Thursday 20 July 2017

Changing around.....

My legs are all a-tremble and my back has gone a bit creaky,
so I thought I would sit down for a minute and have a chat with you,
because if I didn't then I would lie down and have a nap,
which is something I don't want to do because then I wouldn't get back up that ladder,
which is what caused the tremble and twitching.
Why am I up a ladder?
Because we have a need to get the downstairs front room finished off.
It was supposed to be a room for paying guests but we have moved beyond wanting to do that for the moment, so the room has remained unfinished and become a dump room.
Floating around my head during recent weeks has been a growing concern about how I don't seem to be able to keep plants growing successfully from seed, which is something I need to do for the Market Garden Project. Some of this is my lack of experience, but a lot of this is to do with the ups and downs of the weather. The temperatures are not stable enough to keep trays of seeds germinating in succession. Some are alright, such as brassicas, but others such as lettuce are fussy.
 So what am I supposed to do during the cold months, when I have plants needing to be kept away from possible frosts, and when I need to get crops prepped for next year.
A poly tunnel? We are thinking not. We can have very high winds zooming along the edge of the nearby hills and we are concerned about the whole thing tipping over, which happened to a friend's poly earlier on this year. I know they can be anchored down, but we feel unenthusiastic about the work that will take.
So we err in favour of a poly carbonate greenhouse, which we are going to build when time permits.
Meanwhile, winter is on its way. We know this because we felt the year turn last week.
I began to think that perhaps I could park pots of seedlings in the hallway over winter or put them on a table in the middle of the Half Barn under the velux windows in the roof.
And so it was that an afternoon pow wow after the afternoon nap which resulted in me up that ladder painting and the problem of what to do with the seeds has found a solution.
We are going to move out of the Half Barn and let the MG Project have the space.
Lots of shifting of furniture to do, lots of painting, lots of cleaning, so lots of busyness ahead.
and hopefully a more stable growing environment for the little seeds.
Work in progress....
..... and the Half Barn which is going to have a change of use....
Little Milly is in season again, but Bonny and Lissie seem not to be having seasons at the moment, so hopefully this means that they are in calf, although during a storm last night Bonny slipped and took a nasty head over heals tumble  on the way to the barn, which left her limping on two legs. But this morning, although slow to get up onto her feet, all four legs seem to be back in working order again. Hopefully this has not damaged her expectancy.

Meanwhile, Veg Plots 1,2, and 3 are still doing well, but harvesting and preserving has slowed down because of the diversion of our time. Not to worry, I always knew we would over produce this year.
But I have managed another five pots of courgette jam, and Lester has started working his way along the rows of potatoes. He has already dug up a load which are already in the kitchen, and this is another barrow load waiting for me to sort out....some for canning, some for long term storage, and some for immediate use.

Running out of energy for bringing the potato harvest in, we decided to have a musical episode, me with the accordion and Lester with the guitar. It made a fun interlude.
Still lots more potatoes to be brought in though.
It has been a good harvest.

We are very green for this time of year thanks to the many storms we have had,
which is not so good for the holiday makers and those who like to sit out in the sun,
but good for farmers and country folk like us who have produce to grow which needs the water.....
Ah, a storm is brewing so I had best close down the computer in case of another lightning strike to the electrical systems of the house. I seem to be brewing the fear inside of me of getting blown up. Silly, I know, but the recent lightning strike did put a healthy respect for the force of nature in me.
I have come to realise that there is not much we can do about it when nature flexes her muscles,
and nature has being doing a lot of that lately.
Best to say, ' What will be, will be' and then carry on......
Bye for now,

Sunday 9 July 2017

Lots happening in the veg plots.......

Little bundles of fluff, full of cheeps and chirrups and already trying to fly out of the box when they see us nearby. We have another twenty eggs in the incubator so hopefully we shall have some more chickens to add to our flock soon. And last night our three new hens took themselves to bed in the nearly finished chicken hut, but the two Orpingtons prefer to rest for the night in the mini huts, possibly because they find climbing the ladder to get into the new hut too much effort for them. Orpingtons are not the most energetic of chickens.
And out in Veg Plot 3...
the potatoes have survived the beetle attack, and Lester is now harvesting them.
He is bringing into the kitchen one row at a time, but he wants to get them all lifted quicker than I can process them, so I bought some hessian sacks from Amazon UK to store them in.
Total jars of canned potatoes to date: 5.
These are DIY fast food for us.
And the right hand side of VP3, and really, truthfully, while it might look like a jungle of overgrown weeds it is not. The first clump of greenery is the four rows of bush beans,
which we are now harvesting.
Total jars of canned beans to date: 15
.... and of course a lot eaten!
The empty looking strip of ground is in fact the very diminished rows of brassicas which have been so heavily attacked by flea beetles. But although looking very battle worn, the plants continue to struggle on, so all the while they are trying to keep on growing I shall keep on persevering with trying to help them.  The greenery beyond that strip of brown is full of tomato plants, bush beans for drying, and manic courgettes.
The tomatoes: we have not staked these up, and have let them do what comes naturally to them, which is sprawl everywhere. We did very well with our tomato crop last year but everyone else did not. We don't know why..... we never tied the plants up, fed them, or hardly watered them. In fact they were totally neglected! So this year we have left this patch of tomatoes to go their own way, not through intent but through not getting round to tying them up.
The bush beans: we have started eating a lot of beans..... sloshing some tomato ketchup over them gives us the equivalent of baked beans but at a fraction of the cost, so we thought we would grow our own. Beans seem to do well here without much fuss, and with no disease that we know of.
As for the courgettes: I grew four courgettes plants, which are enough for us. They are the non rambling type so are easy to get to and harvest. However we had courgette type sproutlings popping up here and there in Spring, so not having the heart to plough over them Lester transplanted them into VP3. Oh dear, The original courgette parent must have cross pollinated with something else, because those courgettes are  flinging out arms all over the place, and are producing at a rapid rate many plump, courgettes far to big to be useful. I do not want to save the seeds of these!
And ignoring Veg Plot 2 because there is not much to see, here is the right hand side of Veg Plot 1.
...... the muddle of greenery to the right of the onions is just that... a muddle.
This is supposed to be three rows of beetroot, but the beetroot were slow in sprouting and were overtaken by weeds. These were the only seeds we direct planted, and the last I shall ever do because they confirmed for me that using plant cells to get seeds going might take more work at first, but save work in the long run.
.... and the onions, which are the first we have grown from seed. Recent high winds knocked them all sideways and I thought I would to replant them, but no, I didn't have to, because they all righted themselves again. I was very impressed with the effort they made to do that.
... and next in the line are the cucumbers, which I don't have the faintest idea what to do with.
All they seem to want to do is sprawl all over the place despite my efforts to get them to grow upwards. But I did harvest a cucumber this morning. It had a prickly feel to it, very unlike the smooth, straight, shrink wrapped  supermarket cucumbers, but I now know what cues are supposed to taste like.

