A kale tale

At this time of year I start to be rather unenthusiastic about one particular crop, namely kale. It’s a great thing to grow – it provides fresh greens all through the winter from just a few plants and, when freshly picked, it is tender and delicious. But, it goes on for months and so eventually the novelty does wear off.

Yesterday, however, I was inspired. I had made bread rolls and had defrosted some of the delicious pulled pork that I cooked for the winter solstice; I picked winter salad leaves from the garden, made mayonnaise using eggs from the hens and opened a jar of sweet chilli sauce made from our home-grown chillies. However, I really wanted a bit of crunch. And then it dawned on me: kale-slaw. I shredded some kale (including some of the thinner stalks, grated a carrot, chopped the top of a sprouting onion and with the addition of some of the freshly made mayo – a tasty slaw.

 

Not much like spring

Despite the sowing of seeds in the limery, spring has not really arrived here yet and I daren’t sow any seeds outdoors for fear of them drowning! Of course the day when it was gardening weather this week, I was stuck in a training room doing a food safety course and exam. Now I have some free time it’s chilly and raining. I did manage to plant a new rhubarb root earlier, but then the rain started so I’m letting some of my little helpers get on with a bit of weeding and pest management:

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slug-hunting (I hope)

I’ve finished my editing work for the week, so I’m getting on with my first ever crochet sweater:

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work in progress

Sadly, the picture doesn’t do the colour justice… I would describe it as teal with some coloured flecks. The yarn is from New Lanark – a favourite maker for me, although this is the first time I have used their chunky wool. And, as ever, Max is keeping an eye on progress. He’s a bit chilly as he was clipped yesterday, but he does look lovely:

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Max has had a hair-do

The wet weather is forecast for the whole weekend, so it looks like more indoor seed sowing and crochet are on the cards. What are your plans for the weekend?

Something to eat

Following on from yesterday’s post about all the potential crops, I just wanted to say that, even at this time of the year, we are still harvesting from the garden. Throughout the winter we have picked (and continue to pick) kale, mizuna, parsley and blood-veined sorrel and now we are about to have our first purple sprouting broccoli of the season:

In addition, because of all the preserving, we are still eating last year’s crops: bottled apples, bottled passata, frozen raspberries and red currants, apple juice and frozen chillies. We are also getting loads of eggs from the hens. Plus we are undertaking a different sort of cultivation by making yoghurt and cheese.

We are a very long way from self-sufficiency, but I am very proud of what we do manage to produce in our small garden. Even if you don’t have much space, you will be amazed what you can achieve if you have a go.

The Limery Awakens

We are just at the start of our second full growing season in the limery. Last year saw amazing successes with sweet peppers (capsicum) and a fairly healthy tomato crop (the last of which have on just ripened up in their box!). Now I’m starting to nurture this year’s crops (including at least one new one) and some of the carnivores are beginning to wake up…

As always, we are doing our best to reuse… the writing on the milk carton plant labels from last year has been cleaned off with meths, the padded packaging from around the new chicken feeder looks like it will make cosy trays for seedlings, none of the plant pots are new, we water the seedlings from a plastic milk bottle with a perforated lid and my dad’s propagator is doing it’s stuff for yet another year. Only the seed compost, seed potatoes and the seeds are new (in fact some of the seeds are from last year, plus we overwintered the pepper plants).

I do love the promise that spring holds.

Who’s a chicken?

For more than two months now UK poultry have had to be confined to keep them separate from wild birds because of the risk of avian ‘flu’. Originally it was suggested that they should be housed 24/7, but when it was realised that is was not possible, netted areas with water and feed kept under a solid cover was deemed to be acceptable. The end to this restriction is in sight: after the end of February birds will be allowed to range once again as long as various mitigation measures are in place.

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Approved disinfectant and Self-assessment form

The situation varies a little across the UK, but here in Wales all poultry keepers are required to complete a self-assessment form which they must have available if they are inspected. This outlines the actions that they are taking to minimise contact between wild birds and stock (e.g. use of bird scarers) and the biosecurity measures being implemented (e.g. hosing down and disinfecting concrete paths, disinfecting boots after accessing poultry).

