Category Archives: Gardening

A Huge List of Things – Part 1

Make Do and Mend Year has written a blog post called “Taking Stock” which is one of the assignments on her blogging course.  It sounded like fun and I could do with some writing practice myself so I’m giving it a go.

I’ve split it into multiple parts though as it was a very long list!

Sock in progress.

Sock in progress.

Making : I have two main projects on the go at the moment.  Socks for Josh and bunting for R’s birthday. I love the speed of sewing but it requires some set up and I don’t always have a clear stretch of time to get stuck in. Bunting I can sort of do bits here and that (especially the cutting out) but my first love is knitting, portable, easy to pick up and put down and no minute of waiting at the doctors or for a bus is ever wasted.
Cooking : It’s Josh’s turn to cook dinner tonight not me but I know we are having a vegetable tortilla.  Since we have guests coming tomorrow though, I’ll be cranking up the bread machine and getting a loaf ready.  Our standard loaf is 50% strong white flour and 50% wholemeal spelt flour and it is very tasty!
Drinking : Diet coke – my main vice.  Terrible stuff and (I’m sure) horrible for the environment.  Something I am still working on.
Reading: I always have a million and one books on the go but the main thing I’m currently reading is “The Wizard Hunters” by Martha Wells.  It is part of a huge box I got from a friend when they were downsizing their book collection and it’s taken me ages to get round to reading it but it is good solid fantasy with a slight steampunk twist  and several interesting and well-drawn female characters. Just my sort of thing.
Wanting: Chickens!  We are in the planning stages for getting chickens.  First working out how big a coop to build, then sourcing the materials and building it, then buying a hen house and finally a feeder, food, water thingy and actual chickens.  We are still a way off getting them but we almost have a plan!
Looking: For some replacement Courgette plants – the slugs have done for ours and the garden centre has sold out.
Playing: We recently bought two new board games (we have a huge collection of board games and role-playing games) Race for the Galaxy and Ghost Stories.  We have been playing them a lot!  Definitely getting our money’s worth.
Deciding: How high the fences for the chicken coop should be and whether we need a lid on it.

Wishing: Death to slugs.  They are decimating the garden, I lost two most cucumbers to the little monsters this morning.  My slug traps are doing well in the veg patch but poorly up with the courgettes and it is hurting.

Garden is coming on (just ignore the weeds).

Garden is coming on (just ignore the weeds).

Much of my current garden news is above – mostly am in full blown war against the slugs. My perennial enemy.  They have now decimated 4 cucumbers, 2 courgettes, 2 squashes, all the chillis, one entire salad crop and one purslane crop.  I hates them precious.

Currently I’m deploying my standard beer traps, but the weather has been so wet and mild for so long I bet this is going to be bumper slug year.  So I’m reading this article with great interest especially the bit about Indian Runner Ducks!

 

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Belper Goes Green Festival

This weekend we were due to have some friends to visit and we had planned to go to Belper Goes Green.  The friends had to cancel sadly but we still made it to the Belper Goes Green Festival and met up with other friends and it was lovely all round. The weather was overcast but warm – I didn’t any photos but that was probably for the best as it would have made the weather look much worse than it really was!

Instead have a picture of a pretty red pea flower.

Golden Sweet Mange Tout Pea.

Golden Sweet Mange Tout Pea.

There was a music tent which had some great music (lots of folk naturally) playing all day, real ale and lots of other interesting stalls and activities. R was a bit young for some of the family activities but as he gets older I think he’ll really enjoy it. We had a lovely lunch from Fresh Basil of a smoked cheese pie, veggie burrito and some fresh fried peppers, potatoes and onions with spices. R couldn’t get enough of the fried peppers etc. and then ate some burrito as well.

The most exciting find was Hillside Permaculture!  We bought some organic free range salami from them and had a great talk about raising pigs, pig breed, and making chorizo, salami, ham etc.  We also got a Spearmint and a Mountain Mint plant from them (and I’m kicking myself now that I didn’t get 3-4 big courgette plants) and I hope we run into them at another local festival or agricultural show soon, they were lovely and doing so many interesting things.

The slug traps are working nicely and I’ve refilled 8 already.  In fact I need to get some more cheap beer really quickly.

Lastly the pigs are settling in really nicely.  They have starting digging over the ground and are eating so much grass and roots we are going to have to adjust their feed downwards again (they are looking a bit too fat for the stage they are at!) But the most exciting thing happened today.  They used the wallow for the first time.  It was very hot today and in the sunny part of the morning they all went for a swim and splashed around – I’ve not watched this behaviour in pigs before (our last lot of pigs came in the Winter when it was too cold for them to need a wallow to cool off). It was so much fun to watch them.

Slurp, slurp.

Slurp, slurp.

Another day on the Tinyholding

What a trying day!  Well not really but for about two hours this evening it felt like it.

When the going gets tough, the tough, eat a bowl of Eton Mess the size of their head!

When the going gets tough, the tough, eat a bowl of Eton Mess the size of their head!

