Category Archives: garden

Sowing 2014

The veg garden has undergone a redesign during the early part of this year. Partly prompted by the back log of deep bedded houses to clean out and partly so as it is easier to manage with more defined growing areas and straighter, wheelbarrow friendly paths.

Raspberry bed with sheep sulk decoration. Extra yellow raspberry canes were added to the bed early in the year and a bag of daffodils to add some spring colour to the vegetable garden ~ April 2014

Raspberry bed with sheep sulk decoration. Extra yellow raspberry canes were added to the bed early in the year and a bag of daffodils to add some spring colour to the vegetable garden ~ April 2014

There is still some work to do including some refencing, the clearing of an area and the erecting of a small polytunnel we bought seconded-hand a few years ago and the clearing and reskinning of the 30ft polytunnel we bought with us when we moved from Herefordshire some 20 years-ago but we now seem to have a much clearer vision of what the end result should look like.

Seed sowing began last month and has reached the stage of the bath and shower being filled each night with plants that are spending their days outside and the windowsills have been filled with second or third loads of trays, modules and root trainers. This year the focus has been on using what we already have in readiness to buy ‘pure’ seeds; moving away from large brightly packed seeds from multinational companies with no ethical code or care for if the seeds are suited to back garden growing to plainer packets from small UK based seed companies and handwritten notes from people with a passion for what they growing.

Oca starting off inside; these plants have such lovely leaves at this age ~ April 2014

Oca starting off inside; these plants have such lovely leaves at this age ~ April 2014

Of course new seeds have been aquired; ‘at the till’ packets have been impulsivly bought, seed swaps have been attended and a few carefully selected packs have been picked out. The most noteable of these being Oca tubes from a seed swap, a plant which I have been wanting to try for a few years and Pumpkin Nut squash which I tracked down after reading about them on The Snail of Happiness’s blog last year. How they shelled the pumpkin seeds for eating had been something I had been pondering for a while and this provided the answerer!

Germation rates have been hit and miss as some of the seed is so old, some of it with sow by dates dating back to the early 2000’s from my dad’s boxes of seeds, and I haven’t been really keeping a record of what and how much has come up instead tipping half or whole packets into pots and seeing what happens.

I haven’t kept complete records of what has been sown either as I only started in March and had already sown some tomatos and started off onion sets in pots by then but from then it is roughly as follows.

Tomato seedlings ~ April 2014

Tomato seedlings ~ April 2014

March 9th: leeks sown

March 20th: Dwarf french been sown

March 22nd: Sweet dumpling squash, cauli, lettuce and cucumber sown

April 5th: Climbing french beans (purple), black cherry tom, goldena, zuchini, black beauty and tondo di piacenza courage, uchihi kuri and pumpkin nut squash sown

Pink Fur Apple potatoes planted out.

April 13th: Yellow pear, yellow stuffer, black cherry, yellow tumbler and garden pearl tomatoes, firestorn runner beans sown

April 21st: Sunbaby, sweet million F1, darby striped and tiger tom tomatoes, Zucchini, golden and nano verde di milaon courgettes, greyhound cabbage, purple sprouting broccoli, quick heading broccoli, magic mix and all the year round cauliflower, lemon cucumber and little gem lettuce sown

My chickens have been providing a more balanced end to the slugs and snail collecting I have done, using them as a tasty treat feels a more comfortable disposal than the dilemma I was faced with before

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Winter

The seasons have slide their way smoothly from one to the next here; the mornings have a chill to them and I had began leaving for work in the dawn light before the clock change. The harvest moon bought with it heavy rain and winds to bring down the first swirls of bright yellow, orange and red coloured leaves and since Samhain some of the dark evenings have held the promise of bright frosty mornings but as yet first light has only revealed rain soaked grounds or views hidden beneath a layer of mist.

Changing forest; October 2013

Changing forest; October 2013

The sheep have busied themselves searching out acorns before the wild boar begin to creep closer to the village edge in search of easier foraging and trips out with the goats have been spent underneath the sweet chestnut tree searching out the larger nuts before the goats snaffles them up. Sweet chestnuts are my old nanny’s favourite autumn treat.

Garden

At the end of September I spent some time reorganising my front garden to make it more of a usable space instead of an ‘unfinished projects’ staging area. I cleared the spreading mass of alpine strawberries, cut back bushes and removed a compost bin from the only area of soil and found space for two raised beds. These were filled with home made compost, leaf mould and well rotted manure from the patio’s potato buckets and now boast a mixture of cauliflowers, purple sprouting and leeks. On the table in the kitchen there are paper bags of onion sets to fill in the gaps.

