Saturday, June 24, 2017

Planting in succession

Photo of a small patch of broad bean plants next to a patio
Tall broad beans, small broad beans
Since the Peas/Beans bed is followed on in the same season by Brassicas, it means ruthlessly clearing away plants as soon as they've finished producing.  I did this a few days ago with the first batch of early peas:  I pulled them up and immediately resowed their patch with rutabaga seeds. 

The broad beans are nearly finished too, and I've already cut down about half of them, but won't replant/resow the bed until they're all gone--probably within the next week. 

Lastly, the mange tout peas are also just finished, only they're a bit harder to get out--they're fully entangled with the maincrop peas!  The early peas too were mixed up with the maincrop, but as they were only about 18-24 inches tall, it was fairly easy to distinguish them.  Not so with the mange tout, which are the same height as the maincrop:  about 5 feet tall.  Oh well, I'll give it my best shot, and if all else fails, I can cut them down but leave them on the maincrop peas.  I'll still be able to plant under them.  I'm leaving the maincrop for drying anyway, so it doesn't matter if they're a bit smothered.

As for the spent pea and bean plants, they got chucked to the chicken yard, for them to scratch over and pick at.  They should be lovely compost in a few months.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Let the vegetables begin, 2017

First broad bean harvest, May 2017 (now in June, they're nearly gone!)
We had bought our last vegetables of the season last weekend:  a bag each of carrots and onions, and a rutabaga.  We will henceforth eat only garden veg, hopefully for the next five months (till 20 November) as per my One Year Goal.

Truthfully, we could have stopped buying a couple weeks ago:  things are really taking off!  I harvested the garlic (loads!) the day before I went to the hospital;  I was away from home for a week and the husband picked (to give away) a big bunch of peas, broad beans and a very respectable cauliflower.  The chard has also taken off, and it's really time to think about thinning--and eating--the summer cabbages. 

The only thing we're lacking right now is a good source of onions.  I have a few small spring onions, but the maincrop onions aren't much bigger, and the shallots are still green and growing.  I have a lot of little leeks but we won't eat them till winter/spring.  I suppose I could sow some more spring onions, but I just don't seem to have the knack for them--they mostly don't appear:  slugs, I suspect.  Maybe I'll try them in a pot.

As I'm not quite up to full strength following my hospital stay, I'm glad most of the hard work is already done in my garden.  Time for harvesting and enjoying, and hopefully a bit of preserving;  I've already frozen some extra broad beans, and I think I better start drying chard leaves (they go great in a stew or casserole).

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Taking a break

Photo of a garden bed with a cabbage and cauliflower, both in front of flowering peas
Big cabbage, center; smaller cauliflower to the left (and one hiding behind); peas flowering at back
I've got a non-emergency, non-life-threatening health condition for which I need a hospital stay.  I can't say just how long I'll be away;  hopefully no more than a week or two, but right now things are a bit uncertain so it may be longer.  I've still got a few garden tasks undone, which the husband may have to take over! 

As it is, I won't be updating here for just a little bit.  Hopefully I'll see you back here very soon and don't worry about me, I'll be just fine.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

May 2017 garden recap

Photo of a block of young celery plants in a garden bed
Celery in its trench in Roots bed (herb bed behind)
Roots

I've harvested a couple garlic bulbs now:  both good size.  I'll probably get all the rest in June and cure for storage;  some will go for eating, some will go for planting in October/November.  The shallots in this bed are flowering and look fantastic above ground, but I didn't tried pulling any yet to check their bulb growth.  I think they are meant to be harvested once they die down;  they aren't even close, unlike the garlic.

Still no evidence of parsnip.  A few beets growing, and more beet seed sown in May.  I put down some coffee grounds on top of the rows after sowing to deflect slugs, although it looks as though it needs topping up again after a few rain showers.

Onions in clusters looking happy and strong, though still small.  Celery planted out in a trench at the end of May, growing well.

Peas and beans

Starting picking broad beans at last!  More to come.  The spring sown plants are much bigger than the autumn sown ones, and seem to have formed their pods pretty much at the same time, though the autumn sown ones flowered first. 

The first batch of early peas flowered quickly and is now covered in tiny pods, with some flowers yet to come.  Mange tout peas also just started forming at the end of May, but none harvested this month.  Maincrop peas just beginning to flower at the end of May.

