Wednesday 28 May 2014

Sugar In My Cereal

Ever since I was about 7 years old I've started the day with a big bowl of muesli covered in milk, then as I've got older covered in soya milk (whey doesn't agree with me so no milk or cream in my life).
But as my mornings are a slower affair than they used to be I've been eating "pink por with yeah yeahs." Or to a normal person, porridge with jam and a few raisins chucked on top (we've no idea why Ev calls raisins "yeah yeahs" but we're fairly sure it's on of those names that's going to stick!).
As I'm sat there munching away I've been feeling a little guilty about having a teaspoon full of home-made jam on top of mine (the girls only get enough to colour theirs) and thinking about how much sugar that is. 
30g of sugar
I then looked at my normal muesli and read how much sugar that contains - Average serving 13.3g of sugar. The trouble is I easily have three times what they call a "average" serving, and I know it's this much because I weighed it! That means that on average I'm having over 30g of sugar for breakfast! 
It makes a teaspoonful of home-made jam on my bowl of porridge look much better and I'm also controlling what goes into the jam (sugar and fruit). This isn't even looking at the fact that a big bag of porridge oats last about five times as long as a box of muesli and costs a fraction of the price!
Anyone else been shocked when they've looked into what they've eaten lately and changed their habits because of it?

Monday 26 May 2014

Comfrey Root Cuttings

As I've been try to be more organic and contained it's made me realise that comfrey is a pretty valuable plant with loads of uses from making comfrey tea to using it as a mulch or filling the bottom of a trench to grow beans on.
thee roots of a small clump of comfrey
 I've got two patches in corners of the veg garden but this is nowhere near enough. I looked on the internet at the prices and decided that I could probably propagate it myself for a fraction of the cost. I did divide the roots in early spring and doubled what I had, but I need a lot more of this herb to be useful. Looking on the internet I saw that one of the best ways to propagate it is to take root cuttings. 
Root cutting
 In essence, dig up a clump, cut some of the large roots into 1.5-2" lengths and plant this into compost.
Plant in small pots of compost

Cuttings done, now just got to wait!
I did this 26 times so we'll see how many of them will work. If they do I'm going to add a few patches around the smallholding, in the orchard and the coppice so I should always have a supply and be near to where I need it.
How does everyone else use comfrey and how do you propagate it?

Saturday 24 May 2014

James Wong Home Grown Revolution Seeds

AS I said in my previous post I've been intrigued by James Wong's range of plants and seeds at Suttons and as they were having a sale on some of them I overindulged!
I was looking at buy a couple of packets of seeds when I saw they had a collection of twenty reduced from £40 down to £10, there were many things in there I fancy trying, even though it's too late to plant many of them this year, most seed keeps well past it's sell by date. I planted some squash seed this year that was over 10 years old and it still came up!
20 packets Seeds for £10 reduced from £40
There's some great ones in there including electric daises, cucmeleons, musk melons, Bergamot, Quinoa, Japanese Beefsteak plant, Tomatillo, white apline strawberries to name but a few. 
The two I really wanted to try - the electric daisies sound great fun!
Although it is late this year I've decided to risk planting a few and see how they do, the cucmelons sound just right for my girls, little melons favoured like cucumber and lime and the electric daises that are like popping candy just sound like fun! White alpine strawberries and musk melons might also be worth a shot this year, I'll keep you posted on how they do!
A nice feature is the seeds have much longer instructions than normal and recipe ideas inside
To be honest I'm quite impressed by this range of seeds. Each comes with great instructions and then inside there's the history or extra information on the plant as well as some recipes to try out.

Thursday 22 May 2014

Cutting Glass

Glazing my "new" greenhouse I've been a little short of glass. The guy I bought the greenhouse from said there was only one pane missing. Not sure why I had to buy 18 on Tuesday then...
Essential kit for cutting glass: straight edge, tape, gloves, goggles, glass cutter
 It worked out much cheaper to buy standard sizes from a wholesaler than to get it cut locally. So on Tuesday the girls and I made a trip over to Evesham, a stones throw from where we use to live, to a garden wholesalers, BHGS, that's open to the public. Instead of paying £6.40 a pane from the local glass merchants it worked out at just over £3.
The trouble was I then had to cut the angled panes of glass and four narrower panes that I couldn't buy off the shelf.
Years ago I brought a glass cutter from a car boot sale just in case, so I dusted it off and got to work. On it was engraved "Made in West Germany" so it might have a little age to it.
Mark the glass with a pen, then hold the straight edge on the line and run the cutter a few times down the glass firmly.
Then tap the cut all over, hold the glass on the edge of the table and carefully lever it down.

