Despite holding off a little longer this year before starting with veg growing, it seems that I was still far too keen even though some of the seeds were initially planted inside to germinate. Eventually they still needed to be planted out but the weather in our part of the world just hasn’t warmed up as quickly as I’d hoped.
After a slow start there is finally something to show for all the efforts now that the red cabbage and red brussels sprouts have been transplanted in the raised beds last weekend.
Unfortunately things don’t look quite so good where I’ve been planting seed directly into their final growing positions. The raised bed that was set aside for carrots and parsnips this year looks distinctly unimpressive and I may need to investigate a backup plan if nothing happens soon.
After last years successful crop, there was no reason not to grow swede again and at least this has proved to be more resilient. The netting is already up to protect from the expected rush of pests even though the plants themselves aren’t yet of a size to make much of a meal for the bugs!
On the bright side though, the soft fruit is doing well in the temporary home of a raised bed. Eventually this will be moved to a permanent home but I’m taking my time with that after learning a hard lesson when planting fruit trees in what turned out to be an underground pond in winter!
I’ll probably change my mind when summer gets here but at the moment this is definitely my favourite time of year. The first swallow arrived yesterday – only 5 days later than last year – which I’m definitely taking as a good sign even though it was only one bird so far.
There is so much happening right now with the seeds starting to put on some impressive growth and the effort put in through the winter with the planting plans starting to pay off.
I’ve even managed to resist the urge to plant too much too soon this year which is a first for me. Having said that I think I might still have planted a little too much but at least it wasn’t too soon!
The only minor change to the original plans I’d made during the winter was to also plant a selection of flower seeds as well as vegetable and herb seeds. I suspect that this helped to ease my excessive planting urge because I could plant other seeds instead.
Actually, I now remember that there was another “minor” change when I added the new 20ft long raised bed a few weeks ago. However in my mind that doesn’t really count as breaking the plans because I’m simply adding more growing space for the courgettes which went so well last year.
Next year will certainly be a little different though as there are grand plans in my head for a polytunnel (maybe 10ft x 20ft) and even a greenhouse but I may need to seek approval from my better half before going ahead with all of that!
A week of fine, dry weather which coincided with taking time off from the day job – what are the chances of that happening?
This stroke of luck meant that I was able to get cracking with many jobs in the hope that preparations could be made so things don’t get out of hand like last year.
Most importantly to my mind, the seed trays are all labelled properly rather than using an old lolly stick which inevitably fades and gets covered in dirt so I can’t read what I wrote on it.
The first batches of vegetable seeds were sown over the third weekend in March, a little later than last year and a sign of what I consider to be my admirable restraint. In most cases, the various trays and pots were promptly stashed in the fairly warm loft to germinate.
However the leeks were left outside in the cold frame based on advice I read that they prefer colder conditions to germinate. This would seem to be true because they are looking okay so far.
Out of interest, I decided to test the leeks using 3 pots of “Gro Sure” seed compost alongside 3 pots with “John Innes”. There doesn’t seem too much difference in the results at the moment but it’s still early days.
There are now carrots, red cabbage, swede and leeks to name a few starting to show above the soil so I’m happy that I’m on course for planting out properly in a few weeks time.
The only minor concern is that there is no sign of life from the lettuce yet but perhaps that is down to using an old packet of seed that I found. I’ll give them a little longer to come up before worrying too much.
I also decided to plant a range of flower seeds this year – partly for variety because I focus on vegetables too much but also because the garden could use some colour and scent at times!
To my surprise and satisfaction these came up even quicker than many of the vegetable seeds I had sown…
All in all, a highly productive week and a feeling that good progress has been made in preparation for the rest of the growing season!
I even managed to squeeze in another raised bed using some left over materials I had lying around. I did have to buy in a few bags of compost but I was able to mix that with some home-produced compost that needed to be shifted.
With the good weather over the last few days the first batches of seedlings have made some really good progress. However, there is due to be a little less sun and a little more rain from tomorrow so it seemed that today was a good time to plant some of them out in the raised beds.
I spent most of last summer learning the hard way about the damage that cabbage white caterpillars can inflict and as a result this year my preparations have been more thorough. A large roll of butterfly netting has been ready and waiting in the potting shed until the seedlings in the cold frame were ready!
