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 
Broad beans
Kale – different varieties
Salad leaves
Tomatoes (a couple of testers)
Red and Green cabbage
Different beans
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 🙂

Slowing time down!

Well my weekly updates have turned in to a bit more monthly!  Had a few issues with uploads of photos and the fact that January has gone by in the blink of an eye!  Hence the title!
Another week, another month is upon us and another plan is forming. We’re trying to fit as much in to each day as we can as they just fly by! I’ve not been very well for the last few weeks, now I’m not telling you this for sympathy at all, but to highlight how vulnerable we are to our reliance on sooo many things. If we don’t have our health, our homes, our heat sources, supermarkets, electronics and so on, where does that leave us. I must admit it has propelled my thoughts around speeding up the process of being reliant on ourselves as much as possible.
With that in mind, these last few weekends have seen lots of work outdoors.  Sowing seeds of plants that we use regularly and that can be sown at this time of year. Kale (purple and green), tomatoes, leeks, lettuce and radish. I’ve also potted on some lavender that looks like it’s seen better days. Not sure it’ll make it.  If it does, it can be used for handmade gifts and smellies. We’ve worked on the raised beds, more on that shortly and generally started cracking on in earnest.
Above is the area in the greenhouse we are (since the photo) using as a seed bed. After this photo was taken, we filled the rest of it with home made compost (feeling quite smug about that). The wires you can see here are heated wires to give a bit of base heat to the seeds.  I like getting an early start with seeds.  That reminds me, I need to order the Alderman peas, we love those and I’d like to have a few different areas with them this year.
It’s been a bit hit and miss weather wise, we’ve not really had a winter yet but it’s been very wet, which has meant we’ve been able to get a lot of work done in the house. The little bedroom which we hadn’t touched since moving in 4 years ago is now done and I am so pleased with it! We managed to come under budget and all in all it cost us around £200! That’s for doing the walls and replacing the carpet with a beautiful wooden floor. It’s used as a dressing room for Grace and I to dry our hair in, so hard floor is easier to manage with people with long hair rather than breaking the hoover again (sorry Ste 🙂 )

We have now started the main bedroom which is a combination of the bedroom and bathroom (en suite).  As with all old houses, as soon as we started it, we knew it was going to be a big task.  We took out the fitted wardrobes as we want to make use of our own furniture that we love and have had for many years.  It’s old, classic items, we aren’t in to replacing things frequently and especially when not needed!

Once the wardrobes were removed, it pretty quickly showed the issue with the ceiling!  You may or may not be able to tell from the photos, but there is a big bevel in it!  Turns out it needed a bit of TLC and re-patching to get it level (ish) and safe again.  Ste and my Dad got to work on it really quickly and in no time at all, the repair was done and we are ready to move on.  Now for the mammoth task of stripping the wallpaper from the ceiling which is a killer on your arms.  Not looking forward to that one.
Back outside once the weather allowed and dear me, another case of where do you start initially.  With a plan, that’s where.  We are done with January’s goal of the veg plot planning of what’s going where but in order to be able to grow these things, we need a nice soil structure to work with and ease of access to the beds.
So we’ve cut a hole in the fence to make a new gate for access to another part of the veg plot.  This is ‘before’ on the top left and Ste working on it and getting the copious amounts of barrowed muck down on the top right.  We’re going for as much no dig as we can from now on, we simply don’t have the time and life is FAR TOO SHORT to keep weeding and losing every year.

It looked great when it was finished and a membrane finish below, to keep those pesky weeds reaching for the light.

I also wanted to share with you some life and doggy updates as I feel it’s been a while.  We have some big changes coming at the end of Feb, start of March which I will share with you then.  For now, our 3 lovely dogs are still enjoying life on the smallholding.  Annie will be having a litter of puppies all being well, later this year.  Here she is giving Buster a cuddle.
 And watching me do anything and everything!

Rodney spotted something in the rafters in the barn, which frustrated the life out of him!  He had to just sit and watch instead.  Before going to stand on the picnic table and feel king of his castle.
 The kids have loved being able to get out more. 
We’re so lucky to have all of this literally on our own land and from our own doorstep.
Above is the view from the kitchen window on one of the light frosty mornings we have had.  I will never ever tire of this view.
Another thing I have taken great pride in lately is how well Grace is coming on with her cooking and household skills.  Jack will follow suit but as he’s 3 years younger, he is at a different skillset right now.  Still, they both are involved in the household discussions, budget reviews (boring but essential), cooking and meal planning etc.  Grace helped me make croutons for the freezer when the breadbuns were too stale.

