Eggs, eggs…ohhhh and cabbages

Happy Monday evening blogging peeps.
I’ve been mulling over….I think those of us that grow our own (and in many walks in life really) can sometimes be a little hard on ourselves, always looking for improvement or thinking about our “failures”.  One thing I’ve learnt is that every year there will be something that doesn’t go right, which is why it is all the more important to concentrate on those things that go right.  
For example I am loving that I have a years worth of cabbages right now!  I just wasn’t prepared for them haha.
We have some exciting news here on the smallholding, my Mother’s day hens have started laying!  We think we have 6 females and 1 male which is great luck.  My lovely little family bought them for me bac in March as they lay blue/green eggs and I have always wanted hens that lay those colour eggs.  Soon enough, breakfast will be 2 dippy (soft boiled) eggs with soldiers a few times a week, if not daily 😉 Right now the eggs are still small until they are used to laying.  The hens are probably still wondering what’s happened to them at the moment.
I have to tell you, we have a huge influx of eggs right now as it seems many of those who bought from us during the lockdown period have stopped buying.  That’s ok though as we have decided to reduce our brown laying hens for over wintering, so are selling those on.  We will still be able to supply our regulars who were pre lockdown and still have plenty for ourselves which I must admit, is a bit of a novelty for me as we never had any eggs for the house at one point.  Make hay whilst the sun shines.
We have duck, quail (above) and chicken eggs coming in thick and fast.  I actually have more than I expected or knew what to do with (given they were supposed to be sold).  So this week is egg and cabbage week as I have both in abundance.  The lovely Tricia from Tarragon and Thyme has sent me some preserving information on cabbages which I am looking forward to reading either tonight or tomorrow night.  
Grace found this nest of eggs when we were doing tea time chores earlier, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry!  You can see one or 2 have been eaten or stood on.
Did you know you can freeze eggs?  I am going to get that done tonight which will see a dozen processed.   I’ve also made up a few freezer bags of a quiche custard base (4 large eggs, 1 cup whole milk or half and half cream and milk and 1 cup of grated cheese) which I can then just defrost and pop in to a pastry lined quiche dish with some left over ham and tomatoes etc.  Nice and easy, so I hope it works.
Now I have to put this photo in to show you the mammoth task I have with these cabbages!  I have 30 or so of these which is fantastic but also a task in itself.  I’m undecided as to whether having them all come at once is a good thing to get it out of the way or a bad thing in that it’ll take half a day to get them done.
I’ve a couple of different varieties, all of which we managed to mature before the cabbage white butterfly struck.  Very grateful for that as I’ve seen people losing whole crops to them.  If you grow a lot it can be too costly to buy netting to cover everything properly, which should help prevent attacks.
My kale have been amazing and I hope they don’t die off too quickly, these have just been struck by the cabbage white and subsequent caterpillars which is inevitable.  Every year I am amazed at how many caterpillars there are on any given plant.

Again, celebrating the successes here’s a basket of veg that I am getting on a weekend right now.  I am so thrilled and once I get my head in to gear we should be “shopping” from our own garden all year round.  Maybe next year is the year we rely solely on ourselves for veg? Who knows.

It’s going to be a strange week here, Jack (age 10) is back to school and I am back on to work, but still working from home.  Grace goes back next week and they both have set times for drop off and collection, which of course are right over working hours so I sense a bit of a juggling act for a few days until we settle in to things.  I hope you are all well and enjoying life to whatever degree you can.  I’ll be back in a few days with another update.  Take care, Tracy.

March’s veg plot and seed plan

It feels like it’s time for an update on what’s happening in the veg plot and growing areas, with all the talk of The Food Challenge and the general ventures we are working on…so before it’s too late, we best get on and grow some for when we’re up and running!

I do love March, Spring is on it’s way.  It kind of just pounces on your unexpectedly, even though you may have spent much of February feeling like it would never arrive.  There’s so much more daylight and time to get out and get things done.  


Personally, my time starts to transition from spending lots of time in the house cooking and preparing to being outside, preparing and growing.  It’s still a reasonably quiet time of year for gardeners (not so much smallholders as chicks and lambs start arriving!).  I start to notice that a coat, hat and scarf are too much when working outside, you can feel the sun on your clothes through the glass in the greenhouse, and if you are really lucky, when walking outside feeding the animals.


Yes there’s still frosts and sometimes even snow, but both are very pretty and give you a (very!) fresh start for the day. 


Gone by mid morning, these mornings give way to blue skies and the need for sunglasses to drive safely on the reflective roads!  Come 6pm, there’s still a short amount of daylight to be snatched before giving in to the evening. 


Before you know it, it’s 8:30pm and you’re thinking about the bed time routine before you get up and do it all again.  I love to see the shift in seasons and it’s clear we are bang smack in the middle of the Winter to Spring shift right now.