Sowed pre-sprouted French beans and runner beans towards the end of May, and French beans began popping up, though no runner beans yet.

Second batches of early and maincrop peas still short and not doing much (we had an unusually warm and dry May, which may have affected their growth).

Brassicas

Of the seven original cauliflowers, three are looking leafy and healthy, and one is still clinging on;  the others disappeared completely.  Summer cabbages in the holding bed are growing quickly, as are the broccoli and Brussels sprouts seedlings.  There seem to be two winter cabbages still in last year's Brassicas bed (this year's Misc bed), which were hiding under the sprouting broccoli.  I cleared away the sprouting broccoli in May and suddenly those cabbages have started into action.

I sowed trays of more winter cabbage, kale, and sprouting broccoli in May, all intended for winter/spring eating.

Miscellaneous

With the last of the spring sprouting broccoli cleared away from the Misc bed, I now have a nice clear space for planting out.  However, the tender plants (tomatoes, squashes, etc) stayed in my kitchen window for the month, waiting until the middle of June to plant out. 

Chard transplanted earlier growing well, as are half the leeks (the other half are in the holding bed, probably to be planted out in late summer).  The spring sown shallots are not as advanced as the autumn sown ones in the Roots bed. 

Lettuces sown early in the year still producing (cut and come again types), but later sowings keep disappearing, even in trays up on the patio table. 

Potatoes

Potato plants growing huge (mid-thigh height) and some forming flowers already!  Just letting them get on with it, and not planning on digging them up till autumn (or till they die back).

Fruit

Fruit growing well but sparsely on:  plum, sweet cherry, both apples, fig.

Fruit more abundant on sour cherry, but tree looks a little stressed;  it was moved over winter, and May has been a dry month, considering.  Lots of nuts on almond tree.

Lots and lots of berries on redcurrant and blackcurrants.  Modest amounts on the few strawberries and alpine strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries, blueberry.

No fruit on Williams or Asian pears.

The seven year old helped me drape bird nets over both cherry trees (both are about as tall as me) and the redcurrant (nearly tall as me).  I netted the strawberries on my own (ran out of netting so did it DIY style).

Perennials and herbs

This year's artichokes from crowns began putting out good growth in May, at last.  However, the two rhubarb both look very sad--too hot, maybe?  The one forced into growth earlier in the year looks almost dead.

Asparagus from seed sprouted up but very small and spindly (pre-sprouted it, then sowed it in a bed with annual lupins).  Lots of sorrel growth.

Rosemary has had some die-back, but hopefully will continue growing.  Lots of chive, chervil, thyme growth.  Sage looks like it's died (rotten birds!).  Mint, parsley, tarragon and bergamot growing well.  Dill (in a pot) small but growing.  Still no sign of summer savory, sown in a pot.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

May 2017 Food Totals

Photo of a small vegetable bed with two rows each of young cabbages and broccoli seedlings
Brassicas in the holding bed, May 2017
Vegetables:

49 oz sprouting broccoli
10.5 oz salad greens (red lettuce, baby chard, miner's lettuce, arugula)
39 oz broccoli leaves
4 oz mizuna
22.5 oz leek
13 oz kale
3.5 oz young garlic
5.5 oz mixed herbs (chervil, sorrel, thyme, leek, garlic, etc)
10.5 oz chard
3 oz broad beans

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: 160.5 oz

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

Fruit: 

No fruit harvested this month

Eggs:

Total: 201 eggs from 12 hens
Total feed bought: 2 bags layers pellets (40kg total), 1 bag chick crumb (10kg total)

Preserves:

1 medium jar salted mixed herbs (thyme, sorrel, leek, garlic, etc)

Homebrew:  

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

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
Roots

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). 

Brassicas

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.

Miscellaneous

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.

Potatoes

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!

Fruit

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
Vegetables:

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. 

Fruit: 

No fruit harvested this month

Eggs:

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

Preserves:

No preserves made this month


Homebrew:  

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

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Off season brewing

Photo of four demijohns, filled with a variety of different colored liquid
New brew
In my brewing cellar (aka behind a chair in the corner of the living room), I've got another couple of batches of new homebrew.  Still brewing away from last summer is 4L of elderflower wine.  This stuff is pretty potent;  we've been slowly drinking the first batch (both started around the same time), and while strong, it's also pretty sweet.  I prefer it with ice and lemon, and maybe a little water. 

