Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Food stockpiles and Brexit

Here are the farm we don't discuss politics but politics is impacting gardening it seems. 

I follow a few food preservation groups on facebook and ended up following a link to one where its members are seriously concerned about a disruption to the food supply following Brexit in March 2019. The members are building up their food supplies so they could survive a few weeks or even months by living off food in their cupboard.

The BBC has been covering this same topic with members of the public stockpiling along with company efforts to stockpile.

As one poster pointed out on facebook, March/April is possibly the lowest time of productivity yield in a garden. However a number of them have been making long term plans to maximize their winter vegetables like leeks as much as possible.

Some of my jarred chillis
Some have decided to start gardening this year, remembering the Dig for Victory efforts and how rationing in the UK was in effect during and after the war until 1954. 

Others are stockpiling vegetables in tins in the event that the electrical supply is disturbed. They're buying an extra few tins each week of things like carrots and potatoes along with basics like rice and lentils.

Independent of Brexit, here at the farm we try to preserve and stockpile food as much as possible, although Dicky has put his foot down at my frozen French bean stores (too soggy I've heard!)

We do have three spaghetti squash and five marrows still to see us through the next few months.

In the past I've jarred tomato sauce, salsa and chillis. There's nothing so nice as eating your own tomato sauce in the dead of winter. 

Dicky and his sister recall spending hours assisting their parents when the bean harvest came in. I'm not sure if they are really fond memories though!

Some of my dried and jarred chillis
I grew up near Amish country in America and those folks have big gardens and they preserve a lot. Granted there is a lot more growing and storing space in America but check out these photos of an Amish larder, it may give you canning envy!

How about you, has Brexit influenced your garden habits?

Friday, November 30, 2018

Snails in the rooftop garden!

My facebook recently brought up one of their 'photo reminders' where they remind you of what you posted in the past. Here is a recent one that popped up, when I went snail hunting!

My little rooftop terrace garden is four floors up. I am pretty organic up here, all my vegetable scraps and coffee grounds go into a compost bin.

Considering I'm off the ground and only bring up soil in commercial bags, I'm amazed that I have a plethora of living creatures up here like worms, bugs, snails and slugs. 

Periodically, i.e. when they start eating too much of my produce, I gather them all up and relocate them to a more suitable place at ground level in our public park or in woodland on the way to our allotment. If I don't clear them regularly every year, I end up with a situation like this when I skipped a year:

I'm not sure where they're coming from but I've eliminated a few sources:

1. Ground level: I live in a concrete jungle. They're not climbing up the side of the building.

2. Neighbours: My neighbours don't have plants so they're not hitching a ride on a pot or in soil.

My current thinking is to blame the birds! As I have a roof terrace garden, I still have additional roof space which is above my living space. We regularly get birds up here: crows, sea gulls, magpies and occasionally sparrows.

The bring a mix of gifts to my rooftop. They like to perch on the TV ariel and over time the pots below this area started to grow a variety of plants that were not from me such as rapeseed and general weeds. I have since moved these pots.

In addition to their organic matter the crows LOVE a good takeaway and we have plenty fast food shops nearby that cater to drunk folks on a Saturday night who leave their empty boxes in inappropriate places. The clever crows will bring up the leftovers, in particular, the fried chicken remnants. Every time that we have a good storm I am guaranteed to find chicken bones or various dead bird bits on my rooftop.

I much prefer the friendly magpie. He seems to have stolen a ping pong ball from the local outdoor community tables (looked like an egg?).

Imagine the conversation I had with my neighbor who also has a terrace, we're separate by frosted glass but have 5 inches of clearance so things can blow underneath. 'Excuse me kind neighbour, are you missing a ping pong ball?'

In the meantime I found some slugs in the lettuce that I picked this week. They're back! Time to go hunting again...

If anyone has any other ideas of where they're coming from, feel free to comment.  :)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Book Review on the Dig for Victory Campaign

As the nights draw in I find myself under a wool blanket (and usually a cat) with a good book. I wanted to share my recommendation for The Spade as Mighty as the Sword by Daniel Smith.

I picked this little gem up a few months ago at one of those book stores where everything is discounted. If you're interested in the Second World War and how the Dig for Victory campaign came about, this book gives a full overview.

It gives background about how the nation sourced its food prior to the war, how government policy came into being, how commercial and farm production changed and how each person was encouraged to take part.

It does have a few pages in the centre with black and white photos.

