Friday, May 25, 2018

Taking kale cuttings

This is all new to me, but I randomly found a forum post on about taking cuttings from tree collards.  And I noticed that my kale, which I had just cut back hard because it was starting to flower, had new little shoots that looked just like on this forum post.  So I gave it a try:  I picked off four of these new shoots, and planted two in the ground and two in a pot.

The ones in the ground just wilted--too hot for them, I think.  The ones in the pot I put in my garage, under the window but not in direct sunlight.  I also put a plastic bag over the pot--and what do you know, a couple weeks on, there's a little root poking out of the bottom of the pot!

Now I've taken off the bag, put the pot outside (on the patio in partial shade), and am hoping for the best.  If they're still alive in a week or two they might go into the Holding bed with the rest of the winter brassicas, to be transplanted out at the end of summer. 

And I've taken a few more shoots off the kale, and one off the purple sprouting broccoli.  Who knows if they'll take?  I've even begun cutting off spring cabbage heads, leaving the roots in situ rather than pulling the whole thing up--in the hopes they'll resprout and I can try with them too.  Growing from cuttings is way less labor intensive than from seed--and free, too!  I'll report back with my results.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Planting out the Misc bed

At last, I'm starting to populate the Miscellaneous bed, the only bed with any empty space left.  As I changed the boundaries of the veg beds from last year, going from four defined beds to three (and a small Holding bed), this bed was Roots last year, but part of it was also Misc with a tiny bit of Brassicas.  I want to make sure I practice crop rotation, and Misc two years in a row isn't great, but I'm working around it.

This bed got a thick layer of used chicken bedding (manure and straw) over winter.  It still has a small patch of last year's celery I'm trying to save seed from, the purple sprouting broccoli and two kale plants;  but for the most part is still pretty bare.  This past week I've put in my nine new achocha seedlings (a new to me cucumber relative), a couple red leaf lettuces, and some Aztec broccoli seeds (can't remember the actual name, but it's not a true broccoli). 

As the purple sprouting broccoli has now finished, I'm cutting it down gradually to give to the chickens--as I don't want to overwhelm them with all of it at once.  I'll plant out my sweetcorn seedlings in their place, and carry on with the tomatillos, squashes, and zuccini.  Soon there won't be any room here either--actually, when I look at it, I don't know how I'm going to fit in everything!  Squashes might have to go in the Perennials section again this year.

Sorry- still no photos!  I'm too busy (i.e. lazy) to take any. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Unusually warm

Last year we had a warm early summer.  That was the very first in my entire 13 years of living in this country--the other 12 were cool and rainy.  This May has been similar to last year, though I'm not ruling out a switch back to cool for the month of June.  Still, it's prompted me to get my runner and French beans out earlier, and I've got tomatoes and squashes outside hardening off for planting out in a week or so.

Because we had a late, cold winter however, some things have had a later start:  like my fruit tree blossoms.  The almond tree was a month late in flowering and I wonder if it'll have time to ripen--I've been harvesting normally in October, and I don't know if it can carry on if it's a month late in ripening too.  The rest of the fruit should manage though, as the latest I normally harvest is September (for Sparta apples).  And some fruit seems exceptionally early anyway, like the figs:  it's only just putting out new leaves but has some nearly full sized new fruits--can't wait for those!

I'll exercise caution when planting out the most tender veg, but in the meantime I'll enjoy the unseasonable weather while it lasts.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The wonder of chard

If the husband and son were willing, I'd be ready to start 2018's No Bought Vegetable Challenge right now.  It would mean giving up carrots and onions though, and really upping the intake of chard;  currently I'm drying and freezing all the excess chard, as I don't think we could physically eat it all right now!

Chard is such a winner in my garden:  it usually adds up to the most harvested vegetable by weight, self seeds readily, and isn't troubled much by slugs or other pests.  And it keeps on giving over the whole growing season from spring till late autumn, and even a little in winter.  And I like to cook it with anything:  curry, stew, stir-fry, casseroles...

