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