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Archive for the ‘being greener’ Category

31082842545_932e299d28_oI’m going to give a go at growing veg in a different way. Mostly, I  wanted to break the growing areas up into manageable bits.  It’s a visual trick really, but I figured it was all so much less daunting if you could see it as one small bed at a time, rather than a massive unmanageable area. OK so the beds aren’t that small but still…

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With this in mind, I researched various gardening set ups and am planning on dabbling with the no-dig method.

I have always ignored it as a method, because  quite frankly the do-dig method works very well.  There I said it.  Furthermore, I’m going on to say both methods appear to work. Controversial of me, I know – as usually people have to choose a side and laugh at the other.  With the ‘old allotment boys’ laughing at the folk who “think they don’t have to do any work” and the no-dig gardeners rolling their eyes at the ‘old allotment boys’ and sighing “at what cost to the soil” and stating that the old method doesn’t work… and “why do work you don’t have to do?” and so on.

It’s ignorance that is the problem – no-dig doesn’t mean no work – seems to me there is a lot of time spent moving compost about and mulching and weeding.  And the digging method does work, because you know….people have been using it all this time. I really dislike the snorting and laughing at the other camp – it doesn’t matter – do whatever works for you. I particularly dislike being told by anyone without successful experience…

Anyways, most of my experience with veg growing has been by trial and error – this is true for most gardeners and different things will work with different climates and different soils etc.

As I read more about it, it turns out that some of the things we just naturally arrived  at doing, fit in with the no-dig way – for example I try to start as many plants as possible as modules in the greenhouse  – they just do better.   And I haven’t fed my tomato plants  in years … well.. forever. Because we always replenish the greenhouse with compost from the compost heap.  And as it goes I always put the wood ash from the fire on the heaps so there is no potash shortage, and have always had good tomato crops.  Also when adding compost to the veg beds before planting out the hungry plants – like squashes beans and sweetcorn, we have just added a layer of compost on top.  These are all part of the no-dig method, and I have been doing it all along.  Who knew.

There are lots of calls on my time in other areas of life, and a certain amount of stumbling about trying to find my feet in difficult times… so no promises. But these new beds are inspiring, and doing things differently suits.

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So, it’s tweaking my veg growing habits into a slightly new but actually not that new way.  And venturing back out gradually, one smaller bed at a time.

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Untitled//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsIt’s juicing time of year again, and this year the apple juice is pink Untitled//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

This is because we have had our first harvest of the variety ‘redlove’.  It make for  good garden apple tree as the leaves are dark the flowers dark pink and the fruit dark red. As a juicing apple it is interesting as the flesh and juice are also red, and only a little added to the press makes the juice a beautiful shade of pink.

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As usual, we pre froze the apples, and in this picture this is how they look once defrosted – a little sad, but it does help with the juicing, you can practically squeeze them by hand after a brief freeze.  The other variety of apple we use is an unknown apple that the previous owner grew from a pip. We call this variety ‘bejeezus’, as we have found it is not particularly good for eating or cooking, but ideal for juicing resulting in juice sweet enough to drink without added sugar, that is also good for making wine and cider with too.  This year we shall probably have it as juice, as the cider stocks are still high.  Why we call it ‘bejeezus’? because once we realised we were going to freeze and press these apples, less care is needed when picking, and our method is to hook the shepherd’s crook around branches and shake the bejeezus  out of the tree, resulting in apples raining down hard, (and sometimes painfully) – making a fast harvesting process.  Mr CIG was a little surprised the first time I did this, and hadn’t shared my plan with him, but  he ducked fast…

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tomato jungle

tomato jungle

I always start the tomato year with the best of intentions, dutifully pinching out side shoots and tying in the  plants.  Always, they get away from me – I get distracted and before I know it.. the side shoots have side shoots…. and by this end of the year, the greenhouses are jungle-like, and picking tomatoes involves threading an arm in to reach the ones at the back, through the mass of greenery.

cherry tomatoesI felt a bit guilty of it.. bad gardener! …But then again.. I am picking about 8 lbs of tomatoes a time – it has been a bumper crop – and I realised that if I had done the ‘right thing’ and stopped the plants at the top, instead of just tying them in along the wires…then letting them dangle down, then roping them back in along with all the sides shoots as best as possible.. well the crop would be a lot smaller.

You can get away with it with cherry tomatoes – the plants tend to be lighter, and the fruit doesn’t take so long to ripen – with bigger fruiting varieties, I think a bit of discipline is required, so the plants can concentrate on getting their few larger fruit to maturity. Cherry tomatoes can survive the jungle style method… just as well!