I also made, well, tried to make a jelly from gooseberries and cherries.  It didn’t set, so we now have a kind of cordial, come syrup!  It won’t get wasted, but we will need to be inventive I think!

Finally for today, we have a big birthday rapidly approaching on Friday – Grace will be 13!!! So there’s a cake to make and good times to be had!  Which ties in nicely with my post title, how the hell do we slow time down!!  All thoughts welcome 🙂 

I hope your January was a happy one.  We had a great time and feel in a great place to be starting February.  If it wasn’t, I wish you a happier February.  Take care bloggers.

Family moments – Grace’s 10th birthday plus veg plot and seed updates

Grace, our daughter, will be 10 this week.  As her birthday falls on a Tuesday we offered to throw a birthday party for her on Sunday.  She invited a couple of her friends and family joined us to celebrate.
Having your birthday right after Christmas means usually you have everything you want, however there’s always something you can buy a 10 year old girl isn’t there?  She will open her gifts from us on the actual day.  She received some lovely gifts that were very thoughtful from friends and family.
So with a collection of people coming over, all with different tastes and likes, I set about thinking what I could offer food wise that was a) delicious and b) not going to break the bank.  Also I was bearing in mind that anything that wasn’t used, would be used for packed lunches the coming week.
I decided to put the following together:
Roast pork and stuffing sandwiches.
Roasties and gravy.
Pulled pork, flat bread and salad
Veg soup with wholemeal bread
Chicken korma with rice, naan, mango chutney and mint yoghurt.

I didn’t photo the hot food but it was in the 3 slow cookers on the bench behind me.

I also had on display my good friends platter that she made for the day as she’s starting a new business and wanted honest feedback on the products.  They have a Facebook page if you would care to take a look and support small UK businesses.  Their signature dipping oil was delicious so I made a bread to use as to dip.  I highly recommend it!

I made a cake for Grace:
She had a lovely time and looked very grown up.
Finally but by no means least, I have a recipe for Louise’s chocolate brownies which I am making tonight for Grace’s after school surprise tomorrow and may have to sample a few myself 🙂
What I have learnt from this weekend is that I love putting on a spread for people and making my family happy.  I’ve also learnt that no matter how well you plan, things won’t always go to plan.  No matter how well I know how to make this and that, I still need it all written down to the letter.  I got in a bit of a fluster when I realised I hadn’t put the slow cooker pork on the day before ready to heat up separately on the Sunday.  I still managed to get it done thanks to Caroline’s husband!  Otherwise, most things went ok, though I think I would like to work out what I can cook in advance, so that next time I can do more the day before.
In the veg garden this weekend:
I’ve decided to tackle one thing at a time and see it through from start to finish.  Sounds obvious but sometimes I have so many things to do that I flit between them and don’t feel like I have completed anything!  If I’m going to supply my family with all year round food, then I need to be organised and on the ball. 
Therefore after riding out on Saturday and getting the animals seen to, I set about in the veg plot.  It was a delightful day and when I looked up I saw blue sky and thought to myself, this is what it’s all about. 
I decided to work on the bed which has fruit in it.  We have 3 currants, 3 rhubarbs, 2 (3?) gooseberries, strawberries and some unruly but highly productive raspberries in here.  Now I’d like to train the raspberries to just grow along their intended path which you can see marked out with rope.  They don’t, they try to take over everyone elses patch.  The strawberries don’t like being contained either.
Firstly I put wood ash around the currant bushes. 
Then I used my new (Christmas gift) rotavator to turn over everywhere else as this is the bed I’d put the paper on to last year to suppress all of the weeds.  I know they will come back this year so I needed to prevent that.
I had invested in some membrane for another project but dashed off to get it.  I’d had an idea.
I covered the soil with more rotted muck (it really was in a sorry state when we moved in).
Then I used the membrane to cover the 2m width where the currant bushes are, leaving just enough space at the side for the rhubarb – perfect.
I’m really pleased with the end result.  In fact, I’m considering building up the edges and covering it with bark as the membrane can stay down.  I’m not sure about this yet.  It doesn’t matter too much for this year as long as the weeds don’t come through. 
Along with the blue skies we have snowdrops coming through.
This wheelbarrow was left by the previous owner and when the hens were out they liked to take dust baths in it, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the bulbs had survived!
Seeds update
The Brandywine tomatoes that I re-sowed (31st Jan) after the first lot were too leggy (expected) popped up yesterday so a week to germinate.  They’re on the South windowsill now, I made sure I caught these in time.
I’m going to replant some of the other leggy ones, which I did last year successfully and hope for the same result.
I sowed Mint, Basil and Chives on Saturday (4th Jan) along with 3 broad beans (Jubille Hysor).
I’ve also got Spring onions sown and the leeks are starting to show.
The peas that I planted in the drain pipes?  Remember them, well their indoor counterpart are coming through already.  Impatient little things 🙂
None of my peppers or chillis are through but I’ll wait – the aubergines too over 2 weeks, so there’s time. 
Next up is early carrots and more broad beans – can you believe I ran out? If anyone would like to seed swap some – I’d be happy to take a packet off you and send something over 🙂

