Tuesday 31 March 2015

125 Grafted Apple Trees So Far

Over the last few weeks I've been steadily grafting apple trees in any spare time I have. I tend to do ten or a dozen at a time so I don't get too bored with the job, either in the greenhouse or in the workshop for an hour at night. 
Long trench dug to heel in the apple trees
 I haven't got huge numbers left now and I can see the end in sight, I hope to get a good percentage take this year. I've tried to be careful at every stage, I've store the scion wood correctly, I've been careful and accurate with my cuts and I've sealed all my grafts with tape and wax.
Apple tree heeled in ready for planting
There's still along way to go with these trees. I've got to now plant them in a nursery bed and grow them on for a year or two (depending on how much growth they put on), during this time I need to look after them, keep them weeded, prune them to get them growing straight and regraft any trees that don't take. Hopefully I'll eb able to sell some of the trees out of this lot and I'll give blog readers first chance to purchase them when the time is right!
Anyone else have a small cottage industry in the making?

Monday 30 March 2015

Saw Buck

The weather was awful yesterday so I was a little undecided with what to do. I wanted to make the most of the daylight so I thought I'd just go and cut some firewood up for next year. When you're kitted up and the saw running you don't notice the weather too much, well I don't.
I am fed up of cutting branches on the floor though. It's no good for my back or for the saw blade, every time I skim the ground it blunts it slightly. So I decided to knock together a quick saw buck to make it a little easier and efficient for me.
My new saw buck.
Made from 4 lengths of rough 4x2

  It only took me half an hour to knock up and should last a little while so long as I'm careful with the saw. I used some old timber to make it with so it didn't cost anything other than a few screws and three bolts. 

Loaded with wood

First little batch done, wood given to me by a neighbour - I might add a bottom rail to the saw buck to strengthen it a little bit.

It's much easier than bending down for each cut. cutting the willow we pollarad the other day.
It's a little tricky to get the wood to stay where you want to start with, but once I got going it made cutting the branches much easier. I could do multiple lenghts in one cut and have a pile of fire wood in no time. 
With the light nights now it means I can spend a bit of time each night splitting this logged up wood ready for burning next year (if it dries enough). I'm planning on making up a palletised system for storing, drying and moving my firewood using pallet collars chicken wire and euro pallets. Last time I had them stored in just pallets with pallet collars but there wasn't enough air flow and some started to go mouldy.
Does anyone else use a saw buck for cutting firewood? Is it similar to mine? How do you store your firewood over the summer?

Saturday 28 March 2015

Horticulture Or Agriculture?

Farmer, gardener or forester?
With a small patch of land it's best not to pigeon hole yourself and you need to do a bit of everything to make it work, but it's easy to concentrate on one way more than another. There are many sub divisions to them all as well and they all blur together (agroforestry, permaculture, etc).

I always assumed that when I had a patch of land I'd be going down the traditional agriculture route, after all it's the way I brought up - on a mixed farm. I thought I'd get stock straight away, but I've concentrated on other things first, mainly the horticultural side of things. 
This was driven home the other day when I had a friend walk round the homestead and she remarked on how much I had achieved in three years, whereas a phone call with my dad earlier that day he remarked that I hadn't done much with the land yet. Two different points of view but my father is very much of the traditional agricultural mindset, and my three fields have only really been cropped for hay so he has a point, the trees and the garden he sees as a sideline. 

It's obvious when I think about it now, with a much smaller acreage than a farm any smallholding lends itself much better to horticulture than agriculture. Generally what I do is far more labour intensive and on a much smaller scale than what a farmer would do, but my returns can be much higher in food produced. I watched a video the other day where it said that an experienced gardener can produce five times the weight of vegetables than a farmer growing a cereal crop, I've no idea if this figure is correct or not but it sounds about right, even when I think about the weight of my squash harvest from two 4ftx10ft beds last year and compare that to the amount of wheat I would have got from the same space. 

So today (Saturday) I'm continuing with my horticultural endeavours and I'm ploughing another patch of land to grow more vegetables and a small tree nursery (and maybe a small patch of grain as an experiment). I'm hoping to try to make this little patch earn it's keep by growing fruit trees I've grafted myself for sale and some more patches of beans and squashes that I might try to sell.

I am planning on getting stock this year, but, for me at least, horticulture is taking priority over agriculture at the moment.

Which way do you think you lean when it comes to what you do with your patch, no matter how big or small? Would you go in a completely different direction to me?