In March, the temperatures can vary dramatically, so don’t get caught out thinking there won’t be a frost, which we have done before.  In fact, only last year were the fruit trees killed off when a very late May frost killed the blossom.  I really hope that doesn’t happen this year.  With that in mind, I still am still sowing seeds with a view to keeping them protected in various forms until they can move on to their final spot.  I’m not just sowing the hardier seeds either, at the end of the day if we lose some, then we will have more to sow.  It’s all trial and error every year.

At the moment we have stagger-sown the following since 14th February:

Red and white spring onions 
Leeks
Broad beans
Peas
Kale – different varieties
Beetroot
Salad leaves
Tomatoes (a couple of testers)
Cauliflower
Red and Green cabbage
Aubergine
Different beans
Courgettes
Turnips
Sprouts
Potatoes (currently chitting)

We are seeing these seeds come through nicely.

Radish, multi sown
 Salad leaves, tomatoes
Swiss chard, beetroot, salad leaves
Turnip, radish, sunflower, Swiss chard, beetroot, salad leaves
I will continue to stagger the seeds I am sowing to have plants at different ages, to hopefully mature at different stages.  They do sometimes tend to catch up which is nature for you and can be frustrating when you get a glut despite planning not to. This year we are hoping to not only supply ourselves with ALL of our own vegetable needs, but also to do a couple of veg boxes to sell with the eggs we are selling weekly.  Another exciting challenge!
Nothing should go to waste to be fair, even if the veg boxes don’t take off, we will preserve and the chickens and pigs will have what goes over as inevitably things do.

So the seeds are in and being kept warm as needed.  The veg plot is manured/mulched and covered up to warm the soil ready for planting out.  We had the shock of our lives the other day when one of the horses managed to get through the garden gate and made her way in to the veg plot.  We fixed up the damage she did but only time will tell as to whether she has killed anything off!

In the veg garden, which is different to the veg plot, we have our polytunnel that’s 4 years old now.  Highly recommended if you’re looking for a cheaper one, this is 6x3m.  Over the last few weeks it has taken a bashing from the various storms and is starting to need some TLC so we have made some adjustments to it.  Where the zip is starting to come apart we have zipped it closed and adjusted the clips to be longer so we don’t have to keep undoing it beyond the zip.  As you can tell, that was a Ste idea!  Saved us time and money on costly repairs.  Bonus.

The polytunnel will soon be planted up with a couple of kale, radish and salad leaves to get the crops moving on quickly.  I’ll grab some photos when I do that.

Sowings over the next week or so will include tomatoes and peppers, more salad and turnips and second sowings of what’s already in.  We are getting pigs in 3 months which we also are going to grow as much food for as we can, so marrows, turnips, swede, leafy greens and so on.  It’s going to be a very busy growing season, so outside we go!! More pics to follow 🙂

Some of what’s growing and a suspicion

It’s funny as when I started sowing the seeds early in 2017, I couldn’t imagine them germinating.  Then when they germinated I couldn’t imagine them being decent size seedlings and then when I moved them to their final resting place I couldn’t imagine them filling the planting distance!  Well they grew, and filled it plus more….I did try, but I’ve planted some things too close again!
 
In the polytunnel we have a beef tomato plant to compare to growth with one in the greenhouse.  There was no noticeable difference.  There’s swiss chard, spinach and tomatillos in the below picture, all which I would recommend growing the polytunnel again.

 
The cucumbers don’t seem to be thriving in there.  The watermelon has done very well in the pot it has been in the greenhouse, so now there is a space, I’ve planted it in the polytunnel.

 
The last of the kale which did marvellously in here.  I’ve taken the rest out as the outside kale plants have caught up now.  Again, kale to get an early harvest is worth doing in the polytunnel.
I’ve put a couple of pepper plants that were later than the others in where to kale was and marigolds are blooming on the edges now.

 
My goodness the courgette and patty pans are leafing up quickly.

 
Oh der, I don’t even like cabbage as much as this would suggest I do!  Truth be told, I labelled them up wrong and thought these were caulis…..go on, have a laugh at my expense, I am!  Looks like a freeing session and coleslaw making is on the cards this weekend.  They’ve grown without any fuss though.  Durham early variety – I like no fuss plants!
 
 
A little idea I had for some of the many pumpkin seeds I had was to grow the smaller fruiting ones in containers and grow up instead of across.  These guys are coming on great due to the rain we’ve had no doubt, so this weekend they’ll be getting tied up so they don’t snap under their own weight.
 
 
 
The runner beans are also no fuss.  These are scarlet emperor variety and so pretty!  I’ve some preserving recipes waiting for these guys!  The nasturtiums are doing their job as they are covered in black flies.

Another bush that is coming on by the day is this cape gooseberry – literally growing by the day.  It might even need to go in the ground this year and not next like I was planning.