.... and next along are the tomatoes, and as you can see, these all have wriggly metal poles planted beside them.
Message to self: do remember to get those tomatoes tied up otherwise those poles are useless.
...... and then on to rows of newly planted brassicas, chard, peppers, and basil.
This patch also has an active population of flea beetles,
Not to worry, I seem to have found a solution to reducing their population:
I was spraying with diluted washing up liquid, but it took ages, and was tiring to my patience and my back. Then I tried diatomaceous earth powder, but apart from being expensive to buy, it tended to blow off the leaves in the wind, with the flea beetles side stepping what was left on the plants.
... then I came up with this solution.... which is to make a plastic dish out of the bottom of an empty water bottle, fill it with dilute washing up liquid, and put one down beside each plant.
I had to cut a lot of bottles up, but it was worth the effort. I fill the dishes each morning, and feel very satisfied with the amount of beetles I see floating in the water.
... the black specks are the beetles. This is one day's capture. There are a lots of dishes in situ.
And the now empty pig pen, which was getting overgrown with some big weeds.
Not now it's not. The scythe and me went to work, and half an hour later all was cut.
It was a lovely morning, me and the scythe worked well together, and all in all in was the most satisfying experience.
A simple meal, but all home grown: lettuce, crystal lemon cucumber, beetroot, and cheese on one plate, and on the other pan fried spiced potatoes and runny eggs.
The only add ons were the ingredients for the salad dressing and the spices for the potatoes.
As I say, it was a simple meal, but quick to make and delicious.
That's all for now folks,
off to the kitchen now for a slice of chocolate courgette cake.
I ate the last slice of lemon courgette cake this afternoon.
Total number of jars of  courgette, ginger, and orange jam made so far: 6, but one eaten, so 5 are left.
I remain surprised at how versatile courgettes can be!
Anyone got a courgette recipe I can try?
Thanks in advance.
Bye for now,

Sunday 2 July 2017

Off to the market......

Just got back from a trip to the market at Vic en Bigorre.
It was going to be another grotty weather day, so best to do things which were not dependent on the weather, so to the market we went.

But I am not complaining about this bout of rainy weather because the land badly needs a drink. After the recent months of dry weather it is very thirsty.  No wind today though, thank goodness, that is something us and the land can do without. Even the sheep shearer man, who has now come, done, and gone, battled to do his work in the 90 mph gusting winds. Six fleeces this year, keeping three for spinning, the rest for composting. They were extremely clean, no dags, no mud, the recent torrential rains having showered the sheep pristine clean, but not enough to remove the lovely sweet smell which is such a delight to the senses.
Mr Cockerel is now strutting and parading like a General in front of his troops, the three new hens being very pleasing to his masculine self. They are farm chickens, big strong girls, nearly at laying age, and chatty already. Although not the prettiest of hens, they should give us a good solid base for our new flock. We shall develop some breed strains later on, probably the various types of Orpingtons, but that is not for now. Best to stay sensible and get the flock built up first.

Our new hens were purchased from a farmer at the market.
He had a van full, but we only bought three. They were put in a large cardboard box for transport. Three hens in the box is a safe number. Any more and the bottom of the box can give way. We know that it can do this, because last time we visited the market we bought four hens and the bottom of the box dropped out mid way across the main road. Fortunately there were no injuries.
While Lester concentrated on the purchasing of the hens, I wandered round the market.
And I was surprised at how much I have changed since last we visited.
Instead of looking at what was on offer from a buyer's perspective I found myself looking at the produce from a seller's perspective. It would seem that I am moving on towards being a seller of produce before we actually have produce to sell.
We have realised that this year is a year of learning the craft of being market gardeners, of learning the rhythm of planting, of learning how things grow, of combatting the various mini disasters relevant to our life here, (which happen most days), of learning to deal with extremes of temperature, of not giving up when a  plug tray full of  forty very happy and healthy seedlings, which I had nurtured for several weeks, became fried to death when I forgot to put the shade cover over them because I needed an afternoon nap on the hottest day of the year so far. I am not good in heat. I wilt. As did those seedling. But I survived. They did not. 
So what did I do?
Upended the dead bodies of the seedlings onto the compost heap, said a blessing over their carcasses, then immediately planted another tray, meanwhile fighting the urge to give up the gardening project forever, the words 'Don't Quit' rolling round and round in my head as I planted the batch of new seedlings.

The new flock, five in total now, plus nine chicks indoors.

One little visitor in the front garden this morning.
Milly, growing into a big girl now.
..... and Bonny asking why she is still indoors when Lissie is already out in the field.
Bye for now,