I worked hard (at my paid work job) all day, really worked my socks off on a report.  It was a huge chunk of work and I was feeling really good about getting so much done.  Then as I tried to save it to the Network something happened – I don’t know what but it corrupted the file horribly.  The only version which escaped was saved at 10.19 am – I had finally finished the report at 4.30pm. I’ll be spending most of Monday redoing the whole thing.

Much swearing happened. I might appear delicate on this blog but in real life I sound like a proper potty-mouth.

But as soon as dinner was eaten and a fat little baby was sound asleep I was determined to banish the blues and headed out into the garden.  Setting slug traps was a grim therapy but a good job done.

I use a small plastic container (like a small yoghurt pot) filled with cheap, cheap beer.  The sluggy demons have eaten my entire lettuce crop, my entire purslane crop, the best courgette and 3/4 of my Mooli.  I will not be beaten.  I laid a good number down and I have a lot more left to do before this war is over.

On the way down to the veg patch I saw the first dogrose of the year.  I missed making anything with rosehips this Autumn and hopefully I’ll do better this year.

Proto-rose hip jelly.

Proto-rosehip jelly.

Then I managed some planting – new salad leaves, new purslane and a 3/4 row of Chop Suey Greens a sort of edible Chrysanthemum. The Purslane and Chop Suey Greens are from the James Wong range at Suttons. I’ll be interested to see how they do this year (already I know purslane is extra vulnerable to slugs).

The pigs have been in a great mood all day. They are growing in confidence, getting much happier with handling and starting to move into the part of the pen which is overgrown (which we would like them to eat through!). Banking up the potatoes (again!) they came out to see what I was up to and had a good rummage around.

Proto-Damson Jam

Proto-Damson Jam

The damson is covered in little green fruit. I already know how amazing it tastes from last year so I’ll be preparing early to make the most of the harvest in jam, jelly and baking.

After a good 45mins in the garden and a large bowl of Eton Mess all is right with the world again and I’m finishing some knitting.

Foraging the Back Garden

We are well into the hungry gap now and until our perennial vegetables (well just Kale actually) are established we are supplementing our early cut and come again salad with foragings from the garden.

Lots of salad.  Yum Yum!

Lots of salad. Yum Yum!

[In the above salad is Fat Hen, Chickweed, Sorrel, Bloody Dock, English Mace and Mizuna]

I met the lovely Wild Food Forager a few months ago and she kindly popped round one afternoon to give us an edible tour of the weeds in the back garden. I didn’t want to pop some hemlock into lunch by mistake!

I learned a lot.  Thankfully I had properly identified Fat Hen and now we eat lots of it whilst waiting for the Spinach to come up.

Fat Hen

Fat Hen

There is also Chickweed (I’ve been pinching out the tops for our salads), Hogweed (I tried one of the young shoots – it tasted very green), Wild Sorrel, Nettles, Ground Elder (I probably won’t be eating a lot of that!), Goose grass (edible but barely!), Elderflowers, Rowan, Dogrose Blackberries and Cow Parsley.

Wildfoodforager was surprised we had no Comfrey (and so was I!) I think one of our plans for next year should be to plant some perhaps under the apple trees;  like nettles, they are so valuable for our composting system.

At the moment I’m letting the Fat Hen and Chickweed grow instead of weeding it.  It gets picked and eaten like any other herb/vegetable.  But I think that Josh and I might have a tussle over that 😉

The nettles won’t make it near the dinner table though – they are far too valuable for the compost heap.

All this has reminded me I own Food for Free and Weeds both by Richard Mabey.  Time to get reading I think!

Finally a picture of the new pigs. The previous pigs did so much digging that they actually created a wallow – they didn’t need to use it much living here in the Winter, but going into the Summer I think the new pigs are going to love it!

oink oink

oink oink

 

Bank Holiday Work

So moving up here is a lifestyle choice – which means that instead of going away for the bank holiday weekend we were desperately finishing the new pig pen and doing lots of gardening. But it was all great fun!

Our 3 new Berkshire Weaners are happily installed in their huge pen.  They are so tiny it is really easy to lose them in the pen/pig hutch, so I keep thinking they have escaped… only they haven’t, they are just tiny.

After that it was back to more vegetable gardening.

I have planted out all the squashes now (6 butternut and 1 blue banana), a couple of cabbages (Duncan) and the only 3 sweetcorn that made it.  I think sweetcorn in the North will be a bit of a pipe dream from now on but we will see. The rest of the cabbage and about 5-6 cavelo nero need hardening off over the next week before they go in.

I also caught a couple of beans which had germinated which I missed the first time and chucked them in where I could.

The other big job was banking up the potatoes.  Since we have clay soil here I’m trying a new technique of using grass clipping, they rot down over time so you have to bank them up more regularly but it is a million times easier than trying to hill up our soil. Josh worked hard on mowing the lawn so I’d have enough grass clippings for the job.  So far so good.

The win/lose tally is dipping into nature’s favour though:

Lost 1/2 the last salad planting, 1/2 the purslane and the best looking courgette plant to the slugs.  Pass the beer traps please.