Once the two types of cabbage seedlings had been planted out it was on with the netting and I’ll be keeping a close eye on things, trying to make sure nothing gets through. I even have a few seedlings of each variety left over so if I can find some space I can plant those to feed to the pigs.
There has been no sign of life yet from the directly sown seeds and the seedlings sown indoors are only just big enough to plant out. Luckily I found out after moving here last year that carrots seem to do well so I have high hopes for a good harvest.
Both rhubarb varieties seem to be doing well – the Stockbridge Arrow is lagging slightly behind the Champagne but that may help to spread out the (limited) harvest. I don’t want to force these excessively in case the plants suffer as a result so I won’t be picking too much from each plant.
I’ve never forced rhubarb before so I used a couple of spare plant pots as covers on the new growth but in future I may go for something taller. Luckily the pots have worked very well so far this year but as the new growth develops there is not enough space so I will soon be faced with a choice – harvest them as shorter stems or find something taller so they can develop a little more height.
As I’m impatient to see whether this rhubarb tastes any better, my current preference is to pick them sooner rather than later!
First seeds sown
Last weekend I decided that I had waited long enough and it was time to sow some of the vegetable seeds indoors. Nothing too delicate yet because there will be a few weeks yet before I can be certain of the weather improving.
This year I’m using bags of a dedicated seed compost for seed sowing and for this first batch I carefully sieved it when filling the trays or tubes. I doubt that the sieving is really necessary but when I sow more in 2-3 weeks time perhaps I’ll skip the sieving just to see what difference that makes (if any).
I had planned to put all the covered seed trays on to window sills in the living room and kitchen but apparently this approach does not meet with full approval from my better half. Luckily I eventually realised that the loft room would be perfectly suitable for the early stages as it gets most of the heat from the house plus the sky lights should provide a decent amount of light.
Just a few standard vegetable varieties have been sown so far (leeks, carrots and red/green cabbage) but if I can get these underway successfully now then I should have some space and time for the more interesting varieties.
Once the weather warms up a bit more, it will be interesting to see how much success I can get with things like sweetcorn and courgettes (which I haven’t tried before) and also whether I have any luck with my second attempt at squash and parsnips when I can plant them at the right time of the year.
This bout of seed sowing also finally prompted some action on building the last raised bed (for this year at least). The original plan was for something slightly more contrived but as the work progressed the plans changed and the completed set of 5 raised beds should be more than enough for now
The path edging needs to be put down and I’m still not sure what to use for the paths but perhaps the easy option would be to use wood chip for now as we have lots of leftover small branches from the trees that came down. If that doesn’t work it can always be used for mulch elsewhere and the paths covered with slate chips or similar instead.
Slightly surprisingly we’ve been in our “new” house for 6 months now so it seemed a good time to take stock and assess the situation. It’s also a good point to take the time to appreciate everything we have and how lucky we are to have it.
Over this period there have been a good number of successes, a few minor failures and plenty of schemes or plans for the future which may or may not ever come to fruition. Here is a quick run through for the record…
We made a seemingly minor decision during the first month or two to occasionally leave broody hens to hatch batches of eggs. However after the first three sets of chicks arrived we quickly realised that we had reached full capacity on the under-productive white chickens that we inherited on our arrival here.
The first batch of chicks that hatched yielded just 2 – one male and one female – so the cockerel soon became the volunteer for our first attempt at killing and eating our own chicken.
Through the summer we found that it was just too much like hard work to find out if and where they’re laying eggs despite our efforts with fencing them in and generally improving the facilities provided for them.
Next spring we’ll give the existing flock another few months to prove themselves but if there’s no improvement then some extra point of lay hybrids will be brought in. There is always the possibility of getting rid of the inherited chickens but right now that seems a little drastic. On reflection perhaps a “layers flock” in a separate dedicated area will mean the existing flock can be treated as meat birds.
The huge success and enjoyment of our first foray into pig-keeping means that we will definitely be getting 2 or 3 weaners in Spring 2014. There is a temptation at this stage to go further next year by getting a couple of breeding sows but common sense should prevail and we’ll get more experience with weaners first.
The next batch of pigs will definitely be a different breed so we can compare them with the first two Tamworths and get more day-to-day practical experience before settling on a particular breed for the longer term
My preference would be for Oxford Sandy and Black weaners next simply based on their appearance but it’s just as likely that we’ll get whatever is available at the time locally to save headaches with transporting them.
