tray of onions from seed.  I grew them from sets last year, and while some were of moderate size, none were big.  Some didn't grow much at all.  I thought I'd save money and grow from seed this year, which usually give me small to medium onions too.

In late autumn I planted out some shallot bulbs, many of which are sprouting well.  This week I planted another 20, though they had to go in the Misc. bed as the Roots bed is now pretty full:  I sowed three rows of parsnips too.  I've never grown shallots or parsnips before, here's hoping they survive.

In the Peas and Beans bed, I planted out some newly sprouting mange tout peas;  last year I started sprouting them in a bag before sowing, this resulting in a higher success rate than sowing without sprouting.  I don't know what happens to them, if it's birds, mice, slugs or what, but they just don't appear.  I've got a similar bag with broad beans which haven't sprouted just yet--soon, though.  I've two rows of autumn sown broad beans growing (pre-sprouted, too), though pretty small yet.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Winter cabbage, still standing

Photo of a head of cabbage with moth eaten outer leaves
Savoy type cabbage, Feb 2017
From November (when we began buying vegetables again, instead of eating solely from the garden), there hasn't been much on offer outside.  I've been waiting impatiently for the cabbages to get just a little bigger!  The variety is January King 3 and I sowed the seeds in trays in July 2016, I think.  They then lived in the holding bed until late summer when I transplanted them after pulling up the meager broad beans. 

A few of the heads never grew very big, although the ones planted directly where the broad beans were (instead of a foot or more away) seem to be bigger by a fairly large margin.  That section of garden soil was badly affected a few years ago when the neighbor put up his new fence;  he really overloaded the concrete for the posts which ended up leaching out too much lime, causing a major pH change.  At that time, pretty much everything in that bed died:  vegetables, flowers, and even weeds.  After a year, the first plants (weeds actually) began growing back;  close to three years on, it's still less fertile than the rest of the vegetable beds but much recovered. 

We've eaten a couple cabbage heads now, and there are several left, but only one or two have nice large heads.  Still, a little cabbage is better than no cabbage, and I'll be more careful this year to transplant them right on top of where beans were, not to the side.  Incidently, I handpicked the cabbage moth caterpillars off them and all the other brassicas every day for a whole month (I stopped after a month, being utterly sick of it, but the caterpillars didn't), but recently I noticed there are a couple still alive!  I can hardly believe it, seeing as it's February and there have been multiple very hard frosts.  How are they surviving??  I didn't have the heart to squash them, though.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Plan, updated for 2017

View from back door, Feb 2017
For my own personal records, I wrote down The Plan, 3rd Edition last month.  I keep it and all my garden notes and thoughts in a folder in my bedroom.  Sometimes I have a lot to write down, and then again it might be months before I add something new.  I've been keeping this folder of garden notes for several years, though I think the first time I started writing dates on them was in 2013.

The Plan at the beginning of this blog was actually written in my garden folder in January 2015, and was the Revised Edition.  I have an earlier one from 2013.  The 3rd Edition is similar to both of these, but with some new One Year goals (Five Year goals are pretty much the same):
  • Make/buy/obtain food dehydrator
  • Build an outdoor rocket stove
  • Reduce chicken fee to 20 kg (1 bag) per month
  • Erect a fence/wall in front garden and deep mulch front beds
  • Extend self sufficiency in vegetables by 1 month (5 months total)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Chicken yard recovery

Photo of a garden bed covered with fresh laurel leaves
Laurel leaf mulch
Since my chickens are still under cover because of the bird flu order, I'm trying to quickly rehabilitate the areas they destroyed last year.  Since we first started our flock about 5 years ago, we've always rotated them around the lawn and ornamental beds, giving them about a week or so in each section.  For the first few years they even had a moveable coop along with the moveable fence.  When our flock grew too big for the small coop, we built a larger stationary one, placed at the center back of the property, and so they had a small permanent yard along with their moveable fence.

About two years ago we were given a big wooden walk-in coop, and relocated them to the back corner of the property.  In order to access all the sections, their permanent yard became a lot bigger.  And they were really hard on it over the last year, especially since there are more chickens than even (currently 14).  Their yard has been compacted and bare with only the odd nettle for greenery--there are some shrubs, but all the lower leaves are gone, even on the holly and rhododendron (don't think they're supposed to eat these)...

Since they're off their usual yard, I've taken steps to restore the soil there, and the biggest is by mulching.  I don't mulch much because it's prime slug habitat, but in this case, mulch is a great solution.  I don't care about slugs so much in winter, and even if they did congregate, there's not really anything for them to eat here.  Instead, the mulch attracts worms and other soil organisms which will aerate and enrich the soil as they pull the top layer of chicken poo downward.  True, worms doen't need mulch to do this, but as they don't like sunlight, without mulch they only work at night instead of constantly.  I need them to work as hard as they can!

Now, as you can see from my photo, I used a rather unusual material as mulch.  I cut back my overgrown laurel hedge and trimmed all the branches;  it's the leaves I used as mulch.  It's been about a month since I put them down:  they're still green and fresh looking.  I don't know how long it'll take them to decompose!  But that's ok, too.  I don't need the mulch to decompose;  I need it to cover and protect the soil as it regenerates.  It's working, too.  When I go out there, I see all the new worm castings, compared to the non-mulched areas which have few or none.  Too  bad I ran out of laurel leaves before I ran out of chicken yard.

