First Plantings of the Year

The snow has gone!! Oops – did I say that out loud? Should never tempt fate!

But it was true, and this weekend was a great weekend to get stuck in to planting and sowing things we’d had tucked away in the garage and seed box until a suitable time happened along.

The first things were the strawberries, all bought from Pomona Fruits. To try and stagger the picking season somewhat, we planted six Vibrant early season (developed by East Malling Research), six Elegance mid season and eighteen Fenella late season. They’re all British varieties and good croppers, providing some useful pollen for the bees.

Next came the preparation of the main crop beds. Last autumn saw us build the soil up by about 8″, soil from the foundations of the new kitchen we’ve built out of necessity – the original being far too small for a growing family who cook a lot of their own food. The soil height is welcome and will help the drainage where we grow veg. To bolster the unknown nutrient level, we added a good layer of well-rotted manure and then a layer of leaf mulch from the orchard. This was all then covered to encourage the worms to dig it in for us over winter and to prevent the weeds from kicking in. As you can see, the worms dug in most of the covering and the grassy weeds have been killed off nicely. All it took was twenty minutes pulling out tap root weeds followed by a quick rotovate to help finish the job, making the ground pliable enough for planting and sowing.

The following day, Sunday, we planted all of our onion and garlic sets, and parsnips and beans. All of these could have gone in the ground earlier if the snow and cold hadn’t been so vociferous! As it is, we work with what we have and they are at least all now where they should be.

The seeds had arrived a few weeks ago, from the Seed Co-operative – the UK’s community owned seed company. By supporting them it helps keep old seed varieties in the hands of the public, and out of the greedy mitts of the big agrochem companies. They are also organic, meaning less strain on the environment all round.

In the photograph to the left (that’s what the beds looked like after rotovating), the foreground has had three rows of Aromata parsnips sown. On the back left there’s a wigwam of Blauschokkers climbing peas, and two short rows of Witkiem broad beans. As you can see from the makeshift guards, pigeons are our biggest problem at this time of year, and I’m determined that I won’t be sowing a second lot to replace the first lot! At the back on the right is the onion bed, where we’ve planted:

  • Red Sun shallots – for cooking and pickling.
  • Karmen onion sets – a great salad onion which stores quite well.
  • Picko Bello onion sets – a white onion for cooking, which we’ve never tried before!
  • Solent White garlic – another old favourite.

This leaves two rows spare for the leeks to end up filling.

I’d call that a successful weekend! Whilst Bunny was busy revising for her exams, Smiler helped out  and cleared the old strawberry bed of grass and weeds, ready to fill with edible pollinator flowers, and also cleared the paths to the patch of fallen winter leaves. He also shifted the pile of hedge and tree clippings to make sure the hedgehog wasn’t hibernating under it, before we burned it into a pile of useful ash.

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Marsh Daisy Incubation

Spring is here, and it’s never complete without an incubator purring away in a corner of the house. Today we started cooking 28 Marsh Daisy eggs – children of Mikey (the 2015 rare breed winner at the Staffordshire County Show) and the ladies we hatched two years ago, from Sharon who runs the Marsh Daisy club.

We have a hatching from last year from the same coupling, who are all at Rob’s a couple of field’s away and are due to be served by Rupert, their uncle. Hopefully Mikey will be good for another year and we’ll be able to run him with his grand-daughters from this year’s hatching, creating a closed flock system. Fingers crossed fate plays along with the plans.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the incubation room, Larry, Curly and Mo are keen to see what all the fuss is about 🙂

Cider No.3 Bottling

I’ve been measuring the specific gravity of Cider No.3 every couple of weeks or so, and today it hit 1.005. To ensure there’s enough residue sugar for in-bottle carbonation, I’ve been told that is a good level, so today was bottling day!

I have to say, if I could stop it now I would. The slight sweetness is incredible, perfect for me even. But that’s another learning curve for another year – this year I want to perfect the in-bottle carbonation first. Comparing this cider to the first of the year, you can tell a difference even at this stage – the apples, being late varieties, gave a much higher sugar level. That, coupled with the higher tannin content of the Medaille d’Or cider apple gives it a much fuller body – less harsh and abrasive. Fingers crossed the next stage will work out for the best – just six months to wait until we can begin trying it! Having tried some cider from 2016, it is quite amazing what a year in the bottle can do for a flavour.

This was also the occasion I decided to not waste the cider lees – the bit typically washed down the sink. I’d heard of using it in bread making, so I bottled it and left the lees, with the jar lid slightly undone, on top of the fridge, with the murky cider dregs placed in the fridge. The next post shows how it came out!