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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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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.

 

Hello!

Hello!

We’re now goat owners! We picked up the three kids yesterday and have introduced them to their new home. The pick-up and transport all went very smoothly, managing to fit all three into one dog cage in the back of the car. They didn’t seem fazed by the car journey, and settled down quickly for the ride home – we didn’t hear a peep out of them the whole time.

Three kids in a dog cage

Three kids in a dog cage

When we got them home we decided to put them straight into their house, so they would get used to where their bed, food and water were. And having never seen the great outdoors before, letting them out into the run may have overwhelmed them a bit. They were clearly very nervous of their new surroundings, and us, so we left them to it, just checking up on them at dusk.

This morning we found them all huddled together in the straw, a bit less nervous than last night, but we need them to get used to us, and being handled. So we took each one in turn out of the house and held it to keep it calm. They were all a bit wriggly to hold, and were bleating for their siblings, but generally quite good. We left them to get familiar with their new surroundings, and meet their new neighbours (the ducks), and once we had left the run they seem to relax a bit. We’ve put out a couple of logs for them to climb, and my Dad had a spare bit of drainage tubing, just the right size for Pygmy goats to hide in.

Playing in the run

Playing in the run

Saying hello to the ducks

Saying hello to the ducks

They have yet (as far as we know) to try the electric fence, but I’m sure that will come, and we will hear the squeals. And none of them have tried to escape, yet!

Oh, and names – Buster (the all-brown male), Biffa (the white/brown male looking over the fence) and Flopsy (white/brown female at the back) – don’t ask!

Cowslips

Cowslips

Well another month has passed, and what a month. We’ve had an exceptionally dry April – a month which is meant to be full of rain showers. It’s not something we often say in west Wales, but we need some rain. The garden is looking a bit parched, just when the plants need it most, and the water butts are almost empty. We had a brief amount of rain on Tuesday night, enough to get the ground wet, but not enough to water the plants thoroughly. Rain looks to be in the forecast, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we won’t have to resort to the tap, to water the plants. This dry weather has come with lots of sunshine and warmth, so much so that we are on record to have one of the sunniest Aprils in a long time – with our PV panels generating the best April ever (and even beating all previous Mays). However, there was a sting in the tail in April, with a couple of sharp frosts these last few mornings, the first one catching me out and so the potatoes have got some frost damage. They will recover, but it will put them back a bit until they grow some new leaves.

However, we’ve also had other news in April that is worthy of a post on Sow the Seed – we’re getting goats! Yes, at last we are going to get some more four-legged animals on the holding. We had a phone call out of the blue from the lady who sold us the ducks. She has been breeding pygmy goats and wondered if we would be interested in either some kids or a young goat. We had been thinking about getting goats, or at least something to go in the larger field which we fenced a couple of years ago, but this has given the push to get serious. We went to visit them last weekend, and would have happily taken them home with us there and then, but we don’t have a house yet and need to beef up our defences (they’re liable to escape). So it’s all systems go at getting the infrastructure sorted before we can bring them home.

We had a choice of which goats to have, but we’ve decided to get three kids – one female and two males. The only drawback is that the males haven’t been castrated yet. This is usually done when they are very young, but the breeder was unable to do it at the time, so they need to be “snipped”. This is a must in male goats, unless you want to breed from them, as they can become quite troublesome, and will also spray their scent every which way when the females are in season (which is the horribly “goaty” smell that is very off-putting). So, soon after we get them they will be making a trip to the vet – more on that nearer the time.

It’ll be a few weeks before we get them, but that gives us time to get a house, fence and ourselves ready for the new arrivals.

Goat shed and run taking shape

Goat shed and run taking shape

A full clutch of duck eggs

A full clutch of duck eggs

After complaining that the ducks weren’t good layers, all three of them are now in full lay. One of them (we suspect one of the older ones) has been laying a while – a light blue coloured egg, which she laid in the house. More recently we started getting a white egg (we think from the younger female), but laid under the shelter, and now we’re getting another blue egg. They’ve now all taken to laying under the shelter, in a little clutch. However, we do still randomly find eggs around the run, or tucked behind a barrel. They clearly aren’t as discerning as the chickens when it comes to finding a spot to nest, and seem to be able to just drop an egg wherever takes their fancy. This does mean we throw a few eggs away, as some of them are caked in mud, but even so we’re still getting a little overwhelmed with duck eggs.

Very few people seem to want duck eggs. There is a long-held belief that duck eggs carry all sorts of unwanted nasties, like salmonella (probably because they don’t always lay them in a nest box), but we’ve been happily eating them with no ill effects. The eggs are also a bit different to hens eggs, with a larger proportion of yolk to white, with white having more protein, but that makes them great for baking – they make wonderful cakes and fluffy Yorkshire pudding. Some people say they taste different, but we haven’t noticed anything particularly different about them, and have used them as scrambled eggs and omelettes. Maybe some breeds of duck produce stronger tasting eggs, but as Khaki Campbells are bred as egg-layers, maybe this trait has been bred out of them.

So with the hens going great guns as well, we often get six eggs a day. I’ll just have to make more cakes!

Bee in heather

Bee in heather

With February drawing to a close, and bringing an end to winter (meteorologically speaking anyway), there is a sense of spring in the air. Today, began with a frost (ending winter on a cold note), but has turned into a lovely sunny day. The birds and bees are clearly feeling the change in the air, with plenty of chatter in the trees and buzzing in the heather. Our bees seem to have survived the winter, with plenty of activity at the entrance and around the garden. We won’t be taking the top off the hive to inspect the colony more fully just yet, as that would be unfair to subject the bees to the cold, but there seems to be a fair number flying about, which is a good sign. I’ve also spotted the first frog spawn in the wildlife pond, and hopefully next year we might get some in a new pond. Bring on spring!

Modified version of the Summer Polaroid Pics template