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.
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.
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.
I’ve been having a busy day so far today. I’ve got the next batch of seeds germinating on the kitchen windowsill: pea shoots, mixed lettuce, pak choi, broad beans and spring onions.
The weather has been grey but dry and fairly mild so I also managed to go out into the polytunnel and do quite a bit of work out there. I added some of my compost to the vacant beds and cleared things up a little. I got rid of a few weeds and tidied up the winter cabbages and broccoli. The cabbages were rather badly nibbled earlier in the season by various culprits but we have still had plenty to eat and the badly nibbled outer leaves went to the chickens, who devour them eagerly.
I also took some of the pea shoots from the windowsill and popped them in. They are a fairly hardy variety but I will still cover them with cloches if the temperatures dive too far below zero again in the next couple of months. They probably won’t shoot up much before the early spring but getting them in situ means that they will be positioned for speedy growth when the weather does warm up.
When I was in the polytunnel I noted that the soil that I have been amending throughout the year is definitely improving. One side bed of the tunnel had soil that was not in the best state because it was underneath the spreading arms of large conifers which we chopped down. The soil is gradually coming back into its own. After I had amended it with plenty of compost last year, the tomatoes did reasonably well there, though I think as the years of my permaculture ‘regime’ go on, yields will continue to grow.
I also cleaned out the chickens and spent some time with them. It has been a very mild, though wet, winter here so far but the chickens have been surprisingly un-fazed. They were rather surprised and bemused by the snow but do not seem to mind. Egg production has remained fairly constant at around three a day, which is a little surprising as I had read that you should expect far fewer eggs in winter.
Anyway, after a couple of months with lots of colds and coughs doing the rounds and little happening in the garden, I was glad to feel I was making progress again. I’m looking forward to all the challenges to come this year.
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.
Apologies for not providing a proper update after the snow. We still have rather unseasonably cold weather but nothing dramatic. Fortunately so far there has been no more snow. Aside from a fair few herbs and the marigolds planted in more exposed places, most things seem to be struggling through.
Direct sown peas, salad leaves and radishes are popping up.
And everything in the polytunnel seems to be thriving.
We do however have rather a large number of what I think (from looking them up on the Internet) are St. Mark’s flies, Bibio marci. I have read that they eat the roots of, amongst other things, lettuce so having so many of them is probably not a great thing. We will have to put our heads together and figure out how to deal with them.
Today, in hopes that the weather will soon improve I have sown another batch of seeds. More kohlrabi, french beans, various flowers, basil and summer squash.
One of the reasons that I have not updated this blog sooner than now is that it has been rather a chaotic week. The two wood burning stoves have finally been installed!
Some wood has been ordered, since of course the wood we have chopped here and that acquired from my husband’s workplace will not be useable for a year or so. We were glad to be able to find a supplier of naturally dried wood. You may or may not be aware that much of the wood on the market is kiln dried – negating its carbon neutrality. Seems crazy to me.
We are glad to finally have the stoves in place. They mean that next autumn and winter we will not have to rely on the oil heating. It is a big step towards our more sustainable way of life.
This morning I got out bright and early into the garden, the sun was shining and after giving everything everywhere a good water I planted out all my kohlrabi and some beetroots, while my husband made a basic netted frame to protect them from the pigeons.
Six of the eight vegetable beds are now populated, though I will still be adding some more companion plants. In addition to planting out the seedlings I direct sowed some mixed salad, little gem lettuces and radishes along the sides of the bed which will have a wide row of peas down the middle.
We have also had plenty of time this afternoon just sitting and relaxing outside. It was really warm again. Our main challenge at the moment seems to be making sure that everything gets enough water – we have had very little rain recently.
This evening, the home brew has reached the bottling stage.
That should be good for future sunny Saturdays in our garden.
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!