Greenhouse & Raised Beds

In times of inclement weather, retiring to the warm safety of the greenhouse is prudent. This is the first year we’ve had the luxurious ability to grow early under glass, and I can now see the attraction, especially on days where the elements are doing their utmost in getting you inside. So, armed with a cuppa, I sowed All the Year Round cauliflowers into plug trays (pilched from Jackson Growers down at Swarkestone)…

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…two varieties of cucumbers – one gherkin (Beth Alpha) for pickling and one crazy Italian type (Carosello Tondo di Manduria) resembling a miniature water melon, the same aubergines, Violetta Lunga 2, as last year…

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…and Dolce di Bergamo sweet peppers.

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Braving the aforementioned elements (manly, I know), I pelted down to the raised beds and quickly sowed 9 feet of carrots (Chantenay Red Cored 2) in one 3′ square bed…

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and Mixed Salad Leaves in another bed.

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The beds stand at 2.5′ tall, so I’m hoping that the carrot fly struggles to get to these, though I’ll believe it when I see it! The salad leaves’ bed has had chicken wire lain over the top to prevent the ridiculously large number of house sparrows from decimating them before we even see them! This year we’ve counted 9 nests being built around our house alone. Last year we counted just over 50 birds at one time around the feeders after the second hatching, the year before we counted half that, and the year before half again. If all nests hatch 4 offspring then we’re looking at 90 birds after the first hatching – so my guess is after two broods we should be over the 100 birds mark. The new hedgerow we’ve planted down the acre field should help them once it starts producing, but that’s a few years off yet.

Shallots

Another glorious day and a box of 150 Picasso Red shallots meant a quick hour down the patch after work. Two 30′ rows later and we still have a few left over, can it ever be possible to have too many shallots? I suspect not.

Broad Beans

Not being able to resist the fantastic weather, I took the opportunity to sow the first variety of broad bean – Monaco. According to the packet they’re an early cropper, which will help staggering the harvest. The other two varieties have been chosen for their long cropping window and suitability to freeze.

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Preparing Seed Beds

That time of year comes around so quickly, it seems like only last year that we were preparing the veggie beds for last year’s harvest…

I’ve spent around 4 days recently hand weeding the four quarters, rather than spraying. The vegetable quarter seemed to be the most weed-free, and was the only quarter mowed by hand regularly. I assume this had something to do with it, but the quarter with sheep in last year seems to be picking up this year already – it was the worst in terms of grass coverage.

The Saturday just gone saw the whole family preparing the veggie beds. The weather was amazing – 19 degrees celsius, not a cloud to be seen, so hoeing the weeds seemed to make sense. Suz and I carried on with the weeding on Sunday, and I’ve managed another two days 3 out of 5 beds are now ready for sowing with broad beans, early potatoes, onions and shallots this weekend. We’ve also finally shifted the 8 tractor buckets of top soil we had down the patch that was left over from digging the paths out at the house. This area has now been levelled off and grass seeded, so should look decent, eventually.

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I Have Seen the Sheep, and They are Good

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As many will know, a couple of dairy sheep is an eventual dream plan – to serve the purpose of producing enough milk for the family, and to make cheese and/or butter. They will live in the large orchard quarter and the grass quarter, migrating between the two. The idea being that the grass quarter will grow, well, grass, until it’s cut around end of June. This will make, at best, 20 bales of hay which we can store for winter, and after the hay is cut the sheep can move into that quarter, grazing it until February. Then they go into the large orchard quarter and the cycle begins again.

Well, the large orchard trees won’t be ready to graze under for another 5-6 years, so until then we need a stop-gap. Last weekend I believe we found them, in the shape of Ryeland sheep. They’re a smaller sheep, ideally placed to a smallholder’s requirements; hardier than larger commercial strains, they’re an old breed from Gloucestershire, famed for their flavour and ease to husband. They’re relatively short and docile, coming to you rather than running from you. They’re practically immune to foot rot and can live all year on good quality grass with no supplements, and their fleeces are sought after by the new generation of yarn makers. We can keep 3 on half an acre, but I have to do some thinking as we can’t give them half an acre just yet – watch this space.