I’ve roasted many pounds of tomatoes for roast tomato passata, I’ve made soups and cassoulets, ketchup and three batches of tomato chutney.

Eventually either blight or the cold will do for my tomato plants – but with the early good practices, the bases of the plants are clear an have air around them and I leave the doors and windows open day and night and will push out this crop as long as possible. Then when the plants drop… all I have to worry about is processing the green tomatoes!

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dandelions St George’s day is the traditional time to pick dandelion flowers to make wine. I’ve tried it…

…so now we enjoy looking at them in the garden instead.

Dandelion leaves, if picked young and small, can be nice in a salad, but by the time the flowers are out, the leaves are too bitter – so St George’s day is also the time to give up on dandelion leaves.. unless you like bitter.

Best all round to smile at the sight of them, and tell yourself you are feeding the bees before you need them for the apple trees.

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chester

Every Christmas, we buy a couple of bags of chestnuts and roast them for the chestnut stuffing we have with our Christmas dinner.  I wish we had our own mature chestnut tree, but we don’t and I can’t think of anywhere locally that they are readily foraged, and the tree  we planted is generations away,  but chestnut stuffing is a Yuletide must.  Mr CIG takes on this task.  Of an evening, with the woodburner lit, he lines up chestnuts along the top of the stove, turns them to cook both sides, peels them – the shells go in the wood burner, the chestnuts into the freezer, until we have enough.  Well that’s the theory – if there is something particularly gripping on the tv, he burns them and then puts the whole blackened coal into the burner…

Last December we were there in front of the fire, me knitting, himself burning chestnuts, when he pulled one out of the net and it had sprouted, no doubt confused by the warmth of our living room.

“Oh chuck it” says I ” once seeds sprout the starch turns to sugar or something.. it won’t taste right. Bung it on the fire”

He looked at me aghast  “but it’s alive!”

Some eye rolling and fun poking from me – because we are not vegetarian, do raise animals and birds for the table, but ignored, the chestnut was planted.

And here it is three months later.  He named it Chester (more eye rolling from me). Mr CIG doesn’t water it of course.. but I do.

Chester is still somewhat confused, being in full leaf before his outside friends, I am hoping to move him outside to acclimatise come summer, and hopefully he will get a place in the new section of ‘woodland’ we hope to establish.

Think big thoughts, Chester, from little chestnuts do mighty sweet chestnuts grow…

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Suddenly, after months of rain and general grimness, today was warm.  I can’t get my head around it even being March yet, as winter seemed relentless.

But today saw many firsts of the year: I left the back door open all day, and took the propagator lids off in the greenhouse.  We went for a walk, and left our coats behind, we ate our lunch outside, and then lay on the blanket in the warm sun. The chickens were dustbathing. We spent the whole day  outside gardening, tending the animals, and cutting a mountain of wood into logs until it was time to come in for our evening meal. And of course, fair-skinned that I am, I caught just a little too much sun.  Mostly though, it was good to see the season ahead finally.

A touch of spring warmth and the day  is filled with achievements and plans.

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first coppicing

woodland 4 years later
We’ve been hedging and layering, once again pushed for time; the window for cutting trees whilst they are dormant is short even here in South Devon, and with all the high winds and constant bad weather we have done very little, but anything we do will be worth doing.

As well as hedging we had a look at our ‘woodland’ and decided to make the first couple of cuts.  We fenced off the bottom of one of our fields where it was always waterlogged and planted up eighteen whips water loving native trees.  That was four years ago.  Now the trees are some twenty foot high (apart from the non water loving sweet chestnut which is hanging in there a about 4 ft), not bad going considering how dark it is there – the trees are all leaning towards the light, but growing good and strong.  The alder has done the best, the willow not far behind.

We cut one alder and one willow, partly to thin and allow light, and partly because we are novice coppicers and making this up as we go along, and wanted to see if and how the stools then sprouted.  That and we so badly wanted to harvest firewood from our own planted trees.
first coppice

I took some cuttings from the alder, and we hope they take, as these could be the beginning of our new section of woodland planned for the bottom of the other field.  As I have said before, it is foolish to hope to keep ourselves in firewood on the small amount of land we have, more so now we have the esse installed, but we have not bought wood in the last eight years, despite using the woodburner all winter, due to our efforts hedging the long neglected hedges, pallet cutting and hanging on to all scrap wood during house renovating.  We get bigger logs just from our hedges, the ‘woodland’ ones are only up to 3 inches in diameter, but these still add to the log pile.

home grown wood

I wish someone had planted the woodland before we moved here, so it seems the least we can do is to put it in for future owners. And planting trees is a good feeling.  Cutting logs from trees you planted, that still live on, that’s an even better feeling

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