From everything I’ve read, Dexters seem to be a good fit for our requirements if we are considering a house cow but with no prior experience of this I think some practical training will be needed first. There is also a consideration about the amount extra time this will take and how we can best fit that in with all the other plans we have (as well as the day jobs).
At least any excess dairy products could be used to cut the pig feed bill and ease the financial burden but as usual there are also plans to try cheese and butter making or even yoghurt if we’re feeling daring.
Another appealing idea is to take on a few orphaned lambs from the local farmer and raise them for meat. However it might be better to wait until we’ve dealt with the pigs before deciding on that just in case we get too attached to them!
Our friendly local farmer is always willing to make use of our paddocks and hay meadow for his sheep from time to time so we can fall back on that option. It gives us the chance to watch closely how the professionals do it before making any decisions for our own flock.
The expansion of growing space should mean that more of each can be grown providing I can resist the temptation to just grow a larger number of varieties instead. Some of this extra space is already taken up with the onion sets and garlic but I have plenty more space and loads of ideas for next year!
My first batch of rhubarb will need to be moved to a more permanent home after starting life with us in large tubs so they could be transported when we moved house. As luck would have it, the house we eventually bought already had some healthy looking rhubarb but I’m sure we can find plenty of ways to use up any excess.
One of the great successes from the previous 6 months was the dwarf bean which were a freebie promotional packet of seeds but provided a good crop from a relatively small space. They will definitely be making an appearance again next year along with the leeks, carrots and beetroot.
One lesson learned the hard way this year was to properly protect cabbages from butterflies – much as I like to see them, I’d rather eat my own cabbages than feed them to the pigs. Needless to say, there are already plans to try some theories for removable netting covers for the new raised beds.
Our new fruit trees (3 apple, 1 plum and 1 pear) should be arriving any day now but for the first year or so while they get established we will be removing any fruit that forms. I’m happy to make sure of a better future harvest in future years and encourage its energy into growth rather than expect fruit in the first year.
All indications seem to be that they should survive in the North Pennines especially as the chosen spot is fairly well sheltered but still sunny (on a good day). It’s likely that any failures are much more likely to be down to my inexperience but preparations are well in hand including tree guards and stakes.
Another fruit adventure is some soft fruit bushes which are due for delivery shortly – 2 each of blackcurrant, redcurrant and blueberry. That seemed a good variety of plants to try but, if space permits, we can always get more of those that do well over the next few years.
We have already signed up for the installation of solar PV panels although for our situation these will be ground mounted in a field rather than on the roof. Although there is still the small matter of planning permission to get we’re reliably told that this has not been a problem on previous installations by the same company.
With such a wide range of ideas and options running around my head, it’s sometimes important to step back and keep focussed on the main issues. However in my “spare time” I can dream up even more schemes with varying levels of realism for such things as a holiday let conversion, biomass heating system, main house refurbishment, tree planting, fencing/walling repairs and so much more.
If only there were more hours in the day and an unlimited amount of money in the bank …
The recent period of rain has been very welcome and luckily we’ve not had quite as much here in the North Pennines as some other areas of the UK. The time is flying past and given all these excellent growing conditions I knew it was probably time for another general vegetable update
Watching the rainwater running out of the gutters and disappearing down the drains makes me want to add more water butts in a few places. On the other hand, I think we can probably expect to have higher average rainfall here than at our old house near the coast so perhaps we won’t need them quite as much? Time will tell …
Existing raised beds
The existing raised beds with a few onions, carrots and beetroot are still going well. These were all planted at the start of June within a day or two of moving in.
We have already harvested a few small “baby” beetroots which tasted very nice with a not unpleasant “earthy” undertone (even though we washed/cooked them).
Another couple of short rows of beetroot have now been planted in the empty space which is just visible at the back.
These are already starting to show signs of growth so I’m definitely a convert to the idea of soaking beetroot seeds overnight before planting them.
The few carrots here are only just at the “baby” stage now and although a few have been sampled I hope to leave them in place a little longer. It would be good to get our first full sized carrot from the garden and in the meantime another short row of carrot seeds has been planted elsewhere for the future.
