Friday, 8 July 2016

Raising more questions than food


In June I wrote a post in praise of straw and I still love using it, but I've had a light-bulb moment.

Looking around the kitchen garden I'm a bit disappointed with how some of the crops are growing. Once I'd realised that the soil on the smallholding needed much care and attention to become rich and fertile and that this wasn't going to happen overnight, I started to make as much compost as I could to help enrich the soil over the coming months (and years) and we bought in some local topsoil to use in raised beds. I've mixed the topsoil with compost, composted bark and potting compost to try to increase the volume and quality of the topsoil.

But something isn't quite right. Plants aren't growing well, they have quite yellow leaves and are struggling to put on growth. As an emergency measure I bought some organic plant feed to give them a boost and for a few of the plants this seems to have been just the tonic they need. For others, it has made little difference and around half of the squash plants and most of the cannellini beans have died or possibly they have been eaten.

I've been wracking my brains for the reasons for this and then one morning I woke up thinking that perhaps the straw that I'm using as a mulch is causing the problem. We buy the straw from a local farm and it occurs to me that it isn't an organic farm and perhaps (it's only a perhaps because I really don't know) they use glyphosate or a similar herbicide to finish their barley before it's harvested and maybe this is the problem.

If you don't know about the use of glyphosate, it's an eye opener to learn about. As I understand it, the way it works is that it is sprayed onto crops like wheat and barley a few days before harvest. It's basically a chemical compound that is used as a weed killer and works by forcing the plant to grow faster than it can maintain, so it dies from exhaustion. It's been sold in garden centres etc. as a weed killer for our gardens as products like Round Up. When it's applied to our food crops it makes them mature fast and then the crop is harvested before the plant dies. (Here's a link to Wikipedia's entry about glyphosate).

I'm not going to make a comment about it's use except to say that we are choosing to live with as few chemicals as possible on our food and in our home. Here is the EU press release fact sheet about the most recent decisions on glyphosate use. It's use in public parks, public playgrounds and gardens is to be minimised (workers applying it usually wear protective clothing!) and its use pre-harvest is to be minimised. But of course, it is up to member nations to apply these recommendations and our in/out status could mean that the UK won't be applying these EU regulations at all.

Anyway, I need to do a lot more research as it looks as though many herbicides do not break down and just stay in the straw and soil. I can't tell you how much I have sworn in the last few days as I have realised that far from feeding my soil, I may be poisoning it!

But there is no point in me panicking before I have all the information that I can find (and understand), so next I need to speak to the farmers at the farm where we have been getting the straw and ask them what chemicals they use on the straw while it's growing and prior to harvesting. Then I can make a decision about whether we continue to use their straw on the smallholding or whether I need to remove it all and dispose of it and find an alternative, organic source of mulching material.

And what of the straw that we use for the poultry bedding? This comes from a different source and again, I need to ask the same questions. The birds don't eat the straw, but I do add the used straw to the compost heaps. One simple answer would be to look for a local organic farmer who sells straw. And this made me think about the spent grain and hops that we are getting from the local brewery... has that barley been treated with Roundup too? It's not an organic beer that is made there. Questions, questions!

I have a love/hate relationship with light-bulb moments. Having a realisation that can change the way we do things is a double edged sword, the benefits could be valuable, to our food production and to our health, but the process of the change-over can be a pain in the proverbial. I will of course blog about what I find out and the decisions that we make about using the straw on our smallholding, but right now, I need a cuppa!

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Fruit and feathered friends

The morning light is great for taking photos of the garden, it gives depth to the images and highlights the plants. So for the last couple of days I have been out early in the day taking a few pictures. The trees at the front of the house are producing fruit nicely, except for the pear, it seems to have a problem. It has absolutely no fruit on it at all. I can only guess that the flowers were frosted as there is plenty of green growth and no sign of disease.
There are two apple trees, both of which are bearing fruit which is growing and ripening nicely, but one of them has these brown spots on the leaves. It almost reminds me of black spot that roses suffer from, so one of my tasks this evening will be to identify what the problem is and how to treat it organically.
Even the blackberry brambles that are creeping over the fence from the field are looking lovely, the white blossoms look so fresh against the dark green leaves.