There's still 4L of cider bubbling away too, from last autumn.  I anticipate both of these will be bottled up in late spring/early summer.  I won't be making more elderflower wine this year--we've got plenty!  But certainly more cider, as we've already finished the previous batch.

Newly brewing away are 4L each of rhubarb wine and elderberry/blackberry wine.  Both of these were harvested last summer/autumn and frozen at that time--all five demijohns were still occupied.  However, once they were free, I got these two new batches going.  Although I've done elderberry before, blackberry is a new one;  we picked a couple of small tubs of each, and I figured I might as well throw them all in together (turns out I missed a tub of elderberries though, as I discovered them at the back of the freezer the week after I began the batch). 

We have one bottle of three year old elderberry wine, and several bottles of one year old wine.  I think the younger wine is too harsh, but the older wine mellows nicely.  And we have so much elderflower and rhubarb wines I may try making a bit of vinegar from them too--always good for cooking.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Broody hen

Our little one year old Pekin bantam Cookie has gone broody.  As part of my master plan for self-sufficiency in chickens, raising our own chicks is priority, with the expertise of a broody hen.

None of our other hens, in our 6 or so years of chicken keeping, has considered broodiness, so this is as new to us as it is to Cookie;  she was raised by us in a box in our dining room, after being hatched at the breeder's house.  We're taking a chance on her by buying some fertilized eggs (we've got six Orpington eggs);  hopefully she's committed and will sit on them the full three weeks--and then go on to raise them, as there's not much point in brooding them only to abandon them as hatchlings.  Though we could step in at that point and bring them back to the dining room...

But that's not ideal.  We're hoping Cookie can raise us some healthy, independent chicks, with little to no intervention from us.  And if she's successful, the next step would be to keep a breeding rooster of our own (as Tiny rooster, our English game cock, is too small to successfully mate with any of our hens, even Cookie).  So come on, Cookie:  you can do it!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Peas and beans, April 2017

Photo of a small row of broad bean plants in flower, with chickweed in between
Dwarf broad beans interplanted with chickweed
In this year's Peas/Beans bed, I already have broad beans and peas up and growing.  I actually sowed the broad beans last autumn, and they've been hanging on ever since;  in the photo above, they're flowering now.  I also sowed a second batch this spring to fill in gaps in the row--these younger plants look a bit healthier leaf-wise, but aren't near flowering yet.

Last year I had maybe four or five broad bean plants survive, which I heroically saved for seed (I got about 10 seeds...sigh).  The rest are from new bought seed;  I think the spring sowing was from my own saved seed actually.  Let's hope it performs better this year.
Photo of young pea plants growing up supports made from buddleia trimmings stuck in the ground
Mange tout, with pea sticks
The rest of the bed is growing peas now, of three separate varieties;  I kind of had to plant them next to each other because of space constraints, so I hope I can keep them growing up their own supports and not all jumbled up!  I've got a batch of mange tout (I think we call them snow peas where I come from) really growing quickly, and two batches each of early and maincrop peas.  I hope to dry the maincrop peas for winter use, and keep the early peas for eating fresh.

Because I have both the peas and broad beans starting off so early, I hope to be able to grow a catch crop of French beans and/or runner beans in their places once they finish in early summer, and then in early autumn, I will be transplanting winter brassicas after the French/runner beans are finished.  I hope my timing is right, as I really don't have any space left in this bed for any more plants--I even had to sow the second batch of maincrop peas in the perennials section (it's just sprouting up now).

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

My seed "bed"

Photo of an old wooden table covered in various seed trays and plastic tubs and pots of plants
Seed trays and containers on the patio, April 2017
My gardening manual, The Complete Guide to Self Sufficiency, by John Seymour, advocates a separate bed just for sowing seeds to be transplanted out.  My regular garden year book suggests this too, as do the backs of various seed packets.  I haven't made such a bed, since previous years' experience has taught me that direct-seeded plants rarely survive in my garden.  There are a few exceptions (chard and mizuna have self seeded pretty successfully this spring), but most of my seedlings either get mown down by slugs very early on, or just never appear at all. 

