Our four-year crop-rotation fantasy plan

Getting to the end of our first year in the garden, we’ve been a bit chaotic. Digging beds just in time to plant chitted potatoes, or seedlings outgrowing their seed trays, and we’ve only managed to get three-and-a-half of the eight beds dug (each bed is 5ft x 20ft, and double-dug)

I’ve finally had a chance to sit down and plan it all out properly, ready for next year, and – several books later – I have got a full four-year crop-rotation plan mostly complete: Our Crop-Rotation plan (pdf)

Now I’ve just got to dig and manure the remaining beds, and buy a million-or-so seeds. It’ll be interesting to see if reality even slightly matches the plan . . .

An even better bread recipe!

In my quest for perfect bread, I’m starting to understand a little more about the science of bread making, spurred on by some disastrous loaves from my previously reliable bread recipe. The first main earning point is that all yeast is not equal. Originally we were using Sainsbury’s own brand yeast, but a move onto Allinson yeast proved a bit of a disaster I haven’t quite worked out what went wrong yet, but even after a lot of tweaking, the Allinson yeast is not giving us such reliable results. In playing with the recipe a little I realised that the extra yeast I was adding needed more sugar to reach its true potential!

So my new reliable bread recipe is this:

  • 310 ml of lukewarm semi-skimmed milk
  • 450 ml of strong flour (I use half white, half wholemeal)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 tsp sugar (I use golden caster sugar)
  • 25 g butter
  • Two 7g sachets of dried yeast

And here are the results:

It’s about another inch taller than my previous efforts, and is perfectly light and delicious – so maybe I can tick something else off my Aims and Achievements list.

Growing plants to attract bees

With the continuing problems faced by Britain’s bee populations, now is a great time to think about what you’re planting in your garden. You can have a really beautiful, productive garden that also looks after the bees – just by well-planned planting choices and avoiding using pesticides.

There’s a really great list of bee-friendly plants on the RHS website – Plants for Bees. And a less comprehensive seasonal list of  plants for bees on the Gardener’s World website.

I’m still looking for a list which tells you the flowering times of all the plants too, so that we can have a nearly-year-round bee friendly garden – I’ll post one if I find it!

Planting our orchard

This post has been a long time coming – I think I’ve been looking at trees for a couple of years, and planning this particular orchard for about 9 months! Finally, the trees have arrived and are in! We’ve beaten the weather (finding a two-day slot in between heavy coverings of snow) and here are the pictures to prove it.

First, the “before” pictures, including large piles of ex-shrubs that had to come out to make space. Here’s where the apples, a plum and gage are going, on the north side of the Aquaponic Polytunnel:

And here’s where the pears, and a plum are going:

Not a witch’s broomstick – here’s how the trees arrived from Agroforestry:

And here they are unwrapped:

Quite cool, minimal packaging really – especially the flax used as a tie and the green bamboo used as a reinforcing pole:

It took us a couple of days to get them all in, including digging the new holes in the ex-lawn, and then the snow was back. Here’s what it all looked like just after the thaw. First the Apples, Plum and Gage:

And then the two pears and remaining plum:

I haven’t got any pics of the raspberries or the peach yet – I’ll post them when I can.

Guides to Making Cider and Apple Juice

delicious apple juiceI’ve had a few questions from people following the Cider-Making workshop that I went to a week ago, and while doing a bit more research I came across Vigo Presses “Suppliers of juicing equipment to HM the Queen” no less. They have a good range of the things we’ll need – bottles, presses, and other preserving supplies. And also, they have two really clear guides to apple juice and cider making. These are nice simple flowcharts showing what to do, and in what order. More details are required in some areas – how do you know when your cider has stopped fermenting? – but they are a good introduction and make it all look very easy. I particularly like the guidance on preserving juice – that’s something I really want to do, particularly after tasting the delicious juice we got from the workshop!

You can get the guides from the link here but just in case the link dies I have kept a copy of them below.

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Edible Perennials – Siberian / Pink Purslane

800px-Claytonia_sibirica_EglintonI’m keen to try as many edible perennials as possible – I like the idea of not having to re-plant things every year, with all the work that involves. I’ve been having a great time watching “A year in a Forest Garden” from Martin Crawford at Agroforestry, and it’s been giving me lots of ideas for new plants to try. One I’ve ordered is Claytonia Sibirica, or “Siberian / Pink Purslane”.

Siberian purslane. Not from Siberia, this North American short-lived perennial grows 20 cm high in any moist soil in sun or part or full shade. The leaves are edible, raw (an excellent salad plant – beet flavour) or cooked, and the plant can be used for ground cover – it self-seeds freely. Hardy to -35ºC.

Plants for a Future have more info on it:

  • “It is in leaf all year, in flower from April to July, and the seeds ripen from June to August. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, flies. The plant is self-fertile.”
  • It seems to handle any soil and shade situation, as long as it is not too wet.
  • The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. “They usually have a fairly bland flavour and are quite nice in a salad or cooked as a green vegetable”
  • I particularly like their cultivation notes. It just sounds too good to be true – I’ll have to give it a go:

A very tolerant and easily grown plant, it prefers a moist peaty soil and is unhappy in dry situations. It succeeds in full sun though is happier when given some shade and also grows in the dense shade of beech trees. Plants usually self-sow freely. This is an excellent and trouble-free salad plant. It is extremely cold-hardy and can provide edible leaves all year round in all areas of the country even if it is not given protection.

Now I just have to sow some. Apparently it can be sown in spring or autumn, in situ. I’m planning to put it in a shady spot under the Aquaponic growbeds in the polytunnel so I’ll have to see whether their spot is ready before winter really gets going. If not, they can wait until spring – apparently they germinate quickly.

Eat Seasonably – save money and the earth

Eat Seasonable Fruit & veg

Eating seasonable fruit and veg can be a great way to save yourself money, and reduce your impact on the environment. It can be hard though to work out what really is in season now that you can get pretty much anything at any time of year.

Luckily there’s a great new website – EatSeasonably.co.uk – that tells you what to eat now, and even what to grow. It’s all presented in a great format and can be printed out and stuck to the fridge. We’re going to try it out and see!

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