After more alpine strawberry clearing I have managed to turn the rest of the ground I have between the steps and the patio into two separate-but-connected areas; one has been planted with kale (which I hope will recover from the caterpillar attack) mixed with wallflowers and I shall add garlic to the area. The other patch is defined by being between a winter flowering heather and the new raised beds; this area I have added spring bulbs to borage and self-seeded feverfew amongst a few paving stones I have added for access. In the spring I plan to sow poppies, sweetpeas and sunflowers and hope some of them survive the slugs.

Livestock

During the summer we have downsized on the number of goats we have and thankfully have managed to find lovely homes for the three ‘rescue pet’ goats we had. We now have our six breeding females and a meat wether. It’s so nice to be able to spend time out on the greens with them without having to arrange for two people to be there. The reduced feed cost has also meant that we have been able to think more carefully about the feed we use and have changed to a goat mix that has no GMO ingredients; something we are trying more and more to be aware of in all areas of our purchases.

Bella and Broiny grazing the green back when with had some sun: August 2013

Bella and Broiny grazing the green back when we had some sun: August 2013

Earlier in the year we had scab in our flock of sheep, the better summer we have had has helped them recover but it has meant that none of the fleeces have been suitable for sending off to be tamed and so we are keeping everyone on for this winter. (Fingers crossed it will be mild and they won’t need too much extra feed.)

My new chooks; roosting for the night: October 2013

My new chooks; roosting for the night: October 2013

During some time off work in September I also got myself some chickens for the garden at my house. I had been toying with the idea of getting myself some hens for a while, there is nothing like collecting your own eggs from your own garden. Me and mother had gone to collect some hens for her and in amongst the barn of fowl to be rehomed were three small black chicks. I wanted them as soon as I saw them and so they also came back with us.

They have already grown a lot since I first got them and are much more use to people, where they came from was an amazing place where the chickens were safe to just run free (seemingly no fox problem there) and in the spring a lot of the hens had gone off to nest and returned with their chicks in tow a few weeks later. The fourth hen I have I don’t think has anything to do with the  chicks but they were quick to follow her lead and she is very pretty.

Tuesday, 23rd April 2013

Am: Am early start this morning as my house-mates car is in the garage for it’s MOT and I have said I will take him into work and collect him again later. After dropping him off I take a hot drink back to bed and knit for about am hour. I am making a baby hat for my new niece which is going to look amazing when it is done but seems to be building up so very slowly. After I get up again I go and start the days chores of feeding and checking on everyone and between me and mother we get most things done in a reasonable time. I spend an hour or so cleaning out one of the goat sheds which is not currently being used. The weather is glorious, it has to be the hottest day of the year so far and it is bright sunshine. The bees are making the most of it and are out flying busily.

Lunch time: At about mid-day I go back to my house to have some lunch and spend the afternoon in my garden.

Afternoon: It’s still really warm out and it is lovely working outside. I sort out bits and piece and start planting out potatoes in old flower buckets. This year I haven’t bought seed potatoes but have some bags that were sprouting and reduced in the supermarket (Shetland Blacks and Exquisa) and I’ve added a few others from the veg shop to these (Benji and Maris Piper) and have been sent some free Rocket and Piccolo Star. I only manage to plant half of the Shetland Black’s and maybe a third of the Exquisa but it is a good start. Then I carry on into the back garden and plant out the garlic I have had growing on in pots, the blackbirds here seem to love garlic and onion sets to I have taken to planting them in pots with a cover over and then planting them out when they have got going enough for the birds not to be interested.

Late afternoon/evening: After collecting my house-mate from work I go back to finish off the goats for the day. My sister is there when I get back with her baby, it’s the first time she has walked home since the baby was born and we spend some time in the kitchen before having to go off and look for some sheep that have been reported out in the next village. It’s almost 100% certain they’re not any of ours as ours are all in as there has been an outbreak of Scab mite and the free roaming animals have all had to be brought in for treatment. Ours have all been treated and we are just waiting for everyone else to before ours can get back out on some grass. There’s no sign of the sheep so after half an hour or so of driving around we go back and I finish the goats for the day and go home.

At home the Green Party candidate for the council elections drops some leaflets off as I’ve said I’ll post some through letterboxes locally. It’s still really warm outside so I carry on pottering in the garden and then sit out whilst the sun goes down and watch the bats as they start flying in the dusk

Spring signs; Rhubarb

Spring seems to be such a long time coming this year but there are finally more and more signs including the long-awaited shoots of rhubarb

First rhubarb shoots - 5th April 2013

First rhubarb shoots – 5th April 2013

I don’t personally like rhubarb but it is a sure sign that the soil is warming up and that the few seeds I have dared to sow might have a chance of making the garden some time soon.

