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.
Vegetable Beds with Mulching in Progress
Brassicas Protected from Pigeons
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I hope everyone is having a good Easter weekend. We took Thursday and Friday off work and went for a short break up north in Blair Atholl with our dog for a few walks in the woods and a bit of relaxation that allowed us to recharge a bit after a very busy couple of months. We stayed in a dog-friendly hotel, the Atholl Arms, before coming back here yesterday so we could do some more jobs around the house and garden.
As usual there is plenty going on here. We’ve been using the compost that we made (with the help of the chickens) to enrich the beds ready for the season’s planting. I am glad to see that it appears to be rich and crumbly so it should help us to get a good yield this year.
The polytunnel is filling up again with first early potatoes, peas, beans, salad crops etc and as they were last year, the windowsills inside are crammed with a variety of plants that will later be transplanted into their growing positions in the polytunnel and in the vegetable beds as soon as the weather warms up.
Yesterday we decided to tackle the compost situation in the orchard. The compost we created has been good quality so far but the problem was that the cold compost heap had been spread over a rather large area by the chickens! We meant to get around to it before, but we have finally built a rough structure from wooden pallets which will contain the compost while still giving the chickens access to it.
Today we planted a LOT of potatoes in the vegetable beds, helping them along with the addition of plenty of our compost. That was rather a mammoth task! One of the lessons I learned last year is that we could have done with more potatoes, so we have given over a lot more space to this staple. When the weather warms up a bit, they will be inter-planted with some peas and other companion plants.
Another job for today was to sort out the area behind the polytunnel next to the wildlife pond. I’ve prepared a circular area for a runner bean tipi in this sheltered spot and we’ve made a path with cardboard laid beneath wood chips. This will slow things down a little and keep down the weeds, meaning that we can more easily reach the beans and the wild raspberries that grow in that far corner of the garden. This meant relocating some daffodils and making it all a bit less lumpy out there. We are slowing getting around to sorting out and making the most of all the space we have here. At some point this spring, we will turn over the small area in front of the polytunnel to growing space too.
We are moving along slowly but surely. This Easter weekend we have made a few more tentative steps in the right direction.
This blog is over a year old now and we have been working towards our more sustainable way of life for even longer. Some things can be hard but on the whole I am feeling very positive about how much we have accomplished here so far. Still, as always, there is a lot more to do!
It is that time of year and the windowsills are filling up again. There are some salad things and pea shoots in the porch, tomatoes and chilli peppers germinating and as of today, seed potatoes chitting. I’ve ordered more seed potatoes than I did last year, having learned how many of them we collectively go through and knowing that we can successfully grow them here. I will also be planting out a few seed potatoes from our last year’s crop, to see how well they do. More onion sets have also arrived.
In spite of several minor setbacks, we are further ahead than we were this time last year with growing things. There are winter cabbages, onions, strawberry plants and a few other bits and bobs in the polytunnel still. peas and beans will probably go in there next month. There should have been broad beans and peas over-wintering but they were unfortunately gobbled up by rodents in the autumn so didn’t get a look in!
We have the consent we needed from the planners to go ahead with our outbuilding conversion so are currently getting plans drawn up for the building warrant and hope to actually start work in earnest in the next couple of months. We have to think about how to meet the stringent insulation requirements while still using eco-friendly materials and doing this affordably without compromising our sustainability goals. I feel we are actually getting somewhere – but more on that at a later date, once our architect gets back to us with her drawings based on out ideas.
The chickens are doing well, though we plan to build them a better home in the next few months as the coop we bought is not great. One of the main problems is the front door, which has jammed shut in the very wet weather. We are thinking along the lines of customising a small, wooden garden shed, which will be easier for us as well as better for them, though we have not yet worked out the exact plan.
I hope everyone had a good festive season and I wish you all the best for the coming year.
It has been a rather busy week and I have been too rushed or too tired to give much time to this blog but I will remedy that now with an update on progress in the garden.
The first early potatoes have been earthed up twice and are bursting through once more in the polytunnel.
More maincrop potatoes are in the ground and others I have planted in Ikea bags beside the polytunnel.
I have moved some peas into the orchard/forest garden area.
Calabrese and romanesquo have made their way out to the vegetable beds, where more peas have also just been directly sown. Cauliflower will follow shortly.
Kohlrabi and beetroots have been hardening off ready to plant out too. I will do that this weekend.
Courgettes are also in the polytunnel, with bubble wrap on hand to protect it if we have a cold night. I have planted them more closely than is advised as one or two were too long in the pots and got a bit squashed so may not make it.
I also forgot to mention before that we now have our water butt set up out back to water in the polytunnel and the outside tap by the orchard/forest garden has been fixed so we can use the hose to water on that side of the house.
There are plenty of flowers blooming about the place and lots of busy bees.
Free wood from outside my husband’s workplace. (They were going to chip it so it was up for grabs.)
And the pond is coming along nicely.
Now it is the weekend I can really get on with things!
The weather today has been a lot cooler than of late and it has been rather windy. None the less we have managed to get on with some jobs in the garden and polytunnel. Potatoes were the main mission of the day.
I have planted some maincrop potatoes in the vegetable beds.
There are still more to plant but I made a start. I dug a trench and filled it with grass cuttings mown today from the orchard/ future forest garden before planting. While those potatoes are just starting out, those in the polytunnel are racing ahead. I had to earth them up.
Fortunately, I had a ready supply of topsoil from the wildlife pond we are creating in the corner behind the tunnel. While I sowed a few more lettuces and transplanted some spring onions into the tunnel, digging work commenced.
I took the soil removed from the site removed some roots and used it for the earthing up.
It almost feels mean to cover up the healthy potato plants that have forged their way above the soil but it is necessary if we are to get tubers and not just a bushy plant above ground. I will keep more soil to hand for the next earthing up.
I also started a nettle/weed bin to make a fertiliser to use as a tomato feed. Once the forest garden in established I plan to use a lot of comfrey but my comfrey patch is not yet established enough to harvest so I am using nettles and some other weeds for now. I used a bin we already had and a mesh bag that the onion sets came in to keep the weeds in place below the water.
If this goes as it should, we will have plenty of plant food to feed all our hungry triffids over the coming months.
The first early potatoes went into the vegetable beds today. I made a shallow trench, lined the bottom with grass cuttings from the orchard/ future forest garden and planted them with chits upwards. I will earth up the shoots when they appear above ground and again when the plants are around 23 cm tall. It is too soon to place the companion plants but later the potatoes will share their bed with some thyme, marigolds and one or two other beneficial plants.
We have also done some more work on stripping out the outbuilding – removing stud work and revealing the stone walls behind.
The wood we removed is rough and has lots of nails that need to be removed but I have stacked it in a corner. Since we are trying to reduce the waste we create it is great that we will be able to reuse some of this wood to make a store for fuel for the stoves. Some of it can be used to make frames for vertical growing in the polytunnel. I may also make a cold frame at some point. We also have some glass that can be recycled for this purpose.