 
Another plant I couldn’t imagine taking up much room when I planted them as tiny green, flimsy leaves were the sweetcorn.  Well they sure like this soil as once they took hold, they shot up!
 
They’re in with some pumpkins which are just thugs.  They at sprawling wherever they want without a care in the world.  I love it!

Controversially I am growing tomatoes and potatoes in the same bed.  Now this goes against some recommendations but on a website I use for a lot of research, it said to grow them together for a number of reasons, so I am trying it outside.  I’ve taken up the second early potatoes which I am really pleased with and will definitely use next year (British Queen) and I’ve planted tomatoes (and peppers) in their place. 

There is still one row of spuds to come up and the back section is sunflowers and more tomatoes with catch crop of spinach in there.

 
The sunflowers are reaching amazing heights – I’m in for sizing guide – I’m 5’6 (and a half 😉 )

 
Considering how many tomato plants I have, I’m not getting anywhere near the amount in the greenhouse that I thought I would.  Disappointing results here so far.  I’ve had a couple of kilos but I have loads of plants!  Still the best thing you will taste though.
 
 
 
Now something that isn’t doing too well.  My broad beans have done dreadfully this year.  At first I thought it was just one of those things and maybe the new beds with rotted muck in were too rich for them.  Then I noticed other beds doing it but again, they’d had muck added at some point.  I’ve made this picture larger so you can look above the nasturtiums and see the curl on the leaf.  The beans are all knarled and shrivelled too.  I asked about and the consensus was weed killer which I said it can’t be as we don’t use it.
 
The my sunflowers, which were reaching for the skies with bright yellow blooms, started to die.  One down right died overnight.  Weird I thought, definitely something wrong with the soil.  I was gutted.  Steven not so much as after last years broad bean harvest he didn’t want to see another one again :D.

 
The leaves have done the same as the broad beans, shrivelled and died after being 100% healthy.
Hmm….I walked round my plots and started to wonder.  Is it possible that we’ve had drift from the farmer’s pesticide?  Last year I got caught out when they sprayed and it knocked me so ill that I needed to go to bed.  Are my sunflowers and beans suffering the same fate?  Does anyone know what else it could be?
Black fly for the beans, would they make the leaves curl?
 
The peas that I have sown in the same soil are sprouting up and the farmer won’t be spraying now I don’t think (harvest),so hopefully we will have some late peas too.
 
I’ve lots more to share, but I’ll do that another day.  Happy Friday!

Pigs, more harvests and epic fail on the redcurrant jelly

Our pigs only have 3 weeks left with us now.  They’re going to work with Ste on a Tuesday and will be coming back in a different state.  I’ve got some reading up to do as to how we want to process them so I’ll be checking out blogs on here plus my River Cottage handbook of course.
The pigs have a slap mark on their shoulder which identifies them when they go to slaughter.  It’s one of the marks the vet will look for.  Think of it as a tattoo.
The farmer thinks they will be weighing in at 65 kilos.
Look at this!  A cabbage that I thought was done for!  This is one that the birds or slugs ate and left skeletal.  What a trooper this little thing is.  There’s plenty more where he came from too.  At least these are doing well this year as the cauliflowers are non existent and the broccoli all bolted.
It might look strange, posting a photo of an onion but I grew this!  Yeah!  Really excited, no need to buy any more onions again I hope! 
Now to the carrots.  I have never ever managed togrow carrots before so imagine my excitement when I saw loads growing in my black bin!  I’ve been nursing them daily only to check on them today and discover an ant’s nest.  Well I panicked and pulled them all out.  Only to be told by my neighbour that ants are pretty clean and wouldn’t have eaten them.  He said they like light soil which this bin is.
Another thing I wanted to share with you is this little gadget that my friend has bought me, how lovely is it?  It’s a dibber for planting out and I think it is very thoughtful of her.
The dogs like it too!!
Even after living here 18+ months we’re still finding trees that we didn’t know we had.  Is this one hazelnut or acorn, does anyone know?

For my records, broad beans and first peas have done dreadfully this year!  Aren’t broad beans supposed to be amazingly easy to grow?!  We’ve had some, but not loads.
Oh and the sheep broke into the new chicken area!  Hooligans!
Also a quick update on the recurrant jelly.  It didn’t work!  That’s ok though, you win some and you lose some.  The overnight dripped juice only yielded 350ml when the recipe expected over 600ml.  We got 1.5 small jars when we expected 4 – 5 so something is amiss.  I think it’s going to set solid, so I’ll maybe try to loosen it up and add water and boil up again or if I can slice it (haha oh dear) then I’ll make gravy up adding it, then I’ll freeze the gravy. 

More where they came from though, we’ll get there!  The 2nd lot of strawberry jam was just as amazing as the first though – wahoo!