A poster from the campaign at the Duxford Imperial War Museum 
The most interesting thing that I learned from it is that the original campaign was not called 'Dig for Victory' but instead was 'Grow More Food.' In 1939 it went through a re-branding effort which seems to have paid off.

One of the Amazon reviewers stated that the book isn't much of a nail biter. I find that sort of true, it does read like a history textbook at times, dense with facts. However, it is also filled with personal anecdotes of how people reacted to government policies which balances it out.

Another neat things that I learned from this book: by 1943, 25% of fresh eggs were coming from home coops, can you imagine that today?

It also states that in 1942, 55 - 60% of families were growing some part of their own food.

If you're interested in this time period or how the nation produced and consumed food at the time, I'd highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Overwintering Thai basil, will it work?

I love cooking with fresh herbs! The rooftop garden has some basic ones that I've had for years like mint, oregano, rosemary and thyme. My lavender is lovely in the spring too; the bees like its purple flowers.

I mentioned on an earlier post that I haven't brought some of my containers inside for winter due to concerns about the plants being toxic for the cat.

The only plant that I have been able to bring indoors is my Thai basil as basil is non-toxic for cats.

This was one that I started from seed in early June:

I wouldn't bother if it was 'regular,' i.e. Mediterranean basil. According to internet research, Thai basil is a perennial in the warmer climates of Thailand. In prior years I've left my plants out and they won't survive the cold temperatures. It does have a much tougher stem than Mediterranean basil.

I am a 'try and see if it works' type of gardener.

I brought it in six weeks ago. The wisdom I gathered from the internet was to continue to cut off the flowers to ensure that it doesn't think its growing cycle is done. Sure enough, once per week I cut off the new flowers and it is continuing to make new leaves.

It does have quite a scent though when I trim it, so maybe not one to have indoors if you're don't like strong smells although I don't notice it after an hour.

This was immediately after trimming it, kitty boy will give it a sniff but otherwise he's leaving it alone. As he is curious and gets into anything and everything we might stand half a chance on this one!

Friday, November 09, 2018

Lettuce in the rooftop garden

Heather here, giving Dicky a week off from writing. :)

Whilst most of our crops come from the farm, I am lucky to have a sunny rooftop terrace where I do container gardening. As I'm four flights off the ground I get around six extra weeks of growing time due to the sheltered nature of the rooftop. Also it catches the morning sun which warms up the concrete under my containers.

As Dicky was busy getting the farm ready for winter, I've been planting and getting things sorted up here.

Here is my lettuce as of today, November 8, 2019! On the left is 'salad bowl' and just next to it is 'lamb's lettuce'. They are both hardier varieties. Salad bowl can be sowed into August for harvesting in October, but I'll probably get a few more weeks out of this one.

We just had some of the left one last night; it was tasty with no hint of bitterness.

Here is one of the two remaining chilli peppers that I still have going. The variety is called 'Razzamataz.' This one was a late bloomer compared to the more easy going jalapenos and habaneros.

Then it took ages for them to start to turn red.

I'd like to bring it in to try and overwinter it but I'm seeing mixed research online about chilli plants being potentially toxic to cats. For now I'll leave it as is and take my chances that it will survive the winter.

While we've had a few nights of overnight freezing in our corner of Essex, I haven't had any frost up here yet. It needs to get consistently cold, like a few days in a row where it gets below freezing and not above 5 C during the day.

The eagle-eyed among us may notice a fern-like plant to the right of the chilli, it's dill.

It came in a multi-pack of herb seeds. I don't actually use dill in cooking but I planted the seeds to see what it looked like in plant form.

Apparently it's quite happy up here. It went to seed and I composted it and magically it appeared again....and again....and again.
One more plant to show you today, my avocado! I eat a lot of avocados and put the stones into my compost bin. It gets so stinking hot up here in mid-summer (even when we don't have a 'super summer' like this year) that they sprout.

I hate to see a plant unappreciated so I sold a few on ebay. Then I freecycled some. I took them to my gym as a freebie for members. Dicky put them in the 'free' area of our allotment and thankfully our fellow gardeners took them off our hands. My final avocado plant tally was over 30!

Here is one of the last ones. They do not tolerate frost but it's another one that I am hesitant to bring indoors due to possible toxicity to the cat.

 I hope you enjoyed this little autumn tour of some of the things that are still growing on my rooftop.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Getting Mucky

I couldn't face a full week in the office, how I long for retirement!! So as I still have a good few days holiday left I booked off what looks like the last warm day for a while to go muck hunting and get the plot manured and covered.

