Thursday, June 25, 2015

An interest in inter-cropping

We’ve been practicing crop rotation since we began here, aiming at a four-year cycle of spuds-brassicas-legumes-onions/roots. Admittedly this was easier in the first few years when we only had a couple of beds and we weren’t very organised, but we’ve stuck to it fairly well recently. We’ve also dabbled in companion planting, using those funky trapezoidal end beds on the main beds. Again, this hasn’t been a perfect example of the art, as most of the time those beds get used for over-flow from elsewhere or just a handy spot to “temporarily” plant something that needs planted, but the thought was there, even if the execution was poor.

Cauliflower "All the Year Round"
interplanted with Corn Salad and
Lettuces "Little Gem" & "Lollo Rosso"

Everyone still happy one month on...
However, new for this year, we’re having a go at inter-cropping. We probably haven’t done this in the past because we’ve never been organised enough. Also, it really only applies to the brassica bed, which we’ve rather struggled with for some reason (probably because most brassicas tend to take ages to mature, tend to need lots of weeding, seem to be rather high maintenance, tend to have lots of pests, probably need lots of feeding and, because we’ve been typically neglectful at various critical times of the season, have generally performed poorly compared to the other crops. That and they’re rather boring. Although not Purple Sprouting Broccoli. Or Kohl Rabi. Or Kale. Or Turnips. Or probably others). Anyway, the great thing about the brassica bed is that we grow all our leafy stuff here like Lettuces and other salad leaves, Spinach, Chard, etc. Some stuff (like Lettuces and other salad leaves) can be gown quite close together in-between the larger things like Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower and Broccoli. As a result, this year we’ve managed to do some intercropping of the Cauliflowers, Broccoli and Kale with Lettuce and Pak Choi, with this fast-maturing stuff getting harvested whilst the wider spaced, longer-maturing crops stay in situ until they’re ready – none yet, but soon (we hope).

Cauliflower remains (apart from the newly-plated
Calabrese and Brocolli, inteplanted with more Lettuces)

Successionally planted Leeks and Celery
(between Mint and Onions)
Of course, once we start harvesting these main crops were then into successional cropping and, possibly, even successional inter-cropping – who’d have thought? Actually, we have started some successional cropping in the Onion bed, with the GarlicCristo” now lifted and tied up to dry on the Raspberry hedge wires, and some Leeks and Celery plants from spring sowings planted out – getting a bit late for these to make show-bench specimens, but hopefully good enough for a soup or two.

Garlic "Cristo" hanging to dry
(hopefully it won't influence the rasps flavour...)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A sweet spring in the step

Early spring is always a busy time. It’s too early for serious failure – even losing the greenhouse is now a hiccup more than a seizure. Enthusiasm is still high for the coming year with the excitement of planning and preparation. Seed sowing is busy, but manageable – there is space in the greenhouse (and windowsill) for everything we need. Nothing is growing so madly that we have to cut, weed or tend too much. We can enjoy the heralds of spring, such as the first flowers, frog-spawn, bud-burst or bird-song. Life is good.

First Rhubarb Crop
(sweetened by March sunshine)
This good life is always improved by the year’s first harvest which, as usual, is Rhubarb. This year the Timperley Early provides our first taste of 2015 (baked in a beautifully-simple and beautifully-tasty tart).


The plot ready
(With the new beds ready for digging)
Of course, all this tranquillity rapidly comes crashing down around the time of this first harvest, as this is a sure sign that actually things actually are growing. April is nearly upon us, the greenhouse and windowsill are worryingly full, and we need to start getting moving. Good weather through March has allowed us to get our “core” plot ready – four 4’x12’ deep beds, as well as our permanent beds (two for Rhubarb and two for Asparagus) and soft fruit (Rasps and various other berry bushes). In the deep beds, the autumn-sown Garlic and Onion sets are doing well, and the Broad Beans and Peas are just about managing. We’re hoping to double our production area over the next two years, adding two more deep beds as well as fruit bushes and perennial crops (Globe Artichoke please) this year alone. We’ve sown some salads, some more Onion seeds, and a few brassicas, Tomatoes (which are due to perish within the next week going by our normal timetable), Aubergines and Peppers for some colour.

However, we need to get our late crops of Broad Beans and Peas in, more salads, herbs, flowers (those pollinators need something to keep them here) as well as all the other stuff we’ve planned. The already-chitted Potatoes need planted and the Shallot sets need to be ordered. We need to get pricking out (of the greenhouse) so we can get more sowings in. So much to do, so little time.

