Thursday 29 September 2016

What Some "Preppers" Do Wrong - Seed Vaults

My wife and I were looking on her Instagram, a page she follows keeps advertising "Seed Vaults".
I'm sure we've all seen these floating around the internet. "30,000 seeds to plant your own survival garden when the SHTF". Some have more than that, boasting over 300,000 seeds at some staggering prices (nearly $1,000 but it does come in a nice ammo tin!). 
Some of these boxes talk a lot of sense, they come with a growing manual and state that all seeds are open pollinated. 
But if you think for a second that having a big box of seeds is the secret to growing enough food to feed your family then you are very much mistaken! 
Anyone that gardens at all will tell you how hard it is to be a consistent producer, if it came to a time when it really mattered it would be even harder. 

Having the seeds is such a small piece of the jigsaw that is growing your own food. 

  • You need to have the space, although I guess you could find somewhere and guerrilla garden them. 
  • The right soil to grow in (which can and does take years to build up), 
  • The knowledge and skills to be able to nurture these seeds into growth, 
  • The knowledge to be able to save the seeds from the plants you're growing. 
  • The ability to produce and store you harvest.
But that's almost besides the point I was getting at, when you look at what some of these seed vaults contain they'd never feed you anyway. One I looked at had 3000 celery seeds and only 15-20 bean seeds! I'd want a lot more beans than that in my larder, but I guess I could make celery soup or something! 
You need to look at growing carbs and protein to keep you going and then other veggies to keep you healthy. 

Then there's the viability issue, having a seed vault in storage doesn't mean they're all going to grow. Some seed lasts much longer than others, the only way to really guarantee that you can grow everything is to grow it every year and either buy new seed or save seed. I don't even do this myself, I take the risk and use seed that is a few years old, most of the time it works but then sometimes it doesn't and in a situation where you're relying on your harvest that could have some serious consequences! 

Also you want to grow from seeds that are suitable to your area, like the melon I posted earlier in the week, it would be no good planting crops where the seed has been adapted to grow in a much hotter and drier climate than your own or took too long to mature before frosts set in again. 

My seed bank! 

I for one like to garden every year and improve my skills, who knows one day that set of skills might be very useful! 

What do you think? 
Am I wrong and storing a seed vault is a good idea? 

Wednesday 28 September 2016

Minnesota Midget Melon

I harvested our first melon of the year yesterday - a little late! 
I don't grow melons very often but I chucked these seeds in last minute, then didn't plant them on quick enough and in the end they got chucked in a planting bucket and left in the corner of the greenhouse.
For their neglect they've rewarded me with a few miniature melons. I could smell this one was ripe as soon as I went in the greenhouse. 

They're only tiny, about the size of a cricket balls but the perfume coming from it is really strong.
the variety is bred to be small and early to ripen in a short season. I think this was probably a day or two over ripe but still really tasty, the girls ate it straight away, with big dribbles down chins! 

I'll certainly be growing this type again and maybe even try them outside next year or under a row cover. I've saved the seeds so I'll probably be giving some away to friends and in the seed swap as well.

Do you grow melons? What variety do you grow?

Tuesday 27 September 2016

Do You Forage For Mushrooms?

It's certainly mushroom time of year around here and they seem to be popping up everywhere. 
But I must confess to being a wimp when it comes to foraging mushroom. 
A bracket fungus on the "fairy tree"
I've been on a foraging course many years ago as it's something I'd love to have more confidence in, I probably own 6 or 7 mushroom identification books and yet I just feel it's not worth the risk.

I have plans to grow mushrooms in the future for my own consumption but in doing so I should easily be able to tell which ones they are but when it comes to wild ones I'm sure we've all read horror stories of misidentification and sometimes from people who claim to be experts. 

So aside from field mushrooms do you forage for these wild treats yourself?
Or do you think it's not worth the risk?

Sunday 25 September 2016

Saturday 24 September 2016

Shared Meals

My bricklayer, Dill, has been working hard on our extension and it feels that we're making progress now that we're out of the ground. I've even got the scaffold booked for a weeks time! 

The other day he was going to work late as he had to start late, so I offered him a evening meal with the family (he often has lunch with us when he's working here).
Focaccia from the other night
I like our girls (and boy) to eat with as many friends and family as possible, sat around the table I think it's really good for them and helps improve their manners. My youngest daughter is a little bit besotted with Dill anyway and has named one of her Duplo figures "Dill" who goes on lots adventures building towers. 
"Dillster" working hard! 
I also think it's essential that they treat people working for us how they want to be treated, a Polish friend of mine says that in Poland if you have builders working for you then they eat with you each lunch time. 