I try to raise most of my vegetables and annual flowers as transplants, to give them a better chance of surviving slug attacks.  Some of these are tender and raised indoors first (tomatoes, cucumber, etc), but a lot can be sown in trays outdoors this month.  I keep them high up, like on a table, to minimize slug attacks;  like being directly in the ground, they're just as vulnerable in a tray if it's on the ground too.

For the most part I space the seeds at regular intervals in the trays, unless the seeds are too small to handle, like celery or snapdragons;  these are broadcast, but I try to limit their numbers to around 20-30 seeds per tray.  It's really easy to accidently tip out a hundred of these tiny seeds, and they're a real pain to prick out when all clustered together.
Photo of carrot seedlings close up
Carrot seedlings in a container, April 2017
Pricking out:  when seedlings have grown a true leaf or two, I will try to prick out these little plants into regular spacing, usually into a new tray to make it easier on myself.  In February I sowed a tray with a third each of lobelia, snapdragons, and tobacco flowers, then went on to prick them out into their own separate trays.  After I pricked out all the plants I could possibly want--about 30 of each, including some for gifts--I tipped out the remainder into the compost.  

As for the seedlings which I'm able to space regularly in the trays:  brassicas, leeks, etc, I try to grow these on in their trays until they become fat little plants and transplant them into the ground.  They're usually around 2 inches apart in their trays, giving them enough room to grow for about 6 weeks before needing more space anyway.

There's one vegetable I grow exclusively in containers, and that is carrots (I have the double whammy of slugs and carrot fly).  These I broadcast and don't bother pricking out.  I'll thin them out as they grow bigger, and eat the thinnings--or the seven year old will, or the husband will...they're very popular here.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

I have a lawn

Photo of a little boy sitting cross-legged in a homemade tent on a small lawn
Seven year old in a willow wand/bedsheet tent we made
Though my food yields would no doubt be bigger without it, some of my property is still given over to grass. 

We live in a mild, rainy climate which can support a lawn quite easily, with no extra watering.  When I first moved to this house, the lawn out back was substantially larger than it is now;  it covered more than half the garden, with small flowerbeds around most of the edges.  Gradually we made those beds larger, and eventually dug up the grass in the back corner for a veg plot (now given over to perennials, both ornamental and edible).  There is still a sizeable portion of lawn, however.

When I first mentioned the possibility of digging out the lawn to replace with veg beds, the husband was not convinced.  He thought we should keep some of it for recreational purposes, and I admit, having a bit of lawn to sit on during sunny days is nice.  The lawn is also a good source of chicken food which they harvest themselves, as long as we fence them in.  It's not all just for looks, you know!

But a few years later, he told me that he would agree to replacing the grass entirely if I wished.  And really, I do want to add more veg beds--I never have enough room to plant everything I want! 

At the moment, I've got all the sunny locations near the house in veg production.  Moving past the big patio and to the back of the garage is the last place (in full sun, that is) not in food production:  it houses the umbrella-style clothes line on a patch of lawn.  This autumn, I may move the clothes line to a slightly shadier place (still part sun) on the remaining lawn, and dig that patch over.  It would add another 2m x 2m ish bed for growing some veg, and hopefully increase my yields. 

The only downside is that this new bed would be detached from all the other veg beds, and not visible from the house.  I like having all the beds close to the house where I can keep an eye on them for pests or other problems. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Purple sprouting broccoli, hooray!

Photo of purple sprouting broccoli forming on a big leafy plant
It's sprouting
I've been waiting just about a year for this moment:  I sowed the seeds last spring, grew the young plants on in my holding bed, and transplanted them out after the summer peas were finished, in late summer.  I vigilantly picked caterpillars and eggs off them every day for a month, to keep them from being stripped (they've been completely defoliated by caterpillars in previous years).  They grew all autumn and winter--in fact they even outgrew their stakes and flopped over (two are still staked up, at least).  But all the while, they've been just taking up leafy space, with no harvest from them.  Until now.

Purple sprouting broccoli doesn't grow a big central head like storebought broccoli;  it grows little shoots all over the plant, which are time consuming to harvest, I'll admit.  The first shoots are picked--I use scissors--then new, smaller shoots grow in their place which are then harvested, then new smaller ones grow, and so on.  This plant is a labor of love, from its long growing time to its little-by-little harvest.  But it's one of the few vegetables to be harvested this early in the spring, and a very welcome change to our diet:  particularly if we were eating solely from the garden (wish we were but not quite there yet).