Our local stables has a HUGE pile of muck they are happy for people to help themselves to and it's only 5 minutes from the plot. I moved a total of 25 bags like this, that works out to about 3 bags per half bed square. I used rubble sacks to protect the car, as well as covering the interior in plastic dust sheets. . This is the point I wish I'd bought a car with a tow hook and a trailer!!

One advantage of evening up all the bed sizes is that I can now cut my covers to a standard size which means less folding, flapping in the wind and acting like a giant sail to catch the wind and pull the covers off. I like a large roll of he black covering material but that's about £65 and there are other projects in the queue first.

So apart from bits where there are still some crops growing which I'll come back to once they are finished, we are done.

Just this fruit bed to tackle now but I'm still deciding exactly what to do with it.

Happy gardening folks!!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Cross Paths

Don't worry, the allotment paths aren't angry, but I  have finally put in the cross paths that divide the 5 beds into 10. The extra growing space I gained from adding the bed edges meant these paths didn't cost me any growing space but do improve both access to the beds and the look of the plot.

A total of 15 x 6ft lengths of decking were required along with the corner blocks, weed control fabric, 1 1/2 water butts of wood chippings and a total of 140 screws! The generator earnt its money running the power tools for this challenge.

First I had to dig out the 2 channels either side of the path

Then fit the first 2 full lengths of decking 18 inches part, cut the remaining length required for each side and join them.

Once they were all screwed in place, the soil raked back and tamped down the path was covered with weed control fabric and a 2 inch layer of wood chippings. These had been donated to the site by a local tree surgeon, so free.

All sounds very simple, now do it 5 times!

The final result is a lovely a cross path across all the front 4 beds that line up nicely, and 1 across the back bed. The spring onions had to go to fit it in the back bed, but no other veggies were harmed in the making of these paths 

I actually got a full 8 hour day in on Saturday so I weeded, raked, cut raspberries down, strimmed and used soil to try and level and even out the grass paths, the grass should grow through and hold it all in

So while it looks bare the plot looks tidy and in good shape for the start of next season. Just manure it and cover. That will hopefully be next weekend as the temps are dropping now.

Happy gardening folks!!


Monday, October 15, 2018

And so to bed...

A lovely sunny Saturday down here in Essex, a pity about the Sunday though. I finally got the last bed frame put it and the new compost bin area finished.

This was a tricky one as the ground slopes differently on each side, but I'm not displeased with the results. Just the grass path at one end to sort out when I do the adjoining fruit bed. I still have the cross paths to do. Hopefully I'll get to those next week if the weather holds.

One compost bin is in its new home, the others can wait until I empty them again in the spring. I've only just moved them so I know there is nothing usable in them, seems like work for works sake to do it again now. Once they are all in place I'll mulch round them to keep the weeds down and let them do there thing for the year.

There are still a few things to pick, another rather nice Greyhound cabbage and a few chilli's. These are some slightly deformed Habanero and some Orange Wonder.

This may be the new shorter format for future posts, I'm still thinking about it though.

Happy gardening folks !!

Monday, October 08, 2018

The Clear Up Begins..

The farm never seemed to get as green and bushy this year as it has done in previous years, thanks mostly to the random weather. It always looked a bit like it was struggling this season with too many gaps.

Pretty much everything has finished now, we've had a couple of sharp frosts already in Essex, a look at the Currently Growing list shows what we've got left and compared to a few plot neighbours its not a lot really. 

My cross breeding pumpkins never really made it with only a hint of orange, but I'm pleased with the greyhound cabbages, kale and chilli's.

Given that we are not big fans of the winter gardening we've been busy clearly the beds ready to manure and cover. I have one more raised bed edge to do, which is scheduled for this weekend, the woods already purchased. This one will be the standard 19 x 8 1/2 feet with a 3 foot extra of frame on the end for the compost bins which are moving to a new spot for next year.

I emptied the compost bins last week to move them to allow me to do the new edges and got one full bin of useable material which I spread around, and a shock when a rat with a foot long body shot out as I lifted one of the bins. It's a good job Heather wasn't around, I'd be deaf by now!

The raised beds have already saved me a lot of time managing the grass edges this year so if I can get the last one done soon we'll be in a good position for next year. I am going to divide the beds in half with a raised wood chip path across the middle. Ideally I'll get this done before we put the covers on, but time and weather may affect that one.