Last autumn I put an old tyre around the clump of rhubarb and filled it with old straw to help encourage early shoots this year but it is already far later than last year

Garden up-date ~ January

It’s been a fair few months now since I gave up my allotments and that time has been working well for putting in the ground work and planning my garden at home; now I don’t feel guilty for making time to spend at the allotments there are so many “half hours”, “spare ten minutes” or even “an hour before I go out” that I have spent out through my back door being followed around by the cats who thought that the jungle was theirs.

The plan for the whole garden has been developing for a while but I already knew where I wanted my main vegetable beds to be. So that’s where I started;

The start of my vegetable garden ~ 22nd August 2012

The start of my vegetable garden ~ 22nd August 2012

This is the very top of my garden and it is a nice 14′ 2″ by 15’4″ sized space. When I started work on this area the weeds where higher than me! The part of me that hates anything to go to waste even weeds started the work and so I was careful cutting everything, sorting it and putting into sacks and taking what could be home for the goats and setting aside the rest for compost or burning – this was taking an age and so in the end I just went in with a pair of hand shears and a hedge trimmer.

The back garden is on a steep-ish slope, it’s by no means the most sloped garden I have seen but still has a good incline especially when carrying sacks of manure up or anything more than hand tools really and the access to it is up through the front garden, through an alleyway around the house and up a set of 11 steps to where the back garden is at almost the same height as the first floor of the house. The soil in the garden seems lovely; dark and rich and crumblerly but is full of old bonfire patches with the rusty nails and springs that go along with them and many pieces of black plastic where it has been covered over for so long the plastic has split and broken up. It has also been left to it’s own devices for many year I would guess.

The top part is now mostly cleared now with just a heap of weeds and hedge trimmings I thought it would be quicker to burn than gather up, carry down through the garden, down through the front garden and to the car to take to the recycling center. I can see why I thought that was the quickest way but I forgot fire and water aren’t the best of friends and it just hasn’t ever dried out long enough for this to work. Time to put Plan B into action I thinks…

Vegetable garden some months on - Decmber 2012

Vegetable garden some months on – December 2012

Above is what it looks like at the end of last month; the first bed is in, filled with manure and covered and has been for the last couple of months now and work is well underway with the second. There is still the bonfire heap in the way of most of it but it is taking shape. I am leaving a path all the way around all the beds apart from the top one and below the second bed there is room for one more and then it is down into the main garden.

When I was first planning this bit of the garden I pictured the beds running down the slope towards the house, I don’t know why but it took a good few weeks of pondering how to make them before I realised it would be much simpler to make them running across the garden instead of down.

The lower part you can see in the photo has also been cleared and cardboard laid in readiness for a row of raspberries.

Raised beds - January 2013

Raised beds – January 2013

Carrying on down the garden a lot of it is under weed suppressant and thick black plastic sheets but there are three raised beds in and filled. These I put in and filled whilst carrying on the clearing work at the top; I have a late sowing of beetroot in one (middle bed) that was just a little too late to come to anything, one (top bed) I have tried growing cabbage and over wintering onions in but the slugs ate the cabbage as fast as they came up and the birds have had the onions sets out that many times I have put them in pots to get going and plant out later and the third (bottom bed) has just been filled ready for spring and is being used by blackbirds as a worm feeding station. I think there will be room for one more raised bed below the last one but need to have a proper look.

The area that is currently covered over I think I am going to turn into a main crop bed that can have rows of things put in that can be more or less left to it between planting and harvesting; squashes, kale, etc.

The other place I have worked on is the bank outside the kitchen window;

Kitchen Bank: before (left) and after (right) being cleared - October 2012

Kitchen Bank: before (left) and after (right) being cleared – October 2012

It took almost a whole day to clear it of the ivy, brambles and other things that were completely covering it. The bank runs along side the steps up the garden, doesn’t get much light at all and is even steeper than the rest of the garden. It’s now been planted with wallflowers, which seem to have had it in the first frost, and crocuses. I’m not really sure what to try in this bit as it is so hard to work with and so shady for most of the year. I might try some salad low enough down it to be reached from the path but it would be nice for something further up that would look nice/be useful/keep the weeds down. Mints maybe?

