It’s a jungle out there

The garden has been neglected. Having builders around has meant that not only have I not grown things, but also I have not been doing all the day-to-day maintenance. As a result the fruit cage has turned into a jungle with head-high docks and mint, plus nettles and brambles starting to take over some patches.

However, now I have the garden to myself and a bit of decent weather, I’ve started making in-roads into the chaos. I’m far too ashamed to show a picture of the full horror of it, but there are hidden treasures.

When I eventually hacked my way through to the far corner, I was greeted by shining red jewels:

Red currants

Red currants

Despite being overshadowed by a large comfrey plant, this particular red currant bush had the biggest juiciest fruit you can imagine. I think I might make red currant and  white chocolate muffins for breakfast tomorrow.

And elsewhere, the raspberries are doing well – not quite as pretty as the red currants, but I like the flavour better.

Raspberries

Raspberries

Some of these will be frozen for later use, but most mornings I have a handful on my granola… best when still warm straight out of the garden.

Are you harvesting at the moment?

 

Hands in the dirt, head in the sun

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul. There is no gardening without humility. Nature is constantly sending even its oldest scholars to the bottom of the class for some egregious blunder. Alfred Austin

Abundant potato growth

Abundant potato growth

After a rather frantic week retrieving chickens from their holiday home (thank you Glad and Mr Glad for looking after them), retrieving dogs from the kennels (thank you Ann at Rhydlewis – a unique place where the dogs are cared for better than anywhere I know), attending a day-long trustees’ meeting and a learning guild get-together, as well as editing a couple of papers and doing piles of washing, I have finally managed to find some time to spend in the garden. During our two-week absence the potatoes have grown like mad and the raspberry canes have become laden with (as-yet unripe) fruit; the mange tout are on their way up (the variety we are growing – yellow-podded – is tall) as are the runner beans; the courgettes and squashes are settling in and the onions are flowering – boo! As always, some things do well and some don’t, but that is the way of the world and gardening does not come with a guarantee.

Squash, corn and beans doing well

Squash, corn and beans doing well

Anyway, overall the week has been quite stressful, but a few hours in the garden are good therapy. I find gardening to be remarkably good for my state of mind – it gives me time to think, as well as allowing me to be both creative and peaceful. I love seeing plants grow that I have nurtured from seed. Even when it comes to the time that they have to be removed, knowing that what is left will go on the compost heap and contribute to the next cycle is immensely satisfying.

But, reading an article in The Guardian today by Alys Fowler, I discover that gardening is not good for me just because of all the things that I’ve mentioned, but also because there are bacteria  (specifically Mycobacterium vaccae) in the soil that have a beneficial effect on health. These bacteria boost production of seratonin (which is a mood regulator) and help to build a healthy immune system if we come into direct contact with them. So, there you are – get out there and get your hands dirty and you really will be improving your health and happiness!

Can I keep chickens in a fruit cage?

In my earlier post on the searches that lead people to my blog, I mentioned the question ‘can I keep chickens in a fruit cage?’ My, rather glib, answer was ‘Yes, but only if you don’t want any fruit.’ I now realise that this really isn’t a good enough answer – this is a serious question. I know this because variants of it keep appearing as the search terms used to get to my blog.

A spot of excavation

When we first toyed with the idea of keeping chickens, we considered the options for confining them – including whether having them in the fruit cage for some or all of the time would be possible. This was in the days before we owned any chickens and really didn’t know what they are like. I’m guessing that anyone who asks this question is, like we were at the time,  unfamiliar with hens. So for all you folk in this position, I’d better describe the natural habits of these creatures. First, you should understand that hens like to dig… I don’t mean just scratch around a bit… I mean they will excavate quite large holes and they are capable of getting through really compacted earth. I recently visited some people who bought a property with an old cow shed on it. This shed contains a highly compacted layer of cow muck so packed that it requires a pick axe to loosen it. They have found, however, that their chickens are able to scratch it up, making it possible for them to excavate it and use it on the vegetable beds.  You can imagine, therefore, what a chicken can do to earth under your fruit bushes.

