Thursday, 20 October 2016

Rooty fruity

As part of our plans for the garden we want to surround the plot with native hedging and plant numerous trees. Although the smallholding is not very big, by careful planning and planting we will have space for plenty of fruit trees in the Food Forest.

Today we headed to a supermarket that had bare-root fruit trees for sale for £4.50 each. I expected to find small trees or whips, but to my delight they are healthy looking plants around four feet high. The roots are wrapped to keep some moisture around them and as yet I haven't inspected their root systems, but the top of the trees look good. They are grafted onto M26 rootstock and other semi-dwarfing rootstocks, so the eventual height of each tree will be around ten to twelve feet. For us, this is an ideal height, not so short that the trees look out of scale in the available space, but not so large that we'd need ladders to reach the fruit (or not for many years at least).

The fruit trees that I selected are

1 x Apple Cox's Orange Pippin (which were my father's favourite apple)
2 x Apple Elstar
1 x Apple Jonagold
2 x Cooking Apple Bramley

1 x Pear Doyenne Du Comice
1 x Pear Conference

3 x Plum Opal
1 x Plum Victoria

2 x Cherry Stella
3 x Cherry Morello

All these for a little over £75!

These will be the bulk of the fruiting trees in the food forest together with an apple tree from my neighbour (not sure what it's called but the fruits are delicious) and a mirabelle tree that I lifted from the root system of a mirabelle tree in the duck enclosure. I'll also plant some young hazelnut trees and elderberry trees moved from behind the piggeries. I'd like to find some quince, mulberries and a medlar tree, but those will have to wait until I find them at a reasonable price.

Tomorrow I will start to prepare for their planting by digging holes and incorporating plenty of well rotted wood chippings and garden compost, I will add a very little granulated organic plant food and prepare a mycrorrhizal fungi gel which should encourage root development and give the trees a good start. Where I can't dig down into the soil, I will build Heugelkultur mounds, piling old logs onto the ground with smaller branches on top, then cover them with a mix of topsoil and composted wood chippings before planting a tree on top of the mound. The mounds will be ideal on the areas where there are gentle slopes, so that water naturally gravitates towards the tree mound and the woody material will absorb the water, giving the trees access to moisture when they need it.

I plan to under-plant the trees with comfrey that has deep roots to draw up nutrients from the lower levels of the soil and leaves that can be used as a chop-and-drop mulch and also strawberries which will wilt quickly when they are lacking water and give me a hint that the trees may need a drink too.

Hopefully by next spring the trees will be settled into their new positions and will reward us with a lovely display of blossom.

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Monday, 17 October 2016

Raised beds, gifts and chickens

  It's been another good week in the garden, although the sun comes up later and the air is cooler, I have still been able to get outside and make some progress. We've had another couple of loads of chipped wood delivered by the local tree surgeons (two different tree surgeons now drop off chippings to us), so I have been able to move ahead with making pathways around raised beds.

  I've struggled to keep on top of the weeds growing through the cardboard layer that I've put on the pathways between raised beds and they've been rampaging through the vegetable beds. So I've made the decision that for the first couple of years I will have weed supressing membrane on the paths, covered with wood chippings and once the raised beds are more established and the pernicious weeds are killed off, I will lift the membrane, replace it with cardboard again and a deep layer of wood chippings.

I would rather not use plastic in the garden, but I need to find a balance between what I'd like to do and what I am physically capable of doing. If I spend the time and energy keeping on top of the pernicious weeds in non-productive areas, I won't have energy to either tend the productive areas or to develop further areas of the garden. On balance, this seems a sensible compromise, long term the plastic membrane will be removed, but in the short term I am giving myself a chance to get the rest of the garden developed.

   After laying out the paths and giving them a three to four inch layer of wood chippings, I covered the area that will be the raised bed with a layer of cardboard boxes and then covered the cardboard with well composted wood chippings. Next I will put some topsoil, garden compost and mixed them together and top it with another layer of well composted wood chippings. This bed will then be ready to plant up.

Having decided on next year's planting plan I have realised that some of the options I've selected just won't work. I've allocated one bed to have broad beans in it, which will need planting in the next couple of weeks if I want to have an early crop next year, but that bed still has purple sprouting broccoli, carrots and spinach in it and they will sit in the ground over the winter. So I will need to re-jiggle my plan again and put the autumn planted vegetables into beds that are vacant or becoming vacant very soon.

