Friday, 16 September 2016

End of summer planning

 As I type it's very warm, we've had a couple of days of summer in mid September and it's due to continue for a few more days, but without a doubt the summer is coming to an end and the activity in the garden reflects this.

I've harvested the borlotti beans, popped them all out of their colourful pods and left them to dry on the kitchen windowsill. They will be a useful addition to soups and stews in the winter. I won't be able to use them as seeds for next year as they are F1 hybrids, so I will need to buy fresh seed. Now I know that we like these pink marbled beans I will source some organic seeds that are not F1s so that we can save the seeds year after year.

The freezer is being filled up with vegetables and fruit from the garden, our neighbours' fruit trees (windfall apples) and from the hedgerow. There are pounds of runner beans, broad beans, mangetout, patty pan squash, rainbow chard, apples, blackberries, white currants, elderberries and chopped herbs. There's a paper sack for potatoes that is being filled a little more each day as I lift the tubers. And the larder cupboard is being filled with jars of jam and sauces and bottles of wine.
 The pumpkins are turning bright orange and look like they will be ready for us to give one to my grandsons and another to a friend's children for Halloween and we will be able to have pumpkin soup, roasted & mashed pumpkin and sweet pumpkin pie. Root vegetables will stay in place as long as possible and leeks will be lifted as we need them.
Most of the brassicas should be fine until we need them. 
Some of the first January King cabbages look ready to cut.

 And the red cabbage won't be too far behind. Many of the leafy vegetables will stay in the ground throughout the winter and be harvested on a 'cut and come again' basis. There are also crops that I've grown specifically to give to the chickens to supplement their pelleted food in the cooler months.

My daughter gave me some seeds last Christmas and has offered to do the same again this year, but she has asked me to select what I would like to grow. This means that I need to start thinking about next year's vegetable garden before too long. I had a plan for what I was going to grow this year (it can be seen here) and inevitably, it didn't quite work out that way. 

What we actually achieved looked like this.
The 'empty' sections are places were we haven't created the raised beds yet. Given that this was our first year here and that we were unable to rotavate the ground as we had anticipated, I am very pleased with how much we have achieved, especially as now I've realised that churning up the ground would have been a bad decision. I've learnt a great deal about the garden, the way the wind blows throughout the year, the sunniest spots, the driest places and the subtle slope of the site. 

The appalling soil that we started with is already improving having added tons of compost made in our compost bins and bays, wood chippings, well rotted horse manure and top soil. The health of the soil life is improving too, it now has masses of worms, bugs of various kinds, fungi and bacteria. 

The chickens have played their part in improving the soil by scratching at the surface of the ground and fertilising it as they go. Their used bedding materials have gone into the compost heaps and into the circles of love, which in turn have gone into the ground. Even the young chicks have been working hard in the garden. 

These seven week olds are now free ranging daily and go to their own house at night. Next week I will put them into the chicken shed with the other hybrid birds. Two of these four are female and will remain with the flock as they mature to become part of our egg laying flock, the two males will be dispatched before they reach maturity as for the next two years we don't need more cockerels in Big Red's flock.
The seven week old Austrlorps are huge in comparison to the hybrids, they now live in an enclosure and house of their own and before too long I will add the older Austrlorp into this group. Our plans for the chickens next year is to have four areas in the field, each one having a separate flock of birds. One each for the Cream Legbars, Australorps, Jersey Giants and the hybrids. By keeping them separately we will be able to offer hatching eggs for sale and also young birds for those who can travel to collect them from us. We have been careful to ensure that we have birds in each flock from different bloodlines to keep the offspring strong and healthy.

We've decided that next year we will aim to have a larger hatch of ducks earlier in the year rather than several smaller hatchings. This way we won't need to have lots of small poultry houses to keep ducks of different ages in, but can use one or two larger houses for a shorter period. If I have to clean out smelly duck houses I would rather do it for more birds for a shorter length of time than a constant need to clean throughout the spring and summer that would happen from multiple hatchings. 

So our planning for next year is beginning to take shape, little by little. Next step is to have a good look through the seeds that I have left over from this year, decide which crops I want to grow again and order any seeds that have run out and any new varieties that we want to try. I am going to start this process today, but first, of course, it's time for a cuppa!

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Monday, 12 September 2016

A sociable weekend

On Friday morning my daughter came to visit. It's been several weeks since we had a chance to just hang out together, doing nothing in particular, but sharing our time and chatting all things family related.

She was enchanted by the five littlest ducklings, although not as much as I am besotted with my grandson number two, who at ten months old has developed a lovely personality and is now getting speedily mobile.

She went home with a food box filled with vegetables from the garden, chutney and sauces that I've been making and an organic butternut squash that came from a local shop. She hadn't cooked a whole butternut squash before so I gave her a recipe suggestion and a few hours later she sent me photo of the roasted squash filled with goat's cheese and pumpkins seeds, which she said was delicious.

In the afternoon I continued to plant out the perennials and shrubs given to us by Jane and to transplant young plants that I have raised from seed. I started to think about which plants to take cuttings from so that they have time to form root systems before winter stops their growth. It's such an easy way to propagate plants and every year I forget to spend the short amount of time it takes to take the cuttings. This year I will get around to doing it before it's too late.

Saturday morning was spent in the kitchen, my neighbours have kindly invited me to collect as many windfall apples as I'd like and I've taken them up on the offer and have been collecting a bucketful a day. So, I made apple sauce (to accompany pork) and froze apples to make crumbles from in the depths of winter. The kitchen smelled delicious.

I have had some poor nights of sleep this week and have become very tired, so Saturday evening by the time we had got the birds safely tucked away in their houses, I was ready to sit quietly for an hour before I went to bed.

On Sunday we were up and about bright and early and after doing the morning chores, I baked a lemon and poppy seed cake. We were going out for the day and I was very excited to be heading off to Carmarthenshire. Ten minutes before we were due to leave the Dirty Dozen made a bid for freedom and more than half of them escaped from their run. Mr J phoned me from the chicken field to request my help in rounding them up. Over excited chicks who are hell-bent on being outside their run are not the easiest to herd back into their confines, but with a bit of extra coaxing and a lot of bribery with armfuls of green leaves from the vegetable garden, we got them safely back into their run.

We hadn't got very far in the car before I fell asleep (which is why I am not driving at the moment - falling asleep at the wheel really wouldn't be too clever) and I woke up just as got the to sign that read 'Welcome to Carmarthenshire'.

We were headed to the smallholding of Annette and her partner. I 'met' Annette via Twitter and a few weeks ago she invited us (and several other smallholders who tweet) to visit their home for a barbecue. And what a lovely smallholding they have! 32 acres of Welsh hillside and a pretty house nestled into it with beautiful views across the valley.

The barbecues were lit and heated up while we all took a tour of the smallholding. Their flock of sheep in one field were lovely as was the dog Edwin who was very well behaved. They have eight chickens and a number of ducks free-ranging around the back garden. 

 We ate a feast of food (everyone brought something to share) including burgers, lamb chops, roast pork, rabbit, vegetable kebabs, salads followed by cake, brownies, Eton mess and New York cheesecake. It occurred to me that any gathering of smallholders was bound to have fabulous food and Mr J ate so well at lunchtime that he only had a few biscuits with cheese for supper.

Mid-afternoon we said goodbye to the new friends we'd made with promises of having another get together before too long. I was more than happy to offer to host the next one here on our small patch.

After a much wanted cup of tea, I headed out into the garden and pottered for a while, planting some herbs and moving some more of the huge pile of wood chippings from the front garden into the area that will be the food forest.

Once the birds were all in bed, we curled up on the sofa and switched off our brains for a while by watching television.

It has been a lovely weekend and I'm looking forward to getting to know the other smallholders better as time goes on. Today we are starting to make an improved run arrangement for the Dirty Dozen, but before we begin it must be time for a cuppa.

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