The other important thing to know about chickens is that, even though they don’t really fly, they can get quite a height off the ground if they have an incentive, or even just when the fancy takes them. Some are better at it than others, but the temptation of raspberries is likely to entice even the most portly chicken to do a bit of jumping. Wing clipping is touted as the answer by many, but that only stops them getting lift with their wings and ours can certainly jump quite high if they really want to even if they are missing some feathers.

Janta at Karuna describes chickens as ‘the enemy of the forest gardener’… although he does have a few chickens, he prefers ducks. Ducks do not scratch the ground, so do not excavate your plants, they are fond of slugs and they seem less inclined to consume fruit (unless they get a taste for it). Since a fruit cage often contains an assemblage of plants that can be thought of as the lower layer of a forest garden, then Janta’s experience suggests that there is no place for chickens in  your fruit cage. My answer, however, is a little more complicated.

A chicken-free fruit cage

I would not keep chickens in the fruit cage permanently, unless I had a very big fruit cage and just a few chickens – in which case the loss of fruit might be at an acceptable level and there would be enough ground for them to scratch around without doing too much concentrated damage. However, I think it unlikely that you’d have a sufficiently big fruit cage for this to work and all low-growing fruit would be likely to be eaten. I do, however, allow ours into the fruit cage occasionally in the winter – partly because they enjoy rooting around in an otherwise forbidden area and partly because they eat some of the slugs in there. I am careful to prevent them going during the spring when fruit is starting to develop because they have no qualms about eating unripe fruit – don’t think that because it’s still green, it’s safe from their attention! The other time I put a chicken in the fruit cage is when I have one that needs to get over being broody. Aliss is particularly susceptible to broodiness and will, if allowed to, sit on the laying box for days at a time. When this happens, we turf her out into the fruit cage, where the only shelter is provided by the plants and where there are many things to pique her curiosity. She spends her days in the fruit cage and her nights with the other hens and after about 72 hours she’s usually over it.

As well as preserving ground flora, roots and fruit, I have another reason for excluding our hens from the fruit cage – it seems to be a preferred habitat for frogs, toads and lizards in our garden. We often find frogs in there and it certainly provides them with a refuge. If you do not keep chickens you may be unaware that they can be enthusiastic meat-eaters and frogs seem to be particularly attractive to them. I’m always slightly distressed when one of my pest controllers eats one of my other pest controllers, so keeping them separate seems the best option!

So, overall, the answer is that chickens and fruit are not the ideal combination in an enclosed area, but you can use the two to mutual benefit.

A taste of summer

Here in west Wales it truly feels like winter has arrived: dark nights, dark days and cold damp walks with the dogs.

I am very thankful, therefore, for the fact that my autumn raspberries continue to supply a small taste of summer every few days. There aren’t many of them, and the flavour may not be as intense as it was a couple of months ago, but I find it a great joy to go out into the garden and harvest a small taste of sunshine to add to my breakfast… and they are all the more welcome for being fresh.

Summer in November

Fifty shades of green

Apparently a woman of my age should be enthralled by the book ‘Fifty shades of grey’… erotica unburdened by plot or believable characters if my niece is to be trusted. She tells me that she can’t believe that she wasted hours of her life on the whole trilogy. She’s more than twenty years younger than me, but I have always found her to be thoughtful and reliable, so on her recommendation I am going to spend my time on a colour other than grey.

Lettuce, oriental greens and rocket in my polyculture bed. Alas the dwarf french beans rotted in the wet.

