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.

Seaweed Mulch
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.

Advertisements

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.

P1040705

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.

P1040706

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.

P1040703
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.

Happy Easter!

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.

Happy New 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.

 

Taking Our Minds off the Election Results

Well, we’ve had a crazy election here in the UK – we have an interesting discrepancy between the way England and Scotland have voted and we here are simultaneously elated by the historic victory in Scotland for the progressive, left-wing SNP and extremely depressed to be stuck with the Conservatives in Westminster – since (at least for now) we are still shackled to that government. Five more years of the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and astonishing numbers of people having to rely on food banks. Five more years of a government that very few people in our country actually voted for.

Aside from staying up all night to watch as the results came in on Thursday night, we have managed to take our mind off it all by doing quite a lot in the garden and polytunnel. Though it is still a bit colder than we would usually expect for this time of year, things are still surviving and thriving.

Today we have planted out lots of tomatoes and bell peppers into the polytunnel.

I tied strings between the crop bars to which we have tied the tomatoes.
I tied strings between the crop bars to which we have tied the tomatoes. There are still a few more on the windowsill which we are going to put in grow bags tomorrow.
The tomatoes and bell peppers are underplanted with a few marigolds and some basil.
The tomatoes and bell peppers are underplanted with a few marigolds and some basil.
As you can see, things are really filling up now in the polytunnel.
As you can see, things are really filling up now in the polytunnel. We have already been eating a lot of mixed salad leaves, pak choi, spinach and radishes and the peas and broad beans are in full flower. 

Things outside the tunnel are looking pretty good now too.

Peas are popping up in the vegetable bed.
Peas are popping up in the vegetable bed.
First earlies just bursting through
And the first earlies are just peeking through the soil.
The calabrese and other brassicas are coming along.
The calabrese and other brassicas are coming along.
There are flowers on the strawberry plants.
There are flowers on the strawberry plants.
As you can see, the blossom on the fruit trees seems mostly to have survived the cold.
As you can see, the blossom on the fruit trees seems mostly to have survived the cold.

Oh, and here is one of the wood burning stoves in action, complete with the hearth dragon that lives beneath it.

Dragon sleeping under wood burning stove

Hardening Off in the Polytunnel

I worked outside for part of the day again today as the weather is still gorgeous here. At lunch time I did manage to pot up some brussels sprouts to harden them off a little before I plant them out.

Brussels sprouts in the polytunnel for the night tonight.
Brussels sprouts in the polytunnel for the night tonight.

There are also some sweet peas in there that I will harden off in the polytunnel for a few nights before planting out.

Sweet Peas
Left them far too long – oops. I meant to pot them up ages ago!

I also decided to plant up some Tumbling Tom tomatoes that were getting too big for their pots and even flowering already.

The Tumbling Toms will grow in their hanging basket in the polytunnel.
The Tumbling Toms will grow in their hanging basket in the polytunnel.
Tumbling Toms Flowering
But for now I will keep bringing in the basket at night to be on the safe side.

As an aside – look how big the first early potatoes are getting already! It will soon be time to earth them up for the final time.

Potatoes 21st AprilWhether we really will be able to find and use our earliest of first earlies in June or not remains to be seen but it does look like we are well on our way.

A Busy Week

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.

Potatoes three days after earthing up! Potato plants

More maincrop potatoes are in the ground and others I have planted in Ikea bags beside the polytunnel.

Potatoes planted in Ikea bags

I have moved some peas into the orchard/forest garden area.

Peas in forest garden

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.

Brassicas under pigeon net
Brassicas netted against pigeons.

Kohlrabi and beetroots have been hardening off ready to plant out too. I will do that this weekend.

Kohlrabi hardening off in the polytunnel.
Kohlrabi hardening off in the polytunnel.

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.

Courgettes in Polytunnel

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.

Flowers Lucky white heather and daffodils

Free wood from outside my husband’s workplace. (They were going to chip it so it was up for grabs.)

Free Wood

And the pond is coming along nicely.

Dug pondNow it is the weekend I can really get on with things!