Monday, 7 July 2014

Pick your own

With the veg garden now in full swing and summer fully upon us there is an abundance of fruit and veg just waiting to be picked. At the moment we are enjoying a glut of early courgettes in the polytunnel and lettuces, broad beans and radishes from in the garden. Over the next week or so our early potatoes will be lifted and on the veg patch the pods of peas are quickly filling up with the runner beans beginning to blossom and squashes of all varieties starting to show.

However the real star at this time of year is the Great British strawberry. This year my eyes have really been opened to the huge number of different varieties available and also the huge difference in taste that comes with them. The outstanding taste of eating something that is truly in season is second to none.

Despite all this home grown veg some plants are still maturing. My strawberry patch was only planted this year and apart from picking and eating the odd strawberry on the way past there's not too much on offer. Luckily for us there is a fantastic pick your own farm just ten minutes away. We passed last week and saw signs for strawberries and raspberries, of course we had to go.

On arrival this week strawberries and raspberries were still available but newly in season were gooseberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants and potatoes.

We came away with 1.5kg of strawberries and about half of that in gooseberries; Of course plenty got eaten on the way round choosing the ripest and juiciest ones for the basket.

All of this came to ten pounds which for locally, hand picked and chosen fruit is a bargain. Some of them are up there with the very best strawberries I have ever had and others were completely new tastes to me.

So what do you do you do when you've been eating strawberries all day and still have a mountain of them left? Make jam of course!

A quick browse through some cookbooks brought up some recipes for both strawberry and gooseberry preserves. Being my first attempt at jam making like so many other things I have done since I have moved here the guidance was greatly appreciated. It was remarkably simple and took no time at all. As yet they remain untasted but they seem to have set well and certainly look the part.

We're already planning to make another trip next week to supplement the veg patch and make the most of these glorious fruits while they are in season.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Trial and error

Throughout the spring and early Summer I have been experimenting with different sites for different plants, seeing which ones grow best in what position.

As this is my first year in this garden, I'm still finding things out about it all the time. For example all of my vegetable beds seem to differ in soil quality and texture. In the main vegetable patch I have been lucky enough to inherit an rich, fertile soil and most of the plants there are thriving. The south facing bed next to the polytunnel, which I had high hopes for, does not seem to be as productive. The rhubarb failed miserably and a large gooseberry bush so far has only a handful of berries on it. Tomatoes plants also in this bed seem to have been scorched by the sun following a shower, testament to the ever changing weather we have up here.

I planted some courgette plants in the polytunnel back early May and some in the main vegetable patch at the same time. The difference is quite astonishing and has certainly extended my cropping season.

I have been harvesting courgettes from the polytunnel for the past few weeks. A welcome early harvest before a lot of things have really got going.

Once these have been exhausted the plants outside should take over, giving me some fantastic courgettes over a period of around four months.

This is also my first year using raised beds and something I didn't consider was how quickly they dry out compared to the ground around them. This has led to my Leeks bolting and my shallots look to be trying to flower early too. The flower stems won't go to waste though, they will be great in a stir fry or chopped finely in any number of dishes.

Meanwhile in the vegetable patch, as expected during the summer my brassicas have been under attack. Nightly slug patrols have really made difference to the amount of damage sustained but they still seem to be getting nibbled by something. Butterfly's haven't been as much as a problem as I had expected with just the odd caterpillar having to be picked off. This is perhaps due to how exposed we are up here. Worst effected have been the red cabbages, they have targeted the hearts which is annoying, if just the outer leaves had been eaten I wouldn't mind too much. I'll persevere with these though, the plants should now be big enough to grow on a develop a good heart despite the slugs.

On the other hand the kale planted alongside these cabbages are looking really strong. They haven't been bothered by any pests and should be ready for harvesting a few leaves from before too long.

I have already started planning for winter sowing broccoli, cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts and swede in seed trays ready to plant out at some time in August. I'll do some more in another a couple of weeks to go out in early September.

Also in the raised beds where the radish has been harvested I've sown some spring onions directly in their place. Successional sowing and overlapping crops was the idea when we started the garden and now we can really see this coming to fruition.

Still on the subject of food, we have had the chickens for four weeks now and they have more than doubled in size and are looking very healthy and happy.

They do a great job of clearing a patch of weeds, at the moment a rough idea is to either overwinter some more in the polytunnel or on the veg patch, keeping it weed free and adding goodness to the soil at the same time.


Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Poultry Auction

Last Saturday we set off early to get to our local poultry auction in Llandeilo. We had been before, last month but had sensibly left empty handed once we had realised the lots we were interested in have already gone.

This time I had my eye on six Buff Plymouth rock chicks, which didn't come up for  a couple of hours so we had plenty of time to look around. At this auction they run three sales simultaneously, one for machinery and general farming items, one for all adult poultry and one chicks and eggs. The only one I was really interested in was the chicks, looking around at all the geese, chickens and ducks was a great way to pass the time though. There are so many breeds to choose from of all different sizes and shapes. The buyers ranged from what looked like seasoned farmers to first time buyers and everyone in between. I'm not sure where I fit in in that description, somewhere towards the lower end I'd have thought.

From previous experience here I had price in mind of three pound per bird, I wouldn't go higher than that. Most chicks were going for between two or three so I was confident I would get them for that. However when the bidding started on my first lot I dropped out at three as others carried on up to four pounds. Perhaps I'd set my sights a little low. As other lots went past I didn't bid on too much, goslings were selling for up to twenty five pounds; I even saw a Mother duck and her ducklings sell for seventy. That was definitely out of my price range.

When three unsexed black chicks came up I was determined to place a strong bid on them; despite competition from two others they were mine for three pounds each. I'm not sure what breed they are but they look strong, healthy and very lively. There were three welsummers around a hundred lots later that I wouldn't have minded waiting around for but looking at the time we had already been there for three and a half hours. The sooner we got the first three chicks out of the box and gave them some food and water the better.

On arriving at home I have a few changes to make to their run before they could be put into it. So I left them in a big high sided cardboard box while I went about my work. Big mistake! Less than five minutes later they were scratching and running about in my hallway. thank goodness for wooden floors. I hurried on with the run and once complete rounded them up and carefully placed them in their coop, leaving them to come out in their own time.

They were a bit wary for the first couple of days hiding under the coop at the first sign of anything else going on in the garden. Now only five days later they would rather run up to me than run away. They're almost over confident  preferring to fly out of the coop than use the ramp that I spent time and effort making.

I very happy with my purchase and now think three is a good number to start with. If any chicken fans out there can identify the breed I'd be very interested to hear.

By August I should be eating my own home reared, free range chickens. chickens that I know have had the best treatment and the happiest life I can possibly provide them with. Even the ducks don't mind them moving in on their territory.