Friday 27 March 2015

Orchard Trees Mulched

I've managed to put some muck around the base of my trees this week. Some people don't like to do this too much as it can encourage leafy growth at the expense of fruit, but while the trees are young and establishing I think it's a good thing.  I might add a final mulch of wood chip on top to help keep the weeds at bay around the base of the tree.
Half a barrow of muck a tree

How the bridge graft I did in 3013 looks now
I also looked at the bridge graft I did a couple of years ago when I had a tree ringed barked by rabbits. The tree is still growing well and both of my "bridges" are alive and looking healthy, they've gotten thicker and grown with the tree and the wounds have callused over nicely. Hopefully as the tree grows it will engulf this and in a few years time you won't be able to tell. 

Does anyone else mulch their fruit trees with well rotted muck? Do you think it makes any difference?

Thursday 26 March 2015


I spent the best £9 ever on Monday. 
Two bags of play sand. 
This will provide hours of entertainment over the summer and enable me to do more gardening whilst the kids are having fun!
The sandpit in the veg garden last year
Last year I had the sandpit in one of the veg beds. This was great most of the time as my eldest could play really near to me (which she loved), the only trouble was when she had friends round to play they wanted to go in the sandpit and I was always a little worried that they'd destroy the veg around them. They didn't know the rules like she did - constantly nagged to stay on the paths!. Also my youngest isn't anywhere near as careful and charges head first everywhere.

So this year I've decided to put it just outside the veg garden. This spot only grew weeds last year so I put some cardboard and wood chip down first to suppress them and give the girls somewhere nice to play. It also makes the area less maintenance for me as I could never be bothered to strim around the shrub!

Another little area for the kids to play in.

One happy girl!

Another happy girl! First time in the sand pit this year and I didn't hear a word from her for an hour!
 Another cheap thing to keep the kids entertained. In fact, believe it or not, that's the same sandpit I had as a child! That makes it some 30 years old - Not sure how mum managed to keep it all those years without it breaking but the plastic still seems okay even now, I'm just careful to store it in a shed over the worst of the winter so it'll last even longer.  
What else could I build/create to keep the kids entertained in the garden?

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Shelves For Flour

I added a little more food storage last weekend. 
The under stairs cupboard has been much better since I added my can rotator door but there was still a lot of wasted space. I decided to add some shelves one side and a board the other to hang things on.
Shelves added alongside my can rotator door
 The shelves were made out of some plywood off cuts, so nothing fancy again, but they do the job and the sheet of ply the other side just makes it easier for me to put up hooks and things when I want.
A board added to the other side to easily fix hooks and hang things on.
I know it's not huge amount of extra food storage but every little helps especially as this will be easy to keep organised. The plan being to keep just flour and sugar on these shelves, the flour can then be easily  rotated so the oldest is used up first. Having flour here will also save space in the freezer as hopefully when we get a bread maker we'll be making bread daily(ish) rather than buying it once a week and freezing it all.
Also if I ever get a grain mill then the bags of flour will be replaced with kilner jars to keep it in and stored in the same place. Keeping it all in one place means that I can see when we're running low and buy more in - I hate running out of anything!
Anyone else been putting more food storage in? No matter how small!

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Rural Retreat Restoration

I've only just discovered that a friend of mine from playgroup has a blog and I thought I'd share it with you all here. 
It's called Rural Restreat Restoration and she has very much the same mindset as many of the readers of this blog. They're a young family working hard to get it all to come together, building veg beds, planting trees and keeping chickens all whilst doing up their 1850's house and bringing up two small children! A lifestyle I can certainly relate to and we often spend playgroup talking about gardening, baking and DIY. 

I know from personal experience that my blog has always been a great driver behind trying to do things here, with words of encouragement, advice and good humour on a regular basis so I hope she finds having a blog the same and I hope some of you pop over for a visit as well! 

Monday 23 March 2015

Making Compost Bins From Recycled Materials

Yesterday I knocked up some "rustic" compost bins and they didn't cost me a penny. 
I'm always thinking I need to sort out a proper composting system, as I use loads and produce no end of garden waste (lots of weeds as well). I'd put it off for the same reason as I had with the garden gates so I decided to just knock some together with what I had to hand. 
The area I chose to put it is just in the field outside the veg garden. This means I'll be able to fill it without leaving the garden and when I want to empty it I haven't got too far to walk. Unfortunately it's in full sun but I'll cover it with cardboard to keep the moisture in.
 The back is made out of an old shed I had put in the burning pile. I then added some posts in front to fix it to and to divide it up into four bays. I then added five posts four feet in front of these to fix the sides to.
 Using some old floor boards from our living room renovation (never throw anything away!), I nailed the sides on leaving a gap between each board. 
As you can see, it's certainly rustic (rough) but they'll do the job for a few years. I might add some removable front slats as well so they can be filled right up. 
The top bay will be for my chicken muck and the others will be for this summers garden waste mixed with straw and lawn clippings. My plan being to fill the one at the bottom, then move all that into the next one up and then fill the first again and repeat. That way I'll be turning my compost and be able to use it faster. I doubt it will happen though as I know what I'm like! 
How does everyone else make their compost? 

