Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sheet mulch, growing, chicks, composting, musing and planning

Sheet mulching!  It's great, but also not without its flaws:  as in the bed above, I used paper feed sacks as the sheet part of the mulch, and it's not exactly pretty!  But underneath was a bunch of weeds and grass, and this is a much quicker and easier way to get a new garden bed than straight up weeding/digging.  Just slap on some cardboard or thick paper, wet it down, put on some compost/soil/other good growing stuff, and plant away.  I don't pull the weeds first, or even cut them down, and I don't pierce the paper;  I just make sure it stays pretty moist, and the plant roots will pierce it as they grow.  If it's cardboard, it may need a pretty thick layer of soil on top, but with this paper, I only put about 2-3 inches on.  Interplanted with soft pak choi, mizuna, kale, broccoli, lupin, and crimson clover.  We've already had a couple salads from the pak choi and mizuna.

After some good rains, and even more sunshine, the garden is off to a raging start.  I have vegetables all over my new veg patch (already I'm out of room before I'm out of plants!) and elsewhere.  Weeds (a.k.a. chicken food) are big and lush.  Flowers are coming out all over--my two apple trees, pear tree, almond (above), and two cherries are all forming little fruits.  The pear tree seems to have at least one pear, and the oldest cherry--planted December 2011--while still shorter than me, has hundreds. 
Even my tiny fig tree, now planted out, has six figs!  And growing quickly.  The two jugs are a little heat sink for it:  they heat up in the sun during the day, and release the heat slowly overnight.  Another instance of "not pretty" but I'm cool with that.  There are a lot of not pretty things in my garden, and I tend not to show them here.  However, I kind of think that's a bad idea;  misleading people to think my garden (and life) are perfect all the time.  Not the misleading thing exactly, but setting an impossible standard, which I think some bloggers do, intentionally or not--I think that's a bad idea.  I don't really want to be seen as perfect.  I'm normal...  Ok, I'm not normal.  But I'm also not perfect.  I'm not even trying for perfect.
Our chicks are fast growing into chickens.  The white ones are indeed male, and are bigger and more aggressive than the brown females.  They're growing cute little pink combs and wattles, unlike the females who still have smooth lizard heads.  Thankfully the chicks are outside in their new house, and out of mine--they were so noisy and smelly and rowdy;  and they even escaped their hutch twice, leaving little bits of poo all over my kitchen floor.  Outside, they have a small patch of ground and a nice big house with lots of straw.  They're still about half the size of the adult hens, so not quite big enough for integration. 

Catching some rays
We lost two adult hens in the last month to old age, and buried both under the newly reinstated compost bin.  I'd given up on making compost, as the chickens get all  compostable materials now, and turn it into lovely fertilizer the next day.  However, having ten hens in a coop over winter accounted for some serious manure build up, and though I could have spread it around a bit more, I decided to fill up the bin and start making my own potting compost.  I'm tired of buying bags of it every year to start my seedlings.  Along with the manure, there's also soiled straw bedding (the bulk of the compost material), a few kitchen scraps, and some paper scraps.  And one more thing which I first learned of on the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2, a respected daily talk show.  At the time I was shocked and amazed, but I have since been converted:  I've been peeing in a bucket to pour on my compost.  Yes, I pee on my compost.  Even Partner's willing to try it, though he can add it directly from the source.  It adds both moisture and nitrogen.  And luckily there's no smell, probably from all that straw. 

I used to pick vases of flowers from my garden every week.  I slacked on that in recent years.  I'm committed to reviving this tradition.  Speaking of traditions, I want to start a new one, for celebrating Midsummer.  Did I mention this already?  I want it to be a bit like Christmas in summer, but less about the materialism.  Celebrating the longest day, shortest night, with flowers, BBQ, decorations, gifts (handmade).  I'd like to make it a good long celebration;  maybe we can pair it with the 4th of July and make it a long celebration.  I can at least leave the decorations up.  I'm thinking lots of bunting.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

New chicks, new gate, more spring gardening

 Our new chicks have been with us for a little while now, and are growing quickly.  They're getting feathers, and some are going brown, while others are still white;  we wonder if they'll all be brown when they grow up, or if we'll have some white ones too.  Still, it's hard to distinguish most of them, though the Franklin named the biggest one Chickadee, and I named the brownest one Patches.  We really can't tell who's male and who's female, and we're not entirely sure how many of each there are.  That's ok, though.  I do hope at least half are male though, as I really do want to try raising meat birds.  Plus, we already have ten hens out back!
 Partner's been playing with them and picking them up regularly, to make them friendly around people and accustomed to being picked up, which will help us when they're grown.  He really enjoys them, and they certainly like him the best.  We joke that he's "Mama" and I'm "Not the mama."
 Franklin helped me build this little gate so we can get through the outdoor chicken enclosure;  we've set up chicken wire to divide the garden for them, and it's nice not to have to hop over it get to other parts of the garden.  We used four long willow wands and three pieces of bamboo cane to make this gate, with no nails or staples.
Though it's covered in blossom, I wonder if my new pear tree will set fruit?  Two near neighbors have pear trees but I can't tell if either tree is flowering now, and neither of their trees are in full sun like mine.  I may plant another variety myself this winter, to ensure pollination;  I've been wanting an Asian pear for a while--maybe I can get one.
My window boxes have not been replanted since they originally went up two winters ago.  One has geranium, arugula, and chard;  the other is mainly parsley but also has a calendula.  I'm pleased with that calendula;  it's managed to self seed into the planters below the window box.  When they grow a little bigger, I'll move those seedlings to the garden. 

