Posts Tagged ‘Food’

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 . . .

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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Starting our “allotment”

Purple Sprouting BroccoliOK, don’t get too excited, we haven’t got to the top of the 15-year queue for allotments. What we are doing is starting to turn large amounts of turf into productive garden beds. In addition to the Aquaponics system we have in our polytunnel, we are going to have eight conventional allotment-style beds. Each will be 5’x20′ and we’re going to try the planting styles detailed in the excellent “How to Grow More Vegetables: And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than You Can Imagine“. This means we’re planting a lot closer together than the instructions on the packets, and we’re not planting in widely spaced rows.

According to the book, this should give us maximum yields with minimum weeding and we should be able to reach every plant in the 5-foot wide beds without walking on the beds at all. The downside? It’s all about the soil! So that means digging . . . lots of digging. And compost . . . lots of compost.

Luckily we seem to have really good, deep topsoil. From digging the holes for the sumps in our aquaponics system I know it goes down about three feet. Unluckily it has had turf on it for a long time and so it is incredibly solid – too compacted to consider planting into, and it’s causing real drainage problems. So, we dig, and dig, and dig. The book calls for double-digging which is hard work but at the end of it the difference is amazing. These big thick slices that we’re levering up break apart into a beautiful fine soil and with plenty of compost mixed through it is finally possible to think of this piece of ex-lawn as a possible vegetable garden.

The hardest bit is getting rid of the turf. Lifting and shifting it took far more time than doing the eventual digging so we’re going to have to work out a better way to do that. The result is a little underwhelming, but we’re happy with it:

Allotment bed

That’s half of one of the eight beds – it’s 10’x5′, fully double-dug with a couple of big bags of compost dug through for good measure. We’re now planting it up with over-wintering onions (red and white), garlic, and purple-sprouting broccoli. This is our first real go at growing our own food, so wish us luck! Hopefully the slugs haven’t eaten it all yet!

The yield from growing our own potatoes in containers

We’ve finally harvested the potatoes that we planted back in April – back before we even moved into the Eco-House. Having lovingly tended them for a very short period we then left them to be watered while we traipsed around the country for a couple of months. Now we’re settled we figured it was time to go back and harvest them!

Overall we didn’t do too badly for three smallish plastic bags. Here’s the resulting yield:

  • Carlingford: 1.7kg
  • Maris Peer: 1.5kg
  • Duke of York: 1.6kg

So, nearly 5kg of potatoes from an area of less than one square metre. It’ll be interesting to compare that with yields from our in-ground potatoes that we’ll be growing next year. If we were going to do it this way again, I wouldn’t bother with the kit – I’d buy some bags of compost and just use those. Just empty half the compost out, roll down the sided, punch holes in the bottom of the bag and put 2-3 seed potatoes in each bag. Roll up sides and add a couple of inches of compost each time you see shoots appearing – easy!

The best thing about it (other than just eating delicious potatoes) is how excited the kids get about them. By growing them in bags we had a bit of an advantage – we could tip the whole bag into the wheelbarrow and let the kids root through it looking for potatoes. They loved it!

Now we just have to decide if we’re going to try to grow some potatoes for Christmas.

While we’re thinking about it, here are some pics of the potatoes growing. I haven’t got any showing the “jungle” they had become before harvesting unfortunately, but here are some of the progress shots!

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Planting Almond Trees

Almond Trees Just took delivery of the first trees for the forest section of our eco-house garden.  These have a dual purpose – they’re also the trees we’re planting for the littlie’s naming day we’re having on the weekend. These are Almond trees – Prunus Dulcis ‘Robijn’. And apparently we can expect them to fruit, even up here in chilly wet Manchester. OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, I think we will need to get some sun to get reliable fruit on them. This particular variety don’t flower until May so if they’re in a nice, south-facing sheltered area the flowers should avoid frost and therefore survive to fruit. And just in case I’m wondering what those Almonds would look like – there is one on each tree!

An Almond Another Almond

They’re pretty impressive trees – probably about 180 cm tall already, lots of nicely pruned branches. It’s been quite hard getting tham at this time of year (most of the trees we’ll get will go in bare-rooted in November time) but we found these potted trees at Flora Select and they have been really helpful all the way through the process and delivered them on the day they said they would. Here’s the info they have on these trees:

Prunus dulcis is a small bushy deciduous tree native to Asia and North Africa having pretty pink blossoms and highly prized edible nuts enclosed in a hard green hull.
Fruiting will start two to three years after planting. The flesh of the fruit can be eaten as Almonds are closley related to Peaches and Nectarines.

Plant in well drained fertile soil. Avoid heavy pruning as Almonds flower on second year wood.

  • Eventual Height: 4 mts
  • Eventual Spread: 4 mts
  • Full Sun
  • Deciduous
  • Fragrant
  • Flowering Time: April-May

Now I just have to dig the holes ready for the planting to happen at the Naming Day party on Sunday! That’ll be fun.

Our wartime Victory Garden

OurVictoryGarden

The bottom half of our garden was a victory garden during the war – and we’ve managed to get hold of a picture! It’ll be very interesting to compare the traditional row-and-path planting they’ve got here with the wide bed garden that we’re planning.

Many thanks go to the previous owners for leaving this picture for us!

Growing our own strawberries

Our strawberries today

Our strawberries today


Now we’ve decided to get our hands dirty – even without a garden – there’s no stopping us 🙂 When we got our Potato Kit we also grabbed some herbs and strawberries. They’re a token effort, but are keeping our spirits up while we try to get a garden of our own. This evening I got back in from work to find my wife and daughter adding gravel to the pot to keep the strawberries off the soil – seems like this is becoming a family hobby – fantastic.

Now we just have to keep them alive until we get some berries!

Just after planting, two weeks ago

Just after planting, two weeks ago