Friday, 16 September 2016

End of summer planning

 As I type it's very warm, we've had a couple of days of summer in mid September and it's due to continue for a few more days, but without a doubt the summer is coming to an end and the activity in the garden reflects this.

I've harvested the borlotti beans, popped them all out of their colourful pods and left them to dry on the kitchen windowsill. They will be a useful addition to soups and stews in the winter. I won't be able to use them as seeds for next year as they are F1 hybrids, so I will need to buy fresh seed. Now I know that we like these pink marbled beans I will source some organic seeds that are not F1s so that we can save the seeds year after year.

The freezer is being filled up with vegetables and fruit from the garden, our neighbours' fruit trees (windfall apples) and from the hedgerow. There are pounds of runner beans, broad beans, mangetout, patty pan squash, rainbow chard, apples, blackberries, white currants, elderberries and chopped herbs. There's a paper sack for potatoes that is being filled a little more each day as I lift the tubers. And the larder cupboard is being filled with jars of jam and sauces and bottles of wine.
 The pumpkins are turning bright orange and look like they will be ready for us to give one to my grandsons and another to a friend's children for Halloween and we will be able to have pumpkin soup, roasted & mashed pumpkin and sweet pumpkin pie. Root vegetables will stay in place as long as possible and leeks will be lifted as we need them.
Most of the brassicas should be fine until we need them. 
Some of the first January King cabbages look ready to cut.

 And the red cabbage won't be too far behind. Many of the leafy vegetables will stay in the ground throughout the winter and be harvested on a 'cut and come again' basis. There are also crops that I've grown specifically to give to the chickens to supplement their pelleted food in the cooler months.

My daughter gave me some seeds last Christmas and has offered to do the same again this year, but she has asked me to select what I would like to grow. This means that I need to start thinking about next year's vegetable garden before too long. I had a plan for what I was going to grow this year (it can be seen here) and inevitably, it didn't quite work out that way. 

What we actually achieved looked like this.
The 'empty' sections are places were we haven't created the raised beds yet. Given that this was our first year here and that we were unable to rotavate the ground as we had anticipated, I am very pleased with how much we have achieved, especially as now I've realised that churning up the ground would have been a bad decision. I've learnt a great deal about the garden, the way the wind blows throughout the year, the sunniest spots, the driest places and the subtle slope of the site. 

The appalling soil that we started with is already improving having added tons of compost made in our compost bins and bays, wood chippings, well rotted horse manure and top soil. The health of the soil life is improving too, it now has masses of worms, bugs of various kinds, fungi and bacteria. 

The chickens have played their part in improving the soil by scratching at the surface of the ground and fertilising it as they go. Their used bedding materials have gone into the compost heaps and into the circles of love, which in turn have gone into the ground. Even the young chicks have been working hard in the garden. 

These seven week olds are now free ranging daily and go to their own house at night. Next week I will put them into the chicken shed with the other hybrid birds. Two of these four are female and will remain with the flock as they mature to become part of our egg laying flock, the two males will be dispatched before they reach maturity as for the next two years we don't need more cockerels in Big Red's flock.
The seven week old Austrlorps are huge in comparison to the hybrids, they now live in an enclosure and house of their own and before too long I will add the older Austrlorp into this group. Our plans for the chickens next year is to have four areas in the field, each one having a separate flock of birds. One each for the Cream Legbars, Australorps, Jersey Giants and the hybrids. By keeping them separately we will be able to offer hatching eggs for sale and also young birds for those who can travel to collect them from us. We have been careful to ensure that we have birds in each flock from different bloodlines to keep the offspring strong and healthy.

We've decided that next year we will aim to have a larger hatch of ducks earlier in the year rather than several smaller hatchings. This way we won't need to have lots of small poultry houses to keep ducks of different ages in, but can use one or two larger houses for a shorter period. If I have to clean out smelly duck houses I would rather do it for more birds for a shorter length of time than a constant need to clean throughout the spring and summer that would happen from multiple hatchings. 

So our planning for next year is beginning to take shape, little by little. Next step is to have a good look through the seeds that I have left over from this year, decide which crops I want to grow again and order any seeds that have run out and any new varieties that we want to try. I am going to start this process today, but first, of course, it's time for a cuppa!

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