For the duration of the restrictions, the hens Chez Snail have been happily foraging in the fruit cage, which has been connected to their small run and house by a netted corridor. Their small run always has a ‘roof’ over it to give them somewhere to shelter from the rain, so their feeder has been in there. Now they are going to be allowed to range free round their half of the garden, however, a different sort of feeder seemed like a good idea. So, I bought a rodent-proof, wildbird-proof feeder…

The hen stands on the pedal,the lid opens and there’s the food. It can only be activated by something weighing more than 500g, so garden birds and most rodents won’t even be able to open the lid. We can keep this out on their range without fear of attracting wild birds.

The only issue now, is training them to use it. Yesterday, we put it into the fruit cage propped the lid open and there was some interest…

Today, even with the lid propped open, they very carefully avoided it… hens really are chicken when it comes to new things. So, Mr Snail has been out there showing them the ropes… with some success:

I hope they get the hang of it soon – or at least before the end of the month!

Investing in the future

Today I planted the first seeds of the year.

  • Two types of chillies: Pyramid and Romanian Yellow
  • Two types of sweet pepper: Corno di Torro Rosso and Sprinter
  • Two types of tomato: San Marzano and Veepro Paste

They are in the propagator and I have my fingers crossed for fabulous harvests in the limery again this year.

The labels are made from old milk cartons and are in their second or third year of use; the modules and pots I’ve owned for years; and the compost is made in England from wool and bracken.

When the rest of the world gets me down, sowing seeds always brings a smile to my face.

And finally…

The limery has done us proud all year – from seeds sown in the propagator in January to the great abundance of peppers through the summer. Currently there’s a pot of rosemary flowering in there, although we’re a bit short of pollinators, and the passion flower vine is putting on plenty of new growth.

However, the most amazing thing may be that today, 20 December, I harvested these:

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Freshly picked today

 

That’s right – tomatoes still ripening on the plant in the depths of winter. From these I will be able to make winter solstice passata!

Putting the limery to bed

On Saturday, kitted out in my new stripy pinny, I tackled a job that I have been putting off… getting the limery sorted for winter.

Now that the temperatures have dropped, we’re not spending so much time out there – although it’s an excellent location for hand sewing as the light is so good. We are tending to drink our morning coffee in the kitchen and most of the plants that filled the space have died or died back, although the citrus trees are now in there after their summer outside and there’s one tomato plant that’s still surviving.

There were two main jobs that needed doing: cleaning and cutting back. I like to give the pepper plants a chance to survive the winter (although it’s a bit hit and miss), but they need to be pruned back. Some of the carnivores die back, and it’s important to keep them tidy and not swamped by decomposing leaves. So, all the peppers were chopped back to stems, the insectivorous plants cleaned up and I put all of them outside in the sunshine whilst I gave the windows and sills a thorough cleaning (mainly with white vinegar).

Finally, everything was returned to the limery and a few of the potted herbs were brought in – rosemary (I tend to lose this outdoors over the winter), sage and oregano – as well as the (still small) tea plant. The passion fruit was already nice and tidy, so I think we are all set for a period without much growth of anything.

It feels like winter is really here, although I remind myself that it’s only about six weeks before I’ll have to get the propagator out for sowing the 2017 peppers and chillies, which just goes to show how the limery has extended our gardening year!

Oh and remember, if you want to have a chance of winning my little crochet decorations, you need to leave a comment on last Thursday’s post telling me what’s making you smile this week (a ‘like’ won’t do).

Throwing it all away

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The glorious rubbish bed in 2013

Before the limery was built, we had a feature in our garden known as the ‘rubbish bed‘. Basically this was a raised bed made and filled entirely with waste. Mr Snail had constructed it by taking up some of the flag stones that formed the patio and partially burying them on their ends to enclose an area that we filled with all sorts of waste to rot down and become a growing medium. I don’t think it contained any actual soil, but there was a lot of cardboard, grass clippings, shredded willow, spent potting compost, shredded paper, moss raked from a friend’s lawn and leaves. Most of the organic matter went in fresh and we allowed it to rot down in situ. The best squashes I have ever grown were from this particular bed.

