Saturday, 16 April 2016

Carpentry and fruity dreams

With the enthusiasm of a spring chicken I bounced out of bed at dawn, ready to enjoy whatever the day had to offer. At an appropriate time (not too early so I didn't upset the neighbours) I headed outside to start putting together the next couple of raised beds that we had prepared. There was snow on the ground in many areas of UK this morning, including a little further north in Monmouthshire, so I left fortunate that apart from a chilly breeze, it was another beautiful spring day.
I set up a make-shift workshop in the stable area. I attached two pieces of wood together using short off-cuts of wood, to make up the fourteen feet length needed and then Mr J came outside to fix the sides to the ends to create the frame for the next raised bed. With a lot of laughter, we walked, no, it was more like we waddled, across the yard carrying it into the paddock that is slowly becoming our kitchen garden.

With four of the beds in place, I can now really start to see how good the new garden area is going to be. The beds aren't exactly the same size and the sides are a bit wiggly where the wood is warped or at the joins in length. I did think that this would irritate me, but I've realised that it really doesn't bother me, I probably won't notice the sides once the plants are in and I am looking at crops rather than the contrast of the wood against the ground.

The next task for the newest beds is to line the base of them with thick cardboard and fill them. But that will have to wait for another day as my back is starting to complain and it makes more sense to pause now and let it recover than to push it until it 'pings' and I have to spend days and days doing no lifting.

Once all of the planned raised beds are in place, I'll be able to see how much space there is at the far end of the paddock to make a soft fruit garden. Although now I can see the vegetable bed area taking shape, I'm thinking it may look nice with soft fruit growing down the length of the garden on the outside of the beds. It's one of those things that I need to make a decision about before too long as I have a huge number of raspberry plants waiting to go into the ground. I lifted these autumn fruiting raspberries from Mr J's mother's garden last year and they've overwintered in pots by the barn. They are now growing well so I want to get them in the ground before much longer, that way I won't be disturbing their roots too much.  My next door neighbours have kindly offered me some yellow raspberry canes to add some change to the fruit jams and jellies that I plan to make in the late summer and early autumn.

We have several blackcurrant, redcurrant and white currant bushes, a cranberry, boysenberry and gooseberry bush to add to the soft fruit garden. In late autumn I will take hardwood cuttings of these to increase the stock in the garden. We will also create a strawberry bed, but have yet to buy the plants or to raise them from seed as I am hoping that some friends will have runners that we can have to start off the strawberry bed.

A part of our choosing to live on a smallholding was that we could have more control over the food we eat by producing much of it ourselves. So we plan not only to grow as much of our own fruit and vegetables as we can, but I hope to fill the larder with homemade jams, pickles, chutneys and sauces together with cordials and wine. I'm going to be busy from mid-summer onwards preserving our crops in every way that I can.

To ensure that we have enough containers for the produce we expect to have, we've been collecting jars, bottles and plastic containers with lids for well over a year and, before too long we will buy a chest freezer so that we have a supply of vegetables throughout the winter. We will also store vegetables that will not rot easily (like onions, pumpkins and squashes) in the barn. It will be interesting to see if can grow and save enough to see us right through the year.

It's day four of incubating the eggs that we bought (and a couple of Jack's eggs too) and Mr J and I are excited to learn whether any of them will produce chicks. The eggs were bought to start to provide us with meat once the chicks are old enough. The grand plan is to raise some birds for their meat and keep some for egg production, I will write updates of how we get on with this as time goes on.

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