The Windowsill
(getting more crowded by the day...)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Greenhouse Blues

There’s no denying that we’ve been lucky with this place. A lovely house, lots of sheds and a decent plot of ground. The kind of place many people dream of. And we do appreciate that. This was, and still most definitely is, our dream place. However, the indoor gardening facilities are one area of the garden where we’ve always struggled a wee bit.

Greenhouse brassicas in January
(Gone, but not forgotten)
A greenhouse was probably the only thing that wasn’t really here when we arrived, and something we’ve not really done anything about. Yes, we have plans for putting in a greenhouse. We have an idea where we’ll put it, and what it will look like. The same goes for a poly tunnel. But neither has appeared. We’ve made do with windowsills and the small shelved, and even walk-in, cheapie versions. Truth is that, in general, they’ve done quite well, and allowed us to keep going without anything proper.
January's other (now sacrificial) offerings
(Somehow, Lambs Lettuce "Elan" survived, as did the
tray of Onion "Globo" and Shallot "Zebrunne" at the bottom)
However, matters are now coming to a head. Firstly, the house extension is done, so we have few excuses not to go ahead with the greenhouse – it is now the biggest project left to sort out. More-or-less anyway. Actually, sorting out the sheds is easily a much bigger project, but not one we’re likely to be tackling anytime soon – the greenhouse is more manageable. Secondly, recent events have conspired to make a proper, permanent greenhouse more urgent. Those recent events are the four-shelved cheapie greenhouse, which had all our onion, leek, brassica and salad seedlings pricked out and hardening off in, blew over at the weekend. This happened in the wilds of a storm last night, so thankfully no pictures which would need some type of ratings certificate for sensitive gardeners because, for some reason, pretty much decapitated all our spinach, cabbage, calabrese and cauliflower seedlings, and mash up most of the onions and leeks. We do have fond memories of these seedlings from some January photos as many that did survive were unidentifiable, leaving just a handful of Lambs Lettuce and Onion seedlings worth saving. Heartbreaking. Not just for the loss of seedlings – we can replace most of what was lost – but for the loss of time. We’ll have to put back our expected harvest of calabrese and the like by at least a month. There will be no spring cabbage and we’re also now going to struggle to get any decent kind of an onion crop – into March with almost no seedlings. At least for those we can fall back to sets, but even so, not very consoling at the moment. No, resolve is strengthening. We need a greenhouse that won’t blow over; that will look good, provide great crops of tomatoes, peppers and aubergines and, who knows – maybe even space for a rocking chair…? Perhaps such a minor disaster could lead to something better?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sawhorse Sorted!

Completed Sawhorse
(Chainsaw and log not included)
Well, it had to happen eventually! Even according to the law of averages, that one-in-a-million chance has to come up at some point. It was inevitable. “What’s happened?” you may be asking yourself. Well, we did something that we said we were going to. We actually did it! For once, no excuses are required. We said we were going to use some of our spare timber to make a sawhorse, and we have. We’ve even used it (although that was, to some extent, so it looked better in the photo), but we’ve actually used it!

Of course, it’s not “actually” finished – it does need a coat of some preservative or varnish or something so that it lasts (well, we did make it out of half-rotten wood), but if we’d done that it wouldn’t have looked so damn real and home-made in the picture, and you’d all have looked at it and assumed we bought it or got someone else to make it. And just to prove we didn’t, we even have a picture of it half built, with all the tricky chiselling bits immortalised for all to see. The cross-timbers are each four-foot long, and the length of it is also four foot. Needless to say we’re well chuffed, and could probably now rest on our laurels for the rest of the year – I doubt it’ll get better than this.

The building process
(...that neat chiseling is a real skill...honest...)
Pruned fruit trees
(with beautifully butchered gooseberry in foreground...)
Elsewhere in the garden things are progressing nicely. Of note, we’ve been busy sorting out some of the soft fruit bushes, giving them a general prune and tidy-up. This is of note due to the level of neglect these have suffered in the last couple of years. The Redcurrant and Blackcurrant have been treated okay, but our long-suffering Gooseberry hasn’t had such an easy ride due, in part, to general laziness, but specifically thanks to a bramble that decided to grow through one side of it (the other side had been pruned - honest!). As luck would have it, the non-pruned side had decided to thrive in spite of us, and a couple of branches had layered themselves. These provided some excellent rooted cuttings which, along with the Redcurrant prunings (if they decide to root), we’ll plant as cordons. We also tidied up the Raspberry hedge, removing all the suckered canes. We got so many of these that we’re now putting in a second “Raspberry Hedge” – well, it seems a pity to waste them.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Does my butt look big in this?