The digging was pretty easy but did show that the soil was still pretty dry, I'm going to leave the covers off for a bit longer in the hope of rain to replenish the moisture ready for next year. I have to go and collect some builders buckets of manure before they go on too. It was worth digging the potato bed over again as it yielded about a plants worth of spuds that had been missed...

I love the look of a freshly dug and raked bed

So still growing we have:

Bed 1 - Cape Gooseberrys, Chard, Spring Onions and Tomatoes  

Bed 2 - Carrots, Parsnip!, Beetroot, Leeks and Asparagus

Bed 3 - Cabbages, Kale and Courgette

Bed 4 - Chillies

Bed 5 - Just cucumber and the last sweetcorn plants to come out.

The fruit bed is next years project, I'm still thinking about that one. 

The blog posts have been a bit sparse this year, a time thing again, something that affects a lot of bloggers I think. I'm thinking of changing the format from a large blog articles which take time to sit and write, to smaller posts from the mobile app, more like Facebook or Instagram posts. Smaller but more regular. I'm still thinking about this one. 

Hope you've all still got plenty growing and are on top of the jobs.

Happy gardening folks!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

August Update

Now that we have some rain and can take a break from watering I have a chance to update the blog. In fairness there is only so much you can write about watering and courgettes so you haven't missed much.

Bed 1
The cross breeding pumpkins are actually starting to look less like pumpkins than before, more like stumpy marrows or watermelons, I suspect they won't be getting carved up for Halloween sadly.

The marrows are producing some fine, and recognisable, specimens with 2.6kg for the last one, it makes a lot of marrow bake, more than we can ever eat, but I found a new taker/victim to help out so all good. The yellow courgette plant is contributing nicely to the total count
The 4 tomato plants I bought from a nursery have always looked like they were suffering in the heat, no matter how much they are watered, it's not blight this time, while the 2 rescued from Heathers compost bin looked healthy. I've decided it must just be the plants not the ground or watering etc. The 4 have some tomatoes on them, they just aren't very big and there aren't that many of them. One treat thought, the rescued ones are actually the choc cherry ones from last year and I didn't think I'd get any this year after mine all failed.

The cape gooseberries are growing nicely. there are few fruits on them but no where near ripe yet, if I remember rightly it is a little for them yet.

We still have some beetroot and spring onions in this bed too. The cooler weather has also given the chard a new lease of life.

Bed 2
Still only 1 Parsnip, it had better be good!

The first carrots are about ready, but as there aren't many I'm going to wait until they get a bit bigger before pulling anymore. They are free of carrot fly this year.

Some of the fennel has bolted before it got big enough to use, it does need a lot of water so not ideal for the recent heat. I'll try one of the other small ones just to see what they are like though, this may just not be their year.

We've pulled the shallots, they are quite small but should be good for pickling I hope, I'll be doing this as soon as I have time.

The leeks seem to have survived the hot weather transplant very well, we lost 2 out of 36 but the rest have settled in nicely. They may a little late as they got forgotten about but they look healthy enough.

I put in 4 new asparagus crowns this year and it looks like 2 have survived and are just putting up a few fonds to over winter. I took a long time so maybe the others are waiting for cooler weather. I've not done this before so watch this space.

The lettuces hiding in the shade are nearly ready, they have been very slow, the radishes however have done very little except provide a meal for the flea beetle.

Bed 3
The spaghetti squash are also a bit crossbred this year, they are the right shape and size, but have a mottled skin. It will be interesting to see if they have their spaghetti like insides or if it is marrow/courgette like. 

The 4 courgette plants in the bed are producing like only a courgette can do.

I still have potatoes in the ground although all the tops have died off, its about time I dug these up. They roast nicely but break up if boiled too long. However in the microwave they hold together very nicely. I did some reading and I think this is down to lack of water. With all the watering needed this year they were kind of left to get on with it, a lesson learned.

In the brassica cage things are looking up. Aphids and flea beetle looked like they were winning for a while but a large amount of bug spray later combined with some cooler weather and they seem to have perked up post attack and are getting on with putting on some growth. It does however look like the sprouts may be cabbages... I don't have much luck buying brassicas.

Bed 4
The purple dwarf beans have all but finished now, they were the first to start and produced a good crop so they have made the list for next year. I quite the little dwarf bushes.