Of course, my colour of choice has to be green. The transformation of the British summer from washout to glorious sunshine has revealed that not everything in the garden is beyond hope. There may be no red tomatoes or golden squashes, there may be precious few runner bean flowers or vibrant black and yellow hoverflies, but there are lettuces in a variety of shades of green… from ‘Flashy butter oak’, which is green mottled with a deep burgundy, to ‘Emerald Oak’ with its crinkled vibrant green leaves. All hues seem to be there in the salad crops, whether lettuces or oriental leaves.

The photograph does not adequately show the contrast between the dark green of the potato leaves and the downy grey-green apple mint.

But other crops are showing their true colours in the sunshine too – potato leaves, contrasting with the grey-green downy foliage of apple mint. Even some of the corn and squashes are finally starting to flourish, though it seems rather too late for the production of mature winter squashes that will store well or bursting-with-sweetness corn, straight off the plant and into the pan of boiling water (in the style of Bob Flowerdew). In the greenhouse (how appropriate) greens abound – deep shiny green lipstick peppers, sickly yellow-green Amy sweet wax pepper, plus another brighter green-shading-to-red Hungarian wax pepper. And quite a few green tomatoes… which I hope will not remain so for too much longer.

Oca… plus a Calendula flower that just opened today

Elsewhere in the garden, the yellow-podded mangetout are starting to flower, purple against their subdued green foliage. Field beans (planted very late because of the bad weather) have abundant flowers amongst their grey-green leaves and oca (masquerading as shamrock) has soft green trefoils nodding in the wind. The glaucous leaves of breadseed poppy are surmounted by both purple flowers and newly formed seed pods (which should not open when they are ripe, thus preserving all the seed for me to harvest).

Squash and corn… flourishing in a compost-filled dumpy bag.

I could go on… salsify, leeks and bunching onions are just starting to show signs of resuming growth, ginger mint and lemon balm look and smell delicious as I walk through them in the fruit cage to collect raspberries off the old and slightly tatty canes in the midst of new fresh green canes that will bear fruit next year (or later this year for the Autumn variety). But, it’s time to stop now and go and enjoy picking and eating some of this bounty. So, when asked to choose a colour, I say ‘no thank you, grey… give me shades of green any day’.

-oOOo-

Of course, there’s no such thing as an original idea… Diggitydigg beat me to it!

The time of gluts…

It’s normally around this time of year that we are starting to eat courgettes… every day. But not this year. The southerly placement of the jet stream is causing us to have a remarkably soggy and sunless summer here in the UK. Pretty much any UK gardening blog at the moment will include references to rain, slugs, snails, wind and a lack of vegetables.

Broadbead flowers – just need a few more pollinators

Well, I’m here to set the record straight – there are some plants growing in the UK. They may not be all the ones we expect at this time of year and some crops are certainly sluggish (if you’ll excuse the pun), but there are some things to be harvested. We are currently enjoying delicious potatoes straight out of the  planters, lettuce, rocket, mizuna and  Hungarian wax peppers. OK, so there’s not a sign of a courgette, the runner bean flowers seem to drop off before they are pollinated, I’ve brought one of the tomato plants into the house to try and encourage it not to rot and my onions have disappeared under a glorious swathe of Calendula, but there are things growing. The broadbeans are flowering abundantly if late and the bunching onions seem to be coming along nicely, as does the oca.

Breadseed poppy

As for dessert… we have raspberries and rhubarb along with a few strawberries and some red currants and blueberries just starting to ripen. On the herb front there’s mint, lemon balm, horseradish and rosemary. And the first flower of the bread seed poppies has opened.

And finally, our now well-integrated flock of hens is providing an abundance of eggs. Last night’s dinner comprised Spanish Omelette with a green salad… not quite all out of the garden , but not bad considering the dismal weather.

So the moral? Don’t rely on a single sort of crop… plant a variety of things and some will succeed. Oh, and have raised beds and containers so your plants don’t drown and can be moved indoors or into a more sheltered spot.

And have chickens so that all those vegetable-fed slugs don’t go to waste!

Hungarian Wax Peppers in the greenhouse

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: