Squashy

Last year Patrick, from Bifurcated Carrots, was kind enough to send me some seeds that he had obtained from Carol Deppe. These included flint corn, which is now growing in my four sisters bed, and several varieties of squash.

Squashes of all varieties are flourishing in the 'four sisters' bed

Squashes of all varieties are flourishing in the ‘four sisters’ bed

I love winter squash – people keep telling me that I ought to try the variety ‘crown prince’, but somehow I have never got round to it. The most successful one I have grown here on the west coast of Wales is Boston – which I get from the Real Seed Catalogue. However, I was excited to have some different varieties to have a go with, particularly since Carol Deppe is in Oregon… another rather wet and dull part of the world with a relatively short growing season (at least as far as squash are concerned).

Anyway, I planted the seeds with great glee and was delighted that almost all of them germinated and started growing into robust plants. I had more than I needed, so passed some onto my friend Katy, who had a space in her garden and wanted some winter squash. Since then I have been watching mine grow… I was sure that I had labelled all of them when I planted them out, but one or two seem to now be anonymous; never mind, I will be able to match then to pictures on the internet, I’m sure.

Costata Romanesco - not a winter squash!

Costata Romanesco – not a winter squash!

However, I was happily inspecting the abundance the other day when it dawned on me that one of the varieties – Costata Romanesco – looked much more like a huge courgette (zucchini) than a winter squash. So, I dug out the packets and, sure enough, it’s a summer squash! I got out my copy of The resilient gardener by Carol Deppe and discovered that this variety can grow up to three or four feet long… although she recommends harvesting it before that. She claims that it’s very flavoursome (she hardly has a good word to say about courgettes on this matter) and can be dried for use over the winter in stews, soups etc. So now I’m even more excited about the prospect of a tasty and storable summer squash.

Delicious fried in olive oil with chopped fresh garlic

Delicious fried in olive oil with chopped fresh garlic

Just to test it out, I harvested one for dinner last night – only about 9 inches long, so a mere baby. I fried it in olive oil, with a little chopped garlic, straight out of the garden and it was, indeed, delicious. Another good characteristic of this variety is that it is dense and has a relatively low water content , unlike those horrible watery marrows that some people grow. This quality means that it is good for frying and should also be great for drying.

Dinner last night... all out of the garden except the small servings of chorizo cooked in cider

Dinner last night… all out of the garden except the small servings of chorizo cooked in cider

So: thanks to Patrick for the seeds; Linda – I will need to take you up on that offer to borrow your dehydrator later in the season; and Katy – some of those winter squashes I gave you are summer ones!

Green shoots

For the past four days we have had sunshine and no rain! It’s cloudy now, but the forecast is for more sunshine over the next few days. This is great news because the winter of 2012/13 has, so far, been very gloomy. Every day we record the amount of electricity that our solar panels generate, so we have a ready means of comparing sunshine between years. These past few months have been rather darker than the equivalent periods in the past two years, so the recent weather has been particularly welcome.

Some rather puny leeks!

It’s not just us people who have been suffering from the dark – the winter vegetables have been struggling. Our leeks, purple and white sprouting broccoli and oriental greens are much smaller than we had hoped and I don’t even want to think about the kale. Fingers crossed that they will put on a spurt of growth as a result of all the recent photosynthesis. To be fair, the white sprouting broccoli is supposed to be a very late variety, so I wouldn’t expect much from it yet, but the purple is described as ‘early’. The sunshine does seem to have encouraged some growth from the garlic and onion sets that were planted some time ago… I was beginning to think that they might have drowned!

Sweet peppers

However, there is a whole growing season to look forward to in 2013. The first batch of seeds that I planted earlier this month have started to germinate, and this is always a good feeling. I use an electric propagator to get peppers and chillies started early in the year. In my experience, they need a long growing season and do best if sown in January or February. Most capsicums germinate best in the UK if they have some gentle heat applied, otherwise they simply don’t do anything or even just rot. I gather that the optimum temperature is in the range 20-30°C (68-86°F), but my experience is to aim for the upper end of this. The only things I have sown so far are the capsicums (hot and sweet), basil (for an early crop grown indoors) and tomato and tomatillo.

One year I sowed courgettes and squashes in February, but I just ended up with leggy plants that I couldn’t transplant outside because there was still a risk of frost. In the end my crop was relatively poor because by the time I could put them in to soil they were too tender and thus prone to slug attack. Mind you, that was in the days before the chickens when our slug problem was much worse. Anyhow, the curcurbits will wait a while before sowing… I will just have to enjoy watching the things I have up and running and getting some “Wizard” field beans in soon now it appears they won’t either rot or float away!

The wrong sort of worms

Just can’t bring myself to post a picture of an intestinal worm!