And then came the limery. Because of our limited space, we had to shuffle things around and the rubbish bed had to be sacrificed. The flag stones were reused to floor the limery and a new much deeper bed was built in a different location. The contents of the rubbish bed were transferred to other places – some went into two dumpy bags in which I grew potatoes and some was spread on the other raised beds.

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Volunteer potatoes in the new bed

Ideally, I wanted the new bed to be filled the same way, but it is turning out to be a long haul. However, I think that the end is in sight… it just requires some physical labour. As you may recall, I began by lining the bottom of the new bed with old handouts and lecture notes as a cathartic way to draw a line under my teaching career. Then, we added all the usual stuff, plus lots of tea leaves and coffee grounds and we stopped recycling most of our junk mail and put that in there too, along with the bedding from the hen house. Of course, when we thought we were getting near the top we turned our backs and everything rotted down and the bed was only 1/3 full again. Despite this, we have persisted and it’s currently hosting a late crop of unintended potatoes that we have decided to nurture, plus a courgette in a pot that has rooted down into the compost. Once these have died back and been harvested, we will be piling in the contents of the two dumpy bags (which came from the original rubbish bed), plus all the spent compost from the pots that have had the peppers, squashes and tomatoes in over the summer. And we’ll keep adding paper and cardboard and grass clippings from our neighbours so that by the time we come to plant courgettes and squashes next year, they can go in the ‘new and improved rubbish bed’ and we will hopefully have an ideal medium for a huge harvest… once again, all from material that many folks would simply throw away.

So, if you have a garden that is short of organic matter or just generally lacking soil like ours was, don’t despair…. simply compost everything and anything that can rot down, either in a compost bin or in situ, and you will be amazed by the productivity you can achieve.

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Courgette in a pot but rooting into the compost in the new bed – hopefully a taste of things to come

Forward thinking

This is a time of abundance – tomatoes are ripening every day, there’s the last flurry of courgettes, squashes need picking and there’s the potatoes to harvest. Indeed, as I was digging up potatoes this morning I thought about my successes this year and my failures, and I have come to the conclusion that I need to change my attitude in the garden. You see, my problem is that I am easily seduced.

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Some of this week’s harvest that we will definitely enjoy

No, not like THAT… I am seduced by seed catalogues! I read the descriptions of interesting crops and I fall for the marketing. I’ve got better over the years at resisting, but I still succumb sometimes. There are several vegetables that I love the idea of growing even though I know that there are good reasons not to – because only one of us likes them, or because they need lots of care, or because they’re  not something that thrives in our area, or just because they don’t really come out well in a cost benefit analysis (for example, space versus yield). Broad beans are good example: yes I like the flowers and the young beans are nice, but I don’t like them when they get old plus they take up lots of space for a relatively small crop… they also tend to get blackfly.

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Ready for soup-making

When you only have a limited amount of space, it’s essential to prioritise, and so that’s what I’m going to do next year. I’ve been thinking about the things that I really like growing and that I’m successful with. So next year we’ll continue to grow peppers, chillies, tomatoes and melons in the limery (I may even be tempted to try something new), but in the garden I’m going to focus on potatoes, courgettes, squashes, kale, lettuce and other salad leaves, broccoli, mange tout and climbing French beans. These are all crops that I know we will eat and enjoy and that, where appropriate, I have reliable ways of preserving. I’ll also carry on growing various fresh herbs and nurturing the soft fruit.

This afternoon I will be making Mulligatawny soup for the freezer, using courgettes, potato and tomatoes that I harvested this morning. I’ll also be planting some winter lettuce seeds and I will be collecting seeds from the French beans to sow next year. And later in the winter when I’m being tempted, I’ll come back to this post and remind myself of my priorities!

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