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.

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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.

Sowing and Growing

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.

 

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

More Planting, Pests in the Polytunnel and Wood Burning Stoves

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.

Brassicas seem to be doing okay in spite of the cold weather.
Brassicas seem to be doing okay in spite of the cold weather.

Direct sown peas, salad leaves and radishes are popping up.

Peas popping through

Salad leaves appearing.
Salad leaves appearing.

And everything in the polytunnel seems to be thriving.

The polytunnel is beginning to fill up nicely. Newly sown flowers and more kohlrabi have filled up the space on the hanging shelf.
The polytunnel is beginning to fill up nicely. Newly sown flowers and more kohlrabi have filled up the space on the hanging shelf.

Radish, carrots, beetroot, onions

New potatoes and peas

Peas and bread beans, with salad leaves, spinach and pak choi (from which we have already been taking some leaves).
Peas and bread beans, with salad leaves, spinach and pak choi (from which we have already been taking some leaves).

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.

Is this a St. Mark's fly? There are hundreds of them in the polytunnel!
Is this a St. Mark’s fly? There are hundreds of them in the polytunnel!

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.

Basil and summer squash sitting in a warm spot to germinate.
Basil and summer squash sitting in a warm spot to germinate.

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!

The dogs have been wondering what on earth is going on. There was quite a lot of noise and of course things had to be moved out of the way.
The dogs have been wondering what on earth is going on. There was quite a lot of noise and of course things had to be moved out of the way.
The second stove. Just a bit of painting and these rooms in the main house will be much improved.
The second stove. Just a bit of painting and these rooms in the main house will be much improved.

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.

Potting Up, Companion Planting and More

We were expecting it to be rather a damp weekend but although we have had a few showers, most of the time it has continued rather dry and not too cold. It was warm enough yesterday to sit out in the garden for a while. I also took the time to earth up the first early potatoes one last time.

I have been working flat out today as there is so much that needs to be done in the house, polytunnel and garden. Here is what I have managed to do so far:

– Pot up lots of squash and cucumbers.

A few of the many squash.
A few of the many squash.

– Pot up a huge forest of tomatoes.

Tomato Jungle.
Tomato Jungle.

– Pot up all the bell and chili peppers.

Potted up Bell Peppers

– Plant out brussels sprouts into the vegetable beds.

– Plant out peas and beans into the forest garden.

Peas and Beans in Forest Garden

– Add some companion plants to the polytunnel.

Peas with companion plants Marigold

– I have also planted a few more lettuce seeds and pak choi to keep supplies going.

Lovely flowers are springing into bloom in the polytunnel on the peas and beans and all around the garden.

Pea flower in the polytunnel.
Pea flower in the polytunnel.

Lots of blossom

Flowers on Broad Beans and Peas and the Pond is Full

Another really warm day today has brought the first early potatoes on even faster and I can now see flowers forming on the broad beans.

Flowers forming on the broad beans.
Flowers forming on the broad beans.

And on some of the peas.

First flowers on the early peas.
One of the few first flowers on the early peas.

The liner for the wildlife pond has been installed and the pond is now full of water and awaiting plants and the evolution of a complete and healthy ecosystem.

Pond Full of WaterI am looking forward to seeing the pond filled with native plants and I hope we will have frogs and other pond life before too long.