A really strong memory I have growing up is lots of people eating with us as a family, kind of like a stereotypical image of a farm kitchen. Anyone working or helping us on the farm on a Saturday used to have chips with us on a night time and dad even does this for his workers on a Friday lunch time now, my mum also does a big meal around Christmas for everyone that works for them (a great fun evening!) as well as a cooked breakfast on a Saturday. These memories are all noisy, fun meals filled with laughter, part of the reason I've always wanted a big family. 

I'd like to have more people eat with us, not for showy meals but for everyday run of the mill meals, and hopefully with a bigger house we should be able to do it more often. 

Do you like to have people round to eat?
Do you enjoy big noisy meals?

Wednesday 21 September 2016

A Little Girls Packed Lunch

Now I never want to be "that guy" but I was quite pleased with my little girls lunch yesterday. 
She had a sandwich made with homemade bread (my wife made the sandwich when she made her own but I baked the bread!), a tub of tomatoes from the garden and an apple from my parents farm off a tree I planted over a decade ago. 
Good to know where your food comes from - The flour for the bread was even bought from a mill not far from my in-laws and they try to buy local grains where possible.
Now I'm not saying every meal is like this in this house, but I'd like to do it more and more if I can. 

Tuesday 20 September 2016

Pear Rust

Walking around the orchard the other day, whist snuffling apples with the girls, I noticed orange spots on my pear trees
I knew straight away what it was - Pear Rust.
But it got me thinking, it's only meant to be able to complete it's life cycle with a juniper bush and I've not seen any close by. I'll have to keep an eye out when visiting neighbours in future as it's a shame to have my pear trees affected by this. Apparently if you remove and burn affected leaves from the juniper you can help reduce the rust on your pear trees, hopefully breaking the cycle and getting rid of it. I don;t think it's too detrimental to the tree but it can cause canker which will weaken the tree.
Anyone else have pear rust on their trees? 
What's the worst thing affecting your fruit trees this autumn?

Monday 19 September 2016

Electric Daisies - Growing And Seed Saving

I've grown electric daisies for a few years now and I think they make a really interesting talking point in the veg garden. 

You won't be alone if you've never heard of them, they're an edible flower that is related to daisies, they are also called the tooth ache plant because of the plants ability to numb your mouth slightly. I'd never heard of them until a couple of years ago and though I just had to try them! 

Eating a bit of the flower makes your tongue tingle, a little like licking a 9v battery! If you have a big bit it can make your mouth numb for a few minutes. 
For a bit of fun in the garden they don't take up much room. I grew mine under my purple sprouting and they've done really well there, flowering all summer long. I start them like many other plants, sowing the seeds in April in the greenhouse and planting out after the risk of frost has gone. I give them very little care just picking off a few flowers every now and again - I wouldn't say they taste nice but the sensation is a little addictive! 

The plants stay small, being about a foot high (30cm) and spreading about the same. I grew eight plants this year which is far, far too many, just a couple would be fine. My girls think they're pretty funny as well, watching them try one always makes me smile! 
.There's not many uses for the plant, although I've read of people using them in posh cocktails and smoothies. 

The video above shows how I grew them and saved the seeds. I'm saving loads of seed which I'll happily pass on to anyone that wants them when I start seed swapping later in the year! 

Have you ever grown them?

Any ideas what I could do with all the flowers?

Sunday 18 September 2016

Extension Progress - Slab Poured!

My dad and I have had a few busy weekends wince the last time I wrote about the extension
Easiest to go through it in pictures:
The cavity under the ground level has been filled with a light concrete mix

Drainage has been added, pea gravel around all pipes.
I also built a man hole from scratch.

Drainage in the house surrounded by peas gravel and hardcore added to the slab

Wackered base

Sand blinding added so the plastic won't get damaged

Plastic added - this made a huge play pen for the youngest! 

6 inches of insualtion added to be under the concrete floor

Plastic to go between the insualtion and plastic as well! (build regs requirement) 

Wet concrete being laid - the grid pattern is the reinforcing in the concerete slab

Tamping the concrete roughly level - to lay the concrete we also had the help of one of dads workers Andy!
Got it mixed and laid in an afternoon.

Floating up the concrete late at night

A nice finish on the concrete - this will be the tiled floor of the kitchen eventually! 

It's certainly been busy around here! 
Yesterday and today are being spent getting ready for Dill the brick layer who is coming tomorrow. I've load the slab out with blocks, got all the starter bars in the walls, moved bricks so they're nice and close and made sure he's got plenty of sand and cement. Anything to keep him efficient and save me money! 
Exciting times now - can't wait to see this going up! 

Friday 16 September 2016

Vlog - Episode 1 - Garden Tour

Right so I thought I'd do another video and start doing a bit of a vlog (video log) as well as the blog. 
Let me know what you think and what you'd like to see in the next episode.
Do you like the intro?

Wednesday 14 September 2016

Overgrown Or Trimmed?