Bloody hell – I’ve just noticed we’ve not updated anything since November! I know we’ve been kind of lazy, but I thought we’d have got a bit more done than this. Anyway, rather than go over everything we’ve done (which, to be honest, I probably couldn’t remember very well anyway), we may as well get up to date as quickly as possible.

Garlic and Onion sets (happy in the cold)
Beans and Peas (less happy in the cold)

We’ve stayed our hand with much sowing due to the seriously cold weather here – we even had a covering of snow (THIS IS IRELAND!!!). We have sown a few early Onions (“Ailsa Craig”, “Bedfordshire Champion”, “Globo” and “Sturon”), Shallot Zebrunne” and LeeksMusselburgh” and “Autumn Mammoth”, and planted out the “Radar Onion sets, along with most of the Peas and Broad Beans that we sowed in the autumn. Some of these have been doing rather better than others – bizarrely, Broad Bean “Aquedulce Claudia” has done the worst, whilst “Jubilee Hysor” and“Red Epicure” have done very well. Mangetout “Winterkefe” and Pea Meteor” has also performed superbly unlike Pea Douce Provence” which has been an almost total disaster. We’ve also done a few other bits and pieces that needed doing around the place.

Big-ass Water Butt
(and bigger-ass shed!)
When we arrived here we were already blessed with a small pond, fed (we think) by rainwater off the shed roof. We were particularly blessed to discover that the local frogs also knew it was here and use it. However (and this is the bit that you might feel, us being in Ireland and all, where we are straying into fiction) every year it dries out in the spring or early summer. This worries us because there is always frogspawn or tadpoles in the pond at this time (I suspect it worries the frogs and/or tadpoles even more, but I digress). As a result, every year, we end up running a hose into the pond from the outside tap to top it up, which is a bit of a pain (mostly for us; I think our amphibious friends find it is the opposite). Even more of a pain for us, we cunningly located the veg. plot some distance form the house and, as a result, even further from the nearest tap: so far in fact that the hose doesn’t reach the veg. plot, so we have to carry watering cans down in these dry spells to keep things going. When we could be bothered. Which probably wasn’t often enough. 

To ameliorate things a bit, a couple of years ago we installed a water butt at the end of one of the sheds (the bit closest to the veg, plot) to reduce the distance to carry water, and also provide an emergency supply of water for the pond. However, a regulation water butt (at 210 litres) barely fills the pond, and leaves nothing for watering the garden. We were going to try and link up three such water butts until we rather fortunately acquired a lovely big tank in the Autumn (it is actually the rain water tank from our old house which was no longer being used). At 300 gallons (that’s 1,360 litres), we think we might have literally killed two birds with one stone (well, not “literally” killed, more metaphorically speaking really). It will certainly fill the pond many times over and, given the size, it’s probably now worth running a hose all the way down to the veg. plot – hopefully there should be enough head in the butt to generate a decent enough jet and keep everyone happy, lazy or both.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Pegs and Paper Pot Peas

There’s no denying that summer is over. Coming home in the dark after work is probably the most frustrating part of the winter, although the weather comes a very close second (particularly this week). Despite a busy few weeks work-wise, we’ve been determined to ride the wave of enthusiasm associated with our upgraded house, and have tried to make the most of what little “outdoor” time we could find.

The pegs in context
(with stool)
Coat Pegs - simple and effective
(well, they haven't fallen down yet!)
As we were thinking about being more self-sufficient at the same time as thinking about all our wood (see previous post), we thought it would be a “Good Idea” to try and make more wooden stuff that we could use. We did – the lovely “Not-Quite-Shaker-Style” pegs for the new front-door cloakroom. Beautifully simple and free to make, yet completely functional and, as they’re for hanging coats on, completely obscured by the coats so unappreciated by anyone. At least WE know they’re there.