Saturday 21 March 2015

What To Grow For An Honesty Box?

It's the first day of spring and the garden is really kicking off. I'm big on planting seeds, sets and potatoes at the moment, as well as getting the rest of the beds ready for planting. 

 I've been thinking about what quantities to put in. 
I always struggle with how much to grow, in my mind I need to plant enough to allow for a bad year but this normally means that we're left with a glut that I then preserve - which isn't always a bad thing. In fact I'm currently thinking of increasing my summer crops and starting an honesty box on the road to sell my surplus along with my eggs, a few quid here and there would really help to cover the costs of my garden (which is pretty low anyway) and reduce waste. 
The seeds planted in the next month or so really dictate what I grow for the rest of the year so now's the time to do something about it. I'm thinking of lots more quick growing summer crops like salads, beets, carrots, beans and courgettes, but I was wondering what everyone else thinks? If you ever use an honesty box what do you buy? Or if you have one what do you find sells well?

Friday 20 March 2015

A Bale Of Straw Equals Happy Chickens

I cleaned my chickens out on Wednesday and chucked them a whole bale of straw to try to make sure they're not standing in mud the whole time. I don't think it matters what the animal is, if you chuck them a bale of straw they're happy. I remember I used to love giving the sheep extra bedding after they'd been fed, they always seemed so content, these chickens were no exception.
I did cut the bale and chuck it around the pen once they'd inspected it! 

It was nice to spend a bit of time in the pen to look at the chickens a bit closer. I was pleased with the condition of my hens, they all seem to have a good coat of feathers, clean bums and no obvious health issues, egg production has really picked up at the moment and we've started selling a few eggs again. I'm thinking about getting some more POL hens and having a mobile flock again as they seem to pay for themselves if I can keep the fox away and it's a good use of space. 
Has our mild winter (in the UK at least) been kind to everyone else's chickens? 

Thursday 19 March 2015

Protect Small Cider Producers

The European Union is proposing to ban the current tax exemption of small UK cider and perry  producers. This will affect the small hobbyist and farm gate producers who, in my opinion, produce some of the best cider in the country and it might make it uneconomical for them to continue.

Now I'm not sure how well on line petitions work as they seem to have been done to death lately, but I think that this is worth signing. Anything that helps keep small businesses going and keeps us from having to buy from the same big firms has to be a good thing.

Follow the link and add you name if you want to help keep small rural cider producers going. There's also more information there about the changes:

Wednesday 18 March 2015

Inarching A Damaged Apple Tree

They say you learn more through your mistakes than your successes, if that's true then I'm learning a lot. One important thing I learnt last year was not to mulch young apple trees with straw, although it stopped the weeds it also provided a perfect little haven for mice to chew at the bark of some of my trees.
 I was gutted when I spotted this a month or so ago, a few trees had been completely ringed by the little sods. But the damage was done so I just had to think how to get over it and prevent it in future. I will be adding tree guards to all of these even though they're protected by a rabbit fence, hopefully that'll stop it happening again. 

The trees in question happen to be part of my row of cordons, and they were growing nicely. It would be a shame to loose any, but the damage extends down to ground level, not enough bark left to do a bridge graft like I have done on a previously damaged tree in the orchard. 
I decided to try some inarching, this is where I basically graft a new rootstock on to the tree whilst it's still insitu and this should keep the sap flowing next year. The process is quite simple but in practice it's fiddly, although I have a few trees to do to so I should get better at it!
New rootstock added along side the old one

The end of the new rootstock cut into a wedge shape. It should go to a point without a flat bit shown on the picture.
The side against the tree is cut slightly longer to give a larger area for cambium contact.

The wedge of the new rootstock being inserted in to the scion of the old tree. This should hopefully keep it alive.  It's essential to make sure that the cambium layers are touching (the layer just under the bark) as this is where the sap flows.
Different tree but showing the grafting tape holding it all tight.
I need to do this to about 8 trees in a row of thirty, luckily I have a lot of rootstocks to use as I haven't started this years grafting yet. They seem to have only gone for some trees and not others, they didn't touch my nursery of over 150 trees luckily - otherwise I might be weeping! My plan is to keep these trees alive for another season and then take some scion wood from them so I don;t loose that variety and maybe replace the trees when I have new ones grown depending on how they do. 