I have around a dozen plants, all in 2016's peas/beans/brassicas bed, except for two which somehow evaded notice in the old holding bed.  Now they're all sprouting, I expect to pick them every two or three days--left too long, the shoots will flower, which are still edible but not as nice (a bit soft for cooking, and spicy when raw).  There have been years where I let them get away from me, and lost a large proportion of the harvest to flowers.  I'll be diligent this year and if I have to, will freeze any excess.  Hopefully it won't come to that though, and we'll eat it all up as it comes--it's laborious enough without the extra preparation of freezing!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

You eat what? Unusual perennial edibles

Photo of a leafy daylily plant with a pond behind
Daylilies by the pond
Some of my more ornamental perennials also happen to be edible, although I confess we only nibble them occasionally.  Case in point:  daylilies.

Daylilies

Known more for their pretty orange lily-like flower (apparently true lilies are poisonous--don't eat them!), every part of this plant is edible, from its roots to its flowers.  Mainly I harvest the tender young shoots of leaves in early spring, just as they appear, and eat them there and then.  They taste a bit like a cross between lettuce and onion.  When the leaves get bigger, they're a bit too tough to eat raw, and though I've added the flowers and buds to stir fries, I've never tried the roots;  I don't have a big enough supply to actually dig them up yet.

Campanula

Another pretty perennial, campanula has spread itself all around my garden, including along the entire edge of my house where it meets the driveway (there is no soil here, only asphalt).  The leaves of campanula are edible, as are its cute purple flowers.  I only pick a few here and there in summer, to mix with other salad greens.

Sorrel and rhubarb

I guess people are more likely to know these two are edible!  We are more likely to eat both in the spring when there are fewer choices of vegetables in the garden.  Both are a bit sour, and for rhubarb, this adds a pleasant tang to savory stews and stir fries;  sorrel is more likely to be added to mixed leaf salad like campanula, or if I'm feeling adventurous, a creamy sauce--it goes well on salmon.
Photo of young sorrel leaves sprouting in a garden bed
Sorrel

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

We are what we eat: herbal!

Photo of two cabbage plants completely surrounded by a sea of nasturtiums
Nasturtiums smothering cabbages, 2016
Perennial herbs

By far, the best herbs for me are the perennials:  they require little work and keep coming back every year.  True, they don't all come back every year;  I seem to have lost the marjoram and I actually managed to kill a mint?!  Here's my tally of perennial herbs currently still alive:
  • Rosemary
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme
  • Chives
  • Sage
  • Mint 
  • Sorrel
  • Lemon balm
  • Bergamot
Of all of these, tarragon is probably my favorite, but rosemary is the biggest and most used.  Lemon balm and bergamot are more used for scent than flavor.

Annual herbs

I do my best with the annual herbs every year, but the slugs love them as much as we do.  I almost never get basil because of slugs;  even when grown in pots on the patio table it's been demolished.  However, I've had success with:
  • Chervil
  • Parsley
  • Arugula
  • Nasturtiums
  • Calendula (this and the above two are pretty good self-seeders)
We eat nasturtium leaves as a cooking herb (I like to eat them raw, but the seven year old finds them too peppery);  I use calendula to make a soothing salve although it too is edible.

Trying to grow

I've got seeds for summer savory and Chinese chives (garlic chives), neither of which I've managed to grow before;  the chives are a perennial, so hopefully I can get them going this year.  And I'll probably try basil yet again;  wish me luck!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

March 2017 Food Totals

Photo of a garden bed with shallots and garlic growing strongly
Shallots on left (small), garlic on right (huge)
Vegetables:

27.5 oz cabbage
21 oz kale
6 oz salad greens (miner's and lamb's lettuces, arugula)
3 oz rhubarb
6 oz sprouting broccoli

Does not include fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, chives) which were too small a quantity to weigh, i.e. less than 0.5 oz.  

Total: 63.5 oz

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

Fruit: 

No fruit harvested this month

Eggs:

Total:  206 eggs from 12 adult hens (at last our little Pekin bantam is laying, but old Red hen--a rescue--died of natural causes)
Total feed bought: 1 bag layers pellets (20kg total)

Preserves:

No preserves made this month

Homebrew:  

Cider and 4L elderflower wine still fermenting.  4L each of rhubarb wine and elderberry/blackberry wine begun brewing (rhubarb from a friend's garden, elderberries and blackberries wild harvested, all out of the freezer from 2016)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

An unexpected flower...