The other day I picked nearly three pounds of chard--last year's crop is starting to go to seed, so I'm getting all I can off it before it goes over.  I've never seen leaves so big!  And because it's still early in the season, not many bugs on them (often a few earwigs and spiders like to hide in the crinkly bits).  I used to cut the leaves off with scissors but now usually just pull them off, sometimes twisting a bit if the stems are really big--which they were this time.

I took them inside to soak for twenty minutes or so in the sink, but had to divide into two batches since they wouldn't all fit at once.  Then I cut the leaves off the stems (and the thicker mid-ribs), putting the leaves to dry and chopping the stems up to freeze.  I've got nearly a full bag of stems in the freezer now, after doing this for the past several weeks.  And a couple jars of dried chard leaves, for reconstituting into stews and casseroles later in the year.

Because the above-mentioned challenge will last for a full six months this year, I'm proactively preserving anything extra to help tide us over when pickings get slim later in the year.  In future years, I hope to be fully self-reliant in vegetables year round, and getting into the habit of storing chard and other leafy greens is an integral part of that.

New season chard is getting bigger too, and will be ready to harvest within the next few weeks, right about the time last year's finishes. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

The chicken tractor

The fence around my veggies is tall enough to keep eight of ten hens out--of the other two, one is guaranteed to jump it if given the chance (I still haven't forgiven her for destroying my new leeks).  She's a small, lightweight chicken and very industrious with her scratching--and extremely tenacious about escaping:  she doesn't give up!  The other one is a different breed but the same build;  luckily she's a lot more lazy and less inclined to jump.

So to let all chickens have access to the delights of the non-veggie parts of the property, I needed a way to keep this extremely hardworking aka destructive hen confined to where I want her.  I don't want the flock to free range now--I want to concentrate their efforts on a smaller area at a time, as well as give them fresh ground every day.

So I made a very flimsy chicken tractor.  It's pretty much two pieces of chicken wire threaded together at the top, with some pieces of cane and willow wands for a little added stability, forming a long pyramid-shaped tunnel.  It's about five or six meters long, and maybe 75 cm wide by 75 cm high.  Big enough for two chickens to pass each other and light enough for me to move by myself--provided there are no chickens in it!

Our mother hen Cookie and her four chicks (almost completely feathered now) get the tractor from early morning until I get home from work at 2 pm.  They then get confined to their rabbit hutch and small patch of lawn, and the adult flock get to go in. 

I can attach the tractor to the chickies' little fence quite easily--they can come and go as they please.  To get the chickens in, I have to be a little more crafty:  I lure them in with their daily soaked corn ration.  They follow me out of their gate into the garden and I pour a little of the corn about a foot inside the tractor and it doesn't take long for them to work out how to get inside for their treat;  one or two sometimes need a little help.  This is also how I get them back to their yard when tractor time is done.

I don't put any of their regular layers pellets in the tractor:  just water.  I want them to eat the grass/weeds/bugs/etc (they're not starving:  they've all just stuffed their gullets with corn)!  There is also no shade or protection from the elements in the tractor.  If it's really raining I just don't bother but keep the chickens in their yard, where they shelter under the trees or in their house;  I've also delayed letting them out in hot sunshine until it cools down a bit.  But on the whole, I try to get them in the tractor at around 2 pm and back in their yard for at least 7 pm, or even later now that days are getting longer.

This isn't a permanent solution.  When we lose our escape artist (and she's getting on a bit), I'll go back to our regular rotation system--moving chickens weekly over four or five sections of the property.  But honestly, this isn't so hard either:  I would say it takes about 10 minutes a day, and I can fob off some of it on the husband or eight year old!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

This bed is full!

By far the most intensive bed in my veg plot is the Peas and Beans, which also doubles as the Brassicas bed.  During summer it's mainly the former, and for the rest of the year it's the latter.  Right now it's a slightly eclectic mix of both, with two kinds of cabbage, a kale and some purple sprouting broccoli all leftover from last year; several batches of peas, plus newly planted runner and French beans.  There's a few cauliflower too--and not to mention radish, turnip, and kohlrabi seedlings newly coming up.  This bed is full!