I thought I would wait until we have picked the crop of blackberries before I cut this bramble back to keep it under some semblance of control.
Yesterday Mr J cut the grass on the small areas that I had designated for herbs and cut flowers. I have had a bit of a rethink and have decided for this year at least (and probably for much longer), I will have the raspberries in these beds. They are still in the pots that I dumped them into when I lifted them from Mr J's mother's home last summer and they are starting to struggle with the restricted root space. So it seems better to have them in a place that isn't perfect, but that will be tended on a regular basis, than to ignore them and let them struggle.
I laid down some cardboard to help exclude the light from the grass and them placed some cardboard boxes on the top and half filled them with topsoil from the pile that was delivered a couple of weeks ago. Into these I planted some of the autumn fruiting raspberries, which are already starting to produce some fruit. I haven't decided what to use as mulch on the cardboard yet, I've continued my search for wood chippings but with no success, so will have to have a think about something clever and cost effective (read as very cheap or free).
I planted two boxes and watered them in well and once all the raspberry canes are planted into the boxes I think it will look rather nice. I may have alternate rows of raspberries and herbs, and tomorrow I will play around with designs and make a decision then.
As I was sitting on the ground planting the raspberries the ducks came and sat nearby in the shade of the elderberry tree (which is exactly what I was doing). They don't usually sit this close to me so I gingerly took out my phone and managed to get this snapshot, over my left shoulder, of them relaxing in a cool spot after waddling around in the full heat of the day.

The last few days have been very busy. On Sunday my daughter and grandsons came to visit for the morning. I like having early morning visitors, it's the time of day when I have most energy and enthusiasm and so I cooked breakfast for us all, chatted with my daughter, cooed at grandson number 2 and did some puzzles (that have been in my family for over fifty years) with grandson number 1.

In the afternoon, we travelled to the Forest of Dean to collect our new Cream Legbar cockerel. He's around twelve to fourteen weeks old and is jolly handsome. The breeder also kindly gave us a couple of young cockerels who are now five weeks old. This means that once they are older, we can choose which of the boys we want to keep for breeding with our Cream Legbar girls and dispatch the others.

Early evening, Helen arrived to collect the pretty little cockerel who has been living with us for the last few weeks as we no longer need him now that we have the Legbar boys and Big Red.


Over the weekend we moved the chickens into the shed and we timed it so that as they girls were changing their sleeping arrangements, the younger birds joined them in their new house. It seems that eight weeks old is an ideal time to introduce new birds to the flock. Big Red and Little White had been living in a henhouse and run in the chicken field and each day we have let them out of their pen for a while, supervised for the first three weeks and increasingly on their own for the last week. They aren't integrated into the flock as yet, but they aren't shut in a run all day so that's a definite improvement for them.

The littlest chicks are growing fast, they have already grown some wing feathers and spend long periods at a time cheep-cheeping to each other and exploring their pen in the boot room. The oldest chick is now a week old and in a few days we will move them to the nursery pen in the chicken condo (the old stable).

The next batch of eggs are ready to go into the incubator and should hatch at the end of the month. This time we have some duck eggs laid by our ducks and some more Australorp eggs purchased from a different breeder. As ducks take twenty-eight days to hatch and chickens take twenty-one, we have already put the duck eggs in and on Wednesday night we will add the chicken eggs in the hope that they all hatch at the same time.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Hatching chickens VIDEO

It's been another few days of learning faster than I'd like. I've been experimenting with some video software and, for a beginner who hasn't really played with anything like this before, I am quite pleased with the result. Hopefully my editing skills as well as my shaky camera work will improve in time!

So, here it is, a vlog of our latest hatchings. And if it won't play from the link above, you can find it on YouTube here.