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Sow The Seed follows the ups and downs of me, Helen and my husband, Simon - a couple trying to live a simpler life in south-west Wales.

I hope this blog will not only be a good reference and diary for us over the coming years, but will give helpful advice and tips for people trying to do the same thing, or dreaming of doing the same thing.

Find out more on how we got here.

What’s Happening Today

Tasks: Sowing; pruning; weeding; pottering

Harvesting: Cucumber, lettuce, radishes, strawberries, broad beans, potatoes

Eggs this year: 394 (hens) 317 (ducks)


One more tree for our growing woodland

We’ve completed the last task of 2017 this morning, planting a new tree. I bought Simon a Wild Service Tree (Sorbus torminalis) for Christmas, as it was a tree he’d been interested in for some while because of its rarity in the UK, although native to this country. We’d first seen one years ago when visiting an ancient woodland near Llandovery, Carmarthenshire (Poor Man’s Wood), which has a number of specimens. I’m unclear why it is so rare, but research suggests that it is a highly valued timber so the trees may have been felled for this reason. It also is hard to propagate from seed, needing very exacting conditions, including cold winters which are becoming less frequent. Whatever the reason, we now can say that our corner of West Wales is now home to a Wild Service Tree. We’ve got space in our small woodland area, partly due to the number of ash trees which have now succumbed to ash dieback. So this morning a hole was dug and the tree planted. We’ve staked it to protect it from wind rock, and help it establish a good root system before having to fend for itself. By maturity it could reach up to 25m high, so will be one of the larger trees in our woodland area, which is beginning to take shape, despite most of the trees being only eight years old.

So that’s it for 2017. We haven’t set ourselves any specific projects for 2018, but as the year progresses no doubt the tasks will become evident! Happy New Year.

Cider making underway

Well it’s been a while since I posted anything on Sow the Seed, despite lots going on. Summer has been and gone, with all the growing and harvesting that the summer season entails, and we’re now well into autumn and the harvesting continues, with apples taking centre stage. Our fruit trees are now in full production, with most of the trees producing well. One aspect of having plenty of apples is that we can make apple juice and cider, and today was ear marked as cider making day.

This year we have got our first big crop of apples from our cider tree – “Yarlington Mill”. In retrospect we might not have planted this variety, which can only really be used for cider making. Other varieties have multiple uses – the variety “Tom Putt”, which we also planted, can be used for juicing, cider making or cooking. Never mind though, it’s a good excuse to try making some farmhouse cider. You are meant to only use the juice from cider apples for a proportion of the cider, so we juiced Tom Putt and Golden Delicious alongside the Yarlington Mill to give us a cider that will hopefully be tasty, and not too dry.

The whole process is a bit time consuming. The apples have to picked and washed, and then cut up, crushed and pressed. All the demijohns and equipment have to be sterilised, and the kitchen starts to look like a chemistry lab! It’s a good job for a wet weekend, which we seem to be having plenty of.

The cider is now undergoing its initial ferment, and once that has finished there is the process of racking off for a second ferment and then bottling. It’s best to keep it bottled for a few months before consuming, so it’s really not a quick process. The problem then is that if it really tastes awful at the end of it all, you’ve had to wait so long and invest a lot of time before finding out.

Roll on next year when we get to try it!

Mr Duck has flown the nest!

Spring is definitely in full flow. The blossom is out on the fruit trees, the birds are busy making nests, and the swallows have arrived. However, there are also other signs of spring in our garden. Around this time last year, our drake decided to fly away one day and leave his ladies. He didn’t go very far, just down to the neighbours. He came back of his own accord a day later, and stayed put. However, he must have had the urge to try again, as he’s disappeared. None of the neighbours have seen him, and it’s been three days since he left, with no sign of him returning. We think he must have gone further afield to try his luck elsewhere. We’re not too bothered he’s gone, as he did molest the ladies a lot, and he was just another mouth to feed, with little in return. He certainly didn’t like us, often hissing at us if we got too close. The ladies don’t seem too bothered either (as far as we can tell), and they are still laying well. We’ll keep a look out for him, but I think given the time he’s been away he’s gone for good.

Whilst we’ve lost a duck, we’ve gained another occupant in the garden, just in time for Easter. A rabbit (we assume it is only one), has decided that they are going to make their home in our garden, and more specifically in our polytunnel. We’ve caught them on the camera trap, so we definitely know it’s a rabbit, and I surprised it the other day when I went to open up the polytunnel one morning. This is the first time we’ve seen a rabbit this close to the house, but given they have been growing in numbers in the area, it was only a matter of time before one appeared in the garden…but we hadn’t expected it to set up home in the polytunnel! We’re making efforts to remove it from the tunnel, but of course as soon as we laid a trap it hasn’t returned. We will have to play the waiting game!

