Monthly Archives: May 2015

Filling in the gaps

I’ve been filling in the gaps today, with rows of spring onions, beetroot, radish and various salad greens appearing all over the raised beds.  So that we have at least something green by the weekend I’ve also planted out the New Zealand spinach that was originally meant to be part of the container growing demonstration. I It was slightly disappointing in the container but having just read how to plant it whilst  searching for the link, I’m amazed I managed to get anything at all. I also have a few things off the market (mainly lettuce).

It’s good to fill in the gaps, but I have a confession to make. I’m not that fond of salad. Spinach is OK but lettuce is tasteless, radish is pointless and beetroot is downright unpleasant. Thoughts like these are a disadvantage when it comes to growing your own.

Fortunately I love beans, peas, courgettes, nasturtiums and horseradish, which are the other things I’ve been planting.

My Good King Henry, comfrey, bamboo and pampas grass are all refusing to show but the rhubarb seedlings are looking good and I’ve just been re-potting Cape Gooseberry seedlings.

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NZ spinach on the edge of a broad bean bed

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Salads in an unused corner

I’m now starting to worry (after finding out about what I should have done with the NZ spinach) that there’s a lot more I need to learn and that I need to fill gaps in my knowledge as well as the physical gaps in the beds.

Biscuits and beans

It’s National Biscuit Day and I missed. Fortunately I was able to get into the spirit of things because we bought biscuits for a meeting scheduled for 11am. At 10.10 they rang to cancel. It’s an ill wind that blows no good…

I know farmers need rain (or so they always tell us until they start telling us the rain will ruin them), but I really could have done without the rain today. We’re on clay (you may have heard me mention it a time or two) so it meant I couldn’t get on the newly cleared beds.

We could still get into the herbs and Julia has been potting some of the bigger ones for the plant stall on the 7th June. I’ve been on the raised beds near the kitchen and made a couple of runner bean wigwams. One will have the roots we’ve overwintered for the last two years, and the other will have some new ones from this year. Looking at the luxuriant growth of the old ones (already in flower despite being kept in a bucket in the polytunnel till now) and comparing it with the stringy new growth it doesn’t look much of a contest. We will have to see – when you talk to people about it the majority seem to think you are better using new plants every year. I will keep scrupulous records of cropping dates, numbers and weights and see what it tells us.

It will probably tell you that after the first week the reporting system fails. When you add my lack of paperwork skills to the effect of random harvesting by passers-by it’s almost a certainty!

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Day off – shouldn’t have bothered

Had  a day off today – should have known better. Sorry to everyone on Twitter – you may have read that already.

Arrived around 5pm to find that the polytunnels hadn’t been opened all day. Most things were actually OK, though my rhubarb plants, now around 2-3 inches high, hadn’t liked the heat.

After that I found myself in demand for a number of jobs and when I finally finished watering (the job I came in to do) I noticed the pigs weren’t happy. They had knocked the trough over again to make themselves a wallow. Then they decided that they wanted  a drink. They are considered to be an intelligent animal, as well as a source of the world’s most perfect food – bacon sandwiches.

There is a lot more to say about intelligent animals and bacon sandwiches – please don’t think I’m treating the subject lightly, I’m just pushed for time.

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Also managed to get two new beds rotavated. It cost me a few quid but I just ran out of time to do it myself. And I’m lazy. Plus I’ve learned it’s better to pay someone and get the job done rather than look at a plot full of weeds and good intentions.

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A tidy polytunnel – is it a good thing?

There are some who would say no, because, like a tidy kitchen it’s a sign that not much is happening. Maybe a bad analogy as a dirty kitchen can kill. Having said that, it hasn’t got me yet.

This is what we ended up with after a weekend of labour interspersed with visitors and scarecrows.

When all is going wrong, like the newly flattened leeks or the Mystery of the Trampled Rhubarb, it’s nice to reflect we did one thing that looks good this week.

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Gingerbread, stones and scarecrows

It’s not long after my last post but I need to catch a day up.

Today was an old-fashioned kitchen day with the smell of gingerbread, the sound of happy kids and the clatter of gravel. There seems to be some sort of unwritten rule that kids under the age of 8 have to fill their friends’ pockets or shoes with small stones. It makes for quite a lot of sweeping up but acts as a cover for me as I throw handfuls into the raised beds to improve drainage.

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Then it was scarecrows. Did I mention we are having a scarecrow competition on Open Farm Sunday – 7th June? More importantly, did I mention you can enter a photograph by email?