The more grafting I do and the more I practice it, the bigger asset having this skill becomes. If your a keen gardener then I urge you to try it. I might do a little video on this if anyone is interested? 

Anyone else been grafting this year yet?

Tuesday 17 March 2015

Making Simple Garden Gates

It's my forth year in my veg garden and until now I've been using three bits of weld mesh as temporary gates to keep rabbits out of my garden.
 Each year I say I'm going to make some gates and I kept thinking I was going to make some fancy ones to show off my skills. This basically meant that they just didn't get built because I've never got the time to dedicate them.
So I decided to just knock up some quick and cheap ones so I get to use gates over the summer rather than struggling with mesh panels every time I leave the garden.  
My littlest helper sorting screws
 For the wood I stripped some old fencing apart (this fencing was in turn made from some pallets I'd taken apart a few years ago) and I just made up some simple ledges and braced gates. The slats are spaced so no rabbit can't fit through (hopefully).
Spacing the boards out

First gate hung

Good chunky hinges

Second gate - the main one
 If your ever hanging anything with a brace on the back make sure that the brace points down towards the bottom hinge, otherwise it's not doing anything.
Bottom gate into the soft fruit garden
 Although I didn't spend any money on the wood, I did splash out on the hinges and brought some good quality hoop and band hinges. This means that if I want to lift the gate off for any reason I can and if I ever get around to building some better gates I can reuse the hinges. Cheap ironmongery is a waste of money, I find cheap T-hinges the worst as the knuckle rusts up in no time and you end up replacing them anyway.
Back of gate, added by request!
Another job done that's been on the list for a long time. Hopefully these should last a while and make it less likely that I jump the fence each time I go in the garden! One day I'll build some good gates out of hardwood (but probably not).
Anyone else done a job you've been putting off because you wanted to do it properly? 

Monday 16 March 2015

Fuel Willow Planted And Planning A New Garden

Yesterday I managed to finish planting my willow cuttings that I'm growing for fuel

I planted most of them through weed matting but run out on the last row. So instead I mulched them with some of my woodchip I've got stored up. It will be interesting to see which ones do best as they're growing next to each other. I should imagine the wood chip is better in the long run as it will add something to the soil as well as preventing the grass from growing. Also its going to  leave nothing behind when I'm finished with it - something I'm very aware of when using plastic based weed suppressant.  

This week I'm planning on ploughing another nursery/garden in the field nearest to the house (I know I'm mental) and I keep thinking about how I'm going to keep the weeds away without using sprays. Even getting rid of the grass is going to be difficult. 
Any advice for starting a plot from scratch? I've done it once and hopefully it'll be easier this time with what I've learnt already.

Saturday 14 March 2015

Homemade Bakers/Breadmakers Peel

Last week I decided to make a project just for me in the evenings. I've been making lots of bread on my bread stone lately (sorry to keep going on about it) and I really fancied having a little "peel" to slip the dough onto the stone rather than plop it on with my hands. 
It didn't need to be a massive one for a proper bread oven, just a board with a handle really for our standard oven, if I ever build a outdoor bread/pizza oven I'll just make another! 
The project started with my brother and me looking through some of his timber he's got milled. He picked up a short oak board that he'd obviously sawn freehand with the chainsaw. It also had a huge knot in it and a lot of sap wood. Not much usable wood in it, but just enough for what I had planned. 
Rough board
I got the board into the workshop and went at it with the handheld electric plane to see what was under all the dust and to try and level it out. Luckily this board was pretty much quarter sawn so it will be nice and stable when it's finished.
Starting to see the grain
Once I could see where all the knots, sap wood and splits were I then planned out how I wanted the board. I could see by the way the grain went in the board that the handle would have to slope away otherwise there would be short grain and the handle might snap off. 
Drawing out the board
I then got the jig saw and cut it out, the shape kind of presented itself so I just went with it, shaping the handle around the knot and following the grain.
Rough shape cut out with the jig saw

An almost quarter sawn board meaning that it should be much more stable. Put simply the lines in the wood above won't try and straighten out quite so much. 
I then planed and sanded it until I was happy with the finish and it felt right to the touch. The whole thing tapers to the end as well. 
I treated it with a food safe oil and left it to dry. 
The finished board

I'm really pleased with this for a simple project and hopefully it'll get quite a bit of use. It's a really tactile piece and it made me laugh when I brought it into the house as the girls kept rubbing it with their hands! 
I'll put this into action next week and let you know how I get on with it.
Anyone else have a bakers/bread makers peel that they use?
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