I've been back to see my GP this week to discuss the results of last week's blood tests. It looks like the short Hashimoto's attack that I had a few weeks ago took it's toll on my thyroid, as it's function had dropped again. Although my results showed 'within normal range' I have learned that I feel best when the TSH level is around or just below 1. The normal range for the tests that my GP uses is 0.3 - 4.2, so in theory anywhere in that range is acceptable. I'm not sure who it is acceptable to, but it's certainly not right for me! When I can get my TSH to around 0.5 (together with some pretty careful management of what I eat and when, and what activities I do and when) I feel close to normal in energy and general health, last week's test showed it had increased to 2.38, which explains why I have been feeling less than sparkly for the last few weeks. My lovely GP, who is happy to work with how a patient feels and not just the numbers on the screen, was happy to increase my medication to help put my TSH back to where I feel I good as I can.

I'm aware that I am very fortunate to have a GP who works with a patient in this way, so many people that I've spoken to are told that they have reached 'normal range' and that's that, they are left struggling with a thyroid still not being supported to the extent that it needs to be for them to feel healthy. Hats off to my GP for listening to my request and being happy to work with me as I try to take some control of my well-being.

Hashimoto's is an auto-immune disease, my body has mistakenly decided to attack itself and in particular, attack my thyroid gland. I have a couple of other auto-immune issues lurking away, but thankfully they don't effect my every day living and hopefully they never will.

Growing my own food is part of managing the Hashimoto's disease and the hypothyroidism that it's caused. Reducing the synthetic chemicals and toxins that I eat has gone a long way to helping how I feel and Mr J says that he is feeling healthier too. Added to the reduction in substances that were causing problems, the increase in fresh air and gentle exercise has also helped me feel better. It's a win-win situation.

Earlier in the week my brother-in-law telephoned me to see if I could make use of some grapes that a friend of his had. So mid-week we went to my sister's home and collected two huge carrier bags filled to the brim with sweet black grapes.

I have washed them and sorted through them, picking them off their stalks and discarding unripe, over-ripe and mushy ones. The first bag yielded almost 9lbs (4kgs) of grapes ready to cook. 

I used 4lbs of fruit to make some grape jelly, which tastes wonderful and will be a lovely accompaniment to cold cuts of meat or roast duck. The remainder I have frozen and will use to make syrups and wine when there is a little less to do in the garden.

Over the weekend, we started to put fence stakes into the ground in the chicken field. Until now we have been using flexible chicken netting (the type that can be electrified), but two long rolls of this netting were on loan from Helen at Valerie Chicken. We need to give the netting back to Helen for her to use to keep her pigs secure and although she doesn't need it back until December, there is no point in us waiting until last minute to put in our permanent fencing. So using the recycled fence stakes that came from my sister's home, Mr J has put in the first row of stakes that I will then fix metal chicken wire onto and that will divide the field in two (as the flexible netting does now). 

We have decided that it would be sensible to then plant trees and shrubs along each side of the new fence. This should provide us with more fruit, nuts and berries and give the chickens some shade, but most importantly it will offer more wind protection and as the plants grow, the hedge should slow down the wind that whistles across the chicken field for most of the year.

Last night (Sunday) we moved the Australorp pullet that was hatched at the end of June into the chicken coop that houses the other Australorps that were hatched at the end of July. As they are from different breeders, the eggs from the older bird will be ideal for breeding additional members of the flock and for providing us with hatching eggs to sell.

This morning she doesn't look wildly happy about being in a new enclosure and her former companions are looking rather put out that she is now in an adjacent space, but it won't take too long for either her or the others to settle down again.

Once the new fences are in place we will also create a separate enclosure for the Jersey Giants. I had said that I'd finished hatching eggs for the year, but I changed my mind and decided to hatch one more batch of chicks which can over-winter in the shelter of the stable and venture outside at their own pace. 

 So I have found another breeder of Jersey Giants (photo of his young birds above) and ordered six eggs which should arrive in the next few days. Hopefully this clutch will give us another female or two and if we get a cockerel then it will be going to the breeder that we bought the first eggs from to put some fresh genes into his flock of birds.

I have tried to build good relationships with the breeders of birds that we have bought eggs from, because there is nothing quite like asking advice from folks who know the breed well and it's nice to be able to offer something in return, like birds from different bloodlines. We are still learning (an awful lot, thick and fast) and I feel that knowledge and experience are the greatest assets we can acquire.

We are heading back outside this morning to continue installing the new fencing for the chickens. But first, as always, it's time for a cuppa!

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