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Welcome

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)

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Archive for the ‘Garden’ Category

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

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.

Latest building project

Latest building project

As February draws to a close, and the weather begins to improve, we have at last been able to get on with the first major job of the year…building another log store. Yes, this will now be the third log store we’ve built! This latest structure will house one year’s worth of split logs, which will mean that in conjunction with our main log store, we can have a rolling three year cycle. This should mean that we always have space for any wood we cut and split during the winter, without having to shuffle existing stacks of wood around.

The latest log store is a bit simpler than our larger one; nevertheless it still seems to have taken a while to build. We’re about half way through the build now, with just the roof and sides to put on. Simon is already busy splitting the wood that will go in it, so there’s an incentive to get on with it (if the weather holds).

We’ve got a few major projects planned for this year, all involving building structures. I’m not sure if we’ll have the motivation to get them all done, but we’ve made a good start on the first one.

Pink and knobbly Oca

Pink and knobbly Oca

After getting our first hard frost last week, it was time to dig up the oca (New Zealand yam) – the second of the unusual vegetables I grew this year. These pink (other colours are available) and knobbly tubers start to swell when the days shorten, and are ready to harvest in late November, usually once the frost has killed off the foliage. I was pleasantly surprised to see the amount of tubers produced from each plant, and there seems to be a fair number of good sized tubers, suggesting I’d left them a reasonable length of time in the ground before harvesting. I’ve consequently read that you can leave them in the ground for a number of weeks after the first frost, to swell even further. But I was too eager to see what they looked like. There was very little slug damage to them, and they are meant to be free from the diseases that potatoes succumb to, e.g. blight, making them a good alternative to potatoes.

I can’t decide whether I like their appearance or not. The pink and red coluring is appealing, but the ridges and knobs make them look a bit alien. If they taste good then I’m not too bothered either way. You can eat them both raw or cooked, although I think they taste better cooked. Raw, they had quite a nice crunchy texture and very subtle lemony taste, but after cooking (same way as potatoes) the flavour became more pronounced. Unfortunately they lose their colour on cooking.

I’ve got enough tubers to reuse some next year as new plants, so I can try growing a few more of these strange alien-like vegetables.

The harvest from one plant

The harvest from one plant

I’m always up for trying something new in the veg garden, and hopefully finding something tasty and easy to grow which gives us a bit more variety in the vegetables we eat. After trying cape gooseberry (Physalis peruviana) a few years ago, I now always plant a few in the polytunnel. However, I haven’t bothered with okra or aubergines again, as they weren’t very successful, and took a lot of effort. This year I’ve got two new crops on the go – sweet potato and oca (New Zealand yam). We like eating sweet potato, but are reluctant to buy them knowing that they have to be imported from South America. I don’t know much about Oca, other than it’s popular in South America and New Zealand as an alternative to potato, but is becoming more widely eaten and grown in the UK.

The sweet potatoes (Beauregard) were bought as “slips” from DT Browns, but are now widely available from most seed suppliers.

Sweet_potato_1

The vines trained up string

They weren’t cheap, but once you’ve grown them, you’re meant to be able to create your own slips each year. So if they’re successful it should work out quite cheaply. This variety is specially bred for the cooler British climate, and although they can be grown outside, if you’ve got the space they’ll benefit from the extra heat of a polytunnel. Being a member of the Ipomoea genus (morning glory, bindweed etc.), they have a tendency to send out a lot of vines. After planting in May, it wasn’t long until I had a mass of vines sprawling around the ground, which I trained up a string to save space. They clearly enjoy the warmth of the polytunnel, as a friend who had also planted some at the same time, but outside, had barely any vines. Once the vines had reached the roof of the polytunnel I thought it was best to try to get the plant to put their energy into developing tubers, rather than foliage, so I nipped out the ends. Other than that they didn’t require much work, other than watering twice a week.
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Wildlife garden in the making

Wildlife garden in the making

2015 is already well underway, and as a new year begins so do our various new projects. This year we want to put in place a small wildlife garden, put up some permanent electric fencing in our large field and then acquire some livestock. I’m sure other projects will emerge as the year progresses, as they always seem to whether we plan them or not!

We began the wildlife garden at the end of last year, deciding what we wanted to incorporate and making a plan of where to put everything. Although we’re not short of wildlife in and around our smallholding, we wanted to bring more into the garden where we could hopefully enjoy it more. We also needed to do something with the rest of the old vegetable patch, now that we’ve finished the log store, and could see what space we had left.