November Greenhouse
(Broad Beans, Peas and Onion sets)

Newspaper Pot Peas
Continuing on the increased self-sufficiency theme, we also decided to try some newspaper pots for some of our late autumn sowings. In truth, two other rather more fundamental things happened that contributed to this decision. Firstly, we found the newspaper pot maker in a pile of other stuff. This was an unused Christmas present from … a while ago? It is one of those things that sounds wonderful, but when you actually see it you think “that’ll never work” and consign it, unused, so some pile of stuff somewhere. The second factor was that normally we’d sow peas in guttering in spring. Given that we’re being all enthusiastic at the moment, we decided to sow lots of peas and only have one gutter cover (actually, an old office strip-light cover, but never mind) so needed somewhere else to sow them We didn’t have enough toilet roll tubes and the small pots were all being kept for onion sets, so newspaper pots it is! Having made 116 of them over the weekend, they seem surprisingly strong, and we’re regretting discovering this present so late (although its still possible that they’ll disintegrate over the next few days, consigning the newspaper pot maker back to the “pile”).

Garlic "Cristo" growing well under fleece

Apart from sowing the Peas (58 each of “Meteor” and “Douce Provence” in the newspaper pots and 32 MangetoutWinterkefe” sown in the guttering) the GarlicCristo” cloves potted up last month grew very well, and have now been planted out under a fleece. Perhaps surprisingly (well, we were) we’ve never grown garlic before, probably because we’ve never been organised enough to get the cloves planted in time in autumn, so looking forward to seeing how these perform. We also managed to pot up 132 OnionRadar” sets and all four varieties of Broad Beans sown last month have germinated. Finally, and a bit late, but hopefully better late than never, we sowed a few Broccoli Green Magic F1” , CauliflowerAll The Year Round”, SpinachGiant Winter”, CabbagePixie” and Lamb’s LettuceElan” onto the windowsill propagator.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Fresh Crop (but just ideas)

Well it’s been a busy summer and, as usual, we’ve rather been swept away by everything. This year we’ve been extending and renovating the house and, as a result of moving out and all, the whole place has been somewhat neglected. That said, with everyone now back home, the building has a “new” feel to it, and this will hopefully encourage a similar wave of enthusiasm to get stuff done outside. The depleted bank account will also hopefully help this push for more self-sufficiency.

Part of the Logpile
(Note the building site sign still up on the left - we might leave it...)

Apart from the neglect, one of the major legacies from the build is lots of spare timber. This is in no small part thanks to the removal of the decking that surrounded the house which had, in the last couple of years, become somewhat treacherous - the decking was so slippery we could probably have made a bit of money renting the place to folks with unwanted, elderly in-laws, but I digress. We like timber. Timber can be used to make lots of things that we’ve wanted to make since we moved in like beehives and chicken arks. Whether we make them or not, of course, remains to be seen, but there are lots of exciting possibilities. First up will be a decent saw-horse to cut up everything we want to cut up, and the bigger bits will probably be the edges to some new raised beds. The downside to this is removing all the screws and nails from the timber to make it at least half-safe – three weekends down, and its nearly done…

Garlic and beans in greenhouse
Of course, there’s plenty of distractions to keep us otherwise occupied. As we discovered at the start of the year, the orchard needs to be moved at some point this winter and we haven’t decided to where yet. We’re hoping to plant Willow to supplement our firewood, having identified the long-overlooked “Piggery” as the perfect place to fail doing this, so need to start collecting Willow cuttings from around and about – we reckon there’s room for about 300 (perhaps we should re-name the Piggery as Thermopylae – I suspect the Willows will be outnumbered by the weeds!). The list is rather endless… We have at least managed to plant and sow some of next year’s crop: GarlicCristo’ and four Broad Bean varieties (Aquadulce Claudia, The Sutton, Jubilee Hysor and Red Epicure). This is the first time we’ve remembered to sow Broad Beans in the autumn, and the first time we’ve planted Garlic (although everything is in the greenhouse at the moment) – hopefully a sign we’re better organised already?

Saffron Crocus
(the most beautiful veg?)
Saffron harvest
(This IS a bumper crop!)
On a final note, we’ve had one great success this year! So-called “gourmet” veg has generally been disappointing for us (although I still hold out hope that we’ll actually get a crop of Asparagus next year). However, we did manage to grow and harvest some Saffron, which is continuing to crop as I write. We got the Crocus sativus at the Ploughing Championships, and put them in pots until we can think of what to do with them, and lo-and-behold have started producing flowers. Of course, it isn’t exactly a high-yielding crop – the stigmas are small enough fresh, and shrivel to even less when dried (which we’re doing by placing them between kitchen towels and leaving them on a shelf in the kitchen – it seems to work!), but the supreme one-upmanship you get from being able to say we’re growing our own saffron usefully ignores this fact!