It all goes wrong.
Lucky I brought a few extra panes to have a go with.

In the end I was getting pretty good!
I managed to glaze the remaining parts of the greenhouse last night so now it's just a case of getting it full of tomatoes and peppers! Cutting the glass like this saved me money and in some small way it's also a part of the whole self reliance of being on a smallholding/homestead.
Anyone else cut glass lately?

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Planting Chilean Guavas "Kapow"

I've been quite interested in  James Wong's "Home Grown Revolution" range from Sutton seeds. Lots of interesting and usual fruit and veg to try and grow. The other day I was feeling a little rash and ordered some things they had on special offer, one was 6 Chilean Guava plants for £10 (reduced down from £47.86). 
Well packaged delivery
 They're meant to taste like a cross between a blueberry and a strawberry and grow much like a blueberry bush with berries that are meant to be good for eating fresh as well as drying and preserving. The plants turned up looking healthy and strong (although the delivery driver had left them in full sun so it was lucky I wasn't out for too long as they'd all be dead).
Already the potential for berries this autumn.

How to ruin a perfectly good bucket... Er I mean pot

Drainage holes drilled

My mix for the plants 50-50 soil and compost with some wood ash and blood, fish and bone added for good measure

Rocks and pebbles in the bottom of each "pot" for drainage

Six "pots" ready to go


Good roots on each plant, a little teasing of the roots out before they were planted, but I'm never sure if it makes much difference.

Placed at the front of the house where there's a slight micro climate due to the south facing wall.

I decided to plant them in pots as after dong some research on the plants, Suttons claim of them being tolerant down to minus 10 might be a little optimistic, so for the first few years they will over winter in the greenhouse to give them a little more protection, although I might leave one plant out and see how it fairs.
And as for the buckets rather than pots, it works out much cheaper than big pots (these were only one pound each) and they seem to last much longer than some pots you buy, as well as having carrying handles (compost womans suggestion from a while ago and it seems like a good idea).

Anyone else been trying new fruit or veg this year? There seems to be lots of interesting things about at the moment and I'm keen to try as many as possible.

Monday 19 May 2014

A Day Out

One good thing I hadn't thought about being a "stay at home" is that sometimes you get taken on days out. My mum did just that last week and took me and the girls out to a local open garden that's not too far away.
Mum with my two girls and a great picnic!
She packed us an amazing picnic (freshly made carrot cake anyone?) And it was a garden she knew I'd enjoy as it's a walled garden with trained fruit and veg gardens as well as the formal flower gardens.
Wisteria arch way just coming into bloom

Herb garden

Lettuces and other salads in a decorative pattern (although I always wonder what they look like when you start eating them!)


Obelisks for peas made from birch 

Beautiful coloured flowers on the heritage broad beans

Trained Fruit trees

Raised beds for the main vegetable garden

The veg garden and orchard from above

One of the most difficult mazes I've ever done - but maybe that's just because we were doing it with a tired two year old and a 7 month old! We almost didn't get out!
The garden was Hampton Court Castle Gardens and we were really impressed by them, it made a great afternoon out and the girls seemed to enjoy it as well, although they were both very tired by the end - mind you so was I!
Has anyone else been to a good garden lately?

Thursday 15 May 2014

What's The Best Homemade Tomato Food?

To become more self sufficient I need to progressively stop buying more and more things. In the garden that means things like compost, plants, seeds and tomato food. This year I'd like to make my own tomato food but they are so many recipes out there its difficult to know which to use.
Nettle Tea?
 Both of my grandfathers used to use sheep daggings, the mucky trimmings from round the sheeps bum, left in a hessian sack in a drum of water as a plant food. I'm not sure if they added anything else to this or not, the knowledge has been lost there.
Sheep daggings?
The others I read about involve making a compost tea using either nettles or comfrey, but is this enough for a complete food? Would the addition of wood ash help add other minerals to it? And is there any way to stop it stinking to high heaven, because when I've made it in the past it has stunk the place out! 
I might make a couple of batches up, one comfrey/ nettle tea and the other a mixture of everything (sheep droppings, wood ash,, comfrey, nettles) and see what does best. 
What does everyone else use? Does it work as good as the stuff you buy in?