Photo of two hyacinths flowering in a garden
Hyacinths, Mar 2017

Photo close up of a plum blossom with a house in the background
Plum blossom, Mar 2017

Photo of a clump of many daffodils
Daffodils, Mar 2017
My garden is full of spring flowers right now, from daffodils, primulas and hyacinths, to blossoming fruit and nut trees.  But there's one kind of flower I was not expecting:  strawberries!
Photo of an alpine strawberry plant in flower
Strawberry flowers(?!), Mar 2017
I grew these little strawberries from seed last spring and they obligingly gave a little harvest all summer long (about one berry per plant per week).  The variety is Baron Solemacher;  as an alpine strawberry, the fruits are pretty small.  However, I was not expecting them to flower in March--our usual strawberry season is July, with flowers in June.  Does this mean we'll get some April strawberries?  Watch this space.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Almond in blossom

Photo of almond flowers on bare branches
Almond blossom
My little almond tree began flowering earlier this month;  I love its pretty pink blossoms.  The variety is Robijn, grafted onto a dwarf/semi-dwarf rootstock.  I've had it several years and have had a harvest off it for the past two years.

Almonds come from a hotter, drier climate than cool rainy Britain, but luckily my Robijn doesn't seem to mind too much.  Because it flowers so early in the spring, however, it needs help with pollination;  the majority of bees aren't out yet--too cold still.  I've seen one or two bees this past week--and a few flies which can also pollinate--but to ensure I get a meaningful harvest, I've been hand-pollinating.

Two years ago I hand-pollinated and got 25 almonds as my very first harvest.  Last year I didn't:  it was raining;  I didn't want to go out there!  But as a result, I only got four almonds total.  This year it's rained, but luckily it's also been sunny;  I've been out most days with a feather, pollinating all the flowers I can reach.  The tree is probably about eight or nine feet tall now, so I can't reach all of them--and I'll probably prune it down this summer back within reach.  But I hope for a good hundred or so almonds this year.  I may have to invest in a sturdy nutcracker.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A look at my cold frame

Photo of three young artichoke plants in pots on a garden bench on a patio
Artichokes on bench, cold frame behind
My cold frame is a ramshackle structure which used to be our sofa;  it was a hand-me-down from a relative and I never liked it--either the upholstery or the actual design;  I took it apart and kept the wood/particle board frame from the seat section for growing some food.

This I filled with some rough organic material like woody trimmings and other uncomposted garden waste, a fairly thick layer of chicken bedding (manure and straw), and finally some garden soil mixed with a bit of bought potting compost.  I topped it with a glass shower door we've had for many years. 

The first year I grew some seedlings to transplant into the main garden:  things like chard and lettuce, and attempted to grow some beets and carrots.  The carrots failed completely, but I got maybe ten small beets (about the same amount grew in the main garden bed, too:  not a good year for beets).
Photo of a raised bed with young arugula plants and plastic bottle waterers
Inside the cold frame, March 2017
To assist with watering--I think lack of water was the main difficulty with beets--I've got some self-watering units which I made from plastic bottles.  The capless bottles have the bottoms cut off and are stuck deep into the soil neck down.  They're then filled with water, which drains out slowly into the surrounding soil, keeping things moist for longer.  Without these, I've sometimes needed to water my containers twice or even three times a day;  with them, I can go up to a couple days between watering.

At the moment I've got lettuce and spring onion seedlings in the cold frame, along with some self-seeded arugula and miner's lettuce.  I've also got my artichokes in pots, to be transplanted out soon.  Over winter I had a few young cauliflower plants growing slowly, but they've recently been transplanted into the main garden now the light levels are higher and the temps a bit warmer.

Once the lettuces and spring onions are gone, I hope to load it up with fresh chicken manure and grow some cucumbers and/or tomatoes (I attempted both last year with little success--slugs, I think).  It's in a warm place next to the house, facing south.  Prime growing for heat-loving plants here during our cool summers.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Green manure

Photo of a garden bed in early spring with lots of seedlings
Green manure (mustard), daffodils and hundreds of hedge garlic seedlings (weeds)
In November (I think), I broadcast seeds from a winter green manure mix in the perennial/ornamental section of the garden.  I know for certain it had mustard and winter grazing rye, although I think there may be one or two more other kinds of seed too.  As far as I can tell, only the mustard germinated at that time, and has been growing slowly over winter. 