The runner beans didn't do brilliantly this year but the fellow plot holders have reported the same thing, just too hot. Now it's cooler the top of the plants have started to produce more flowers so they seem to be getting a second wind.

The climbing beans have been steady but not prolific , they too are doing better now it's cooler.

As you can see they are not as bushy and thick as previous years.

The chilli plants are small but have a few green chillies on them. They aren't in the best soil as it's an area uncovered when the grass was cut back for the borders.  

Bed 5
The cucumbers are doing well and we haven't gone short. I like the Burpless Tasty Green as often they don't need peeling like the Marketmore, but you get more Marketmore per plant.

The sweetcorn are just coming through now. There are a few odd looking cobs with kernels outside of the husk, but I've seen that on various blogs and Facebook groups, in general though, although smaller than last year they don't look too bad. I made an effort to water them when the cobs were developing so hopefully that pays off.

The farm doesn't look as busy as it did at this time last year, it reminds me of the veg plots we saw in Spain, everything looks a little ragged and not as bushy as usual. Also with some things seemingly finishing earlier than usual, or failing in the heat we have more bare patches than expected. As things have cooled a late sowing of lettuce and beetroot could be called for,

We went down on Sunday for the first time in a week and picked this little lot, every one needs this many giant courgettes obviously!

Happy gardening folks!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Squashy Strangeness!

Even more strangeness after the courgette/marrow conundrum that Mal helped out with.

I'm not sure if it is the heat, bad labelling of seeds or if there is some kind of courgette inter-breeding going on on the farm, (well it is Essex!), but there are some strange results amongst the squashes.

On the top should be spaghetti squash and on the bottom should be pumpkins.


The spaghetti certainly look the right colour and shape, the pumpkins near enough, but neither are growing out on trailing vines, they are growing from the centre stalk like courgettes or marrows would.

Heather says they must be courgettes, so we should pick them, but I'm wanting to just let them grow and see what they end up like. Possibly some wierd new species. It's not like we are short of courgettes.

Anybody else come across anything like this?

Total for courgettes is 41 so far this year, and so far we are managing to get rid of the surplus. I've restarted the counter but as we have so many varieties this year I'm just doing a running total.

The small Yellow Scallop patty pan style ones are just starting to come through. It didn't look like these were going to produce but it looks like they were just late starters. I've not done these before so looking forward to eating them.

Happy gardening folks!!

Monday, July 09, 2018

It's Coming Home!!

Hopefully football is coming home as I have England in the pub sweepstake, but whether it does or doesn't the veg finally is.. Looking back on previous years it seems to be a long time coming!

As you can see the courgette silly season is upon us. These plants were labelled as Long Green Bush 2 marrows, but after a heated argument with Heather and a quick Google I have to admit, they look more like courgettes, I'm assuming Zucchini, although I didn't plant any this year. Mental note to self, don't throw out seed packets just because they are empty!

The spuds are Charlottes, I haven't tried them yet but the report from people I gave them to is that they were very nice. We also have Foremost, I've had some of those and they are lovely. 

The radishes have stopped growing in this heat but a few turnips have come through so I'm using those in salads instead, they taste pretty similar. I've also been putting in matchstick cut golden beetroot which works very nicely. The salad bowl lettuces are still growing, one has bolted now but they should keep in salad despite the heat. 

I've tried sowing half a row of lettuce and radish in the little bit of shade offered by the asparagus bed, they still get in the evening but are protected from the worse of the midday sun. They are coming up so we'll see if it helps.

The other courgettes will be ready for harvesting soon, we won't let them get too big this year.

These are Black Beauty, a slight exaggeration as they are really dark green, this is the first one so I'll be trying it at the weekend.

The long yellow and green varieties are nearly there but so far none of the yellow scallops have fruited, only male flowers.  

This little beauty is the first of hopefully many cucumbers, a Marketmore. I also have Burpless Tasty Green but they were slightly behind, hopefully this means a staggered crop though. Love a home  grown cucumber.

Tomatoes are slowly producing trusses and starting to set. I replaced the canes with something stronger in readiness for a huge crop, fingers crossed.

The dwarf beans are just starting to set. The purple flowers are very pretty, these are Amethyst and were really good last so we're looking forward to these.

I've been planning ahead. I don't think we are heading for any kind of watering ban at the moment but just in case the council cuts us off I've filled up a 100 litre water butt which could last a week if used carefully on young plants only. There is no rain due for the next for the next couple of weeks still.  

Happy gardening folks