Around these carrots I sowed some onion seed in the hope that this would discourage carrot fly – not that I’ve seen any evidence of this. Perhaps the raised beds in a separate raised area have fooled the carrot flies because I think they don’t fly very high off the ground.
This is my first time growing onions from seed and they are doing remarkably well. I tried onion sets last year but I felt that was not quite as much fun – I prefer planting seeds instead of a smaller version of the finished article because seeds give a greater sense of achievement at harvest time.
It will obviously be a little while yet before we can consider trying these onions but they are developing well. There are a few more onion seeds left so I think they will be planted towards the end of August to try overwintering them (if I can find the space).
The long veg bed
This is mostly devoted to cabbages and leeks – not because we’re big fans of those but because I bought too many seedlings for each and can’t bear to throw any of them away.
As usual a combination of eagerness to plant leeks and underestimating the size of cabbages has meant that some leeks are now being swamped by the expanding cabbages. I’m hoping that the leeks planted between the cabbages will put on enough growth that they can be used first before they get totally overwhelmed.
The handful of pea seeds which came up are at the back and doing their best to climb up their supports. There are even a few flowers starting to form so I may get a small saucer of peas this year if I’m lucky!
This weekend will probably involve some detailed examination of the cabbage plants. I’ve seen a few cabbage white butterflies around the garden so it must be time to take action.
The “Old House” rhubarb
The two pots of rhubarb which were planted into pots at the old house before we moved are doing really well again. There was a period of a few weeks recently when they appeared to stop growing despite good weather, careful attention, watering and such like.
Eventually I came to the conclusion that the plants just needed more nutrition having exhausted the supply in the pots. A quick sprinkle of some Growmore plus a little extra compost to mix it in with and they soon burst into life again.
I’m not sure if I’m imaging things but I think this photo shows the difference in leaf shapes quite nicely with the Stockbridge Arrow in the foreground having a more pronounce “arrow” shape to the leaves.
Although it might be a little late, I recently planted some parsnip seeds on the basis that we really like parsnip. Hopefully they’ll develop well but not too quickly as I will need to find some space to plant them out once something else has been harvested
The free packet of Dwarf bean seeds have also been planted but I used some large troughs which we had brought with us. Perhaps not the best situation for them but I ran out of space very quickly and still wanted to give them a try this year. I can’t resist a freebie although I’m not sure that I’ll eat many of them – we’ll see how they develop.
There is a common thread running through this post about a lack of growing space so it may not be long before some of the extensive and under-utilised lawn is replaced with raised beds. This is especially relevant through the spring and summer as I’d rather spend my time growing produce than cutting the grass every week.
Some sturdy rabbit defences will be needed as they seem to be getting bolder each week but I’m hoping that razor wire, sentry towers and armed guards will not be needed.
Perhaps there is even space for a small orchard if the sheltered location I have in mind will counteract our altitude here (1000ft above sea level). If I’m lucky there will be enough shelter from trees and low stone walls to give some fruit trees a chance?
We’re still at the stage of keep track of how long we’ve been here although I’m sure that will change eventually. For now though, we’re doing the counting in weeks rather than months and it’s flying by!
This is the sixth week now and there is certainly never a dull moment…
The 2 meadows out the front have been cut by a neighbouring farmer and the current good weather will be really helpful.
I’m mentally taking notes about how this is done even though I don’t expect to be doing it myself at any point in the near future. It’s just good to watch and learn.
As this picture shows it has only just been cut so it will need turning a few times.
While I was out taking this photo of the meadow I realised it was probably time to post a progress update for the vegetables (more on this below).
Vegetable bed plans
All available veg bed space has now been used for something and there are plans to extend the current area for next year.
One idea is to convert up to 1/3 of the very large lawn area into a more productive space. The original thinking was for something like an orchard area with some raised veg beds alongside but a grander term for this might be “forest garden” if you favour the permaculture approach.
Either way I foresee the strong possibility of a continuous battle against rabbit incursions so I will definitely need to include defences in the overall plan!
Veg bed photo gallery
Having taken a range of photos of the vegetable progress, it seems a good excuse to try out the gallery facility that is provided within the WordPress system I use. My first impressions are that it does an excellent job and it’s certainly easy for me to set up.
However the experience will perhaps be different for people just reading this and viewing the pictures so let me know in the comments what you think.