Any good wildlife garden will have some kind of pond. We’ve already got a wildlife pond in the field, so we only needed something small to bring a few amphibians and insects into the garden. So we decided that we would utilise one of the old baths we’ve had sitting in the field for some time – a perfect size for a small pond. I also wanted to include a bog garden – an area of ground which remains damp, and can grow a number of different types of plants, such as ferns and primulas, as well as providing a habitat for wildlife. The run off from the pond would be able to feed the bog garden with rain water, and if it is lined (in much the same way as a pond) then it should remain damp. Read the rest of this entry »

Matilda enjoying a dustbath

Matilda enjoying a dustbath

It was another sad week last week, as we lost Matilda the chicken. She faded away quite quickly, not eating or drinking, although hung on longer than we thought, so we decided it was best to cull her before she began to suffer. She is now buried in the garden, where we plan to plant a tree. The tree will be one of the main features of a new wildlife garden, which we’re currently planning. It’ll be sited in the remaining part of the old vegetable patch (part of which now houses the new log store), which has been covered in black plastic for a number of years. We’re planning on putting in a small pond (hopefully using an old bath we’ve had sitting around), and will be planted up with wildlife friendly plants and flowers. This will be one of those on-going projects (of which we have a few) to do over the winter and into the spring.

The rest of the garden is beginning to show the signs of autumn, with the trees slowly losing their leaves. I’m busy sweeping them up to make into leaf mould, so they won’t go to waste. Most of the apples have been picked and stored, but our late eaters are still hanging on. We’ll be picking them shortly and making some into juice, which was a big success last year. The garlic cloves have just gone in, and I’m having a go at winter onion sets (I usually just plant them in the new year) to see if I can get an earlier crop, as we tend to run out of stored onions fairly early on.

 

 

Definately a drake amongst the ducks

Definitely a drake amongst the ducks

I can’t believe it’s October tomorrow, but it hardly feels like it given the warm dry weather we’re having. It was reported today that it was the driest September in Wales since 1910 (when records began), and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s one of the warmest. We’ve been reaping the benefits of this warm spell with a bountiful harvest of fruit. Our (relatively) new apple trees have produced a good amount of apples, given their age, so much so that the Lord Derby cooking apple tree broke one of its branches under the weight of fruit.

We’ve now had our ducks for 2 months and there’s still no sign of eggs. One reason for this is that one of the younger ducks is a male! He started out looking no different to the females, but as he has matured he has developed a curled tail feather, orange legs and a greenish tinge to his head feathers. He hasn’t shown any other male traits,  but this may be because the females aren’t laying yet so he’s not getting the signals! Anyway, we don’t want it to get this far as these are his sisters, and so we need to get rid of him. Unfortunately, as with so many animals, the males are unwanted, unless they are needed for breeding. We haven’t decided whether he’s for the pot or we’ll try to find him a new home. We would like to find a home for him if we could swap him for another female, as we’ve invested time and money in keeping him.

The chickens are going great guns, laying good-sized eggs now (so we’re not sure what we would do if we had duck eggs as well). Even Matilda, our oldest chicken, is laying again. One of the young chickens decided to go broody last week, which is unusual in such young chickens, and especially at this time of the year (usually it would be in Spring). She tried to stay put on the nest, puffing herself up to fill the box, and everytime we approached she would try to peck us away. Apparently the way to stop them going broody is to get their body temperature down, so each time she went back on the nest we dunked her backside in cool water. Not quite the Ice Bucket challenge, but near enough for a chicken! It took about 3 days of dunking before she stopped, and so far it seems to have worked.

I’m now starting to get ready for winter, digging over beds and adding compost and manure which can be worked in by the worms over winter. I’m also sowing more green manure than I have in the past, partly because I’ve got seed left over (Caliente Mustard), and also because I thought I could get it to germinate quickly because of the warm weather. It’s already in flower and the bees are enjoying a late crop of nectar. I’ll be able to dig it in before covering the beds with plastic so it can rot down over winter.

Autumn is starting to make itself evident, with leaves falling and nights getting colder. It sounds like the weather is about to turn next week, so it will be time to think about lighting fires and hunkering down for the winter. Let’s hope it’s not as wet and windy as the last one!

Modified version of the Summer Polaroid Pics template