So my trays of Brussels sprouts, kale, and broccoli will have to crowd together in the Holding bed, until there's some room at the end of summer, when they can finally transplant out at more reasonable spacing for autumn and winter harvest. 

I won't be planting summer brassicas this year;  last year they were badly damaged by caterpillars and consequently little was harvested.  But on the other side, I really ought to get my act together and put some protection on the young brassicas in the holding bed before the butterflies come out in force (any day now).

Friday, May 4, 2018

April 2018 garden notes


Sowed small batch of beets and scorzerona in April;  a few beet seedlings appeared.  No sign of parsnip sown last month, but still hoping for a few.  Carrot seedlings up, sown in March (in containers).

Planted out onions, and the earlier sown leek seedlings which the chickens promptly scratched up;  I put plastic trays over the onion seedlings and they're still safe (ran out of trays).  Resowed the leek bed with seed directly, and did a quick tray indoors too.  I have a tray of already sprouted leeks still to plant out, luckily.

Garlic looking good;  a few shallots growing.  Harvested a couple of the biggest self-divided leeks (from 2016).  Still about a dozen or so of these (small) leeks to hopefully transplant and self-divide some more.

Peas and beans

Flowers on (winter sown) dwarf broad beans;  spring sown broad beans about the same height as dwarf:  20 cm or so and no flowers yet.

Maincrop peas growing strongly, now as tall as the broad beans.  Early and mange tout peas more sparse (probably slugs) but growing.  Planted out a small second batch of mange tout, just coming up at the end of the month.

Put a batch each of runner beans, French beans, and two kinds of peas to sprout for planting out in May.


Harvested all bolting winter cabbages;  remaining plants aren't forming heads yet but at least aren't bolting--will leave in place until one of these things happen.  Began harvesting spring cabbages grown in the cold frame (huge!).

Began harvesting purple sprouting broccoli at the end of April.  Cut down kale trying to flower, in hopes it will regrow--put the leaves to dry and the stems in a stew.  Harvested a small amount of self-sown mizuna.

Potted on Brussels sprouts seedlings at the end of the month.  Sowed a few rows of radish, turnip and kohlrabi.  Also sowed turnips in a separate bed which held chickens for much of the winter (lots of manure, though it's fairly shady so we'll see).  Some of these (and radishes) now sprouting.

Sowed two varieties of kale in trays outside, one of which has sprouted.


Began harvesting overwintered chard in earnest:  leaves to dry and chopped stems in the freezer.  New self-sown chard popping up all over the garden.

Couldn't keep up with the miners lettuce though I did my best!  Started to go to flower at the end of the month, though still harvesting it and a small amount of arugula (also flowering).

Sowed a few small containers with spring onions, sprouting by the end of the month.  Still harvesting a few overwinted spring onions (also in containers).  Sowed two trays of lettuce outdoors but none appeared yet by the end of the month.

Sowed a tray of cardboard tubes indoors with sweetcorn, achocha (a new-to-me cucumber relative), and tomatillo, all of which began sprouting.

Sowed a tray indoors of celery and a tray of regular and cherry tomatoes, and some pots of sweet and hot peppers, all sprouting up by the end of the month.


Soft fruit flowering or forming flowers:  whitecurrant, blackcurrant, redcurrant, raspberries, gooseberries, strawberries, blueberries.

Tree fruit flowering:  almond, peach (though by the end of the month it looks like only one or two have set), plum, both pears, both cherries.  Both apples formed lots of buds and just starting to open at the end of the month.  Fig putting out new leaves and tiny fruits, though still small.  Young grape vines forming leaf buds.

Perennials and herbs

Sowed dill seed in containers but none appeared by the end of the month.  Self-sown summer savory coming up, however!  Harvested a small amount of chives and over-wintered parsley.  Thyme still growing, and mint finally came up at the end of April, but no sign of tarragon (fingers crossed).

Rhubarb growing well, but will not harvest till next year in the hopes it'll grow bigger (still a small plant).  Artichoke growth amazing, however!

Sorrel regrowing after much chicken grazing--they're now excluded from it.  No sign yet from asparagus.