I'm actually pretty impressed by the mustard's tenacity;  it's continued to grow and is now looking pretty lush, although I would have liked for it to cover more ground than it does--which is possibly a result of my broadcasting skills.  To make up for it, there is now a blanketing of hedge garlic seedlings everywhere else in the bed.  I don't mind this, to tell the truth.  It's a weed, yes, but as I don't have anything else to grow there, I'd rather the soil was covered by it than by more pernicious weed (such as blackberry brambles or creeping buttercup).  Plus the chickens eat it, and it's even edible for us humans.
Photo close up of mustard and rye seedlings
Mustard and rye seedlings
Back in last year's chicken yard, the mustard and rye seedlings and up and growing.  I put them down in late January, I believe.  I'll probably get the spring green manure mix out there too, to fill in any gaps;  I've got both alfalfa and crimson clover.  I prefer the alfalfa as a perennial chicken food source, but I sure do love those pretty crimson clover flowers--the bees and other pollinators love them too.

At this point, I don't have concrete plans for the old chicken yard, but I know chickens will be on it again in the future, so some perennials (either ornamental or food producing) are in order--preferrably shade tolerant.  Green manure now will help keep the weeds at bay and prepare the soil for future plantings;  chickens can eat it when it matures, too.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Eating a bit more from the garden

Photo of a ragged Savoy cabbage head in a garden bed
The last cabbage, March 2017
The very last cabbage worth eating (though honestly there are still about four or so tiny ones destined for chicken feed) is also pictured in a previous post on winter cabbage.  It's grown bigger since then, but I suspect it wants to go to seed like the Tuscan kale (now all eaten).  Time to harvest!  New cabbage seeds are now sown for summer/autumn eating.  Winter cabbage seeds will be sown again later in the year.

We're still having the occasional salad from miner's and lamb's lettuces, and this week I harvest the first young arugula plants--so tasty.  They self sowed in the cold frame, along with a few miner's lettuces.  I treat the miner's as cut and come again, but the lamb's and arugula were cut/pulled whole.  The six year old (incidently he's now seven, so now I'll be referring to him as such in the future) even located and picked a couple tiny sorrel leaves.  I moved three sorrel plants from the veg beds to the perennial, and was amazed at the root length on them:  at least two feet long.  I hope they're dredging up some good minerals at that depth!
Photo of a clump of short, smooth leaf kale in a garden bed
Sutherland kale, still growing March 2017
As I mentioned, the Tuscan kale is done, but the Sutherland kale (pictured) has gone into a frenzy of new growth.  I'm planning on letting it seed this year, but until then, we'll be eating it.  I really prefer the Sutherland with its broad smooth leaves:  the Tuscan looks more traditional with upright dark green crinkly leaves, but it's got a high proportion of stem compared to leaf, and those crinkles are great for hiding creepy crawlies.  Taste-wise, they are pretty similar:  both are like a mild cabbage.  I may not bother with the Tuscan kale this year, or possibly just make a late sowing for winter use only;  it survived the winter well, and we even had a few meals off it during the coldest part.

Not pictured is the celeriac harvest from last month, two whole roots with a grand total of three ounces combined.  They were tasty, I'll give them that.  But worth it?  Well, I admit they were also in the poorest soil in the garden--they probably would have been bigger (and not so dead) in better soil.  I'm trying regular celery this year, but I still have celeriac seed so it may get another chance for next winter... 

Food totals are certainly up in February and March compared to the winter, and nearly all of it is from 2016's plants.  I'm very pleased with the planning and foresight of my garden manual, The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency;  I have a succession of vegetables planned and nearing harvest (such as purple sprouting broccoli and a few leeks), not just the standard summer and autumn harvest. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Forcing rhubarb

Photo of an upturned bucket surrounded by a few broken bricks and one on top
Fancy rhubarb forcing equipment
I forced my (meager) rhubarb for the first time last year.  It was successful enough to warrant another go this year. 

