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


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.


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).


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.


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.


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


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. 


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


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)

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


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