There’s never enough time for all the possible jobs on our smallholding so there’s an element of prioritising the available time. However, growing and eating some of our own produce will always be a high priority for me.
The growing season starts a little later in the year for us as demonstrated by the last growing update that was posted in April and featured very little plant growth. I still enjoy growing some fresh, healthy food from just a few small seeds though and maybe one day when I have more spare time I’ll advance to a greenhouse or polytunnel as well.
It can be tricky to keep on top of the weeding, watering and general care along with all the other jobs – especially in the summer months. This is made even harder if the rabbits are happily sneaking in to the raised beds whenever they want.
For the moment we have a combination of green, plastic coated wire fencing in place with added chicken wire because the baby rabbits kept squeezing through the small holes.
This seems to have been working well recently, especially now that I’ve started regular detailed examinations and made minor repairs as needed. Earlier this year there was a major set back by about 2-3 weeks after one or more intruders nibbled the tops off just about everything.
Eventually I must get around to replace this ramshackle fencing with something more presentable but for the moment it’s just important that the one task is handled properly – keeping my veg safe from the rabbits!
The raised beds are really starting to come good now after the additions from our compost bins, some well rotted leaves from a couple of years ago and also the ash from our biomass pellet boiler every month or so.
With just one bed (carrots and leeks) giving me cause for concern at this stage, I have high hopes for an ever increasing harvest in the coming weeks.
So far we’ve only had some chard (very nice as always) but I’m hoping for some decent small carrots when I get around to thinning those out.
The first few courgettes are always exciting of course but I also remember that they are soon followed by a glut despite my best efforts at succession sowing.
While I’m not a big fan of beetroot, it’s so easy to grow that I can’t stop myself sowing some seeds most years. Usually it goes nicely with some salad or occasionally we roast some with other root veg. This year I’m also planning to freeze some for use later so I’m hoping that I’ve sown about the right amount.
Last year there just wasn’t enough hours in the day to spend any real time on the vegetable growing side of things. With a day job as well as the livestock and other land management tasks taking up all of my time, it was a tough but ultimately the best decision.
In the end I simply had to accept that some areas had to be left untouched and that they would inevitably disappear under the weed growth. There was no way I could keep on top of all the available growing space so it was better to tackle just a sensible and manageable amount.
This year I hope to build on that hard lesson by increasing the growing space used – but just a little. A combination of shorter but more frequent weeding sessions and also plenty of mulching should help to keep on top of any weeds.
The first batch of outside seed sowing has already been done with some carrots sown in the left hand bed shown below. This also has a plastic cover over the top just to help protect it from the cooler evenings we still seem to get at the moment. The other plastic cover has been put in place ready for planting out other vegetables later on.
Nearly all of the raised beds are looking very respectable at the moment and just about ready for sowing or planting out. The raised bed containing the soft fruit (far right) still needs some care and attention but that has a weed fabric in place so any tidy up shouldn’t be too difficult.
Now that it finally seems the last of winter has passed, over I can get on with some proper seed sowing the course of the next week or two. This will be a more concentrated effort because in previous years I’ve tried spreading the work out and ended up getting confused with what was planted and when!
The very first early seeds were sown a few weeks ago using a donated heated propagator but they have been a little too successful I think. These are supposed to be dwarf beans and they have got a bit ahead of themselves.
These poor plants also suffered when I was potting them on last weekend. The chickens spotted them while my back was turned and in the space of a minute or two they had descended on them.
Luckily the damage wasn’t too bad in the end but some of the leaves must have been a very tasty treat!
Last weekend was the second anniversary of our move and was also probably the most stressful weekend so far. Now that the dust has started to settle and there are plans in place to deal with the various problems I can take stock with a blog update!
After what seems like a very long wait, Friday was the day that our 2 Dexters were finally being delivered. They are both 3 years old and, according to the vet check before departure, they are in calf with one 12 weeks along and the other only 5 weeks along.
Having waited so long and done so much planning ahead of time, it seems that fate decided to mix things up a bit. As new cattle owners we had tried our best to cover all eventualities but hadn’t considered that they would be extremely grumpy after the dramatic events of the day.
Immediately when they were unloaded into their new home they promptly disappeared over a stone wall, through our woods and over another wall into the neighbours fields!
They somehow ended up in separate fields and apparently unable to see or hear each other which was less than ideal. After much rushing around up and down the neighbours hilly fields over the next 24 hours we eventually had to give up on getting them back together.
First thing on the Saturday morning, I found an unexpected sight around the chicken house but unfortunately she still wasn’t happy enough to stay. Within minutes she’d hopped back over the walls and into the neighbours field again.
Obviously the best option was to let them calm down in their own time and tackle the problem later. Luckily while checking them on the Sunday morning one of them decided that it was time to head back uphill and find their companion.
In due course some progress was made even though they’re still not in our fields, at least they’re next door. The next job is to get the fencing man in to raise the boundaries of their initial home then we can considered herding them around the corner and back onto our own land.
On a lighter note and as a distraction from the cattle stress, the veg beds got some long overdue attention. Finally some more seedlings could get planted out into their final growing position and I can clear up some of the cold frame area.
The additional raised bed that was added at the last minute has really helped with my usual problem of planting too many things in pots and trays! The lettuce, dwarf beans and nasturtiums all seem to be getting well established now.
It might be nice to see a little more progress from the peas but I’m happy that they are at least making slow progress. Maybe the experiences with the cows will remind me to be more grateful for the simple pleasures and less demanding overall!
A quick check on the soft fruit and fruit trees also helped to raise the mood on what could otherwise have been a very dispiriting weekend.
There’s always a smile to be had with a picture gallery!
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?