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

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). 


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.


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.


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!


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

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. 


No fruit harvested this month


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


No preserves made this month


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