As far as vegetable gardening goes, I've got lots of trays of seeds and seedlings:  in the house, in the garage, and out on the patio.  I've also already planted out some seedlings into my new kitchen garden:  kale, sorrel, leeks, lupins, salad greens.  I'm hoping for a better harvest this year than last;  I lost the majority of my plants due to slug damage and to an extreme pH change.  By far it was the worst gardening year I've had in my ten years of growing.  Although there's not a lot I can do about slugs, at least the pH has gone back to acceptable growing levels on the affected beds. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Willow fence, spring flowers, knitting, chicks

To screen off the pond and back corner garden, I've started a living willow fence.  I planted it last month and already it's beginning to grow.  I hope to have a visual screen to give that area a little privacy, like a secret garden.  It was previously the veg plot, and is pretty sparsely planted at present, but I am slowly converting it into a more flowery and shrubby garden, with a few edibles (mainly fruit and berries). 

I'm also collecting green beer bottles to make a small mosaic at the very back corner of it, as a tiny hidden patio.  The local teenagers all seem to congregate at the neighborhood country park to drink their illicit beer, and the brand of choice has green bottles.  There are so many bottles strewn about!  So I thought I'd reuse some artistically, and try my hand at mosaic.
 My new almond tree (planted January 2014) is in flower, and looking very sweet.  I got no nuts off it last year--the few that grew dropped off in June--and am anticipating none this year too;  I'm hoping it will grow some good roots and branches, and maybe next year will be the year for nuts. 
 My berberis has some lovely bright orange flowers, and I'm hoping for a good berry crop again this year.  I discovered a little seedling growing underneath it, and joyfully moved it to a better location, only to have it badly windburned over the course of this month.  I hope it can recover--the poor little thing looks completely dead.  I would love to have several of this lovely evergreen shrub;  wonderful flowers in spring, tasty berries in summer, and great for wildlife:  the bees love the flowers, and the birds are always flittering in and out of it, and they adore the berries. 
Franklin's birthday jumper this year was knitted from about five different balls of odds and ends, mainly lambswool and angora blends.  He told me he wanted a stripey one, and it was fun to make;  in fact, I was kind of wishing it was for me after I finished!  I really like it.

In keeping with my goals for this year, I've begun hand applique-ing a new quilt, made from scraps in my stash.  I'm not sure if it'll be a big one or if I'll just stick with something smaller, as the applique is a little time consuming.  I enjoy it, though, and it looks very nice.  I'm not sure if I'll hand quilt it too, or if I'll machine quilt;  if hand quilting, I know it'll take ages!  But it might be nice to have an entirely hand-made quilt.  Still, I don't know if I'm that much of a glutton for punishment. 

Another goal from previous years has been to raise our own meat--well it looks like this is the year!  Partner has secured us ten free chicks from a school project (though not Franklin's school).  He says six of them are cockerels, and both he and I are willing to give them the chop (humanely of course) when they grow up--probably in 3 to 6 months.  We will keep the four hens for egg laying, and have also agreed that they will be chicken soup when they stop laying, though this will probably not be for several years.  Our current flock of ten rescue hens are not destined for the pot and will be allowed to die of natural causes.  This means, barring any unexpected fatalities, we'll have twenty chickens over the summer;  I hope my garden survives the onslaught!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The lone star quilt, chickens, a few goals

Here's my patchwork quilt, all quilted and finished.  It took me several days to machine quilt it;  luckily from this distance the wobbly quilting stitches are invisible!   But I don't care:  it's for Franklin's bed, and he likes it.  I like it too.  I would like to make two more quilts this year:  another scrap patchwork, and an applique quilt.  In fact, I hope to start the first this month, once I finish my current knitting project.

We have ten chickens altogether, and now they are fully feathered again, I can no longer tell them apart!  We put up a new fence of chicken wire to replace the old orange plastic one (a background feature in many photos here!), and they haven't discovered a way to break out of it just yet.  We still rotate them every week or so around the back, so they can weed, trim, and fertilize the whole garden evenly.  This time of year, when it's cold, the plants and weeds grow slowly, and the lawn is pretty scalped by now.  However, it's not so cold that nothing grows, so they still have a little bit of greenery when they come to a new section--not that it lasts long though!

Our Christmas was lovely, with just the three of us.  We played games, played with toys, and enjoyed a big dinner featuring a three bird roast.  The Christmas pudding was well received (Franklin particularly enjoyed it), and everyone overindulged.  It was such a nice time that I thought it was a shame it only comes once a year.  Maybe we should have a similar holiday for midsummer too, with decorations, gifts, and a feast.  Christmas in summer, like the Australians, with swim suits and barbecue.

So a new year with new potential.  Last year I pledged to get more sleep.  I have done so, though I will carry on that goal this year too.  I will also set myself the goal to grow all our own veg (I make this goal every year!  But have still never achieved it).  And to make two quilts. 

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.