My neighbours have had their hedges trimmed and they look very smart.
But I'm going to continue to let the side down (something I do very well when it comes to tidiness) and mine aren't going to be touched until the end of the winter. 
My hedges on the left compared to the ones of my neighbours on the right
At the moment my hedges are absolutely full of berries, haws, and hips, things that will keep the birds fed all through winter. 

My hedges are bursting with life
  Now I'm not going to come across "better than thou" here, I can understand that commercial farmers need to trim the hedges when they haven't got crops in the ground and the end of summer is the time to do that if they are planting in the autumn. But my grass fields only have sheep grazing them so I think it's best, for me, to just leave the hedges a little longer. 
Full of food for the birds for winter
Trimming hedges, is a good thing I think in general as it promotes growth, but I do think that it sometimes leaves all the growth at the top of the hedge, not ideal for nesting birds. My hedges are properly overgrown and have plenty of hiding places for them. In a perfect world I'd pleach them every so many years - but there is no way I've got time for that (or the skill currently).

How do you like it? 
Nice and tidy like the neighbours or an overgrown mess like mine!?

Tuesday 13 September 2016

Blight Strikes!

Blight has struck my outdoor tomatoes. 
It always hits so fast when it comes, hopefully it'll stay out the greenhouse. 
I pulled up all the plants and dumped them far away from the garden, A shame as so many tomatoes were nearly ready, although we've had quite a few tomatoes from there already, the girls are always stealing some to eat.  

I will grow outdoor tomatoes again and I will do the one truss system again. 
But next year I'll grow bush type tomatoes, I'll make sure that I prune them when I should and I'll plant only two deep with larger spacing between - this year I got greedy and it never pays off. 

I'll probably look for some early maturing ones as well.

What variety do you recommend for outdoor growing?

Has blight struck your garden?

Monday 12 September 2016

Little Boy Loves His Granddad!

My little boy is properly in love with his granddad, he can't take his eyes off him when he's about! 

Sunday 11 September 2016

Weaning The Lambs

I weaned the lambs on Friday evening.
Here's a short video of me talking about it! 
Let me know what you think!

Friday 9 September 2016

Shallots & Garlic Ready For Storage

This year I hadn't gone mad with alliums, instead I'd concentrated on the higher price tag veg like garlic and shallots, in fact I hadn't grown any onions but I do have a full bed of leeks looking like they're ready for winter and going to taste amazing! 
Lovely shallots
So on Tuesday I sat down and actually sorted through what I'd grown and got it ready for storage. Something I should do straight away, not months after, but didn't have the time to when I harvested. 

I was really annoyed at myself while I was doing it, there was some garlic that had gone mouldy because it was left at the bottom of the stack, that's wasted food that I'd spent time, space and effort growing.
garlic sorted ready for storage. 
I also sorted through and cleaned up my shallots as well. I grew two different types and you don't need to be a horticulturist to tell them apart!

 The one batch were amazing, not a bad one in there and all looked beautiful (and they taste amazing as well, with a delicate flavour), whereas the other batch all looked dehydrated (I'm guessing from being dried in the greenhouse) and although still usable they just don't appeal in the same way. 

The somewhat obligatory picture of one of my children at work

Not such great shallots

Stored ready for use over winter - although i know they won't last long! 
I need to make a real effort to spend more time looking after what I've grown, my main trouble is I'm always far too busy with my own paying work in the summer, something I need to take measures to alter in someway, working from home more and on site less I think. 

I've often said that the most important part of self sufficiency is food storage, because there's little point in growing it all if you can't store it to use when you need it. 

Alliums are a prime example of this, treat them right and you can have a supply all year round, take you eye off the ball, like I have here, and you'll be left with very little when you need it most. 

I'm now planning my harvest for next year and I'm going to order in all new stock for my garlic and shallots (although I might grow the shallots from seed instead) so that I'm not breeding on from a harvest I wasn't happy with. The rust problem I had alone has put me off using my own stock of garlic blubs/cloves let alone the storage problems.

What alliums do you grow for storage over winter?  
What is your favourite type of shallot and garlic to grow?
Any tips for good storage with these crops?

Thursday 8 September 2016

First Day At School

Some of you have been following this blog for a long time and have seen our little family grow and develop. 
So I thought it's only fair that I show you this little milestone that we past yesterday - Our eldest started school! 
Proud of my big girl! 
She was so excited to go and was just beaming the whole day. When it came time to go, the teachers said parents could take their child inside the classroom, but when I asked her if she wanted me to she said "you can go daddy". 
I held it together and didn't get too emotional.
When I picked her up later in the day she was really happy, having had a great day, and we sat over lunch with her telling me and her baby brother all about it. 
Both my wife and I really enjoyed school so I hope our children will as well, so far I think we're off to a good start on that one! 

