Monday, November 24, 2014

A new pond, patio, preserving a small harvest, quilting

 Pumpkins!  There were two, both this size.  One is already cooked and pureed, in the freezer.  This one is on the counter, still.

Also notice the last of the green tomatoes in the photo above;  there are also now picked and made into green tomato relish, according to a recipe in the Joy of Cooking (though it's more salsa-y to my palate).  Seriously tasty.  I made a larger batch previously, and have made a final, smaller batch with the last of them. 
 Something else we still have a small harvest of:  baby carrots in a pot.  Growing in the ground was a dismal failure for most my veg, carrots no exception.  These in a pot (there are actually two pots) at least grew roots, unlike the ones in the veg beds, which were demolished by slugs. 
This is the brick patio that I built.  It's not finished.  It's right next to our new, bigger pond, an extension to our smaller frog pond.  The barrel behind it contains a filter--not pretty, I know, but we have plans to beautify it.  The pond is on the site of our old vegetable plot, which I am transforming into a more perennial and ornamental patch.  It has some fruit bushes and a couple of dwarf trees, but I'd like it to be a little more shrubby and flowery, too. 

The veg patch, meanwhile, is now designated closest to the house, and this space will also have extra special flowers and plants.  I fenced it off from the chickens, and built a ramshackle gate.  The temporary raised bed is still producing, as are some of the pots on the patio, but the majority of these beds have been covered in a thick layer of chicken manure/straw to break down over winter, ready for spring planting.
My Sparta apple tree really outdid itself this year!  All told, we got about 25 apples off this little tree (it's six feet tall).  My similar-sized Loxton Fortune apple tree (not pictured) didn't produce quite so many--about 10--but nearly all of them were damaged by birds, so we only had one apple ourselves.  I ate it, and it was the best apple I'd had all year.

We managed to pick some local-ish wild apples for two batches of cider this year, and I've been making sauerkraut, both with my own cabbage and storebought.  I also made a small batch of spiced plums from a wild tree (excellent as a plum sauce substitute), and a little bit of wild apple chutney. 

I'm also putting off quilting a big patchwork quilt I've made.  I've pieced the top together, mainly from some old clothing, but also just some scraps of other projects in my fabric stash;  it's not perfect--in fact it's pretty wonky--but I still like it.  I've also put together the quilt sandwich:  the middle layer is an old blanket, and the bottom layer is an old sheet, both bought from charity shops.  I've even hand-basted all the layers together, in readiness for quilting.  This quilt is pretty big--big enough to cover a double bed.  Now I just have to bite the bullet and quilt it!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Catching up again

All the following photos are from August.  I haven't been taking many pictures recently.  Here's a beautiful dragonfly on my pumpkin plant.
 And speaking of pumpkins...
 Here Franklin displays a "fun size" cucumber;  we also had an English cucumber which gave us a couple huge ones.  The two cucumber vines grow behind him on the trellis.  On the right are the two pumpkin vines;  now that it's October, we have two small pumpkins turning orange--and they're about cantaloupe size, I'd say.
Also in the photo above are two tomato plants which have yielded a very modest, though delicious harvest.  Last year's greenhouse tomatoes may have produced slightly more, but they didn't taste half as good as these ones.  I'm pleased and surprised by the difference;  they're in the exact same planters as last year's, and I didn't change the potting soil or even add anything new to it.  The only real difference is that I grew them on the patio instead of under glass.
And above is the raised bed I built from old fence posts (the was photo taken not long after planting in August).  Two months later the plants are Very Large and we've had several salads and stews off them.  The kale is especially big now (it has the smallest leaves in the above photo;  two of the kales are at the top of the bed, contrasted against the wood).  To fill it, I put down a thick layer of newspaper at the bottom of the bed, then about two weeks' worth of lawn clippings on top (I stirred them once or twice to keep them aerated),  and then finally a few shovelfuls of earth from the dead bed upon which the raised bed sits;  I then planted it up with mizuna, pak choi, chard, and kale.  And put down a good layer of crushed eggshells to deter slugs--and chicken wire to repel our feathered friends. 

And we now have ten chickens out back.  Ten is a lot to keep track of!  The newest four have settled in fairly painlessly with the old six, and have learned to come when called, as the others do.