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Yes, it’s a fox guarding my new bean trial. Don’t ask.

Monday Miscellany, posted on Tuesday

We had a strange day at the farm yesterday. With nobody in we managed to force our firstborn into action and shifted quite a lot of work. This was despite frequent visits from a variety of people. I wasn’t allowed to talk to them because I’m considered a trifle direct when people stop me working, so I was able to brew mint tea, make the nettle soup for today, restructure the herb bed and plant the new beans after the problematic start to the “Bean Trial”. More of that later.

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Mint Tea

 

Sorry if the tenses seem a little strange in that paragraph, it was originally written yesterday but will be posted today, which was tomorrow when I wrote.

Julia spent half the day explaining what we were doing, what the statues were, what was happening on Open Farm Sunday and how to enter the Scarecrow Competition. She’s very good with people.

I’m good with tools of destruction, a talent which came to the fore when we got home. The laburnum tree, which had been leaning at an increasing angle over the last few months (coinciding with the time erection of next door’s new fence, though I am pointing no fingers here) had finally given up its struggle with gravity.

They don’t look like much but I can assure you there’s a lot of wood in a laburnum, particularly when you’re  using a pair of loppers and a pruning saw. The worst is over now ad I’ll be able to get on with pruning the plum, which is why I’d originally gone into the back garden.

I’ll miss it because laburnums have featured in my life since I was about 6 and we moved to a house with one in the garden, but it’s an ill wind that blows no good and I have plans now that we have a new patch of unshaded patio. Think “heated greenhouse”.

As for the “Bean Trial”,  it hasn’t worked out well. You may recall that we filled half a bed with compostable material and left the other half plain. I then added an “X” shaped frame and planted two Firestorm beans at the base of each cane. The half of the bed that was prepared with organic material definitely showed better germination and growth, but then nearly all the shoots disappeared. On digging holes to plant replacements I found many more beans which had germinated then been eaten.

We’ve also done a Health and Safety trial with the ends of the canes. The Mark I – Coke bottle and gaffer tape is big and clumsy and tends to fall off. The Mark II – plastic protector was too small for the cane so became a Mark III using a slit and gaffer tape. The unmodified protector still works for most canes and at 12 for £1 is a good investment. Better than a poke in the eye, as they say.

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Mark I

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Mark III

 

So, organic material is good, slugs are bad and beans that are two years past the date on the packet will still grow well. Hopefully the new plants will survive and we can start to measure the crop we get from the two sides.

However, nothing is certain in life so we will just have to see.

Nettle Preservation Society

Tall nettles cover up, as they have done
These many springs, the rusty harrow, the plough
Long worn out, and the roller made of stone:
Only the elm butt tops the nettles now.

This corner of the farmyard I like most:
As well as any bloom upon a flower
I like the dust on the nettles, never lost
Except to prove the sweetness of a shower.

Edward Thomas

It sometimes seems that there’s only a handful of people who actually like nettles, and I only like them because I can threaten people with nettle soup when they visit the farm.

Since I started cooking with nettles they have even ruined Edward Thomas’s poem for me – I don’t want TALL nettles, I want small tender ones.

My crop has been under threat for the last two weeks. Last week our Community Payback team, who are usually not industrious enough to do too much damage, were let loose with a strimmer. The nettle patch in the allotment (which I keep for butterfly food despite the folly of breeding butterflies next to brassicas) was comprehensively flattened and they also managed to trim a couple of inches off the tops of last year’s fig cuttings.

I would actually like to take the time to give them some horticultural training but the sort of questions they asked last time we tried it indicate that they will only use the knowledge to get into more trouble, if you know what I mean.

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Fortunately I have secret caches of nettles…

The second Great Destruction occurred yesterday when the farmer, in pursuit of a tidy farm for Open Farm Sunday, started cutting grass. Next thing I knew there was the noise of a mower behind the polytunnels and the nettles I’d been carefully concealing from view (I thought) lay dead. I’m tempted to get lyrical about them, brought low in their prime by man and stinking machine, but what is done is done. They are in the compost heap now. “Dead, dead, and never called me mother!” as they say. I had to look that up because although I knew the phrase I didn’t know where it came from.

Plan B is now in action – nettle soup on Tuesday will be made from my remaining plants – picked now and blanched in advance before any more destruction occurs, and the Open Farm Sunday soup samples will be made in advance from my nettles at home.

Did I mention Open Farm Sunday – 7th June? We’ll be in the Education Tent.