Hen Pheasant caught on camera

We hope we’ve made our garden and grounds more wildlife friendly since we moved in, and given the amount and variety of birds we see, we think we have. And while we can see the birds and sometimes other wildlife in the garden, we haven’t seen much wildlife in the rest of the grounds…but we know it’s there as we see the evidence. Tracks criss-crossing the fields, large holes appear overnight, badger latrines and activity all over the place, and various “deposits” left around the place for me to find when I’m gardening!

I’ve been wanting to get a camera trap (sometimes called trail camera) for a while, which would help solve what is responsible for some of these mysteries. And for my birthday my wish was granted. Simon did lots of research on the various types of cameras available, and with a little help from a company called NatureSpy I received a Bushnell Essential E2 Trophy Cam. It takes both video and still photos, and can take pictures during the day and night. It’s a relatively simple device, relying on movement to trigger the camera into action, which takes either a series of still photos or a short video of whatever is in its field of view. The camera comes with a strap, which enables you to secure the camera against a tree, however, given there aren’t always trees available where you want to site the camera, I invested in a camera pole, which means you can place the camera wherever you want and at different heights.

My first attempts weren’t very successful, perhaps due to where it was positioned, but the camera is now down in our bottom field, not far from our pond, where we think there is wildlife activity. And we weren’t wrong as we’ve managed to capture a number of visitors – a local cat (which solves the mystery deposits left in our heather bushes), a hen pheasant (which is now a regular in the garden), and a fox (which is a little worrying given we keep chickens and ducks). I’m hoping once the badgers and their young become more active, we’ll get some good footage.


Diamond leision on trunk of ash tree

Diamond lesion on trunk of ash tree

I can’t believe I haven’t written anything on Sow The Seed since July. It’s now  the beginning of December, and summer is a distant memory. And unfortunately my first post in 5 months brings bad news…we’ve identified Ash Dieback on our plot. Some of our ash trees, which we planted during our first few winters here, have been growing well. However, this summer some of them didn’t look quite right, and when I went to look at them in the week, I saw the classic symptom of a diamond shaped lesion on the trunk of one of the trees. I didn’t see this on any others, but I’m sure if one of them has got it, then the rest will follow suit in due course. The saplings were all ones we had found growing nearby, and not from a tree nursery, so the disease must have come in on the wind, and will transfer from tree to tree this way as well. This is a bit of a disaster, not only are many of the trees we planted going to die, but much of our hedgerows are ash, so if these succumb to the disease, then the hedges are going to be very bare. I’ve read that some ash trees appear to be immune from getting Ash Dieback, so fingers crossed this may be the case with some of ours. Also, mature trees, of which we’ve got two in our garden, may also be better at withstanding the disease. We will just have to wait and see what happens.

All the advice says it is best to remove and destroy any small trees, to at least slowdown any transmittance to other trees, so we have cut down and burnt the tree, as well as a few others that looked a bit suspect. I will also report it, but I can see from the Forestry Commission website, that Ash Dieback has already been reported in our area, so this is not strictly necessary, but it might help to identify how quickly the disease is spreading.

We will now have to decide whether it is worth planting anything in place of the ash, or use this as a way to thin the trees, which would have needed doing at some point anyway.

So not great news to end the year on, but inevitable.

Section through trunk with leision

Section through trunk with lesion

First cherry harvest. Sweet (left) and sour (right)

First cherry harvest. Sweet (left) and sour (right)

It seems our endeavors to protect our cherries from the birds has worked, and we have been able to pick our first crop of cherries. It’s not a bumper crop, but enough sweet cherries (Stella) to nibble on and enough sour cherries (Morello) to make a few puddings. Unfortunately, the net we’re using has holes in which are large enough to let wasps in, so I picked as many as I could, and we’ll remove the nets so the birds and wasps can have the rest. There’s always something trying to get to our precious fruit!

Blighted Maris Piper (foreground) health Sarpo Mira (background)

Blighted Maris Piper (foreground) healthy Sarpo Mira (background)

It’s not surprising given the damp weather we’ve been having the last few days that some of our potatoes have succumbed to the dreaded blight. This is nearly 3 weeks earlier than last year, but thankfully this year I took precautions. As well as the usual varieties I like to grow – Charlotte for salad potatoes and Maris Piper for all round main crops, I also planted some Sarpo Mira and Axona varieties. Both of these are said to be less susceptible to blight. Looking at the plants they do seem to be holding up to their claim, as there doesn’t seem to be any sign of anything looking like blight on the leaves…in fact they look very healthy.