Even when the bird flu order ends, I plan on excluding the chickens from their old yard until at least late summer or longer, to give that area the best chance for recovery;  I might even sow some green manure seeds, for maximum impact.  It's too shady for food growing, but just right for chicken grazing;  it would be a shame to let it go bare and unproductive again. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Garlic in winter

Photo of a few short rows of young garlic plants
Garlic and detritus, Feb 2017
It's nice that the garden book I'm following for this project, The Complete Guide to Self Sufficiency by John Seymour, has a season-by-season calendar of Things to Do;  I knew to plant my garlic in October so that it would be ready for harvest next July.  I also knew to plant it in the Roots 2017 bed, giving me a way to judge where it should go and how much room I should leave.

This bed was Misc last year, but I've kind of shuffled boundaries around to accommodate one more bed (Potatoes, which I didn't grow last year), so it also takes up a bit of what was the holding bed in 2016, too.  Next to the garlic is the shallots (a few have sprouted, but are smaller than the garlic.  There isn't a lot of room left in the Roots bed, but I'll put parsnips and beets there a little later--here's hoping these  ones evade the slugs.

My little rows hold four plants across, planted about 2-4 inches apart.  I planted adjacent bulbs so that they're staggered;  going vertically down the row the bulbs are in a straight line, but going horizontally they're in a zig zag.  This means I can cram more bulbs in this small section.  I actually planted two batches;  the more prominent batch came from the produce section of the grocery store and the smaller plants to the left were leftover from my own harvest last year.  I planted the storebought ones about a month before my own saved ones, which I think accounts for the difference in size.

Incidently, I have a couple more volunteer garlic plants resprouting where I missed digging them up last summer;  it looks like there are three or so, but as they've grown from a full bulb instead of single cloves, they look like little bunches of grass, all packed together.  Hopefully I'll remember to get them out with the rest.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Trying artichokes again

Photo of two seed trays and potted artichoke and aloe, in a kitchen window
Seedling trays and artichokes on my kitchen windowsill
Since the chickens scratched up my artichokes from seed last year, I thought I'd try again, this time with some bought crowns.  I bought three small crowns from the local garden center, for about the same price as a packet of seeds. 

I thought I'd pot up the crowns first to get their roots going a bit, before transplanting out in March.  They're growing a few leaves on my kitchen windowsill now, next to a tray of lettuce and onions (finally popping up).

To protect them from chickens, I may construct a special chicken wire cage for their first year.  Last year's had stick and string cages which obviously weren't chickenproof!  My other concern is slugs, as the young growth of most of my plants seems to act as a slug magnet.  If I can get a good growth on them now, hopefully they can withstand some slug damage.

I've seen artichokes growing in other people's gardens nearby, so I know it can be done.  I hope it can be done by me!  I'll be planting them out in the far corner of the garden, near the goldfish pond and soft fruit;  there are both ornamentals and perennials, and I hope I can keep the artichokes alive and growing here.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Preserves taste test, February 2017

Instead of a garden recap for January--which is basically the same as December and November, i.e. not much going on--I thought I'd report about my preserves!

Since my last taste test, I've opened a few more jars of preserves.  Here's my results.

Apple chutney, from wild harvested apples and garden onion and garlic

I made this in September from apples picked at our local country park.  They were lovely big round yellow apples, fairly tart.  When I made it I tasted the batch and it was really too sharp to eat then.  We opened a jar last month and the husband has been eating it with his cheese and ham at lunch.  It's still a bit sharp for me, but a little bit is ok.  The husband however pronounced it delicious and has already finished off a full 1 L jar!  Result:  5*

Green tomato relish

This was also made in September, to use up all my green tomatoes when the plants succumbed to blight.  We've finished off a jar, and started on a second:  it goes well as a salsa substitute, though not quite as tasty.  Result:  4*

Medium jar of pickled zuccini

The zuccini for this came from a friend's garden, and I made it in August.  I wanted to make dill pickled zuccini but couldn't find dill at the store (and have been trying and failing to grow it for years:  slugs seem to love it), so I made a coriander and mustard blend instead.  The pickles themselves are lovely and crisp, and the underlying flavor of the zuccini is nice enough, but I think the malt vinegar I used was too strong and the spices were too unusual.  The pickles are ok, but not the best.  I'll make them again if I can, but choose a milder vinegar and order some dill online.  Result:  3*

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

January 2017 Food Totals

Photo of an untidy garden bed with straw mulch
Used chicken bedding as mulch in 2017's potato bed, cabbages and broccoli behind


3 oz salad greens (miner's and lamb's lettuces)
5 oz kale

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


No fruit harvested this month


Total:  146 eggs from 12 adult hens
Total feed bought: 1 bag layers pellets (20kg total)


No preserves made this month


Cider and elderflower wine still fermenting.  Rhubarb wine bottled up.  No new homebrew begun