 

 

 

Good week for the birds

It’s been a good week for birds this week. Apart from the normal visitors we had a Great Spotted Woodpecker on Monday and a Jay on Thursday. The Jay was chasing a magpie, which makes me think the magpie was trying to raid the Jay’s nest. I’ve seen a buzzard and barn owl facing off before, which was quite eerie in the fading light, but never seen a Jay chase a magpie. With them being closely related it seems a bit strange, though with the Magpie being a renowned robber of nests I suppose it isn’t that unusual. What I do know is that I missed a dimension by being in the car, because it wouldn’t have been a quiet pursuit. We regularly have magpies quarrelling in our street and they are quite vocal, with jays also being well known for their calling.

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OK, I confess it’s a poor photo…

We’ve had two good sightings of buzzards this week too, both standing on fence posts next to the A46 – one virtually white on the breast and the other almost all brown. I don’t know why they select the posts they do as they are usually a bit below the level of the road. I’m used to seeing them on lamp posts and telegraph poles so the fence post seems a bit unambitious. It’s strange to think that when I was growing up we had to travel to Devon or Wales to see buzzards.

Finally we saw the yellowest yellowhammer I’ve ever seen. It’s the sunlight – everything looks better in the sun.

As a last sighting for the week – driving to Hobbycraft after picking  Julia up from work we saw a Common Tern flying along the canal, and actually diving to feed. It’s not rare, because they breed in the gravel pits along the Trent, but it was nice to see.

Price and Predjudice

I was speaking to someone last week who tells me his brother in law has been ploughing vegetables back in because the supermarkets won’t pay him enough to make it worthwhile to harvest them.

It seems wrong, but where does the fault lie? The farmer has to take the most cost-effective route because he has a business to run. By ploughing he’s also saving the emissions that go with harvesting and he’s also incorporating organic matter into the soil.

The supermarkets? Along with farmers and the European Community they are one of our favourite villains. The French Government has just started to do something about supermarket food waste, but to be fair they are driven by the customers and if the customers want cheap food the supermarkets have to provide it. It’s like the Free Range Egg thing again. There was a time about 25 years ago when around 80% of people said they wanted non-cage eggs because of welfare considerations. Then for years they carried on buying the cheapest (battery) eggs.

So if it’s not the farmer and it’s not the supermarkets who is at fault.?

Looks like it’s me. I like parsnips, and I particularly like cheap parsnips. It suits me to buy a bag for pennies. Having said that, I made a lot of soup last year from the carrots and parsnips we bought for pig food. Those were really cheap and in soup you can’t tell the difference. I was taking them off the stack, by the way, not wrestling the pigs for them!

In other ways I’m quite responsible. Sometimes I look enviously at the more exotic or out of season veg and I admit I do buy sweet potatoes. I do, however, try to avoid Guatemalan asparagus, Kenyan beans and (in summer) Moroccan tomatoes. Although I try to base my buying decisions on air miles and nutrition these days I have previously based decisions on politics and xenophobia (as in refusing to buy French apples) when we had plenty of good apples ourselves.

So, to sum up, I compost, I grow organically and I buy cheap food from supermarkets if it’s reasonably local, seasonal and not politically abhorrent. I’m doing my best on a limited budget, though I’m not entirely logical.

The average politician, it seems to me, isn’t that bothered about sustainability and gets paid a sum roughly equivalent to the riches of the Indies (look up their multiple jobs in the Register of Interests).

No wonder they can’t formulate a logical food policy if it has to be based on me.

Raffles and old friends

Mix of work today, I’ve hoed the beds, mooched tea and biscuits from the yoga group and visted two companies who are giving us raffle and tombola prizes.

This last can be quite hectic as these days they all seem to want photo ID before you can pick things up. For a man with no passport and an old style driving licence this can be quite a strain. Fortunately Julia has a passport. I had one once, but after my last trip abroad, which featured being caught in a riot, threatened with arrest and sitting in a car when the door fell off…

Well, you can see why I decided not to go abroad again.

Newark was great in the sunshine and I got to catch up with an old mate. We’ve known each other a long time – I didn’t have kids in those days and he didn’t have a bypass. Would have liked to have made time for the English Civil War Centre but there wasn’t time today.

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Newark in sunshine

Before closing I’d just like to say thanks to Boots, Morrisons, Asda and Wilkinsons for their support with raffle and tombola prizes for Open Farm Sunday. After a number of refusals and a few people who didn’t even reply it’s nice to know that some people will still support small local events.