Saturday, 8 October 2016

Totally home grown


 We reached a milestone this week, our first meal that was made from entirely home grown ingredients. It doesn't feel like a big deal, it feels like an enormous achievement and one that I'd like to repeat regularly.
 I've continued to harvest the crops as they ripen and prepare them for storing for the winter. The beans, in particular, have been very good, I had left the last of the runner bean pods on the plants to ripen and this week I picked the fat bean pods and spent a lovely half an hour popping the creamy white kidney beans out of their green jackets.

The largest of the kidney beans will be dried and saved to use as seed for next year's plants. I was surprised at just how large the beans are, so hopefully next year the White Lady runner bean seedlings will be strong and healthy. The remainder of these fat beans will also be dried and added to the larder for use in soups and stews over the winter.

On Tuesday we were without electricity for the day. The local electricity supplier had told us that the power would be off for the best part of the day while they did essential maintenance to the power lines. The essential work that they were doing was to cut back trees that were at risk of interfering with the power lines. Far from being an inconvenience, I realised that this might be a great opportunity and so, as soon as we could see where the workmen were, we hopped into the car and headed off to talk to them. I gave them a note with my name, phone number and address on it and asked them to drop off any wanted wood chippings that they weren't leaving at the properties they were working at. 

 The next day they arrived with two trailer loads of chipped wood. It will need to sit for a year or two before it can be added to the floor of the food forest or into the soil of the raised beds (as it's from fir trees), but in the meantime I am using it on the pathways to cover the weed suppressing membrane. I know it's not ideal to have plastic membrane on the ground, but for now I am using it to kill off the pernicious weeds and in years to come and when I have saved up to buy the materials, I will replace it with bricks, flagstones or something else more environmentally kind.

On Wednesday, we had our 100% home grown meal. The only things on our plate that didn't come from the garden were a bit of butter and salt and pepper, but everything else had been grown or raised on the smallholding. The chicken was small, but tasted fabulous and was all the better for us knowing that it had lived a good life with daily (all day) access to the chicken field with fresh air, space to run around and a healthy diet including plenty fresh greens to eat. With the chicken we had roast potatoes, purple sprouting broccoli, leeks and a ratatouille type mixture made using patty pan squashes, tomatoes, garlic and basil. We had a certain sense of pride and satisfaction at knowing that we had put all of that food on the plates.
 On Thursday I started to clear the pumpkins from the small patch where they've been growing all summer. Earlier in the year I made a compost heap hotbed from spent brewery grain and straw, then made four small planting pockets in the top and planted a pumpkin and a nasturtium in each. One plant was eaten by slugs over the course of the first night, but the other three plants have gone on to produce some nice fruits.
 We had nine large pumpkins, seven of which are now ripening and hardening in the gentle autumn sunshine. As the seeds we a gift from my daughter and grandsons, they will be given one of the fruit to use for their halloween evening and the others will boost the larder considerably.
I was looking foward to seeing how much the grain and straw mixture had broken down and had visions of being able to spread a nice deep layer of well rotted compost across the area where the pumpkins have been, but the materials haven't broken down as much as I'd imagined that they would. So I think the best thing that I can do with this is create a new compost heap and use this as the brown material in it.
 In the raised beds, the nasturiums have grown well and seem to have done their job of attracting pollinators to the garden. I've collected some of their seeds and others I have scattered across the beds. I am happy for them to pop up at random in future years, after all, if they are somewhere inconvenient then I can either plant around them or pull them up.
 Nasturtium seeds can be pickled to make a 'poor man's caper' and if they are soaked in brine for a few days before pickling in vinegar some of the heat is taken out of them and they are a milder, gentler taste. I've tried this before with success and would happily make them again, except neither Mr J nor I like them! I might make one batch so that I can give them to friends and family at Christmas in a home-made hamper.
 In early summer I noticed that a sapling was growing in the area to the side of the piggeries and this week I've spotted that it is now about eighteen inches high. Fortunately it is growing in a suitable place, not too close to other trees or near buildings, so I will leave it where it is and allow it to grow. In other spots around the garden I have noticed other seedlings that are not in such clever places. There's a cherry tree that is growing at the foot of a compost bay, I will carefully dig it up and move it to the food forest. Several hawthorn and buckthorn are growing in the scrubby area behind the piggeries and they will be moved to the hedges.

There is still a great deal to do in the garden before autumn sets in fully and as today it's dry again, I am heading back outside to carry on getting in the vegetable garden, but first I think there's just time for a cuppa!

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