I’ve got lots of ideas and gardening projects planned for this year. I think it is one of the more important things I should be concentrating on, the more I read the more I mistrust mass produced food and I know I probably will never be able to cut it completely out but growing more of my own is step in the right direction and I enjoy it.

Chillies and Self-Watering Planters

Last week I harvested my small crop of chillies and repoted the plants back into their self-watering planters.

Chilli Harvest; a little dried after a week on a kitchen worktop - November 2012

Chilli Harvest; a little dried after a week on a kitchen worktop – November 2012

The harvest wasn’t anywhere near as big as some of those being paraded on the growing groups and forums but a small pot full is enough for to add the homegrown touch to some chilli jam, not that I would say no to a larger harvest of course!

The repoting took place a I realised that the original ‘draw rag’ had rotted away and so the compost in the top was drying out, other than that one small problem these planters seem to be working well and the repoting and harvest (and maybe the heating being turned on had a part to play too) has bought the plants back into flower so a winter harvest might possibly be on the cards?!?

Apache; this chilli seems to be doing the best on my windowsill set-up - November 2012

Apache; this chilli seems to be doing the best on my windowsill set-up – November 2012

Out of the three plants that I have ‘Apache ‘ has been the best, producing the most fruit and continually flowering when the others had stopped. The fruit has also kept the best being the plumper fruit in the photo above and didn’t start drying out on the plant like the others. This is a dwarf variety so perhaps it is better suited to being grown in pots.

I’m hoping that these with overwinter happily enough and be ready for the all go in the spring but I’m thinking I might like to add a couple more plants next year too; just need to have a look and see what is about and if I can save the seeds from the plants I already have as they are grown next to each other.

October; another one done and dusked

Well October is over and November is here and with it winter. No chance of an Indian summer now I guess but crisp, bright morning are just as good for being outdoors.

October was a bit of a sad month; somewhere near the start I got a text from mother to let me know that Knightshade had slipped a disc in his back, most likely playing ‘silly buggers’ with one of the girls coming into season. I didn’t like having to be away for the rest of the week and not being about to see him myself, it’s one thing being away for births and getting a happy text saying how many and if it’s a girl or a boy but not being there when someone isn’t well is completely different.

He was ok and when I got home to see him he was just his normal self apart from not being able to stand; he wasn’t too bothered so long as he got lots of visitors and we set the house up so the girls could go and share his extra thick bed of straw and watch grey days go by, he got lots of human visitors who would bring him treats, push and pull him about the house and every few days stick a needle in him and he just seemed a bit mystified as to why standing up didn’t happen as it use to.  

The vet had said nothing would really happen for the first seven to ten days and at the end of this time I got a chiropractor to pay a visit; it was like watching magic and by half way through her visit he had regained movement in not just one but both of his back legs. The chiropractor left being very positive but explaining that he may take a while to be up again but she didn’t see a reason why he wouldn’t make a full recovery. Things carried on in this way for another week or so and then he stopped eating and just wasn’t himself. It seemed most likely that where he hadn’t been moving around his rumen had stopped working; we tempted him with treats and gave him a drench to start his system working again but he didn’t pull through.

It’s a very sad loss and has possibly changed the way we are going to keep goats; this year we are going to try artificial insemination instead of getting another male goat. There are lots of reasons why this might be better; I already have two (three including Delta who is for sale) of Knightshade’s daughters Bella and Briony and so Knightshade wasn’t the best male for them to be put in kid to although it didn’t really matter as it just meant their kids had a ‘double-dose’ of Knightshade’s breeding but keeping any of their kids and him would be out of the question. Keeping our own male means that we can put ‘people’ into kid when we want to but really as we have always kept our boys and girls together it meant we did end up with mishaps and kidding being spread out over months, not a problem really but it would be much easier to have all the babies almost the same age so as there is less bullying at feed time or first babies living on their own for weeks (they don’t live on their own, they live in the kitchen and are carried around wherever we go). With AI we can have kids from different males for different goats and it will work out no more costly, possibly even cheaper than keeping our own male and lastly it will leave more room and time for our girls, walking them as we did when I was younger will become much easier, the branches and other greens we collect will go much further with fewer goats and even growing some of their feed becomes more possible and keeping on top of cleaning out will be easier too.

It also leaves more time for raising a calf which is something me and mother would like to do again this time in the way we know works and with a breed we know we get on with resulting in a bomb proof beauty like Primrose again.