Just click on any of the thumbnail images below and the gallery will load to let you see the large versions of the photos…
There are a couple of areas that have obviously been set aside for vegetables in the past The main veg bed must have previously been a set of raised beds but now the framing has gone so I decided to level off the soil and convert it back into a single bed divided by paths.
As can be seen in the picture, the existing rhubarb (at the back) has been brought back into line with the huge flowers removed and many of the older, chunkier leaves taken off. this will be followed by a good mulching so hopefully in future this will continue to be productive.
I’ve decided to keep our original rhubarb in the pots where I planted them earlier this year. Maybe I’ll move them early next year perhaps but they probably need to get established where they are this year.
While on a recent trip to buy some machinery (a heavy duty strimmer), we popped into a nearby garden centre and I couldn’t resist getting a couple of trays of cabbage seedlings – one labelled as January King and the other Ruby Red I think.
Maybe 2 trays of 12 plants will prove to be too many though as they are now taking up much more space than I had planned to use for cabbages! Hopefully I can squeeze in a catch crop before they get too big as I need somewhere to plant out the lettuce seedlings that are coming on so well.
The peas and beetroot seeds at the back are only just starting to show signs of growth but I’m quite happy with that as the seeds have only been in for 2 weeks!
Existing Raised Beds
In an adjacent area there are 4 raised beds left by the previous owners which I have retained but as we’ve not been here long I have no specific plan for them.
These beds also had some existing strawberry plants which are a new thing for me. In the past I haven’t been bothered about soft fruit but now I’ve got a lot more space I’m starting to think about setting aside an area and investing in a fruit cage or similar. Something for the future I think as there is more than enough to be getting with right now.
Hopefully all I need is to maybe put down a little straw to keep the fruit off the damp soil and then maybe some sort of netting over the top to keep out the birds.
Despite those plans, I don’t hold out a lot of hope for getting fruit from these plants as the wall around this area seems to be populated with field mice. I’ve seen a couple of them but they are hard to spot – I’m sure they’ll be hungry for strawberries at some point.
The chicken shack village is made up a number of “inherited” buildings from the previous owners (in the foreground) which are towering over the low rise chicken house we brought with us when we moved here (just visible near the back).
There is a main chicken house for the rooster (now known as John) and his ten lady friends – in the centre of the picture – and a couple of storage sheds on the left. One of these has a run attached which is currently home to a broody hen who has been sitting on 7 eggs for a week or two – it was eight eggs when we first got here but we think a stoat must have paid them a visit perhaps?
This is all situated between the paddocks at the back so the hens are not as close to the house as we were used to but now we have a rooster as well this is not such a bad thing in my opinion!
Luckily the two sets of chickens have settled into a truce where each set ignores the other apart from the occasional ruffling of feathers if there is food is involved. If anything I think it helps that our 3 hybrid hens are larger than the existing 10 hens which goes some way to compensate for the greater numbers should any disagreements arise.
Our lavender is looking pretty good at the moment although I really can’t take much credit for that. Apart from the fact that I originally planted it they have been left to their own devices but maybe that is the trick? It could be a lesson I should learn and apply to the vegetable side of things when i consider the variable results I’ve had this year.
By not interfering I’ve allowed the lavender plants to develop at their own pace, as they have nicely filled the space allowed – sometimes exceeding it so I’ve had to clip them back – there has been no need to worry about weeding around them too much, just the occasional half-hearted effort.
It certainly looks like the bees love the flowers and I’m not known for my love of bees but I am coming around to them a little. They may even have a place in the future smallholding plans but only after learning more about then and taking all relevant safety precautions!
I also took this lovely photo of the lavender flowers with a butterfly as well but I know very little about the different types of butterfly and further research has taken the shine off this in the end
According to my research this is a Cabbage White butterfly and is probably the reason for large holes in the leaves of the broccoli plants. More accurately this particular butterfly could be partly to blame for the damage to my cabbages earlier in the year.
I don’t like to hold a grudge though and it does look nice even if my photo doesn’t quite do it justice!
This isn’t just some idle ramblings about pretty flowers and wildlife though, I’m now curious to find out whether I can make use of the other plants in my garden for cooking and eating.
The initial signs are good and after a quick web search there are some promising recipes and ideas. Here are the first few that I think I’ll be trying in the near future