Polytunnel success

This weekend we were very busy with family joining us on Saturday evening and friends on Sunday.  We had to fit in all of the usual jobs plus put the polytunnel up too.  So Saturday we set to work.  I did the usual horses and house jobs then joined Ste with the polytunnel.  He started putting the frame together in the barn.  The weather wasn’t very kind on Saturday but he soldiered on.  I was asked to hold this, lift that and straighten the other.  In no time at all we had the frame up.


Buddy helped out where he could making sure he checked the bucket’s didn’t have anything worth eating in them and having the odd drink or 2.

Ryan supervised the whole situation.

Day 2 saw the cover go on.  This is where it started to get tricky.  It was very tight and I can see the zips ripping in no time.  We managed it though and as it has a 12 month guarantee I’ll be sure to keep that in case I need to get a new one.

Then being amazing, Ste knocked up a couple of raised beds and attached them to the frame that’s there (this is how we put the PT up, this is not what’s in the manual).  The weight of that wood will not let that frame go anywhere.  We also dug a trench around the polytunnel and buried the cover in it. 

He then laid the slabs we had stored and they dictated the width of the path.  Lots of rotted muck went in and it was finished. 

All in all I am really pleased.  I think it looks great and it’s ready to provide us some food in the coming year.

In between holding and lifting, I sowed some seeds, clipped off some of the strawberries that I’d taken from runners and forgotten about and gave some of the veg plot a tidy up, giving the chickens their treats too.

I also finally got my potatoes chitting. 

Spring is around the corner

Over the weekend we managed to fill a 3rd bed with rotted muck thanks to the horses.  That’s 3 large beds ready for top soil at the end Feb.

I am super excited to tell you about my hot bed.  It’s not an outdoor Victorian one, it’s an internal greenhouse one.  A hot bench I think is the correct terminology.  I knew there was something there last year but we didn’t know what it was and didn’t use it, we just used the space for something else.  This year however, I’ve found out how to use it and am in the middle of preparing it for seeds.  This is what it looks like now, I’ll share it with you again when it’s ready for use.

 It’s  amains powered thermostat that heats up wires in the sand and we think we’ve finally found where the mains power runs to, only it’s not attached to anything.  We’re going to get that sorted so I can get sowing in there.  It won’t be long now.

Having said that, I’ve started the sowing season already.  Too early some will say and I know and am prepared to take the risk.
I have got a couple of each of the following in: 
Heat loving germinating seeds:  Tomatoes (different types), aubergine, peppers (hot and sweet),
Cooler germinating seeds:  cauliflower, cabbage, PSB, leeks and red onions.

I was disappointed to find out that my new propagator wouldn’t fit in the airing cupboard!  This is where I planned for the heat loving ones to go, so I need to find them a new home.  When things are ready they will be moving into the part of the greenhouse heated by the paraffin heater.

My corn salad is up, it only took a few days to germinate however the first aubergines aren’t (they went in on 14th so I won’t give up yet).  It’ll be interesting to see how the salad copes.  It’s in
a propagator in the kitchen next to the window.

I’ve also decided not to get the polytunnel that I was going to get this year.  Instead, as a compromise, I’m getting a smaller, green one.  Now a lot of people don’t like these and say we’re throwing money away as they don’t last etc.  However for us, it’s the right decision.  If and when it breaks, the framework will be used elsewhere.  If it doesn’t break, great.  As long as it sees me through this year and some of next, I’m happy.
I’ll be putting the first early potatoes into bags and also a bed in the polytunnel and then outside when the weather allows.  They aren’t chitting yet, a job for tonight maybe.  Again it’ll be interesting to see how it extends the season for us.
Spring is definitely on it’s way.  Just temperamental February to get through yet.  I have still not managed to get my hands on to any Seville oranges, despite going to the shops much more than I care to!  What’s everyone else up to in January?