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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
This is the time of year when you can think about increasing your fruit crops for the following year, planting bare-root plants or putting pot grown plants into their permanent home. This is exactly what I have turned my mind to now that the vegetable growing side of things has slowed down for the winter.
I have bought and planted three bare-root gooseberry bushes in the forest garden. The chickens took great delight in getting in my way as I dug the holes and eating any worms or other little creatures that I unearthed. I mulched with some fallen leaves and amended the soil with a little compost.
The blueberries are pot grown and they will remain in containers in the orchard/forest garden area. They are best grown in a container as they like acid conditions. I will be keeping them in their own area of ericaceous compost rather than amending our soil.
I am hoping these plants will thrive and we will increase our fruit stocks next year. We should now have some blueberries and gooseberries in addition to our strawberries, raspberries, wild and cultivated, mahonia berries, elderberries, plums and apples. Perhaps we will also be able to help our cherry trees to keep their fruits and our pear tree to produce more than one sad looking pear. I hope my little damson sapling will also fruit next year or the one after, so we will have to wait and see which of these plants will deliver a bounty next year.
Just because winter is here, that does not mean that there is nothing to do in the garden. I have now received and planted the rhubarb crowns I ordered to create a rhubarb bed.
First of all I prepared the bed, adding some of the rough compost that the chickens very kindly helped us to make to the vegetable bed that contained a few squash in the summer. (They did not do all that well.) I decided that this spot is rather too exposed for squash but it could do well as a permanent rhubarb bed as rhubarb does not need to be mollycoddled.
I placed the three crowns around 1m apart along the length of the bed, taking care not to bury the crowns. I hope that other than applying some mulches and weeding or watering occasionally I will not have to do much with them until they can be harvested in their second year. It is best not to harvest from the plants in their first year as they need time to become established. I hope they will do well.
Originally, I was planning on planting the rhubarb in the orchard/forest garden but I have not been able to establish whether or not this would be dangerous for the chickens. Reading on-line, some people say that the leaves are poisonous to chickens, as they are to humans in quantity, while others say they have been feeding rhubarb leaves to their birds with no ill-effect. In the absence of hard facts, I decided to err on the side of caution and avoid putting rhubarb where the chickens could get at it.