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.
It’s been a very busy time over the last few months and the weeks just fly by but I’ve eventually realised that some events had not been fully covered by a blog update. Many events do get mentioned briefly through the Facebook or Twitter accounts but that doesn’t include much detail so it seems right that I post more information here.
This year we got exactly what we’d hoped for with the calving. A red heifer calf (Primrose) from Nellie on 30 May followed a few weeks later by a “black” bull calf (Frank) from Daisy on 12 June.
My initial belief that Frank was black is proving to be a little wrong and he is actually a lovely shade of brown which I assume should officially be called “dun”.
We are now looking forward to the arrival of the pedigree Dexter bull that we’re borrowing this year. We’ve heard good things about him and saw him while he was at a friends farm recently so we’ll keep our fingers crossed for another good result when calving time comes around next May or June.
We have 4 pigs from the first litter (from Sissy) and they are developing nicely. As we didn’t raise any pigs for meat last year, it’s been a good reminder this year for monitoring their growth and planning for the inevitable departure. We don’t take this any more lightly now that we’ve had pigs for 4 years, it’s just as important to us now that they have a good life while they’re with us and a stress-free final trip to the abattoir.
The first 2 pigs from the older litter will be heading off to the butchers by early August and when I calculated their weight at 6 months old they were roughly 60kg which is fairly respectable. At feeding time tonight I managed another quick measurement for weight calculations and they are almost up to 74kg now.
Amazingly this is exactly what I’d been hoping for as they will be going off in 2 weeks time and should be about 80kg at that time. This is ideal for a basic “porker” like the first ones going off where we just want pork joints, sausages etc. With some careful monitoring, the other 2 pigs from this litter will go off about 3-4 weeks later when they’ll hopefully be 90kg or just over which is a better weight for a “baconer”.
The first batch of pork will be available for sale from 20 Aug and this year we also have 3 pigs from the second litter (from Esther) who are roughly 2 months younger. This will help to give us a regular supply of pork for sale from summer through to autumn or later this year.
Despite some poor results in other areas with growing produce this year, the garlic and onions that were planted last Autumn have now been harvested. The fairly respectable haul is currently drying in an outhouse while I think about the best way (and place) to store them. This is the second time that I’ve grown garlic and onions this way and I’m really pleased with the results. I think they’re definitely on the list for next year so I’ll need to reserve a spot to plant some more this autumn.
After a complete failure (yet again) with the dwarf beans, I’ve almost managed to fill the space with my excess leeks and some chard. I’m also hoping to get some more carrots sown in there very soon as well because we can always use more carrots and they are easy to grow – although never very straight!
With just a single row of parsnips this year, I think that Christmas dinner might be sorted out but not many parsnips left after that. I’ve never had much luck with germinating the seeds and I often think I won’t bother with them next time… However, the taste of a roasted parsnip which came fresh from the garden is something really special so I expect I’ll persevere with them.
Overall it’s been a pretty good growing season this year with no prolonged excessively dry (or wet) spells. There were some problems with rabbits sneaking in and nibbling my lettuces but adding some chicken wire to the boundary fence has fixed that problem.
The newly installed scarecrows from Waltons are now dealing with any potential problems with the extensive bird life in the garden. If I’m honest I really don’t mind sharing a little of it with them but I’m not sure they’ll leave any behind if I don’t do something!
With so much attention focussed on the livestock over the last few months, it made a pleasant change to spend some time on the raised beds were put in place after we moved here. Even though some of the results this year are not as good as hoped, the simple fact that we can eat fresh produce from the garden is still very rewarding.
This will hopefully be the last year of significant experimentation with vegetables in the raised beds. Over the past 2-3 years I’ve tried a selection of different crops and different varieties of our favourites with the idea of identifying what works best in our location.
For the second year in a row, the dwarf beans have been unimpressive and I suspect that any success in the first year was purely luck. Mostly the problem was down to poor germination but even those I’ve planted out are now looking too impressive. I think it’s likely that I’ll give these a miss for a year or two now in favour of something more reliable.
As reliable as ever, the leeks always seem to do well here and this year is the third different area I’ve tried them in so they must like the general location.
These will definitely be on the regular list for vegetables to grow and hopefully this year I’ve got the quantity right as there were far too many last year!
Despite a slow start with the carrots there are now quite a few growing on in the raised beds. It was a battle early on when sowing seeds direct and as a result there aren’t as many as I’d hoped now.
However, compared to the difficulties with just germinating parsnip seeds, the carrots could be counted as a comparative success. Even though we love eating fresh, home-grown parsnip in the winter the problems with getting them started means that I may not bother with them next year.
After an unexpected success last year with my first attempts at growing chard, this got another chance again this year and yet again is doing really well.
Easy to grow with a cut and come again approach to harvesting plus it’s really tasty when cooked – this is sure to be on the list for future years.
As usual for me, I think I planted the first batch of courgette seeds too soon so they were never going to do well. However the second batch benefitted from my first attempts at using a heated propagator. Of course I now have too many courgette plants again this year but isn’t that obligatory if you grow courgettes?
The 2 onions in this picture were actually planted elsewhere last year but came to nothing so I moved them to an empty this spring. After a few months they’ve developed quite well – perhaps better than last years onions did – so that’s a bit of a bonus and perhaps an indication that they would do well in this bed?
Every year so far swedes have been the most reliable crop I’ve grown here and this year looks to be no different. I seems that nothing I do will stop the swede seeds from germinating and growing into a tasty crop!
Luckily it’s become a favourite in the kitchen too so there’s always a place for swedes in the raised beds.
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!
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?