Posts Tagged ‘grow-your-own’

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 . . .

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!

Our October / Autumn Planting List

Seems like an obvious thing to have in one place, but I’ve been struggling to find a good planting list for October (or the rest of Autumn for that matter) So here’s what we’re planting:

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

I thought we’d missed the boat on this one, as you usually have to sow seed a lot earlier in the year, but I spotted some seedlings at the Altrincham Wyevale Garden Centre and thought we’d give it a go.  They were sold as twelve seedlings for £2.99, were already a reasonable size and seem to be thriving. We’ve planted them 12″ apart, as per the instructions in “How to Grow More Veg” in our double-dug allotment-style bed. Apparently they should be ready to harvest in 34-36 weeks. We planted them on the 6th of October, so I’ll see how accurate that is when we get to harvest time.

Garlic – Early Purple Wight

This is one of the earliest varieties – as discussed in my aged post on 18 different varieties of Garlic. We got ours from the local Homebase – £1.99 for a large bulb. They can be planted September to November and should be ready for harvest from May-August, a couple of weeks after the leaves yellow and die back. We bought two bulbs, and they have split into 20 good-sized cloves.

Red Onions – Electric

Another one of our purchases from the Altrincham Wyevale, 100 bulbs (“sets”) for £3.49. We’ve planted all of these in the allotment bed, the packet says you can plant them from August onwards, and that they are an “Over-wintering” set. It’ll be interesting to see what yield we get – 100 red onions could last us all year! It doesn’t say when to expect the harvest – just to wait until the tops start to die back. We’re planting sets rather than seed as they are apparently a lot more reliable. Not a very resilient solution though, so maybe we’ll try and harvest some seed for next year’s crop.

White Onions – Senshyu

Also from the Altrincham Wyevale, 100 sets for £3.49 again. These haven’t gone in the ground yet as we’ve run out of space in our single bed. Time for some more digging I think!

Autumn Planting Pea – Twinkle

This was a bit of an impulse buy at Wyevale. And the thing I hadn’t spotted on the label was the crucial “protect from frost”, so they haven’t been planted in the ground, but in pots that can be taken into the polytunnel when it gets frosty (assuming we ever get the polythene on the tunnel!). I don’t rate their chances of lasting the winter, so we may have to build them a cloche or a coldframe.

Broad Beans – Sutton & Aquadulce Claudia

All of the gardening magazines are listing these as things to plant now, so I got some as we were passing the seed aisle in B&Q. They haven’t gone in the ground yet – no space! But that’s ok, as the packets say to plant them Nov-Dec, with harvesting from April (Sutton) and May (Aquadulce Claudia). The Sutton beans suggest they need a cloche too – looks like I might be busy trying to work out how to make cloches!

Thats all that’s going in for us this autumn – I’ll let you know how we get on.

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.