To date I have written about compost worms and knitted worms, and even earthworms get a mention occasionally, but currently we are suffering from ‘the wrong sort of worms’.

For two years our little flock of hens remained worm-free, possibly as a result of the addition of Vermex (a herbal supplement including garlic and cinnamon) to their food in the form of three doses every month. However, at least one of our two new girls has arrived with intestinal worms – round worms to be precise. Sadly, we have run out of Vermex and the local farmers store doesn’t have any in stock… and the second nearest one only has the stuff for sheep and goats. We are adding garlic granules to their feed, but I’m not certain whether these will help. In general I feel that the herbal treatments keep worms away, but they don’t get rid of them once there is an infestation.

So, we need some sort of medication. It was ordered and we awaited its arrival. I was planning to deliver it to the girls individually in raspberries (currently the highest value chicken treat available in the garden), but my plans have been revised. An e-mail arrived from the internet company to say that, despite claims that the product was in stock when we ordered it, it actually wasn’t (grrr). Now I don’t want to hang around when it comes to worms, so we cancelled the on-line order and picked some up (at much greater expense – 30% greater!) from that farmers’ store we passed on the way to visit my parents today.

Reading the instructions, I discovered that the dose is so small that the raspberry trick isn’t going to work and that, instead, we have to spike their main food with it for the next seven days. This means they should each receive the correct dose because big chickens will eat more than small chickens and, therefore, will receive a bigger does. Clever, eh? Well, the feed is mixed and ready for them to dive into tomorrow morning. Apparently we can eat the eggs whilst they are being medicated, which considering the dose is so small seems fine to me.

Parasites are something of an issue when keeping any animals and my approach is to try to avoid them rather than have to treat an infestation once established. This is why we use the herbal ‘worm deterrent ‘ and why we have been struggling to find a way to end the infestation of red mite that the girls have been suffering from. Red mite, in case you don’t know, are blood suckers that hang around in the nooks and crannies of the hen-house during the day, then emerge at night to suck your chickens dry (well, sort of). There are various powders and sprays (some very toxic, some entirely organic) that you can use on the hen-house to rid it of these pests. We managed to keep them at bay mainly with the use of diatomaceous earth for two years, plus an occasional spray with something more hardcore, but this year they got out of hand and we just couldn’t shift them.

The improvised mite-busting hen-house

It turned out that our chicken house was a haven for mites – the construction of the roof provided ideal locations for them to hide out and where no spray (organic or otherwise) could penetrate. We removed the roof and burnt it (in our Kelly kettle, of course), but there were still mites in other places. Then we got the two new girls and needed separate accommodation. I’ve described before how we made a new chicken house for free from an old dog crate, some carpet protector, a piece of old skirting board and some cable ties. For a while the  newbies slept in the new house and oldies in the old house, but gradually they all wanted to sleep together. Initially they chose the old hen-house, but we realised quite soon what a mistake this was. We managed to persuade them that the new house was much better. .. and so it is. It’s bigger, the perch is longer, it’s completely fox-proof and red mites hate it. There are no dark crevices, there are no poorly ventilated areas and there’s no wood. Inadvertently we have built a great hen-house, We still let them use the laying boxes in the roofless old house (the boxes still have roofs), but that’s all. Never again will we have to deal with a mite infestation, unless a new species evolves that has a preference, for dry conditions that are light, airy and made of plastic.

I’m pretty sure that there’s no guaranteed way of preventing worms and I know that there’s always a chance of hens picking them up from wild birds, but hopefully once the current infestation is cleared up we’ll be able to prevent future problems by using herbal food supplements. I would be really interested, however, if anyone has tips for keeping chickens worm-free.

From garden to kitchen

Although it has been a difficult growing season so far, we are starting to harvest a few crops now.

The new chickens are producing eggs already: Aliss lays a small egg nearly every day and these are getting progressively bigger, and Perdy is laying erratically, including one very long thin double yolker and two very small eggs on one day! Esme continues to lay almost every day and Lorna is doing her usual four days on ten days off approach to egg-laying.

The Harvest

Yesterday was, however, a triumph. Apart from a little chorizo, olive oil and black pepper, all of our dinner came out of the garden. No, I lie, two cloves of garlic came from the organic farm down the road. At the end of the afternoon we harvested a few potatoes from the bags in the ‘waste of space‘ area, I collected a variety of salad leaves from my polyculture plot (lettuce, Oriental greens, rocket), some red-veined sorrel (a perennial), rosemary and a ripe Hungarian wax pepper from the greenhouse. Added to the eggs from the past few day, this looked like the ingredients for a whole meal.

And so it was – chorizo omelette with rosemary and garlic potatoes and a green(ish) salad spiced up with a sliced Hungarian wax pepper. A roaring success and on a sunny day too.

Of course, it’s raining again now, but at least the raised beds are helping to avoid waterlogging.

The end-product

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