I have also recently taken the final exam for the final class required for my BSc.  I should find out if I passed by December, but hopefully earlier.  And what am I going to do now?  When I first started my degree, I wanted to focus on a career in my chosen field;  but since having Franklin my outlook has completely changed.  I don't want to be a career woman;  I want to be a mother and a gardener!   But despite all that, I may have to be a career woman whether I like it or not;  our finances don't allow for me to give up paid occupation just yet. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Patio gardening

 I put together a rickety raised bed from some old fence posts I had.  It's only a temporary solution, to go on the dead bed next to the neighbor's new fence.  I've got some winter greens sprouting in my garage now, to be transplanted later.  I also sowed a couple more large-ish pots with greens and carrots on the patio.  It's a little late for carrots, but hopefully I'll get some baby ones.
 Lilies are looking--and smelling--great now. 
 Franklin stands in front of most of my vegetable garden for this year.  Pictured, from left to right:  two tomatoes, two cucumber vines (in one planter) climbing up a trellis, and two pumpkin vines also climbing.  I'm not too hopeful for the pumpkins, truthfully.  They aren't really producing female flowers.  You can't really see it in the photo, but one of the tomato pots has a nice big chard plant in it too.  I have three other patio planters, not shown, also with chard. 
 My two other raised beds on the patio (pictured above and below).  The pansies are doing well, considering. I bought them early in the spring, at reduced price because they were half dead.
My little fig tree cutting!  It has little figs!  I think it might be too late in the season for them now, but just look at them!  I'll be planting out this tree next spring, I think;  right now it's happy in a big planter on the patio. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sad in the garden, another new dress

 The above picture is of my biggest bed next to the house.  If you think that looks bad, you should see it now!  We surmise that the lime in the concrete from our neighbor's new fence has altered the pH of the soil and killed almost everything.  Things I planted--both before and after his new fence went up this spring--have died.  It was a mixture of both edibles and ornamentals, and even the weeds are dead now;  it's just a patch of bare soil.  I already salvaged what I could (chives, oregano, garlic).  I've written off that bed for this year;  it's a sorry, sorry loss. 

Speaking of losses, I'm also sad about the amount of slug damage this year.  I've lost almost all the seeds I sowed directly into the garden, and many of the seedlings I transplanted out.  I even bought large-ish plants from the garden center to replace ones I grew myself, only to lose them.  I would estimate losses due to slugs at around 75%.  I've tried beer traps (caught slugs, but didn't stop the damage), eggshells, coffee grounds, bran, and going out at night with a light and a pair of scissors (so gross!!). 

The eggshells seem to be the most effective, but are a limited resource.  I even bring them home from work (a restaurant), but just don't have enough to spread everywhere, particularly as I have to reapply after rain.  Slugs seem to like eating the bran, which means I can locate them easily at night if I sprinkle a perimeter of the stuff around my beds.  Not sure if this has an effect on the plant damage, though.  Coffee didn't seem to make any difference at all. 

I put in a lot of work this year, and to lose so much is tough.  Still growing:  peas and lettuce (nearing end);  a couple chard, two tomatoes, two cucumbers, and two squash, each in containers on the patio;  last year's cabbages (a few);  and potatoes.  It's a good year for potatoes, at least--I planted some seed potatoes, and also have at least as many volunteers, despite the fact I didn't plant any last year.  Still growing, but for just for seeds now:  sprouting broccoli, onions, leeks, fennel. 

We harvested about half a kilo of pie cherries for the freezer, and maybe 2 weeks' worth of strawberries for eating out of hand;  there are a couple raspberries on the newly planted canes (one or two a day), and a similar amount of blackcurrants (tart!).  The apple trees have plenty of fruit, particularly the red Sparta, but both are very close to the new fence, so I'm keeping a careful eye on them.  They won't ripen for another two months at least.
I made this dress last month, out of three men's identical t-shirts;  I copied the design from a dress I already own.  I like this one a lot--the old one was a bit worn and holey.  I've got another dress in the works, and one in the planning stages too.  Trying to console myself for the state of affairs in the garden. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Two dresses, frog and fish

 I've done some sewing recently;  I made myself two dresses.  The first above, is a copy of a dress I already own and love.  It's a fairly simple shift dress with pockets, and it just slips over my head, with no fastenings.
This second dress is inspired by a vintage style dress;  I took a commercial bodice pattern I own and modified it (to be shorter, have a deeper back, and to have a zipper) and then I attached a full circle skirt to complete the dress.  Even though I cut out the smallest size bodice pattern, it's still a little big on me.  The last time I used this pattern it fit me just fine!

We've had a week of warm sunny weather (unheard of, particularly for this time of year), and I've been sunbathing every day.  Just in my normal clothing, mind you.  I don't go for full body sunbathing any more;  the last time I did that was the summer of my wedding, and I religiously sunbathed every day in nothing but a thong, and put suncream on for the rest of the day so as not to get any tan lines.  My wedding dress was strapless and backless, and my tan was flawless.  The weekend after the wedding, I hid the suncream and went to the beach with a clear conscience.

My new little frog pond has a frog!  She's been sighted regularly for a few weeks now, so we think she's here to stay.  She's recently been joined by two goldfish from the pet shop, to help keep insect larvae at bay.  The pond is a bit bigger than their tank at the shop, though not by much.  Still, at least they get insects and some privacy.  We also got a couple oxygenating plants for them.  The frog looks nice and fat;  hopefully this means she's full of slugs.