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Clamping Experiment

Back in October I clamped some roots as an experiment in storing some of our produce. Pushing it to the limit I left it until last week to get the carrots out of the shed and see how they faired.
Roots starting to grow again
 It's been an exceptionally mild winter and I know that will have altered the results somewhat as the shed they've been stored in is less than ideal, It's uninsulated and the temperature does fluctuate quite a bit, but we still had edible roots from that little tub.
Some had lost their colour
 I sorted through them and we had enough for tea that night and possibly more if I wasn't being so fussy. Some carrots had completely lost their colour and others were fine. Most had started growing again, although I think this is more to do with the temperature in the shed and once the tops were cut off they were fine, I'm not sure if this alters their nutritional value much as well.
Enough for a meal
The need for picking perfect veg for storage as amplified by this little experiment, as the slightest bit of root fly or a blemish means that the carrot didn't store and in turn it starts to deteriorate which can damage roots around it.
The downside to this whole thing was the fact that the weathers been so mild that they would have stored in the ground just fine with a covering of straw to keep out the light frosts. But you can't predict the weather, and if I ever get round to building a proper root store, knowing we've got a supply through the winter will be a keep part to future self sufficiency. 
Did anyone else store roots over winter? If so how did they fair?

Monday 12 May 2014

My Old Veg Garden - Raised Beds

Here are some pictures of the garden from our first house. The soil was what my dad would call "boys soil" so easy to work and grew everything really well, a light sandy loam. We decided that raised beds would landscape the garden nicely and make it easy to use. Mum drew a design that I liked and I built it in the evenings after work over a few weeks during March and April 2008.
The soon to be veg garden as we bought it in 2007

Clearing the area to build my raised beds

Goofy picture of me building them. I can't believe how much I've aged in 6 years!

First two beds built and planted up!

The finished veg garden. 

The right hand side of the garden had a greenhouse and strawberry beds

Growing during the first year

How it looked when we sold the house and left. below the veg garden was the chicken pen and I had another greenhouse by then as well.
It was a great little veg garden and we produced loads from it, in the summer we hardly had to buy any veg at all. I really liked growing in beds and I think it's one of the reasons that I've divided my current garden up into beds now. It makes it easier to plan and easier to break the weeding up into achievable amounts. 
Anyone else love their first veg garden?

Saturday 10 May 2014

Veg Planting Plan & Crop Rotation

I finally managed to draw up a "proper" planting plan for the veg garden this year (not including the soft fruit garden) and then the baby took a bite out of it! Never mind, I'm not doing it again!
I'm working on a 6 year rotation using the groups: potatoes, alliums, roots, legumes, curbits & brassicas. 
Each has two 4ftx10ft beds and the whole system moves clockwise two plots at a time each year. So as an example the roots will follow the legumes each time.
The herbs and salad beds at the top stay put and the strawberries will get moved every three years onto a fresh plot. There's also one plot to grow any "random veg" that I come across and want to experiment with (and my leeks as I haven't room in the allium beds this year).
In amongst the veg will be plenty of flowers to encourage the bees and down the right hand side of the garden there is small 2ft by 2ft gaps for flowers at the end of each path.
I will also be adding more perennial veg in the future, but further down the garden in raised beds as it lies wet past these annual veg beds, and I'll complete my line of cordon apple trees with some of the trees from grafts I did this year.

What crop rotation do you use (if any) and do you stick to it religiously like I do? Also do most people go to the bother of drawing it all out or just keep it in their head?

Friday 9 May 2014

A Very Late Planting Of Jerusalem Artichokes

When we had the Allotment we had a good patch of Jerusalem artichokes and enjoyed them roasted with a meal. when we moved here I planted some I took with us but the plot I chose for them was too wet so they just rotted in the ground. 
 Although it's a little late to be planting them, last weekend I managed to get the ones I managed to get hold of in the ground. I used some pallet collars from my dads work as cheap raised beds and filled them with soil we dug out from the greenhouse. 
Two raised beds with five artichokes to a bed. One bed was one collar high and the other two collars high to see which will do best.
Hopefully by having them in raised beds will mean that if I want to change their location it won't be too much of a problem, as I know they can be a little invasive.
Anyone else grow Jerusalem artichokes? How do you grow yours and do you feed them with; manure to start with or a liquid feed when they're growing? 
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