Aside from the goats I’ve been getting on well with the garden like I’d planned; onion sets are in and I have bought some more too. Most of the leafy greens are in and, touch wood, have so far escaped any attention from the dreaded slug plague of this year. Leaves have been collected for leaf mould and are waiting in sacks for me to find a more suitable place to keep them over winter. I finished filling the first bed this week and have bought my amazing amount of crocus bulbs which are waiting for the next flower planting day I have off in a few weeks. I haven’t got round to buying garlic sets and I’m not sure that there is time to now either, the first light frosts are here now and I’m not sure how long it will be until my ice pocket is frozen over for the majority of the time.

I house-sat whilst mother went to visit her mum for a few days and spent some time working the veg garden at home and that has helped consolidate my ideas for my garden and be able to see all the small bits I have been struggling to bring together as a much bigger picture.

Hopefully I will have time to put them down on paper ready for sharing and can sort through the photos I have collected on a few different cameras to post on here in the next couple of weeks.

Into October

The arrival of John Harrison’s Allotment Growing newsletter in my inbox today has reminded me that it is already October and that I have plans for this month.

I’ve lost my camera so can’t share the photos of how far I have got with my new vegetable garden but in the last month or so I have changed it from an area of brambles, nettles, bindweed and willow-herb reaching over my head to a much calmer area which now even boasts its first bed made from the breeze blocks found hidden the undergrowth.

It very much feels like autumn now but that doesn’t matter; there is still plenty to do in readiness for next year’s main growing season and this month I would like to tick a few off:

  • Finish filling first vegetable bed
  • Plant onion sets and buy and plant garlic sets
  • Plant out the spring green plants which are waiting impatiently in their pots
  • Start leafmould
  • Buy and plant an amazing amount of crocus for some early bee feed in the New Year  

I’m sure I will do other things and possibly even get distracted along the way but a plan is a good start to the month

A flying visit home

First ripe fruit: All Gold Raspberry ~ 16th September 2012

First ripe fruit: All Gold Raspberry ~ 16th September 2012

I mean to blog so much more than I do and my silence doesn’t mean that I am not still here or thinking through what I would like to say about the exciting and the mostly day-to-day unexciting things that are going on right now as I am doing them but at the moment the words are just not getting any further than that.

Even my plans which are so vivid and bright as they race around my head become dull and fade to a smudgy idea when I try to make sense or put them down anywhere.

Sweet Million Tomatoes ~ September 2012

Sweet Million Tomatoes ~ September 2012

Today I have had a flying visit home, one day off out of two weeks of solid work. I love coming home and walking up the garden path and seeing what has developed whilst I was away; today it was a flush of ripe tomatoes and the first ripe All Gold raspberry.

 It’s been a productive day; I’ve cleared away the last of the hedge trimmings from the path, filled a raised bed with manure, been to see my goats and done the rounds with them and the sheep and measured up and carried on clearing more of what will become my vegetable garden.

Now it is dark outside and it’s time to set myself up for an early start in the morning.

Garden musings

It’s not often that I allow myself to just sit and enjoy things, and it is never something that I plan into any time I have but after an almost sleepless night during my last time off I did spend the precious time I had planned to spend gardening just sitting with some tea, and then a little lunch, enjoying the sun in my front garden;

Front garden blooms ~ August 2012

Front garden blooms ~ August 2012

It is not the mass of colour it was last year, I think the slugs put pay to that but there is still plenty there;

Front garden blooms ~ August 2012

Front garden blooms ~ August 2012

Front garden blooms; sweetpea bucket ~ August 2012

Front garden blooms; sweetpea bucket ~ August 2012

Front garden blooms; leeks ~ August 2012

Front garden blooms; leeks ~ August 2012

And as well as the flowers I seem to have gathered a not to shabby fruit collection;

Front garden fruits; summer fruiting raspberries, red currant, gooseberry and a bramley apple ~ August 2012

Front garden fruits; summer fruiting raspberries, red currant, gooseberry and a bramley apple ~ August 2012

Front garden fruits; autumn fruiting raspberries, strawberries and the last pot of potatoes ~ August 2012

Front garden fruits; autumn fruiting raspberries, strawberries and the last pot of potatoes ~ August 2012

Front garden fruits; all gold autumn fruiting raspberries~ August 2012

Front garden fruits; all gold autumn fruiting raspberries~ August 2012

Front garden fruits; red princess strawberry ~ August 2012

Front garden fruits; red princess strawberry ~ August 2012

Even thought I knew what I had growing I didn’t realise how much there was until I stopped to take stock of it. I haven’t grown mountains of food what I have grown has been a nice treat and are forming the base of next years growing. Of course I would have liked to have much more coming in from the garden but that just hasn’t been possible this year and I am ok with that, which is a very odd feeling. And there is always next year