Monday, January 24, 2011

Preparing the Veg Plot for the Start of the New Growing Season

Now that the weather seems to have progressed from "flippin' cold" to "a bit chilly" I have managed to spend much of the last couple of weekends preparing the veg plot for the growing season ahead. This is a process I normally do in the autumn, but being as autumn came to a bit of an abrupt end as winter descended and the ground rapidly transformed into permafrost, there was not any chance doing any serious digging. Well, not with a spade anyway - some sort of mechanical device might just about have managed it.

What I normally do is to dig over the entire plot, pulling out those pesky perennial weeds as I go, then mulch the lot with home made compost. The theory is that if I do this in autumn then the elements can get to work on the compost and break it down into the soil. Of course it won't have long this time as (hopefully) it will soon be spring and time to start sowing seeds.

This is also a chance to dig over the compost heaps. Those compost purists out there will tell you that to make good compost you should turn it regularly to aerate it. However, as we produce rather a lot of compost, I don't tend to do this. Our compost is actually a mixture of grass clippings and other garden bits, kitchen scraps, chicken manure (mixed with straw), goat manure (also with straw) and goose manure (with, yes you've guessed it, straw). Imagine turning that lot! Anyway, what I do is have two compost bins (actually two and half as I have another half constructed, but I ran out of wood left over from when the chicken house was built) and I first dig out the well composted compost from one bin and spread that. Then I dig out the compost from the second bin and put it into the first. Usually there is some usable compost at the bottom of this bin as well. Not a conventional method I know, but it works for me. If I can get around to finishing the third compost bin then I can avoid filling them to overflowing - another to add to my list of jobs.

Anyway, I nearly managed to finish - just a tiny bit of one bed left to cover. Although I am running out of usable compost anyway. Being as I now have two large beds and one smaller bed to contend with, not to mention all that compost digging, by the end I felt pretty exhausted. In fact, I think I might give the Wii Fit a miss for a couple of days!

I always find this job tiring, but immensely satisfying. There is something about transforming a rather tatty looking and weedy plot into a much tidier and nicely dug over one and putting back into the soil our various waste (i.e compost) that I find particularly rewarding. Maybe it's something about a sense of optimism about the growing season ahead.

In couple of weeks or so I shall get the rotavator onto it to break it up more so that it is suitable for sowing seeds. I am told that a good guide as to when it is the right time to do this is when the mud stops clinging to your boots. Plenty of mud clinging onto my boots at the moment - with each step my boots feel a little heavier!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Results of the Parsnip Experiment (Sort of....)

Back in spring last year I experimented with sowing some parsnips in toilet roll tubes. The reason I did this was because of the erratic nature of parsnip seed germination and that I have tended to have rather poor results from sowing the seeds directly in the ground. Unfortunately, my experiment was rather compromised by the fact that the chickens scratched up most of my carefully cultivated seedlings. However, there were just a few remaining.

Last weekend, now that the ground has finally defrosted and I can get a spade into the ground, I dug up those few parsnips that had not been destroyed by our poultry vandals. This is what I found:

As you can see they are rather on the small side. It is difficult to draw any real conclusions from this as there were so few of them, but I know I did plant out the seedlings quite late. What I hadn't realised is that despite the fact the seedlings had not grown much on top when I planted them out, they had developed quite a lot of root, so I think I should have transferred them into the veg plot rather sooner than I did. Also, I don't think I watered them enough during the extended dry period that we had over the summer.

I am not sure how much difference these would have made, but I think I will try this method again this year. Except I haven't been very good at saving up toilet roll tubes!!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Goodbye 2010...... Hello 2011

My, how time as flown! 2011 already. Well, a Happy New Year to you and I hope you had a great Christmas. Not too much over indulgence I trust?!

It has become a bit of a tradition here at A Smallholder's Diary to review the year that has passed and to set goals for the coming year. So let's look at how I have done this year and think about what I should concentrate on for the coming year.

Looking first at last year's goals and how I did with these:

  • To keep on top of the weeds.
Nope! Failed there. The main problem this year was that the chickens kept getting into the veg plot and scratching up all my crops. This is not a problem I have experienced before, so I was not prepared for this. Keeping on top of the weeds became pretty pointless after a while with the loss of so many crops to chicken scratching.
  • Clear the plot next to veg plot to extend growing space. 
Yes, achieved this one. it took a while as there was a rather stubborn bay tree there, but I got it out eventually.
  • Clear the plot intended for the herb plot and start planting.
I didn't manage this. It is very overgrown and is a major task. I did start it, but there is more to clear than I had anticipated.
  • Clear the plot intending for the dyeing plants. 
 I didn't achieve this one either - even more overgrown than the intended herb plot.
  • Make soap
 Oh, how embarrassing! This is the second year I have had this as a goal for the coming year and I still haven't achieved it!! I think the idea of it scares me slightly, so I think I need to set aside some time and just go for it.
  • Start to plant some trees with a view to producing our own wood.
I did manage to plant some ash trees. Unfortunately, some of these refused to grow, and some of the others were rather chewed by escaping goats. I should get some at least out of this.
  • Major blog makeover and post more regularly 
Well, partially achieved. I managed the makeover, but my posting has been rather erratic.

All in all, rather a mixed year really. I achieved some goals and completely failed on others. My lack of success in some areas has been down to a lack of time and organisation. Also the veg plot being ransacked by the chickens caught me rather unaware. Our flock of chickens has diminished to just two due to death through old age and we think we lost our cockerel and a couple of hens to a fox. 

So, to the coming year. What shall I set myself to achieve? Well this is what I have settled on:

  1. To make sure that the veg plot is as productive as it can possibly be. OK a bit general, but this includes keeping on top of weeds, making sure I harvest at the right time, and making sure the plot is well and truly chicken proofed!!!
  2. To make sure that we have as little waste as possible from the veg and fruit that we grow. This means that anything we do not immediately use is frozen or otherwise preserved. We received the River Cottage Preserves book for Christmas and I feel inspired to transform our various produce into a range of tasty goodies that will last well beyond the growing season.
  3. Clear the plot intended for the herb plot. Yes that again. To be honest, I'm not sure I will manage to get much if any of it planted this year, but if I can clear it that would be great.
  4. Clear the plot intending for the dyeing plants. And again - a big job, but needs to be done.
  5. Make soap!! Oh, I will, I will. I will pick a date on the calendar and do it.
  6. Plant more trees for firewood. Hopefully, I might be more successful this time now that the goat's pen has been reinforced.
  7. Replace the fencing around the front area. This will to be give the goats more space and eventually will be a space to keep a couple of sheep.
  8. Replenish our stock of chickens. We will be looking to get some hens in the spring, possibly some rescued battery hens.
Well, that's me sorted for the coming year. I think I am going to be busy!!