Most of my seedlings are planted out by now;  the runner beans went in yesterday, and there are just a few cabbages, broccoli, and cosmos to go out now.  We're still eating purple sprouting broccoli from the garden, though the sprouting heads are pretty small now!  Also eating some kale still, and a cabbage or two from last year.  I made the most amazing garlic and rhubarb pickles a couple weeks ago, using this recipe;  it was so crispy and garlicky and delicious!  Too bad my rhubarb is still only small;  I hope it grows quickly so I can make another batch.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Another cardigan, more garden projects

 Here's my newest cardigan, knit from a lambswool/angora blend yarn.  It has 3/4 sleeves, and I've been wearing it almost every day now. 
 Partner rebuilt the chicken house;  it used to be six straw bales stacked in a U-shape, two bales high.  He added another layer of bales and made a front from some old fence posts and an ancient plastic table top--classy, I know!  But it works great, and the chickens have perches on two levels now, which they take full advantage of at night.  I've put in a request for another four chickens from our favorite hen charity--hoping to pick them up within the next month. 
I have built/rebuilt three raised beds in the veg patch now, and all three have seedlings coming up.  I laid a criss-cross of sticks on top of each, mostly to keep stray chickens and neighborhood cats off them. 

I've also sheet mulched three existing veg beds, and planted up two of them.  The first got various brassicas, leeks, and a few flowers.  The second got potatoes, as an experiment  (Partner and Franklin also planted some potatoes the usual way).  I'll plant what leftover seedlings I've got in the third, but I'll give it a couple of days--I put a load of fresh weed clippings on top as mulch, and I want them to wilt down before I plant. 

I built another raised bed on the patio, using some paving bricks we had lying around;  that makes three brick raised beds on the patio, although this one is partially on top of a flowerbed, too.  I put in a layer of well-seasoned branches, then filled it up with a mixture of topsoil and sand, and sowed some carrot and shallot seeds.  I edged it with some scented geranium cuttings as well.  Geraniums are really easy to grow from a cutting:  I just snap off a small branch, pull off all but the top two or three leaves, and stick it in some soil.  Then treat it like a normal plant--water it when it's dry, and it'll grow some roots.  I've had almost 100% success with my scented geranium cuttings. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

New arrivals and experiments

 Welcome to the farm, four new rescue chickens!  European law has changed to outlaw battery cages for chickens;  legally they now have a much larger space, meaning these new chickens grew up able to walk around, flap their wings, and even roost--unlike our old chickens who grew up under the old single cage battery regime.  These new chickens came to us much stronger than the original ones were, though they look just as terrible:  bald patches and sorry white skin and combs.  No dedicated names for the newbies, yet, though Franklin randomly calls them Dottie, Scary, and Chicken. 

Since my last post we have lost another of the original chickens:  goodbye to Speckles;  we're glad you came to us, and we'll miss you.  Our chicken cemetary is beginning to get a bit crowded. 
 My tulips are in full force now, like vibrant goblets, and Franklin wants to open them to see what's inside. 
 
 Incidentally, he's wearing his newest knit pullover.  I've since finished knitting a cardigan for myself, a shawl, and am presently working on a cotton afghan.
 My spring flowers extend to purple honesty and orange calendula,
 and blossoming fruit trees, such as the Sparta apple above, and (not pictured) the Morello cherry and Loxton Fortune apple.  The newly planted fruit trees from this winter--pear, sweet cherry, plum--have put out leaves but no flowers.  I'm happy with that;  they'll establish nicely this year and produce next.  Did I mention I also have a tiny fig cutting growing, and three grape cuttings putting out leaves?
 Another member of the team, hard at work.
 This log with wax drippings has been innoculated with mushroom spores, a new experiment of mine.  It's hawthorn, cut from the overgrown hedge at the back.  There's another similar log and two elder logs with the same treatment, all in a quiet shady place in the back corner.  An innoculated straw bale is also in the works. 
Continuing to harvest purple sprouting broccoli, leeks, and kale.  A few spring cabbages are looking likely, too. 

A couple more cheap acquisitions from the local garden center:  a redcurrant and a ceanothus (not edible, but lovely flowers and nitrogen-fixing).

It's about time to start planting out new seedlings--I have about five trays on my patio and the same amount in the garage.  I sheet mulched one of the the big veg beds--it was full of dandelions and to be honest, I can't be bothered weeding.  I'm over it.  I chopped and dropped some of the dandelion foliage, covered the bed with grass clippings, then covered it all with some big paper feed sacks.  I wet the feed sacks, and threw some weed clippings and sticks on top.  Ideally it should have a couple inches of clippings/mulch on top, but I used what I had at the time.  Partner promised to cover it with the next batch of grass clippings, which ought to do it.  When it's time to plant, I'll move aside a tiny patch of top mulch, puncture a small hole in the paper underneath, fill it with compost and plant a seedling in it.  Or I could sow a seed there.

The paper should smother the weeds, and also break down over the course of the year.  This keeps the soil structure intact, reduces compaction, adds organic matter, feeds my worms and other soil critters--and requires almost no labor from me.  Win-win!