I have two rhubarb plants, but as one was divided from the first, neither are very big!  I'm forcing the original crown and leaving the division to grow on a bit more.  I probably won't harvest from the little one at all this year, but let it grow a bit bigger and force it next year.

The parent plant is under a black plastic bucket, weighed down by broken concrete and pieces of brick to keep it from blowing away.  It's certainly doing its job:  the stems underneath are about four times as big as the younger plant's--and a much more vivid pinky red color.  There aren't enough of them to really do anything with except eat fresh.  Which I have done, and thoroughly enjoyed;  they are a bit sour but not overwhelmingly so, very tender with no strings, and with just a touch of savory/bitter like celery.  Most enjoyable.  Don't eat the leaves!
Photo of young forced rhubarb with bucket in background
Pretty pink rhubarb

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

We are what we eat: fungi!

Photo close up of a log with red-brown mushrooms
Wild mushrooms instead of tame
Ah fungus;  how we love them.  Not a vegetable, not a fruit.  I've read they have more in common with animals than plants, but of course, they aren't animals either!  Fungus are more than just edible:  they are excellent decomposers and work hard in the soil to break down wood and other tough materials, to make nutrients available for plants.  They can even help with remediation of toxic materials and heavy metals--though you wouldn't want to eat this kind!

But the kind we eat, whether white button mushrooms or something more exotic, can be cultivated in the garden or in the house, and it's time for me to get started once more.

Pictured is a mushroom log, innoculated with bought spores two and a half years ago.  It's sprouting mushrooms, but not the kind I innoculated!  I can't remember if it was oyster or shiitake, but I'm confident those cute little reddy-brown things are neither;  we won't be eating them, sadly.

However, I've successfully grown oyster mushrooms in the garden in the past, using strawbales.  This year, 2017, I'll be attempting to grow some more (maybe oysters, maybe other varieties), though maybe on a different growing medium than straw.  I don't have a concrete plan just yet, but I may grow them indoors in buckets/bags, and I may try innoculating some new logs too.

Mushrooms are something we buy fairly regularly, yet I'm sure we can grow them easily and cheaply.  I look forward to our own mushroom harvest again this year, and hopefully for many years to come.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Chicken freedom (ish)

At last our flock has the legal go ahead to leave their cramped, covered quarters and is once again back in the wider garden.  There are still many places, including some quite close to us, which are under the enclosure order, but we're free at last!  Mainly this means we can take their chicken wire "roof" off, and move them around the garden once again.

Though really, we think we might confine them to close quarters next winter too, to save them tearing up the lawn and garden while everything's dormant.  The grass looks a lot healthier now than it did last March (it was pretty much scalped last winter).  It might mean buying an extra straw bale or two to keep their feet out of the mud, but that's just extra compost after all.  I've spread some of the straw from their winter yard as mulch already--there's plenty to go around.

Anyway, I've set up three new paddocks at the back near their house, and they'll move through these once a week until around May (they'll be in each paddock a total of 2-3 weeks), and then we'll rotate them through at least one more paddock, and possibly the lawn.  I'm giving last year's chicken yard a good long rest;  right now it has both green manure and weed seedlings popping up where it wasn't mulched, and I want to get some good growth on it before chickens go back.  Maybe late summer or autumn even.

As an aside, Tiny rooster's crowing has become a little louder lately;  the other night, the husband grabbed him off the roost so I could adjust his little collar.  Now his crowing is quieter, except every fifth crow which is LOUD.  Think it might need fine tuning.  We really don't want a complaint about his noise:  he's too little and cute to eat.
Photo of a flock of chickens in a small ramshackle chicken wire enclosure
Let us out!  Tiny rooster second from left

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

February 2017 Food Totals

Photo of a table on a patio in winter, covered in a variety of tubs and planters
Containers on the patio, 2017's Potatoes bed behind (not planted yet)
Vegetables:

2 oz salad greens (miner's and lamb's lettuces)
14.5 oz kale
16.5 oz cabbage
3 oz celeriac

Total: 36 oz

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

Fruit: 

No fruit harvested this month

Eggs:

Total:  131 eggs from 12 adult hens
Total feed bought: 2 bags layers pellets (40kg total)

Preserves:

No preserves made this month


Homebrew:  

Cider and 4L elderflower wine still fermenting.  4L elderflower wine bottled up (sweet, but packs a punch).  No new homebrew begun 

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.