The Charlotte potatoes should be fine, as we are eating those now, but the Maris Piper potatoes won’t have grown to their full potential (usually you wouldn’t harvest these until late August). So I’m now keeping everything crossed that these new varieties continue to perform, and we’ll get a few potatoes for storing over winter.

Precious cherries (already under attack)

Precious cherries (already under attack)

This is the first year we’ve really had any fruit on our cherry trees, and we’re determined to get to try at least a few. Already the blackbirds have been having a good go at stopping us, so we’ve decided to take action. There are all kinds of ways of trying to stop birds getting to your fruit before you do, but I think the only real method is to net the fruit (and even this is not 100% bird proof, especially if they find a hole). I’d seen various YouTube videos showing how commercial orchards net their cherry trees, and most of them involve encasing the whole tree in a net. This is easier said than done when the tree is above head height. Luckily we’ve got some very large nets which should be adequate to get most of the branches covered on our still relatively small trees. So armed with a couple of long poles, Simon and I carefully manoeuvred the net over the tree and wrapped the bottom securely. It’s made some of the branches bend back a bit, but the net is light enough that it shouldn’t break the branches. There are also a few cherries pressing against the net, but hopefully the birds can’t land safely and start pecking at the fruit through the holes.

Fingers crossed this is enough to defend our precious cherries, which should be ready in a few weeks, if we get some summer sun!

After netting

After netting

Before netting

Before netting

Reunited again

Reunited again

We received a call one morning last week from our neighbour: “have you lost a duck? There’s a duck sitting on our driveway”. Sure enough, Mr Duck was missing from his run. None of the ducks are tame, so we weren’t sure how we were going to get him home. The initial attempts to try herding him back up the road just scared him, and he ended up flying over the hedge into the next neighbours garden and disappeared (he’s very well camouflaged). This wasn’t going to be easy. The neighbour spotted him later in the day (or his dog did), so we tried again to capture him, but he just disappeared into the undergrowth. The best thing was just to leave him, and see if he made his own way home. After all, he’d managed to fly out of the run, so there was no reason he couldn’t fly back again.

Sure enough, the next morning there he was back with his ladies. However, being a dumb bird, he hadn’t quite managed to get all the way home, but was pacing up and down the fence, inside the goats field, quacking to his ladies. The goats were curious about what this strange creature was in their field, and kept going up to him and backing off again. Mr Duck didn’t seem bothered and continued to call to the ducks. We managed to herd him slowly back through the gate and into his run, to be reunited with the others. A lot of head bobbing followed, and all was well again.

That night we went out to capture him, so we could clip his wing to stop him escaping again. It’s always a bit of a trauma trying to capture the ducks, but by using a sheet we managed to secure him and clipped his wing feathers (just on one side so he can’t fly away). We’ll do the other ducks as well, but there should be no reason for them to fly off without Mr Duck leading the way.

Fig tree, hole and root control bag

Fig tree, hole and root control bag

I’ve been growing a couple of fig trees in pots for a number of years. One I kept in the polytunnel and the other outside. Last year we managed to get two edible figs from the one kept in the polytunnel and nothing from the one outside! In a bid to try and up the production rate, I’ve decided that the trees may be more productive if they are planted in the soil, and then they will get more nutrients and more water (I’m not very good at remembering to water plants in pots). Figs, however, need to have their roots restricted when grown in the UK, not only because they have a tendency to get out of control if grown in the open soil, but it helps to increase the number of fruit in the short season we have in the UK. The traditional planting method is to dig a fig pit, but I recently read that a root control bag is just as effective, and easier to use than a pit. Pomona Fruits sells bags called Rootex, which come in a variety of sizes depending on the type of plant you’re trying to grow. The bags are coated on the inside with a permeable copper coating, which allows water and nutrients to enter, but the cooper stops the main roots in their tracks.

The bag for the fig tree is 45 litres, and means quite a sizeable hole needs to be dug. The top soil in our polytunnel is quite good and easy to dig for the first foot, but after that is hard going, so what seemed like a relatively simple task ended up taking all morning! The article I read suggested putting a bit of gravel in the bottom to aid drainage, and then to add top soil mixed with compost to fill the bag. The bag needs to be a few inches above the soil level, so the roots don’t grow up and over the bag.

Fig tree in place

Fig tree in place

I’ll keep the second fig tree in a pot for now, but if the one in the polytunnel is successful, we may consider putting one outside (in a root control bag) to see how that fairs in our wet and windy climate. So fingers crossed for a bumper harvest of figs in the years to come.

Modified version of the Summer Polaroid Pics template