I’ve also had cat trouble – my lovely permaculture circle beds are purrfect litter trays.  I’ll be bringing out the rubber snakes soon! In the meantime I lost a good chuck of carrot seedling.  Maybe I’ll replace with a couple of radishes?

We did get our first tiny pea pod of the year – very exciting!

Summer Trousers Completed!

For some months now I’ve been trying to finish some lightweight summer trousers for R.

A trio of summer trousers.

A trio of summer trousers.

[Did you spot the upside down patten on the front pair – too late to change it now!]

As we use cloth nappies (probably another post on it’s own!) his little baby bottom is much bigger than normal. Modern clothing is cut for thin disposable nappies, not bulky cloth and so he used to grow out of thing really fast without really growing that much. So I knew at some point that I’d want to sew a few clothes for him.

My other bugbear is colours.  Even at this young age children are beginning to get colour-coded.  We work hard to ensure R enjoys a range of colours, blue to pink and everything in between – but the older he gets the more mud coloured and navy the options become. If I made some of his clothes I can give him the colour which is obviously far too daring for a 10 month old.

I use this wonderful pattern by Rae: http://www.made-by-rae.com/2010/08/big-butt-baby-pants-sewing-pattern/

It was clear, easy to follow and any problems in the execution (upside down owl leg) are mine not her pattern’s fault!

Did you say an owl on my bottom, where?

Did you say an owl on my bottom, where?

There is a 4th pair waiting to be elasticated and after that I’ve two more projects I want to try (these are both free unlike the above):

http://prudentbaby.com/2012/01/baby-kid/shirt-sleeves-into-toddler-harem-pants/ – I have a bunch of sleeves cut off men’s shirts from when I made a circle skirt (out of men’s shirts), I reckon this is a cool way to use them up.

Secondly there is Mini-magpie’s amazing tutorial on turning an old jumper into toddler trousers.  One of my old work jumpers has developed a hole is probably isn’t worth fixing so…

http://minimagpie.com/HOWTO

it will be turned into a pair of purple trousers for the Autumn.

The rest of the weekend has been mixed so far, new pigs are arriving tomorrow so we’ve been busy for the last two days, putting in a new fence, cleaning the hutch and cutting back the grass from the fence (so it doesn’t short out the electrics).  In the process of this hard work I was clearing a tussock only to discover it was also an ants nest… ouch!

Circle beds are so far mixed, I am getting some nice growth in them and they are easy to weed.  Unfortunately they also look like comfortable cat toilets so I’ve lost half my carrots already. Life of a gardener I guess.

Round Like a Circle Bed

I’ve been reading up on everything permaculture for a while and slowly drip feeding the principles into the design and construction of our vegetable garden.

Gather your ingredients.

Gather your ingredients.

One of our biggest challenges has been couch grass – it is persistent, deep rooted and in the way.  We used the first set of pigs to move a lot of it but since I’ve discovered No Dig gardening I’ve been looking for other ways to reclaim patch of ground for vegetables.  Which is where I came upon the idea of the circle bed.

The idea is simple and I constructed one and planted it up inside an hour – so time efficient when you are grabbing gardening time when the baby goes for a nap

I started with a circle of cardboard roughly 1 meter in diameter. Simply made using a drawing pin, a little over 1/2 a metre of string and a pencil.  I tied the pencil to one end of the string, attached the other to the centre of my piece of cardboard and then keeping the string taught, sketched out a circle.

Then I soaked the cardboard in water and popped it straight on the grass in the location I picked out – near the other vegetable bed but with plenty of room to move around.

The stick is just a garnish.

The stick is just a garnish.

Then I piled up 1 wheelbarrow of well rotted horse manure and then a layer of 60 litres of compost.

Well rotted Manure.  Thanks to the neighbours.

Well rotted Manure. Thanks to the neighbours.

 

After that it was easy to shape with a bit of watering and I patted it down like a giant sandcastle.  I made little terraces for the seeds and then smoothed them over.

You can just make out some handprints.

You can just make out some handprints.

Because the circle bed is only 1 metre in diameter and heaped in the centre you never have to walk on it (and so avoid compacting the soil).  The mound creates 3 growing areas, near the base for shorter rooted plants like lettuce, 6-8 inches up the side for longer rooted things (I’ve chose Mooli and Carrots) and the very top where I’ll probably plant a Cavelo Nero, or maybe a squash plant, or maybe a cucumber – who knows!

In the end it was a squash plant…

I'm the king of the castle... etc.

I’m the king of the castle… etc.

The first bed I made I used a straw mulch as suggested in the book.  Then I realised that the book was for Australian gardeners who use the straw to reflect sunlight (less of a concern in the UK!).  Therefore I’ve pulled it to one side to let more light and warmth in and I’m hoping it will create a slug obstacle course. When I made the second bed I skipped the straw layer entirely.

The second bed has nasturtiums plants in the top which I am hoping will cascade down the mound creating ground cover and making it look beautiful.  Cross your fingers this all works!