Mulching and Vegetables Update

The vegetable beds are now filling up nicely. There are plenty of potatoes, some Calabrese broccoli and other brassicas, chard, peas, broad beans, onions and garlic. There is some space left that will be for leeks when those go out in a couple of weeks. Then, when the first early potatoes come out, kale, beans and other crops will take their place and, with a little protection, should make it through the winter.

As I mentioned in my post about the polytunnel, I am experimenting a little this year with different mulches as an alternative to earthing up potatoes. Some have been given a thick mulch of grass clippings while others are peeping up through seaweed from one of our local beaches. I have also given some a top dressing of a heavily chicken-poo based compost. Basically, I am using what we have to hand and I will of course let you know how we get on with my not very scientific experiment.

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Seaweed Mulching in Progress – An alternative to earthing up?

Peas and beans run down the centres of the beds as companions for the potatoes, hence the sticks in the photo above and I have also planted a few other companion plants, such as the marigolds that you can see in the end of the brassica bed.

Speaking of potatoes, one of the lessons I learned recently is that I have to be a lot more careful about making sure that I have dug up all the potatoes! When I was top dressing the beds for the brassicas earlier in the spring and weeding prior to planting, I found a few potatoes from last year had sprouted and were just about the broach the surface. Luckily, as I got to them in time, there were still quite a few potatoes from last year’s maincrop that were still in good condition under ground, a small bonus to supplement our food stocks during the ‘hungry gap’. I think we were lucky due to the mild winter and cold spring. This year, however, I will be far more careful to make sure I have retrieved all the tubers! Speaking of which, we should be harvesting¬†the first, first earlies from the polytunnel in the next week or two.

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New Chicken Shed

One of the things that I have been remiss in not sharing until now is the wonderful work that was done getting a new home ready for our chickens. As you may remember, we recently doubled the size of our little ‚Ķ from six to twelve. The shed is a regular garden shed purchased on line, to which have been added an easy to clean rubber flooring, some easily cleaned removable nesting boxes, a roosting bar and below that, the ‘poop deck’.

The chickens have now been integrated and although they are still establishing their pecking order and are still two distinct groups, the white ones we had before and the new, far more timid brown ones, they are all now heading into the shed at night together and seem slowly to be getting more used to the new situation and each other.

By customising the shed, we now have something well suited to the chickens but also easier for us to clean out and maintain.

Egg production has dropped off now and we suspect that it is partly due to the upheaval and partly due to the fact that the white hens are getting on a bit… the brown ones will probably begin to lay better in the next week or two as their systems get used to their free-range lives. We are still getting some eggs though, and of course the chickens also have value as fertilisers and pest control. Though I could never say that getting ex-battery hens makes the most commercial sense, it is lovely to know that, if we cannot halt the disgusting practises of battery farming, we can at least give them a good home.

Vertical Gardening in the Polytunnel

In an effort to make the most of the space we have, I have been turning my attention to optimising our growing space in the polytunnel by thinking upwards. I already had a hanging shelf which I have been using to harden off plants for outside and, in the summer, to germinate some new seeds.

This year, to maximise use of space further, I have used what we had to hand (a couple of very battered old wooden chairs and some pallet sections used to deliver the new shed which has been adapted for the chickens) to make some staging. This is now filled with seedlings of various descriptions.

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I have also created some additional growing space for salad crops and other bits and pieces by attaching some adapted milk bottle growing contains to the frame we already had for growing our cucumbers etc. I simply strung the milk bottles by their handles along garden bamboo canes and popped these across the frame. Though I am disappointed that we cannot get our milk in glass in this area, at least I have come up with a way to re-purpose the plastic rather than just putting it all in the recycling.

If we keep going in the same vein, we should maximise every inch of space. In our smallish polytunnel and on our 1/3 acre in general, that is important if we are to feed ourselves throughout the year.

Polytunnel Progress

Since the weather finally warmed up things have been progressing rapidly in the polytunnel. The broad beans are in full flower and the first few pods are starting to form.

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The peas are in flower and, much to the delight of the youngest member of our little community, we have had the first few mange tout straight off the plants.

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Everything is a little behind where it was this time last year, due to the cold spring, when last year we had a heatwave in April. Still, now things are coming along nicely and our food production is beginning to increase considerably again.

The first early potatoes in the ground and in bags have been mulched heavily with the first lawn clippings. This is a permaculture alternative for earthing up and one I wanted to experiment with this year. As I say, these potatoes have been mulched with grass clippings and I will be using seaweed elsewhere (another thing that is readily available in this area, as we are only about four or five miles from the coast). Straw and bracken are other alternatives but we do not have ready access to either here. It will be interesting to see how our yields compare to last year’s, which I earthed up in the more traditional way.

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Potato Mulching in Progress

In the ground in the polytunnel there are also some onions, a couple of courgette plants, cucumbers and a few leafy lettuces. Soon it will be changeover time and all the first early potatoes will be coming out to make way for the tomatoes and some squash. The tomatoes have been potted up but are still on windowsills inside. Squash are just beginning to germinate.

More Chickens

We went to collect some more ex-battery hens from the British Hen Welfare Trust today to add to our existing flock of six. We now have twelve chickens in total, six of whom now look rather fat when viewed next to the new additions!

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Of course it will not be too long before all the new arrivals are looking just as happy and healthy. Already some of them have some beautiful brown and white plumage. As with the others, they were rather scared when they arrived but as before, we have been amazed by how quickly they remember how to be chickens and start scratching and foraging.

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The old girls were far from thrilled initially to see the new arrivals and ran to the far side of the orchard, alarm calling like crazy. After a while, however, curiosity took over and they were peering at their flock mates to be through the bars of the run. Of course it will be a while before they are let loose together.

When introducing new flock members it is important to keep an eye on any bullying as they establish a pecking order. Already, one of the new girls is showing herself to be rather dominant, sizing up against the existing top hen through the bars. It will be interesting to see how it all works out when they get together.

One of the new arrivals looks rather worse that the others. The poor thing has no feathers on her neck at all. It really is disgusting that creatures are allowed to get into this state. Fortunately, as we found before, she should quickly grow and thrive when given a nice life in our orchard.

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