Wednesday 7 September 2016

First Ever Hair Cut Before Starting School

My eldest child starts school today (and I've written this the night before so I'm not sure if I'm going to be an emotional wreck or not!). 
Yesterday I took her for her first ever haircut to get her ready. Her sister was at playschool so it was just her, the boy and me. She was really excited about going to the hairdressers as it's a "big girl" thing to do. 
We used the hairdressers in the village which is really friendly and a great laugh, I had mine done afterwards and my daughter just beamed at me the whole time I sat there. Unfortunately I have also found out that I'm at the age where she needs to trim my eyebrows (I'm only 33 for pity's sake!).

So proud of her new hair do! 
From there we popped up to the village shop and bought some milk and new poatoes before going to see Rick the butcher and buying some sausages for tea (my daughters favourite). Whilst going about the village I bumped into two of my customers and had a chat with them as well.
It's good to know not a single penny of our shopping trip will be going to a shareholder or company executive, all of it staying a couple of miles from home, and it's good to see my customers doing exactly the same! 

Stand by for the obligatory photo of my daughter in her school uniform tomorrow! Has to be done I'm afraid! 

Monday 5 September 2016

Caramelised Red Onion Chutney

 So I've tried to start how I mean to go on with looking after the children. The second day Kirsty came over and we did some preserving. I'd been craving some more red onion chutney (simply the best thing you could ever put on pizza) and no matter how many jars of it that we make we eat them in no time at all! 
We did buy the ingredients instead of growing them for this as we were trying to make a huge batch. I'm not sure either of us were firing on all cylinders though, I did have to laugh as Kirsty chucked all our chopped onions into a rough old bucket we'd got for the peelings! We had to start again with that lot! 
We also broke her food processor as it tried to process itself! Luckily she had another attachment to chop the onions or it might have been a much slower job. 
We spent the whole morning doing it (along with making some sauce) and the four (my youngest had to stay with me) children got on brilliantly, they spent most of the day playing in the garden and the Wendy house, quite happy just to play while we got on with preserving. We did most of the processing outside (on our new, not finished, patio area), it'll be great to get a gas hob out there as well so on a hot day all the preserving could be done outside. 

Divided up!
A morning well spent, each time we say we should make more but I was pleased with the amount we've got to put into the store. 
A good way to spend a Friday morning with the children playing outside and us adults still being productive.
What's your favourite chutney recipe?

Sunday 4 September 2016

Growing Parsnips For Seed

This blog post has been over 18 months in the making!

Parsnips are a biannual plant so to they only flower and set seed in their second year of growing. 

Last year I grew a good batch of parsnips which we ate all winter, but I saved the best ones to grow on for seed. In march I sorted through them and planted them in a new bed.
Parsnips selected. Not the most perfect but they're all a good size.

Laid out ready to plant
 They grew all summer, reaching a height of over 6ft with no care from me whats so ever! 
The green flowers at the back are the parsnip ones.

Flowers as tall as me, if not more (6ft)

I once the flowers had set and the seeds formed the plants started to dry off. I picked a sunny day and harvested all the flower heads, with stalks still attached, and hung them up in the shed to dry out fully.
Parsnip seed heads harvested and hung in the shed to dry out fully
Then a month later (this Friday just gone) it was a a lovely sunny afternoon so I decided it was time to collect the seed from them.
To get the seed was simple, I laid a dust sheet on the ground (an old bed sheet actually) and then we "threshed" them in batches. To thresh them we just used a 5ft length of bamboo cane and hit them, periodically we'd stop, move the seed heads, pick out all the big bits then scoop the seeds into a jar before starting again. The girls loved this job and thought it was great to collect the seed up as well. 

The girls threshing the seed heads. 

The boy thought this was great fun as well! 

A bit of the seed fresh off the dried plants.

A big batch of seed saved up and a chunky arm trying to steal them! 
Growing these parsnips for seed has been great fun and I certainly learnt a lot doing it.  The main thing I learnt is how much space it takes to grow something for seed. These plants took up a huge amount of space, not something that you could do in an average UK garden that's for sure! 

I think growing things for seed would be best done in groups of like minded people, each growing a different variety of carrot for example. To try to do it all yourself each year (or every other depending on how long the seed lasts) would be a massive undertaking, not just with the growing but the planning as well (cross pollination of certain plants), something that needs careful consideration from anyone planning for full self sufficiency or a grid down situation. 

I now have a massive amount of parsnip seed that I'm going to use myself, give away to friends, take to the seed swap next year and give away on this blog. I have five huge jars full of seed, far more than I could ever use. 

Later in the year I'll be posting on here how you can get some of my saved seed, I'm currently thinking just a self addressed envelope sent to me and if anyone wants to send some saved seeds back that'll be great (a little like I did with my blogging seed swap last year), hopefully I might have a few more seeds to swap with people by then as well. 

Who else has grown biannual plants for seed? 
Did you have much success? 
Does anyone want any free parsnip seed?

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