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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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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.

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.

 

Water, water everywhere

Water, water everywhere

The last time we had a completely dry 24 hours was the 2nd November 2015… and it hasn’t stopped raining since! This may be about to break, with cold and dry weather forecast for the end of the week, but I won’t hold my breath until I see and hear the evidence for myself (the rain has been waking us up every night). The ground is sodden, with springs popping up all over the place, where the ground can no longer take any more water. The ditch in our bottom field is now a proper stream, being fed by a number of springs, including the one in this picture, where two springs merge. At least we know some of the drainage work we have done over the years is working, with water being channelled away off the land into the streams.

Fir branch duck island

Fir branch duck island

The wet ground is making it hard to do anything outside. The areas we walk often, particularly to and from the animal houses, are thick mud. We’ve had to lay some temporary plastic garden track in one area, as it was getting hazardous to walk on the slippery mud. The animals don’t like this wet weather at all – even the ducks. The other day I found one of the ducks sleeping on top of a tiny mound of grass, with a moat of mud around her. I assume this was so she didn’t have to sit on the cold wet mud. So we’ve put some fir tree branches down for them, both to sit on and lay their eggs (their nest hollows had filled with water too). The branches act as a protective mat from the wet ground, and so hopefully this will make them feel more comfortable.

We don't like getting our feet muddy!

We don’t like getting our feet muddy!

The goats, needless to say, are also pretty miserable. They don’t like getting wet and will do their best not to get their feet muddy and wet. We’ve put down some paving slabs between the field gate and their house, so they (and we) have got somewhere mud-free and dry to walk. Luckily the field is well drained, so it’s not getting too muddy, otherwise I don’t know what we’d do.

The chickens seem least affected, continuing to peck about and keep out of the wet when it rains heavily. They don’t seem to mind the wet too much, and are continuing to lay well into the winter.

The UK record for the longest period of rainy days is 89, a record achieved in 1923 on the Isle of Islay. Eglwyswrw, a village in Pembrokeshire, about 20 miles from us, reported it had had 75 consecutive days of rain (on the 8th January), so perhaps the record is about to be broken. But I’m sure, like us, the villagers would rather this was one record they didn’t beat.

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.
Read the rest of this entry »

Our first hedgehog!

Our first hedgehog!

We’re pleased to discover that we’ve got hedgehogs (or at least one hedgehog). We inadvertently trapped it in a (humane) squirrel trap we’d put down under our apple trees to stop them getting gnawed.

We saw a squirrel last week in the trees, and after finding some of our apples eaten on the tree, put it down to the squirrel. The windfall apples are also being eaten, but had assumed it was birds or possibly badgers, but didn’t even think it could be hedgehogs. We’d put an apple and a fat ball in the trap to lure the squirrel, but it seems this is also what the hedgehog enjoys eating. It must have gone in there overnight, as the trap was checked yesterday evening. The hedgehog was unharmed, but as soon as we went to get it out it curled itself into a ball. We put it back into the long grass by the hedge and left it to unfurl itself. There’s no sign of it now, so hopefully it scuttled away into the undergrowth. The squirrel trap has now been moved elsewhere – even though it is exciting to see a hedgehog, we don’t want to end up trapping it every night. We will now be extra vigilant with our piles of wood for the bonfires, and keep a look out for any other signs of hedgehogs around the garden.

The boys sporting their new head gear

The boys sporting their new head gear

The goats have been busy eating their way along the hedges in their field, preferring the hedgerow plants to the grass in the field. And although there is plenty of this fodder within easy reach, as with all animals the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. When they were young this wasn’t a problem as they were able to get their heads through without any bother. However, now they’ve grown a bit, and more specifically their horns have grown, while they can get their heads through, they struggle to get them back out again. The trouble with horns is that they grow back away from the head, so get caught in the fence wire when trying to pull back out. A few weeks ago the boys were routinely getting their heads caught (Flopsy, the girl, has a slimmer head so hasn’t got the same problem), and unless we checked up on them regularly could be left caught for hours in one place. Not only was this annoying to have to check them so regularly, and in some cases struggle to get them free, we were about to go away for a week and leave the animals in charge of my parents. We couldn’t expect them, or anyone else, to check them every few hours on the off chance they had got stuck. Read the rest of this entry »

Six months on...

Six months on…

Back in January I wrote about one of our projects for 2015 – a wildlife garden. We started by creating a pond from an old bath, and a bog garden from the run off, and then finally sowed and planted the rest of the area with plants that would be beneficial for wildlife. Six months on, and it has really started to flourish. The foxgloves plants which I transplanted from elsewhere in the garden have done well, and attracted lots of bumblebees. These are now going to seed, but the seeds will scatter themselves, giving us plants for next year. The flower seeds (both annuals and perennials) which I scattered are now flowering, with the borage doing particularly well in attracting bees. I’ve seen a few butterflies coming to the buddleia (another transplant), and we’ve seen two toads in the pond. So in a relatively short space of time the area has become full of plants and wildlife, and is doing what we hoped to achieve.
I’m hoping most of the annuals will seed themselves around, and fill in the gaps, without me having to add extra plants in the following years. The only thing I would like to add is a log pile close to the pond to give somewhere for the frogs and toads to hibernate. I’m not sure if I’ll bother with a “bug hotel”, which seems to be the trendy thing to do when creating a wildlife garden – they look interesting, but of those I’ve come across few seem to have much living in them!

Riding the tube!

Riding the tube! Flopsy, Stompy and Buster (front to back)

It’s been over a month since we got the goats, but it feels like we’ve had them a lot longer and they’re now part of the family. They’ve settled in really well, and after their initial wariness of us, they now come running up to us every time we go to see them. Of course this might be partly due to our bringing them food, but we like to think they enjoy seeing us. One of the boys (Stompy, who has had a name change since my previous post) has become very affectionate. If you’re petting one of the other goats, he tries to nudge his way in, so that you stroke him instead. But we try to give equal attention to all!

Since my previous post, the boys have been to the vets to have the snip. This went relatively well, and was over remarkably quickly. Stompy, who we thought would cause the most trouble, was actually very well behaved and quite placid while he was being tugged and pulled! Meanwhile, Buster made a lot of noise, so perhaps he has a lower pain threshold. However, once we got them home, they both were playing in their run like nothing had happened.

The goats are continuing to be very playful, and like many young animals they have moments of intense play, before settling down to eat or sleep. They’re enjoying their tube, and now play both in it and on it. How they’re able to stand on a grooved round surface, I don’t know, but I suppose this is what goats are good at. They also do a lot of butting heads, to show their dominance, and even Flopsy (the female), puts up a good fight.

Enjoying the hedgerow

Enjoying the hedgerow

We’ve now let them out into the wider field, which was initially a bit intimidating for them. But now they’ve learnt there are all kinds of tasty things to be found in the field and hedges, they spend quite a bit of time out in the field. They do seem to prefer the hedge rather than the field, as this offers more of the kind of food they like to eat – brambles, leaves, etc. and in fact spend a lot of their time with their heads the other side of the fence, reaching as far as they can for anything tasty. This can be a bit hazardous, as their horns allow them through the gaps in the fence, but they can get them caught coming back out (a bit of design flaw)!

So as you can probably tell, we are enjoying the whole goat experience. The time it takes to feed, water and keep their house is pretty minimal, and in return we get hedge trimmers, a source of manure for the garden, and animals to play with.

Modified version of the Summer Polaroid Pics template